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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Passing the Torch: From the Freeman to

The Freeman retires as’s reach grows dramatically.

We are at the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

FEE has concluded that it is time to retire the Freeman as a printed periodical and to double down on the digital distribution of ideas on liberty.

While this is a significant step away from the way we have traditionally communicated the principles of the free society, it will have no adverse impact on our mission in today’s marketplace. To the contrary, by re-directing vital resources in more powerful directions, it will greatly expand our outreach to young people.

Throughout our history, we have used the Freeman to broadcast thoughtful commentary on many aspects of life from the perspective of our freedom philosophy.

At its height in the 1980s, monthly circulation of the Freeman was 50,000. In 2016, our online readership has exploded to where we frequently have 50,000 readers on in a single day. is on track to host 8 million unique visitors this year, as compared with 4 million in 2015 and slightly over 2 million the year before. About half of these visitors are Millennials.

This spirited online growth contrasts starkly with the tepid response that has greeted our initiatives to redesign the printed Freeman and promote it to the rising generation. The silence from that audience has been deafening.

Disappointing though it is, the message from the marketplace is crystal clear.

Even our most strongly committed advocates on campus are skeptical about the value of the printed Freeman as a vehicle to spread ideas on liberty among their fellow students.

Our donor community has also commented that the printed periodical contains only a small fraction of what’s already available to them on, and many actively question whether their donations couldn’t be better spent on programs with a higher return on investment.

Every week at our current rate of content production, now publishes the equivalent of several new issues of the Freeman, in a form that’s easily searchable, retrievable, and shareable. And of course, the entire archive of the Freeman remains available, in searchable form, at

By focusing on digital audiences, we are able to use “big data” techniques to gain insight into the interests, motivations and responses of our readers, from which we expect to learn how best to attract an even larger following. Our recently-announced youth messaging project, with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation, will take advantage of this opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge of our online audience and thereby broaden our reach even further.

The final physical issue this fall will be a special edition — an anthology of classic works from the 62 years that FEE has published the Freeman — that we hope you’ll find to be a treasured keepsake.

The cover image will symbolize how FEE has successfully transitioned the timeless ideas of liberty into the digital age, by assembling some of the greatest thinkers in our tradition along with pivotal figures in the Freeman’s history in a “School of Athens”-style setting.

  • Wayne Olson is the Chairman of FEE's Board of Trustees and a former executive director of the Foundation for Economic Education.