Bibs & Blather
Where Do We Go From Here?
On one hand, it’s one of the great songs from “Once More, with Feeling,” the great all-original musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. On the other, it’s an appropriate question for Cites & Insights, where “we” refers to you, the readers, me, the editor/writer/publisher—and unknown sponsors real or imaginary.
All of the issues published this year have been heavy on long essays, light on shorter features. (The January 2011 issue, which has seven relatively short sections, was actually published in December 2010.) In every case, I felt that the long essay was worthwhile, and for most issues, readership in the first two or three months seemed to be solid, indicating that I was reaching an audience. During that time, I was still discussing a possible sponsorship, one that would put C&I’s future on a more even keel.
Two things happened in April 2011. One is that the discussions moved in a different direction, one that apparently will not yield sponsorship for Cites & Insights. The other is that an essay I had high hopes for, and one that was much more timely than is typical for C&I, was downloaded less often than is usual—and was entirely ignored by the online community (that is, neither linked from nor mentioned by bloggers and others).
I asked readers to comment on that essay—to let me know what the problem was. I received three or four responses, largely along two lines: This particular issue had been talked to death already (although discussion continues)—and readers didn’t look to C&I for timeliness.
The more interesting question, then, is what—if anything—should I do about the future of this publication. Does the lack of respons mean that it’s run its course? Should I be adopting different strategies?
Here’s what I had to say in Walt at Random:
I’ve been pondering a revamp that would make C&I “web-first” in some ways: That is, essays would be prepared (still using Word) using a template tuned for the web, with HTML versions posted after they’re edited—possibly (possibly?) even on a rolling basis before an issue is complete. I might even make essays or the issue as a whole available in ePub format, if future conversions work out better than in the past.
The canonical C&I would still be the PDF, I think, and it would still be designed to be space-efficient in printed form. I say “canonical” because copyfitting could result in some words and, occasionally, sections of composite essays being changed or removed to achieve the almost-exactly-to-the-end-of-an-even-number-of-pages goal.
If I do all this, which would involve some deliberate effort, I might also do one other thing to make C&I more web-native: Adopt a new CC license, dropping the “-NC” so that the only requirement is attribution.
If I had new sponsorship–or thought I could successfully adopt a “by the issue” sponsorship/ad model that would yield, say, $5,000/year in revenue–I’d be encouraged to make this package of changes and refresh C&I’s overall design in the process. I’m also wondering whether it’s worth trying a Kickstarter approach to pay for the next, say, 18 months of C&I…
I’ve never used public numbers for what I’m actually looking for in C&I sponsorship. Here’s a possible set, more modest than I’d like, but hey:
To underwrite a single issue without explicit advertising and without a sponsorship line on the home page (but with sponsorship noted on the first and last page of each issue and the closing paragraph of each HTML essay): $400. For a full year of such underwriting: $4,000.
With explicit advertising–up to a full page in the PDF issue, up to a text paragraph in the HTML: $600. For a full year, $6,000.
C&I home page sponsorship–with a credit line and possibly banner, but without actual issue underwriting: $250/month or $2,500/year
Home page and issue underwriting without display ads but with other forms of credit (the ideal): $500 for an issue, $5,000 for the year. For all of this and ads in the issues: $700 for an issue, $7,000 for the year.
All of these are negotiable. If I go the Kickstarter route (and am accepted, and achieve the goal), those who provided high donations would be the sponsors, and there would be no advertising.
Thoughts? Responses? Should I just let C&I dwindle off to nothingness…(that is, would I add more value to the field by spending my time with the Friends group bookstore–just as I’d certainly add more value to our household budget by spending that time greeting people at the local Walmart, if I was willing to do that…)
In a followup essay I added another possibility:
I could also do an ePub version of Cites & Insights. It looks as though, if I turn off page headers and footers (and, of course, switch to a single column), Calibre does a plausible job of converting Word’s “simple HTML” output to ePub–not perfect, but not terrible.
And there are two other possibilities, based on additional feedback:
· I could write individual blog posts publicizing each essay separately—and, possibly, blog posts publicizing linked essays from previous issues.
· I could convert C&I into a blog—that is, treat each article as a post. I’m not inclined to do this, but could be persuaded if I believed it would yield considerably more readership or some level of financial return.
This issue includes six relatively short sections and no Grand Essays. It is, to a great extent, a catchup issue while I consider future possibilities.
It’s also a two-month issue, to give myself breathing space: Time to focus on the first of two book projects and to see what’s feasible for the future. If I believe a Kickstarter approach is plausible and my proposal’s accepted, that’s time to do the appeal, see the results and, if positive, revamp my writing and production process to follow a Web-first model. (One problem with using Kickstarter is the psychological effect of trying it out and not only failing to achieve the required support level but failing badly.)
Some group could also come forward to sponsor Cites & Insights, which still does seem to have a strong readership, with essays continuing to show growth in readership over time. Through April 15, 2011, every issue published before 2010 had at least 1,000 cumulative PDF downloads (as did one 2011 issue and four 2010 issues) and all but two issues published before 2009 had more than 2,000 cumulative downloads (as did three 2009 issues, one of them well over 3,000). At the article level (and including only articles published in HTML or as separate PDFs), all but ten articles appear to have been viewed more than 1,000 times and 322 of the 395 show more than 3,000 pageviews and downloads.
I believe a Web-first restructuring, with better HTML layout, might be desirable—but it’s also a significant amount of work, and not worth doing if interest in C&I is waning. For now, I’m taking a little time off. Beyond that? Your comments and advice continue to be welcome.
Just for fun: I’ve added one modest level of layout sophistication in this issue. Let me know if you recognize what it is—and whether or not you like it.
Comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2011 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.
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