17th November 2013 (Updated 28/11/13)
Yeah, about the pharma shill gambit. According to the editorial team at What Doctors Don’t Tell You – the alt-med attack rag that spits venom at conventional medicine – anybody who criticises the content or accuracy of their magazine must be a secret employee of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s seemingly impossible – in WDDTY or their supporters’ view – for anybody to disagree with them unless they are being paid to do so.
There are a couple of very obvious problems with this accusation. Firstly, of course, it is actually possible to hold a viewpoint you didn’t reach because of a pay cheque. Nobody’s paying me to write this blog, for example (more’s the pity). Secondly, it’s a bit rich to start accusing people of holding views for money, if you yourself are taking money for holding the views you espouse.
So far so obvious, and indeed dull. What I’m looking to do here, though, is go a bit deeper. In this article, I seek to show that not only are the editors of WDDTY (Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard) receiving significant sums of money from alt-med providers, but that they are now in thrall to those providers, such that their livelihood depends on peddling unproven/disproven treatments and advice.
Where does the money come from?
Alt-med is a bit of a money-spinner for Lynne McTaggart and her spouse Bryan Hubbard. In addition to the magazine WDDTY, there have been a string of “best-selling” books and there are conferences. I’ve got no detailed figures for book sales or conference fees, however, so I’m going to concentrate on the magazine.
According to the bumf sent out to advertisers, these are the magazine sales figures.
At £3.95 per print copy, £3.95 per electronic copy, and £3.50 – £4.33 for subscription copies, dependent on payment method, we can add up the sales figures and work out that takings on sales of WDDTY total somewhere in the region of £75000 a month.
Now that’s not all profit, of course. The magazine has to be printed, staff have to be paid (all those expensive researchers, for example), it has to be distributed and the retailers will take their cut. There will also be copies printed which don’t get sold. Unsurprisingly, I don’t have exact figures for any of this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that between half and two-thirds of the takings will go to pay these bills, leaving the editors with, say, £25000 per month to show for their efforts. It may be much less. If anybody with experience in this field could tie these figures down more tightly for me, I will amend this article.
Here’s WDDTY’s advertising price list.
So it should be possible to find how much WDDTY receives in advertising revenue, by simply counting up the number of ads of each type, and totalling up their cost. I’ve gone one better, and waded through the last 12 issues of WDDTY page by page (I know, I do this so you don’t have to) and totalled up the ads in each issue. I’ve excluded any advertising for WDDTY itself, along with the “Healthy Shopping” product guides, which usually comprise half a dozen pages of uncritical puffery about various products, even though there is a risk of financial or other reward for these sorts of pages, and solely concentrated on the obvious advertisements in the conventional sense. Without a price for the 1/8 page ads, I’ve estimated these at £300 a pop, which I think seems a reasonable guess against £550 for a quarter page. What do we find?
(Ad spend in the past 12 editions of WDDTY – click to zoom)
We can see that there are usually 20-25 pages of advertising, representing up to about a quarter of the magazine content. I didn’t know whether this was a large proportion, so I checked a couple of other magazine titles at random, and found they carry about 25% advertising as well, so the proportion in WDDTY is not unusual. To be fair, though, neither Viz nor Top Gear have a stated editorial policy not to carry any advertising at all, as WDDTY once did:
(The Times, August 10, 1989)
So the average advertising take for an edition of WDDTY is £45-50000 at list prices. Most of this is profit, as advertisers are expected to prepare their own copy, and all the distribution costs are much the same whether the magazine is 80 pages or 100. The only additional cost is that of printing additional pages, and then only for print copies. To be fair, though, we also need to allow for the possibility that regular advertisers get discounts for taking out a run of adverts. Again, I don’t have these figures, but as an estimate I think print costs and discounts could reduce the advertising income by perhaps a third, leaving them with £30000 per month. Once more, if anybody is in a position to clarify costs, I will amend here.
Allowing some wiggle room for the estimates used, we’re probably looking at a situation where at least half, and quite likely a lot more, of WDDTY’s profit comes from the inclusion of advertisements.
Lynne McTaggart didn’t want to take the advertising dollar, in order to remain pure. This is a laudable position to take, because there are risks that if you do carry advertising you end up having your editorial policy or content influenced by the people who pay you. But now we have seen that half or more of the magazine’s potential profit margin is from advertising, and this is a problem, because of the nature of those advertisers.
Many bloggers, myself included, have expressed the view that there could be a place for a magazine which genuinely attempts to do what WDDTY claims it does: look into health claims, hold health care providers of all types to account, provide balanced and detailed analysis of the state of medical science. But WDDTY can’t now do this; they are in thrall to the advertisers they once swore they would never court. If they were to change direction now and say (correctly) how ineffective vitamin pills and other supplements are, for example, they would lose the vitamin pill advertisers, which brought in £141350 at list price over the past year (yes, I added it up). It would be the same for the homeopaths, the electrosmog blockers, the holistic dentists and live blood analysts, the naturopaths and “hydrogen-rich water” peddlers, the Buteyko teachers and the chiropractors. All would stop advertising in a magazine that set out to dismantle their claims.
And there would be nothing with which to replace them. The Big Pharma companies WDDTY so deride aren’t allowed (in the UK at least) to advertise directly to the public, and with all the alt-med gone, so too would go the income. It would only be the stubborn understains left holding this rag together.
There is a clear risk here that WDDTY are constrained from speaking truthfully and accurately about the treatments they discuss, because by doing so they would alienate advertisers they could not afford to lose.
Oh really? Yes really
I’ve already mentioned how advertisements for vitamin pills were carried in the February 2013 edition of WDDTY, one facing the editorial and one in amongst the notorious article which claimed that vitamin C could cure pretty much anything. It is hard to claim that you are independent when you take money to advertise products, placed alongside your uncritical promotion of those products.
But can we make it even clearer? Can we discern areas in which editorial policy and advertising appear to go hand in hand? I think we can, and it doesn’t take long to find examples. One that leaps out is the fact that the past three issues of WDDTY have carried articles discussing various aspects of “electro-smog” or the supposed dangers of radiation from mobile phones, wi-fi and the like. Two out of three of these articles displayed ads for devices claimed to deal with these dangers alongside or within the article. If one plots advertising spend over the past six months for electrosmog/radiation earthing devices against the number of pages devoted to articles about the subject, one sees an interesting correlation. Advertising spend increased more than ten-fold when the subject was covered:
(Advertising spend (£) against pages of coverage in WDDTY on subject of electrosmog/EMF risks)
Still with me?
The income for the WDDTY magazine is about £1.5m per year, based on the above figures. This supports all the web of books and conferences, which bring in more money. After printing and distribution costs, the dynamic duo of Lynne and Bryan could easily be clearing a cool £650k between them from the magazine alone. You might think this is small beans compared to Big Pharma’s billions, but remember this is just two people. There are very few people working for pharmaceutical companies that take home more than £300k in their pay packets.
It’s a profitable business, shilling for the alt-med industry.
Edit 19/11/2013: Please have a read of the comments below, which have provided valuable background to the likely costs and income from magazine sales and advertising, particularly those of Rich Scopie, who has past experience in the field.
Edit 28/11/13: I’ve had quite a lot of feedback, both on this page and via other means, to advise me that profit from magazine sales is likely to be very small, possibly barely even break even. The profit from ads is also likely to be smaller than estimated, according to one expert who thinks that the take from ads is probably half list price rather than the two-thirds I estimated. What does this do to the conclusions of this article? Well, effectively it reinforces them, because although the overall income may be lower than estimated, it almost all probably comes from advertising, meaning that WDDTY is completely in thrall to its advertisers.
The December issue of WDDTY is also now hitting the shelves, so I thought I’d do an update to my electrosmog graph. How does it look now?
(Advertising spend (£) against pages of coverage in WDDTY on subject of electrosmog/EMF risks)
So there you have it, folks.
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