Thursday, April 28, 2011

Start-up Journal: Going Broke But Feeling Good.

We are at an important juncture for JUMP right now - story deadline for the next issue is today. Next week, I'll begin editing and designing pages.

This is also an important juncture because the ad deadline is less than two-weeks away. By then, I'll know exactly how much of my personal money will go into this issue. It isn't looking good.

I am a horrible ad salesman. I hate asking anyone for money. I find it humiliating. So I avoid doing it. The magazine (and my pockets) will suffer because of this.

I've been trying to explain to people that we are a community-builder, not a greedy organization. The ad dollars go directly to printing the publication. But we're talking about an industry that is already short on cash. While they can advertise for $50 in the mag, $50 is a lot to them. And me.

Here are a few other lessons I've learned since we completed the first issue:

• You have to constantly promote the magazine. Every day, I'm on the phone, at shows or in meetings with people to talk about our project. It is exhausting.
• You have to be online constantly. I post material every day. I tweet and facebook the hell out of everything. And that gets exhausting.
• Everyone seems to like the magazine. I get emails constantly. And the mag has pretty much disappeared from all our drop spots (we began distribution on March 11 and all 10,000 copies were swept up pretty quickly).
• Everyone wants to be in the magazine. Bands hit me up constantly. Writers and photographers keep hitting me up. That gives me hope that we are doing something right.

Here are a few things I've learned about myself:

• I don't want to be online all the time. This project has kind of made me hate the Internet.
• I am a horrible negotiator. I don't want to play games. I know that you will start low and expect me to haggle but I'm not playing that game. Let's just treat each other with respect, OK?
• I can live on five hours of sleep per night.
• I like being the boss. My full-time job in academia is full of office politics. I used to be able to avoid it. This year, I got caught up in the bullshit. I'm retreating from that stuff. And I'm going to create a comfortable culture in the magazine where the staffers are valued and respected.
• I don't want to be an event promoter.
• I just want to create a magazine.
• I don't want to rely upon hype to make the magazine successful. I'm not going to fall back on the ridiculous practices of contemporary journalism.
• My principles will be the end of me. And the magazine.

My goal for issue two was to raise half the $5,500 printing cost through advertising. I think I have five or six definite advertisers and maybe another three or four more in the wings. Next week, I'll canvas town trying to raise more money. Right now, I'm in the hole big time.

Regardless, the next issue will be available on June 3.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Start-up Journal: So Unbelievably Tired of Talking About Money.

I RECENTLY QUIT an unpaid position working with a wealthy foundation. They are launching a journalism organization with $2.4 million. They are spending $100,000 just to hire a search firm to find the leader for the yet-to-be-formed organization.

When I protested the $100,000 cost of the search firm, I was told, "That's how things operate in business."

That statement alone was obnoxious. The condescending tone it was delivered in made it all the worse.

A business that spends that extravagantly these days is doomed to fail. It is not sustainable (especially when nearly $600,000 of the annual $800,000 budget is allocated to paying the top four people, all of whom produce nothing).

Money. It seems all I do these days is talk to people about money. And that sickens me.

Shouldn't we be doing what is right rather than what makes business sense (i.e. raking in profits)?

Our new magazine is operating on the altruistic notion of supporting the local music scene. We are not out to get rich.

We want to be sustainable - we need $5,500 quarterly to pay for printing costs. Ideally, I'd like to pay the staff for their work, which would add about another $2,500 per issue.

Our ad rates are intentionally cheap. We want everyone to be able to advertise with us. We get their money so we can continue producing content. They get promotion so their business can grow. It's a win-win.

I've already had loose conversations with people who were interested in getting specific coverage in the magazine, for which they were willing to pay. I turned them down. As an independent magazine, our credibility lies in in our editorial independence. We can't be perceived as having sold a positive story (or any story, really). That would ruin our reputation, turning us into public relations hacks.

The federal budget is suffering from partisan bullshit. The state budget is in shambles. Education funding in Pennsylvania is being slashed (like we need more poorly educated kids in Philly). And my job as a professor at a state-related university is tenuous.

I'm holding on to my principles. I'll likely lose a ton of money this year but we'll create a product that we can be proud of, I think. Maybe we can even build a new business model - financially smart, community-friendly, enjoyable all-around.

The world needs a new business model. Because the dire financial straits we're in today are rooted in the ridiculous business practices of the past.