YOUGHAL, IRELAND – Today, in Ireland, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of our publishing business and the 20th year of our business in Ireland.
We prepared a speech for the occasion:
Thank you for giving me this honor of speaking to you on the occasion of International Living’s 20th anniversary in Ireland. Céad míle fáilte!
This is also the 40th anniversary of the parent group – which we call The Agora… or the marketplace in Greece.
We never studied classical Greek, so we mispronounced it. It should be Agora, with the emphasis on the final “a.” But it’s always been Agora – emphasis on the “o”– and that’s what it will stay.
Marketplace of Ideas
The Agora Group is not a company, not in the traditional sense, but a group of companies, some with different owners… all with different managers and different ways of doing business.
What we share is a common commitment to researching, exploring, and presenting NEW ideas – all of which are a little bit off-center… edgy… quirky… and, we hope, a little ahead of their time.
Especially in the financial world, ideas must be new or contrarian… or they are fully priced already and useless.
Many of these ideas will eventually become mainstream ideas – and even common knowledge – if we’re right about them. Others are ideas whose times will never come.
But we never know which are which… or what direction the future will take.
Yes, we are often wrong. This may or may not be a helpful insight professionally. But it has been very useful at home, where I’ve come to accept that I am almost always wrong.
We publish many different ideas… often contradictory ones; one writer thinks Mexico is the best place to retire. Another thinks Costa Rica is the best place. One analyst thinks stocks are going up. Another thinks they are going down.
Who’s right? We don’t know. We can only insist that our editors and researchers do their work well… thoroughly and honestly.
After all, there are an infinite number of possible futures and only one real one. So, the odds are always against us.
International Living (IL) is a good illustration of what we do. It was our first publication, which we launched in 1979. At the time, there was nothing like it on the market.
We borrowed money from our printer to test the subscription offer… and were greatly relieved when it worked. Otherwise, we’d have no way to pay him back.
The dream of International Living is that you can go somewhere else – to a new country – and lead a better life. After all, there are only three important decisions you have to make in life:
What you do. Whom you do it with. And where you do it.
At International Living, we focused on the where issue. And it proved to be one of those ideas that caught on…
It was an idea that was very edgy and avant-garde when we started. But today, it is a mainstream idea.
In 1979, when we started IL, it was an entirely novel concept for Americans to think about moving overseas at all… or retiring anywhere farther south than Florida.
But nowadays, it’s commonplace. You’re likely to read about retiring in Nicaragua or owning a second home in Mexico in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
That change – from fringey to mainstream – took 20 or 30 years. When we moved the publication to Ireland in 1999, the idea of living in Latin America was still shocking to most Americans.
The U.S. press still only tells us about the wars, revolutions, and financial disasters in the area. And the politicians, too, tend to present Latin Americans in a very negative light.
So it was not surprising that Americans were reluctant to think about moving there. But little by little… attitudes changed… and were often very confused. The public ideas people held were contradicted by actual private experiences.
I remember hearing about one man at one of our conferences who was very upset with the direction of America… and particularly about the number of Mexicans who were immigrating to the U.S.
He claimed they were ruining the country. He was counting on Donald Trump to build a wall and stop them. This was the time of the election in 2016. And he said that if Hillary Clinton were elected, he would leave the country.
“Where will you go?” someone asked.
“To Mexico,” he replied, not even noticing the irony of it.
He said he’d been reading International Living… and Mexico sounded pretty good to him.
Our progress with International Living was mirrored by a big change in the entire industry. When we started, in 1979, the entire newsletter industry probably had only 100,000 or so subscribers.
Well, today, our part of the industry alone has about 2.5 million subscribers spread all over the world. When you account for all subscribers in The Agora network, it’s more than The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal put together.
We owe our success in this field largely to our own lack of imagination. Ten or 15 years ago, my business partner, Mark Ford, and I noticed that our competitors were dropping out. Some sold out. Some retired. Some went on to other businesses and investments.
Mark turned to me one day and asked, “Gee, what’s wrong with us?”
But once we got started, we couldn’t think of anything we’d rather do than what we were doing… challenging popular ideas… offering new ways to treat our lives, our bodies, and our money.
So, we stuck with it, and the newsletter publishing evolved from a tiny, kitchen-table business into a real, professional industry.
Of course, it wasn’t because we were so smart or so right that this happened. But we were right often enough. And people wanted an alternative point of view.
And then, the internet came along and made it possible for us to give it to them. With the internet, we could share ideas, research, and opinions with people everywhere without having to cut down trees, pay a fortune to the post office, or negotiate with the distribution unions.
The internet made our work much more accessible and created the industry that we know today – which is very tech-savvy and competitive.
Our business spanned not only this monumental technological shift, but a major demographic shift, too. When we started, the biggest cohort of Americans – the baby boomers – were in their 20s and 30s. Now, 40 years later… they’re retiring.
Naturally, their interests have changed and matured, too. They are less interested in making money than they are in protecting what they’ve got – including their government benefits.
And now, they are less interested in having an adventure overseas than in finding a place where they can retire safely and comfortably.
[I did not mention it; this was a family audience. But the next big challenge to the boomers is likely to come when the current bubble blows up. The feds will ramp up inflation and destroy their purchasing power.]
So, I’m happy to be among the first to salute the whole International Living team and congratulate them… After 40 years of publication… and 20 years here in Ireland… IL is a great success.
And I want also to thank our Irish hosts for making the last two decades here both enjoyable and profitable. We are so happy with our experience here in County Waterford that we are making it the hub for all our infrastructure support services outside of the U.S.
We look ahead to decades more of growth and success.