The future of the Freethinker

The future of the Freethinker

An important announcement

THE Board of GW Foote and Co, publishers of the Freethinker, are proud and excited to announce plans to secure the future of the magazine by re-launching as an Internet-only publication.

The Freethinker has been published – either weekly or monthly – without a break since our first issue in 1881. But the Freethinker has never been a profitable publication, and we have relied for our survival on donations, legacies and subsidies for most, if not all, of our 133-year history.

Our amazing record of publication, despite crises such as the prosecution of G W Foote for blasphemy, and war, has been maintained thanks to the energy, generosity and dedication of its editors, writers, publishers and readers: we pay tribute to them all.

But times change. Younger freethinkers who might have taken out a subscription in the past can now get the news and comment they need from the Internet, for free.

The National Secular Society has moved away from the advocacy of atheism, and no longer promotes our magazine to its members. Financially, our losses are no longer sustainable, and there is no realistic prospect of increasing readership to break-even level.

The Board has therefore had to make the sad and difficult decision to cease the publication of the paper edition of the magazine after the May edition. However, we believe the Freethinker’s distinctive radical voice is needed as much as ever, and we will continue publishing  at a re-developed and re-launched

The new site will not only feature daily updates of news of interest to freethinkers, but will carry many more features and op-ed pieces from writers across the globe. We also plan on developing a comprehensive archive of the most important and entertaining articles that have appeared in the Freethinker over almost a century-and-a-half.

We hope that this decision will enable us to promote atheism and progressive secular values for at least another 130 years.

Over the last several years we have seen many magazines close or convert to Internet-only publication in order to cut costs and reach a wider audience. The Freethinker faces many of the same challenges. It costs over £40,000 a year to publish on paper, but over the last decade our annual losses have increased remorselessly – they are currently running at £30,000 a year.

Our current blog reaches many thousands more readers than receive the paper magazine; we get more visitors to the website every month than ever saw the paper even at the height of our blasphemous notoriety.

If we did not take action, we would be facing the closure of the Freethinker within a few years. By taking these difficult decisions now, we can fund improvements to our web presence and do what we can to ensure that the unique and historic Freethinker name will be around for generations to come.

We hope we will continue to enjoy the support and generosity of our current readers in pursuit of what George Meredith called “the best of causes”. The Board will be writing to all our subscribers over the next few weeks to formally notify you of the changes, thank you for your support for the print Freethinker over the years, and invite you to continue to support us online.

– Dan Bye, Chair, G W Foote and Co Ltd

37 responses to “The future of the Freethinker”

  1. matt says:

    April Fools!

  2. remigius says:

    Wot, does this mean I won’t be getting me journal ’bout what them mad’ens are doin’ each month. Right, I’ms gonna complain to the highest level…



    The ghost of ol’ GWF ain’t gonna like this. I’ll raise it at the next spiritualist/homeopathy meeting.

  3. remigius says:

    barriejohn, stop worrying about your elderly mothers nightgown being due for a rinse in’t washer, and nor searching for ‘black cock in the New Forest area’ this is important.

    It’s going down. End of an era. T’thinker journal is on’t way out.

    Save us, barriejohn. Save us!

    Only you can do it. You are the Batman to our Gotham City. The Superman to our Metropolis. That spider-photographer thing what was bitten by a dodgy arachnid in New York, or somewhere.

    barriejohn – the world needs you! You have the power.

    Help us!

  4. Barry Duke says:


    T’Interweb, Remigius, it’s doing for paper what digitised address books did for the Rolodex, and what McDonalds did for gastronomy.

    I shall greatly miss editing the monthly journal but am looking forward to the huge challenge our team faces in the coming years to make available online the very best of the freethought articles the Freethinker has featured over last 133 years.

    The spirit of G W Foote, dead 100 years next October 17, will live on so long as people lend us the necessary support to keep his remarkable legacy alive.

  5. barriejohn says:

    Remigius: I am getting the Battymanmobile out of the wood shed this minute to fly to your aid. As soon as I have dusted the cobwebs off the old machine and filled her with paraffin I’ll be on my way. “Galumphing Galoshes!!”

    I’m not at all surprised at this news, as it’s the way things are going. It’s sad to see the demise of so many publications, especially as I get heartily sick of staring at a screen sometimes and love to get a book or magazine in my hands again, but you can’t swim against the tide. Personally, though, I’ll never be tempted to transfer my own addresses to a digital device or do away with my dog-eared diary!

    (PS Wash day tomorrow, Remigius, and you don’t know how close to the mark you were with your nightgown remark – or do you?)

  6. remigius says:

    and you don’t know how close to the mark you were with your nightgown remark – or do you?

    Er, um yeah. Have a nice time in’t forest tomorrow. And give my love to Tyrone!

  7. remigius says:

    …it’s doing for paper what digitised address books did for the Rolodex

    What the fuck is a Rolodex?

    Not one o’them flappy roundy card jobbies they had in’t eighties? You know, before t’Filofax?

    Barry. I’ll miss you. Who will I post to when I’m pissed at 2am. Bob ‘Potty’ Hutton never publishes my ramblings.

    It’s a feckin’ nightmare!

  8. Barry Duke says:

    Oh come on, Remigius, are your seriously telling me that you never worked with a Rolodex or knew someone who did?

    They were at the cutting edge of technology, and one of ’em led to one of the most bizarre consultations I ever had with a doctor. The receptionist spun “the round card jobbie”, found my name, grabbed a file, shoved it into my hands, and pushed me into Dr Khan’s Haringey surgery. He looked at it, glared at me, and yelled: “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a dozen times, there is nothing wrong with your damned heart.You’re a bloody hypochondriac! I am the one with a heart condition, and it’s because of time-wasters like you.”

    “Er,” I responded, “I’m only here for a repeat hay fever prescription”.

    “Oh,” he said, “sorry, wrong Mr Duke”.

  9. remigius says:

    I shall greatly miss editing the monthly journal but am looking forward to the huge challenge our team faces in the coming years to make available online the very best of the freethought articles the Freethinker has featured over last 133 years.

    Yep, they’ve got your knackers in’t bench-vice.

    …so long as people lend us the necessary support to keep his remarkable legacy alive.

    They want our money!

    OK, I’m in. I’ll give ’em a thousand zillion pounds. But I’ll want a forum, and, er, a monthly mag. Edited by that Barry Duke fella. Wearing a spandex leotard and a feather boa!

    And shouting ‘Oh look at me I’m a right one ain’t I, I dunno!’

  10. 1859 says:

    This has got to be a great improvement! Where I live on Io – the first Galilean moon of Jupiter – the paper edition has always taken months, and sometimes years, to reach me. Now the internet will beam all that free thought to me in just a few hours! Well done!
    1895 – Secretary To The Society For The Promotion Of Secular , Free-Thinking in the Outer Solar System.

  11. barriejohn says:

    For your delectation, Remigius:

    He’s lifting his shirt up so I guess he was feeling the heat!

  12. Angela_K says:

    It’s no surprise the print edition will cease given the publishing printing and distribution costs, just look at the decline in print editions of newspapers. I shall miss the magazine as it was always a bedtime read and I always kept a couple of issues on my coffee table for visitors to browse. My partner and I have often said that if we win the Lottery we’ll give a pile of money to keep the Freethinker and NSS going as both organisations do not have thousands of gullible people who are bribed with salvation to support their churches.

    A question Barry: How is the web-site going to be funded?

  13. barriejohn says:

    I suppose the site will be funded from advertising revenue, Angela:

    Yes, I also browse my mag before I nod off (along with the latest Private Eye), and then leave it in the doctor’s waiting room to counteract the evil effects of the parish magazines which are strategically placed there. (Anything they can do, and so forth!)

  14. tony e says:

    When I looked at the date I thought it was an April Fools prank.

    It’s the end of an era.

  15. Broga says:

    This news hits hard as The Freethinker has been part of my life since the late 1950’s. I have written the occasional article and many letters. In the early days I was enthralled, indeed thrilled, by David Tribe’s articles.

    A colleague, knowing my views, gave me a copy of the magazine and I realised, for the first time, that religion could be challenged in the contemporary world with wit, knowledge and a polemic which appealed to me. The Freethinker has been a vastly significant contributor to my education.

    I look forward to whatever supplants this superb and feisty magazine going from strength to strength. Thanks to Barry for the great work he has done on the magazine. We owe a great debt to all the “Barrys” over these many decades.

  16. Peter says:

    End of an era indeed – though I think for the best. Especially regards news the website inevitably has huge benefits over the print copy.

    Here’s H.G. Wells, wrestling with his emergent atheism, on buying the Freethinker 1881-1883:

    “On my matching expeditions, when I had to go from Southsea to the Landport Drapery Bazaar, I passed through some side streets in which an obscure but spirited newspaper shop displayed a copy of a weekly called the Freethinker. Each week had a cheerful blasphemous caricature, which fell in very agreeably with my derisive disposition. I looked for this very eagerly and when I could afford it I bought a copy. In regard to the religions it confirmed my worst suspicions but it left me altogether at a loss for some general statement of my relation to the stars.”

  17. David Anderson says:

    ¡Carajo! I’ve been using my mag to help teach Spanish people English and at the same time subversively corrupt their catlick minds.

    Never mind, I can give them translation exercises on t’tubes.

    Best wishes for the new FREETHINKER Barry.

  18. Bubblecar says:

    Good luck with Freethinker going entirely electrical. One thing you might want to do is make the DONATE button easier to find. I’ll be donating some money as soon as there’s some spare in my PayPal account 🙂

  19. Stephen Mynett says:

    Agree with Bubblecar in making the “Donate” easy to find, I will be happy to chuck a few quid in it would be no different to paying an annual subscription.

    Would it be worth considering a “Friends of the Freethinker” area, or something like that where those of us who donate and want our names to be seen can show our support, perhaps with a short message saying why we support it. It might attract a few, I am not sure but perhaps worth considering.

  20. Barry Duke says:

    Stephen M, Bubblecar and others, thanks so much for your suggestions. They are most helpful. As they come in I am feeding them to the folk who are currently constructing the new site. I think a “Friends of the Freethinker” area would be a great addition.

    Meanwhile I was rather pleased to discover a piece about G W Foote’s trials posted by the University of Leeds which concludes:

    The late nineteenth century was a time when open and avowed atheists were the only people still subject to the brutality of laws governing opinion. It is in this context, argues Joss Marsh*, that we must consider the Freethinker and must recognise that it was “born out of frustration at a critical moment in history.”

    “Blasphemy” Foote declared “is simply skepticism expressed in plain language and sold at the people’s price [1p].”

    The Freethinker took the idea of ‘plain language’ and forwardness to it’s extreme at a time when people were not ready for such blatant attacks on the Christian religion, which many saw as the backbone of orderly society. However, by offering himself up for martyrdom he was able to expose the hypocrisy of the law and the government. Not only this, but he publicised it to the masses. Arguably had he not received such a shocking sentence, his trial would have faded into insignificance. However, the outrage of the public at large won support for the Secularist agenda from across the country. The three trials culminated in Lord Justice Coleridge’s landmark ruling that altered the legal definition of blasphemy. It was a ruling that lasted from 1883 until 2008.

    Furthermore, without Foote and his colleagues Britain may well not be the tolerant, inclusive and secular nation which it prides itself on today.,_Secularism_and_the_Trials_of_G._W._Foote

    I have added this link to the “About” section of the existing site, and will make sure that it appears on the new one.

    * Word Crimes: Blasphemy, Culture and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 4

  21. What happened in 2008? Remind me …

  22. AgentCormac says:

    While I am truly disappointed that I will no longer be able to receive a monthly Freethinker magazine (to be surreptitiously left, once fully read, on trains, buses and in bars in the hope of converting others) I completely understand the pressures of modern media consumption. Moving to a fully web-based version is, I guess, inevitable. However, I do echo the sentiments of previous posts: I would definitely be willing to ‘Donate’ in order to keep The Freethinker going. Could the new site allow we regulars to make regular, monthly donations by Direct Debit, Barry?

  23. Barry Duke says:

    This, Matt:

    Dunno where the pics have gone. Bugger, something else to be fixed.

  24. tony e says:


    I’ve a small stack of old Freethinker magazines at home.

    I’ll be keeping them to give to people who knock on my door to tell me the good news!

  25. Brian Jordan says:

    I’ll miss the magazine but for me there might be a small bit of silver lining. I’ve been finding the mag rather difficult to read, especially since the print turned into a fashionable grey. With an on-line edition I’ll be able to turn up the text size on my laptop and it’ll be easier to read.
    Just one plea to the web team, though: I notice that some sites recently are incompatible with the Firefox/NoSquint magnifying system. As you blow up the text the bottom scroll bar vanishes and you can only see the left part of the screen. No doubt easier to prevent as you develop the site than to fix later. Thanks and best wishes for the future.

  26. remigius says:

    tony e, I too keep old copies of t’Freetinker by the door in case of passing trolls. I make a point of pointing out articles related to their particular cult. Ooh you’re a Moron, read this about magic pants, and golden plates. Ah, Jehova’s Witless – here’s how many times the world ended.

    Barry, if donations is needed, specially for a forum, I’m happy to bung in a couple of shekels.

  27. Barry Duke says:

    Thanks for your kind offer Remigius. Right now I am collating the best of suggestions people have made here and emailed me and I plan on meeting with the web guys early next week to see how much we can accomplish.

  28. Dan says:

    We’re all sad to have to leave the print edition behind, but I’m pleased to see the comments here pledging continued support for The Freethinker in its new incarnation. It was not an easy decision to make, so I’m also pleased to see that there is an understanding of why it was necessary.

    We have been engaged in months of planning leading to this point, so many of the ideas I’ve seen suggested are things that the Board have already considered and made decisions about (such as how readers can donate), but as Barry indicates we will – where possible – take on board useful suggestions.

    remigius mentioned the possibility of a forum: we ruled out setting up a forum very early on in our thinking, it is definitely not a direction we are interested in pursuing.

    Chair, GWF

  29. remigius says:

    remigius mentioned the possibility of a forum: we ruled out setting up a forum very early on in our thinking, it is definitely not a direction we are interested in pursuing.

    Dan, how about the possibility of me shoving my fist up your arse. It is certainly a direction I am interested in pursuing!

  30. remigius says:

    And I don’t mean that in a gay way. Just a threat 🙂

  31. remigius says:

    Or merely a suggestion, to be taken on advisement. I, like most of the subscribers to t’Freethinker have a regard for both the nature of the journal, its history, and Barry’s editorship.

    As as subscriber I feel I have a right to protest these recent events. Why weren’t we told?

  32. Dan says:

    Threats and abuse are not acceptable: The Freethinker stands for reason; perhaps you are in the wrong place? I also note the irony of asking “why weren’t we told?” in comments on a post making the announcement.

    Subscribers will of course be offered a refund on their subscriptions, but we hope most will waive that right, and indeed continue to support us.

    I’m quite happy to discuss the matter with anyone with a non-abusive question or point to make, but there will be no further replies from me to remigius unless an apology is forthcoming.


  33. remigius says:

    Dan, I am so sorry that you didn’t see that smiley emoticon.

    Maybe there is a problem with your browser?

    Sorry you didn’t see it. How about using Chrome. Smiley seems to appear on’t that one.


    Enough sorrys? Maybe you want some more?

    What do you want me to do?

  34. remigius says:

    Oh, and as to the question about why weren’t we told. The implication was as to why weren’t we told before it happened.

    I’m sure you would agree there is a big difference between telling someone, especially a subscriber, that they won’t be getting it anymore, in advance of the decision being made. And at letting those people know about such a possibility in advance.

    I was well aware that Barry was in talks about the future of the website, but this announcement that the journal was to end came as a shock.

    Usually when such a thing happens, as a magazine closing, it is down to bad management, those in charge have failed to adapt to the times.

    This is clearly the casse here. I would suggest that you Dan, and any other of your ilk, hang your head in shame. You have just fucked GW Foote up the arse. 🙂

    Did you see that smiley face? Eh.

  35. remigius says:

    Barry, is it just me or is Dan sounding a lot like Bob Hutton.

    I, Dan, will only allow posts that conform to my doctrine. All else will be sent to oblivion.

    Fuckin’ ell. T’nazi’s have won!

    That high pitched whiny noise you hear is GW spinning in his grave.

  36. I’m just looking at the date this announcement was made and wondering why there are still people taking it seriously.