Online Press 2.0

Online Press 2.0: The Tyee's David Beers


Online Press 2.0: The Tyee’s David Beers

Concerned about the lack of diversity under increasingly concentrated media ownership, he started his own online journal, the Tyee ( Having watched friends in the Bay Area burn through tens of millions of dollars launching during the first wave of online publishing, Beers took a different approach, what he calls the get-rich-slow method. “Salon got caught up in dot-com bubble fever,” Beers explains. “If they weren’t innovating technology and weren’t buying everything in sight, they weren’t interesting to investors. So they had to keep spending like crazy.” Today, four years after the launch of the Tyee, it’s obvious Beers has taken a different path. At the Tyee offices on the ground floor of the historic Sun Tower on the edge of Yaletown, there are no massive server barns, no cubicles packed with code writers and graphic designers – not even a reception desk. Past the glass door to the Tyee offices, a visitor must poke his way past desks piled with papers and books. It’s a good guess that the office with a door belongs to the founding editor. Beers greets his visitor with a quick smile. With a neatly trimmed grey beard and dressed in roomy Levis, the 50-year-old could pass for a tenured professor as he describes his approach to online publishing. “You don’t start in a classic business way by saying here’s a product that will make us a profit if we manufacture it and sell it,” he explains. “What you say is, here’s an opportunity to make a difference in the social and political landscape of Canada. And in the process, if everything goes right, some years on we’ll have created a brand, and a trend will have caught up to us and we’ll be well situated.” Beers points to a rich history of such ventures in the U.S., where venerable publications such as the Nation, Harper’s and Mother Jones began as a philanthropist’s hobby and ended up as profitable publishing enterprises. He learned from online pioneers like and Slate that there are investors out there who are more interested in fostering alternative media than in making a profit, and he believed Vancouver was a likely crucible for a similar venture. His hunch proved correct, and today the typical backer – most of whom prefer to remain anonymous – provides “in the very low six figures” annually to keep the Tyee running. The Tyee counts on two other sources of funding: advertising and one-off grants, and Beers expects that by the end of this year all three sources will contribute roughly equally to the Tyee’s budget. Although the Tyee is counting on backers more interested in high-minded ideals than a solid bottom line, that’s not to say Beers expects it to be a per­petual charity case. “My investors want the Tyee to achieve rough break-even sustainability down the road in a few years,” Beers says. And they demand a strict accounting for every penny, he adds. “We lose money, but we lose money very rigorously,” he says with a laugh. “I know every dollar I lose.”