hen Michael Albert and I left South End Press (after ten years) in 1988
(with $40,000), it didn’t occur to us that one day
we’d be celebrating our 20th year of publication—or that South End Press
would be celebrating its 30th.
In founding South End Press and Z, we tried to accomplish two main radical
goals: (1) to raise consciousness primarily about the institutionalized
oppressions of class, gender, race, and authoritarianism; (2) to provide
information, analysis, and vision to help activist struggles for social
change, including the building of decentralized democratic projects that
would become the basis for a mass organization. In addition, we hoped through
book publishing to preserve and extend the broad liberatory politics of
the 1960s New Left and subsequent movements.
From Books to a Magazine
n its 30 years South End Press has published hundreds of books on critical
issues. It has provided a place for radical activists and educators to
publish without fear of censorship. In the process, it established a model
of a democratic workplace, implementing the values of equity, self-management,
But books often take years to write, edit, publish, promote, and try to
get distributed through stores, course adoptions, etc. So Michael and I
(at the time, the only remaining SEP co-founders) left to start
in order to publish more timely information. Eventually, under the umbrella
of Z Communications, we diversifed our media offerings and created Z Video
Productions, ZNet, and Z Media Institute. These projects provided critical
information and radical politics in varied formats and reached hundreds
of thousands of people worldwide.
During the 30 years we have been involved in media production, the technology
has changed dramatically. We started with phototypesetters which ran
out copy on film that often got lost in the developing process. We used
light tables to meticulously lay in numerous corrections. This was followed
by an interim process of preparing book pages on the computer and then
sending them (using many complicated codes) to the typesetter. Then desktop
publishing emerged, which allowed books, magazines, flyers, etc. to be
produced and laid out on the computer (text and graphics) and emailed to
the printer. This process made it possible to start
with only two staff
During that time we’ve seen other changes in the world of alternative media.
With the rise of the Internet, the increasing corporate monopoly over distribution
through chain retailers, and the rising costs of advertising and solicitation
mailings, many radical bookstores, publishers, and political magazines
have folded, cut back production, or reverted to an online presence only.
In our case, we have lived through numerous financial crises making it
all the more incredible to us that we’re still here. Though our ability
to attract new readers to
suffers in this environment, we are
absolutely committed to producing the print version and finding creative
ways to get it into more hands.
From Magazine to Website
aving said that, it has become clear that, while still important, print
media is no longer the primary source of information and inspiration for
many leftists, especially those under 35. The Internet and its future interconnection
with Cable/TV/Ipod technology is becoming the main information source of
the future. This indicates to us that (1) Z needs to focus even more on
its Internet presence; (2) all existing Z projects (and any new ones) need
to have an Internet component.
This fall we decided to plan a massive upgrade of our popular website www.zmag.org.
In the next few months we will be improving existing offerings and adding
many new features. When things settle down we will not only have articles
and information, but a host of interactive facilities, educational options,
Our goal is to continue to provide information and analysis that can help
activists, teachers, and writers in their work for radical social change
and that can cut through mainstream media lies and misinformation—while
finally generating the sense of community we were after with the founding
20 years ago.
e’d like to thank the thousands of subscribers and other supporters whose
generous contributions have helped
live to see its 20th year of publication.
Many of you have have supported us by responding to emergency pleas, by
giving donations along with your subscriptions, by buying gifts for friends,
prisoners, and libraries. Many others have provided invaluable support
through Z’s Sustainer Program. Thousands of people are now making Sustainer
donations to support the work of Z Communications, for which they receive
a daily commentary and other special features. Part of our Internet upgrade
will greatly expand this program as it has been essential to our survival.
We hope you’ll visit the site over the next few months as we implement
our new features and consider signing up to help “sustain” Z for 20 more
Lydia Sargent is co-founder and 20year staff member of Z.