A few days after I posted “ARI Is Failing and Needs Our Help,” the Ayn Rand Institute sent out a letter from John Allison insisting that “we [at ARI] are doing our job” and making several claims attempting to show this. I’ll address those claims below.
I have great respect for John Allison as an accomplished entrepreneur, a man of real achievement (he created the 6th largest bank in the country), and a man of grace (somewhat unusual in today’s world). So, my criticism here is not of John.
The beginning of John’s letter is gracious, intelligent, and eloquent. But the excerpts below, which are intended to convince ARI’s followers and contributors that ARI is succeeding, are misleading.
ARI has delivered more than 4.5 million copies of Ayn Rand’s novels to students since 2002—a number that is going to grow more rapidly than ever now that we have the ability to deliver low-cost eBook editions of the novels.
How is this an accomplishment? When people are given free books, they have nothing invested in them and are less likely to read them than if they had paid for them. Although teachers make a “commitment” to teach the books, when schools and teachers get books for free, they have less incentive to teach them. I don’t see the payoff of 4.5 million free books.
How many students seriously read those books? No one knows. Perhaps few. Most of the books are flimsy copies of Anthem. Is Anthem even the right content to introduce Ayn Rand? I don’t think so. It does not hook people the way The Fountainhead does.
Why has ARI not instead spent the donors’ money on marketing Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s books so that students, teachers, and schools would be inspired to pay for the books and then be motivated to actually read and teach them? Even if the numbers of books sold were lower than those given away, the results could be substantial.
One of my long-standing complaints about ARI is that they give away values that shouldn’t be given away. Ayn Rand’s books are not swag. They are the most important and most valuable books ever written. Why doesn’t ARI demonstrate this fact in its marketing and communications and thereby increase sales and actual reading of Rand’s books?
John Allison continues:
ARI has helped make our movement truly international. For example, overseas conferences have now caught up with and in some cases surpassed U.S. OCON attendance numbers. The latest AynRandCon–Europe, attracted 523 attendees—three quarters of whom were students relatively new to Rand.
Yes, ARI and Yaron Brook have helped the Objectivist movement become international. And Yaron has done some good work in this regard. However, the substantive groundwork and financing have come through my Prometheus Foundation and its predecessors—particularly the Objectivist Venture Fund, which has funded dozens of individuals and organizations throughout Europe and the world. John’s letter boasts of 523 attendees at an international conference (it should be thousands)! What the letter doesn’t say is that about two-thirds of those attendees came through organizations created by the Objectivist Venture Fund/Prometheus Foundation, such as the John Galt Schools and ARC Israel. Shouldn’t ARI give appropriate credit?
ARI has made learning about Ayn Rand’s ideas easier than ever, in part by making key courses from Rand, Peikoff, and other Objectivist thinkers available for free on its Ayn Rand University mobile app, its website, and its YouTube page. The app has been downloaded in every country on Earth except North Korea. Consumption of Rand’s and Peikoff’s courses has tripled in the last two years. ARI’s YouTube page has doubled its subscriber count during the same period.
ARI is calling a mobile app “Ayn Rand University.” That’s not right. And they are using it to give away all of Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s lectures and courses for free! Are Rand’s and Peikoff’s materials worth nothing? Compare how The Objective Standard (TOS) and Objective Standard Institute (OSI) operate. They charge for subscriptions and for courses—OSI has waiting lists for their paid courses.
ARI has disintegrated Leonard Peikoff’s courses by breaking them into individual lectures and placing them on YouTube for free. (Dr. Peikoff told me that he is extremely unhappy about it). I regard this as serious debasement.
And when John talks about “consumption of Rand’s and Peikoff’s courses [being] tripled in the last two years”—this is a cumulative statistic: each month’s hours are added to the next. That is inflated hype.
It is disappointing to me that ARI uses such misleading tactics to impress donors. It’s also disappointing that they cannot report and celebrate large numbers of students completing Leonard Peikoff’s courses—or news about new and successful Objectivists resulting from ARI programs—or increased sales of Ayn Rand’s books in the U.S. (Increased sales of Rand’s books overseas are due in part to organizations and activities funded by Prometheus Foundation.)
As I said in an earlier post, “To have a vibrant, successful Ayn Rand Institute, major contributors and senior Objectivists need to step up with courage and conviction and insist upon changes. ARI must have a new, meaningful strategy.” John’s letter is more evidence of this.
I welcome your questions and comments.
15 thoughts on “John Allison’s Fundraising Efforts for ARI”
SUBJECT: COMING UP WITH A NEW STRATEGY
One has to realize that something is failing and in exactly what ways before one will focus vigorously on making deep enough changes or additions:
There needs to be a realization that the problem is not centrally ARI.
It is much wider…
Promoting Objectivism has been around for close to 60 years and the number of people seriously exploring has always been well under 100,000 (if I recall, about 30,000 subscribers to the Objectivist magazine then, and still only about 60,000 subscribers to the YouTube/video offerings now).
There have been intellectual movements which have grown explosively in the same decades but Objectivism is not one of them. The above numbers among others show the needle hasn’t really budged.
Figuringg out why is the crucial first step:
1.Is it because the ideas are too counterintuitive and go against thousands of years of thinking?
2.Is it because there is distortion by the media and universities and blocking of discussing and presenting the ideas?
3.Is it because Rand’s lieutenants are not nearly as brilliant or powerful at presenting ideas?
4.Is it because our culture is satisfied and complacent intellectually compared to parts of the world that are hungry and desperate and know they need new ideas, like India etc?
5. Is it because outreach is not always aimed at the niches where interested people would be most concentrated?
— I would say it is all five.
But the double-barreled issue then becomes: *to what degree is each of the five (or some additional element I haven’t identified) a central obstacle, *and then how do you separately take cognizance of each and then formulate a grand strategy to overcome them much more effectively than has been the case.
(I have a lot of new ideas for addressing these, but unless we’re on the same page about each of the five, plus the need for the iterative double-barreled process, I’m not sure of making the time investment to develop a three or four page treatment.)
Respectfully I disagree about providing free books and free programming on social media. You believe people do not read these books because they are free but I do not believe that. Monetary value is not the only value in fact it is just a measure. Young people are looking for clues. Young people that read these books are looking for truth amidst the irrational emotionalism they are having heaped upon them on a daily basis. Young people being brainwashed to believe sacrifice is noble might not spend the money on a book that is obviously of personal value and at the very least access to her genius might provide a release and counter to the collectivism and altruism being taught today. I think the more young people exposed to her ideas the better chance we have of changing the culture. I want to personally thank you for the immense support you have given to getting her ideas out there today and years past.
I am someone who paid for Mr Peikoff’s lectures. I bought almost all of his courses and a fair few others before they were given away for free. I don’t regret the fees one bit, as they are works of immense value.
I don’t know how I feel about the content now being given away for free in a world where there is a lot of quality content that is free and competition of eye balls is immense. Maybe it does devalue it with the causal watcher but it won’t to the person who is serious about the subjects.
I do agree about the book give away, so maybe this is a contradiction on my part. I do feel that books will just end up on Amazon and being sold for someone else’s gain and they didn’t bother to read it. I have a second hand copy one of Rand’s non-fiction books and it was clearly not read and being sold on. Worse still, how many are binned and don’t get passed on. Surely there are better ways to get the ideas out there. Advertisements that entice people to read the books are a better way to spend precious money.
I don’t know which way is better but criticism and debate is definitely needed on both these issues.
The problem of how to promote Objectivism is one I am familiar with as are few people alive today. I was from 1965 to 1968 a representative of NBI for Portland, Maine. I was extensively interviewed by Barbara Branden and accepted a a person qualified to represent NBI and Objectivism in public. WE had an exciting product and were growing rapidly until it self destructed. I attended all but one Jefferson School summer sessions and spoke with news organizations about their interest in covering them which was high but ARI showed no interest and killed it. The TJS product was intellectual excitement and the joy of discovery of the world making sense. At the Jefferson School, for two weeks our minds were free.
Now the product has changed. Harry has defended his concept of plants as conscious to the point of Jason Rheins calling Ayn Rand a kind of dualist with Ghate’s approval. This cannot go on if Objectivism is to be credible . But John Allison neither sees the contradiction nor knows how to fix it. Giving ARI more money only perpetuates the contradiction. The solution is to clean out the contradiction and realign the product around the actual work of Ayn Rand celebrating its ability to provide humanity with an intelligible rational view of man and this earth.
Donors ought to ask for a metric by which ARI measures its success. And it should demand to know why the proposed metric is the right one.
The proper response to ARI’s statement that it gave 4.5 million books to “teachers” is to ask: so what?
As a general proposition, I support more people reading Rand rather than less people. But this is not enough to get new money from most of us. What does this 4.5 million books tie out to? What should it? These are not easy questions; ARI should step up and answer them.
You don’t need an expensive organization staffed with intellectuals and staff to market books, recordings, journals and courses created by Ayn Rand, Dr. Peikoff and other Objectivist authors and enterprises. Instead, establish a marketing business that would hire an experienced publicist or book marketing or advertising executive to lead the business of marketing the books and other intellectual property, preferably a person who loves Ayn Rand’s works, but a an intellectual property marketing expert with a track record of success for sure. This could and should be a profitable and self-sustaining business, because, as you have noted, the materials are sufficiently valuable to support the marketing effort. The business could be a closely held corporation or an LLC to govern and capitalize the business and distribute or reinvest profits.
The same professional marketing business could also market and publicize worthy paid live internet or in-person events (produced by others), paid speeches and appearances by knowledgeable and persuasive intellectuals. The business would take a commission from the event sponsor or speaker.
The business need not actually sell or distribute books and materials, if the business can succeed in arranging to collect fees from the persons who create or own the intellectual property or by arrangement with book sellers or publishers.
A separate non-profit organization (a revised ARI or your own organization) could be established solely to raise funds to financially sponsor deserving or promising Objectivist intellectuals with grants or loans for specific projects.
The most effective and aspirational enterprise, but most difficult enterprise to establish, would be a for-profit corporation that is aimed at directly competing with colleges and universities — probably using advanced on-line educational technology to give it a considerable competitive edge in cost and convenience. Courses could be created or delivered by highly accomplished people their field who are paid an initial fee to create the course and a commission or other remuneration that is proportional to the students who are willing to pay for it. I say most the difficult to establish because it obviously would require raising considerable capital and require hiring a leader who could inspire investors as well as operate a business. I say most effective because it is important to lure the brightest minds away from the corrupt college faculties and administrations — to both launch keen minds into productive careers AND to deny tuition support of the intellectual frauds populating university faculties. Since the worst frauds are found in humanities departments, target them at the outset. As the business expands, the business might also sponsor small residence clubs for student communities in various cities around the world.
Completely agree though I think you should have made these plans a pre-requisite before donating your money. Or maybe you did but they didn’t hold their end of the bargain?
Mr. Barney :
I have some some creative ideas for promoting Objectivism and they don’t just involve the ” ” book-and-college approach ” that ARI seems locked into .
One idea is patterned after the ” Boxer Rebellion ” that took place in China . You could start an experimental ” Objectivist Cultural Center ” in a small town with low rent. It would be in a large space such as a former church or warehouse . The place would be filled with pool tables and a coffee / smoothie bar / snack bar for recreation . This would amount to a tax-free pool hall with Ayn Rand videos on big screen T.V.s, a book shelf as a lending library and an Internet Facebook page for members to keep in touch . Leasing the tables to APA , BCA and NAPA leagues could make the operation actually profitable .
Note : There is no place decent to play pool these days .
The principle is similar to that used by churches to attract members and converts : Offer fellowship, recreation, food and life guidance and you get to push your message .
Building on that, what if we had a ship that people could live on and spend all their time thinking about Ayn Rand? They could then direct all of us “Junior Objectivists” in the right way to think and act. I have always wondered, for example, if I take shits correctly. Perhaps a “Senior Objectivist” could instruct me.
Mr. Barney is totally correct: giving away Miss Rand for free is disgusting. Doesn’t every cheap whore have free access to Gideons Bible in the top drawer of her rented out motel room of dirty deeds? Does any one dare to guess the conversion rate? zip, nada, none!
The same now goes for Dr. Peikoff’s lectures.
Moreover, I can listen to my purchased Peikoff lectures for hours. GEMS. Peikoff’s long and enjoyable lectures are a treasure forged by Miss Rand’s exacting influence on Peikoff directly. The current crew’s lectures are short and dumbed down, for the most part. Ridpath was the last of the greats…besides Miss Van Damme. If that wasn’t bad enough: Who can sit through more than one half hour or (gasp) hour long you tube video? Dumbing down and/or aiming for the popular short attention spanned consciousness should not be an Objectivist strategy. Leave that for the Progressives and their public schools.
To sum up: ARI is a bore; it is dreary, ho-hum, stale, and pedestrian …an academic junket of sorts. Rand’s zest for the heroic and her vivacious writing ability is her legacy and gift to us…not academic dribble and rehash of her already well spoken/written ideas. She has given enough fiction and non fiction to last all of the few of the great men for centuries.
Market Miss Rand and her chosen intellectual heir! You don’t need a Ph.D to figure that out. The sooner her principles are induced and validated by the reader or listener the quicker they can be incorporated into ones life and into the culture.
Perhaps you could answer a question I always had about the books-for-students program. As I understand it from speaking with a person at ARI a decade ago, ARI solicits donations from Ayn Rand supporters to purchase Ayn Rand’s books at the wholesale price (roughly half the retail price) from the publisher, and then distributes them to teachers. Normally, 35% of the 50% of the wholesale price goes to the publisher and 15% of the 50% goes to the author, or in Ayn Rand’s case, the author’s estate. Since Dr. Peikoff is the executor of the estate, the author’s share would normally go to him, but since keeping that money would be illegal, I always wondered where Dr. Peikoff donated that author share too. A grand irony would be for Dr. Peikoff to redirect the books-to-teachers program’s author’s share to the Prometheus Foundation, or to your work on a real Ayn Rand University. Best wishes, –Ed Powell
Some people’s reverence for Rand has inadvertently created an aura of infallibility when it comes to objective evaluation of ARI’s performance under Yaron Brook’s leadership.
I agree. The ARI “leadership” is clearly in an echo chamber of self congratulatory praise.
In other words they are too comfortable with the status quo of their “results” and “growth” of ARI.
Comfort and resistance to change is a killer of progress and growth.
We need a moon shot and.it.muat come from without – not from within – ARI.