It seems like a good time to assess what we've done and think about where we're going.
I'll break things down in four categories: editorial content, business/financial, operations and audience. All are equally important but let's start with what we do ...
JUMP only covers Philadelphia in the mag, and we define Philadelphia as what is within the official city borders. That has generated some tension, as many people have suggested we cover the surrounding suburbs. Even staffers want to cover the 'burbs.
As recently as last week, I have had to convince people that our mission is to cover the city and the diversity of music that exists here. There is plenty to cover. We can do around 100 to 110 stories per year in the mag. There are thousands more for us to uncover in town.
When you start covering the 'burbs, it opens up a can of worms - where do you stop covering? West Chester? Lancaster? Harrisburg? Atlantic City?
We are already way to all-over-the-place with our content in the mag. In the new issue, for instance, we have hip-hoppers on the cover and inside, we have everything from garage punk to R&B and everything in between. The city unifies the content in the magazine, I think. It defines our niche.
Plus, there are logistical things about covering the suburbs. if we extend our reach, we'd need to distribute out there. That's a pain in the ass considering that distributing means loading up my Toyota and hitting the road. It's difficult enough hitting all the drop spots in the city and immediate areas.
Part of the reason we cover such a diverse array of music in the city is because my mission for the mag goes well beyond music. I want to promote the city as a place where creative people need to be. There is talent here that I want people to know about, and I want to draw more talent here.
Have we been successful with our editorial coverage? I don't know. I feel like what we have covered in terms of ideas has been unbelievably awesome. Pick up any issue and Philadelphia looks like an incredible place.
Have we reached and satisfied our audience? With a print product, it's hard to tell.
We print 10,000 magazines every three months and they disappear pretty quickly after we distribute. When we drop off subsequent issues, I find very few past copies leftover (over the last seven issues, I've honed our distribution so we don't drop stacks at places where there is little traffic). Presumably, people are taking the mags.
Our online readership is fairly low, on average around 400 hits per day. Some days we spike and top 1,000 per day but that is rare. On weekends, we generally slip below 200 hits per day. The problems with our online stuff generally reside around the fact that we don't post enough (and our website is a crappy Wordpress template). We'll drop one post per day usually, and everyday it's something different - a story about a punk show or an indie rock concert review, followed by a profile of a hip-hop crew or something else. We are too diverse too generate a steady following, I think. The bulk of our hits are via links, not the home page. That's fine for now. We generate around 2,000 to 3,000 hits per week.
We have a pretty engaged twitter following and I get dozens of emails every day from folks requesting coverage. I think music people and artists know about us, for sure.
Whenever we have a new issue, our facebook activity spikes. Some of this is due to the people we cover generating buzz via their own social networks. But I think it has more to do with the fact that we are producing in bulk again. There is literally something for everyone.
Some people have suggested we cater to one specific audience (hipsters or hip-hoppers or the indie rock crowd, etc) rather than being so diverse. We will not do that. JUMP will never be a lifestyle magazine. We don't suggest that anything is cool. We simply introduce people to people doing interesting stuff, or interesting places, or anything else folks should know about.
We are journalists not trendsetters. I want to puke in my hat anytime someone says they are tastemakers because that ultimately means they are trying to sell you something. We are providing information.
I still get questions from people who think that JUMP is a Temple product. With the exception of an advertisement, Temple has no involvement with the magazine. I teach there and my students get involved (in the new issue, students wrote 9 of the 31 stories). But Temple does not finance the magazine nor pay me for my time in working on it.
Which means we have no money.
So, we've bootstrapped 8 issues. That is pretty impressive, I think. Without a paid staffers, without any previous experience, without logistical support from anyone, we have delivered nearly 80,000 copies and covered more than 200 stories in print (online, we run around 500 posts per year).
I've dealt with personal issues this year and that has halted my interaction with staff (and it hindered my ability to sell ads). Ideally, we meet at the beginning of the three month cycle several times. The second month is for content production. The third month is for packaging the book. In theory, this works (and in reality, we've never missed a deadline). But we need more regular engagement with staffers so that they feel ownership on the product. This has to be a team effort.
I'm hoping to start paying folks with the next issue. During my winter break, I intend to develop a system in which we'll have paid editors and a cadre of freelance writers and photographers. This will increase our costs by about $2,500 but it will also force a layer of professionalism that we currently do not have (partially because I think the chaotic nature is good for a music magazine). I am reluctant to give up editorial control but I intend to so that I can raise the money to keep the mag going.
I simply did not have time to sell ads this issue and we fell way short of covering our print run costs. In the previous five issues, we did, so I'm fine with this.
We had one regular advertiser pull out $2,000 worth just days before publication because they have their own financial difficulties. Two other potential advertisers locked in early and then pulled out at the last minute (one because of hurricane damage and the other because they are assholes). I will never rely upon them as I did with this issue - I had counted on that money and did not push ad sales. In the future, I will continue selling ads until I have enough cash in hand (rather than pledges).
I think if I had more time, I could sell plenty of ads to print the mag and pay the staffers. Currently, I sell ads when I'm not editing the 500 posts per year or dealing with my 315 students at school. I really have no time to build the relationships needed to generate ad sales. But I've done it for two years, and I'm confident that by relinquishing editing to paid staffers, I'll be able to devote time to selling. I'm not looking forward to it but I'll make it happen.
I'll need to generate $5,200 for printing and $2,500 for content generation. Basically, I need to sell five more pages of ads per issue. This will happen.
I started delivering mags this week. At a few locations, people literally grabbed copies out of my hand. They were excited to see the new issue. I've handed the mags to people who have no idea what the mag is and then I watch them thumb through the edition. I watch them go from skeptical to intrigued to content. It is a wonderful feeling.
We have our problems - after every issue, people complain about the basic/poor design; writers want to be able to show more attitude; bands complain that they weren't covered; we get things wrong every now and then, etc. I am well aware of our flaws. Some, we will try to remedy. Others are more difficult and require money we do not have.
In the end, however, I think we have built something special. It is a community project - created by people invested in the music community, about people in the music community, prepared to teach others about the music community. It is a financially sustainable business model and we don't rely upon the gimmicks that most traditional media employ (salacious headlines/stories, using big names on the cover, top ten lists, fake controversies, etc).
I'm proud of what we have done, especially given our humble beginnings.