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Website DIY #19: Wrap Up: Wins & Losses

recaptain america

Wins

Audience

Screenshot from our plausible.io analytics account showing a 7.4k% increase in visitors over the previous 12 months.
From our Analytics account

Our traffic skyrocketed. Of course it did. The site was basically just a place we put our mostly unlistened-to podcasts before GftW. Then we had nearly daily posts from writers promoting it to their networks, a hell of a lot of traffic from writers looking to pitch us, etc.

Our MailChimp list also grew from basically nothing to something… decent:

We talked about this in our newsletter post, but if we wanted to try and do Widget sustainably and to do it via a subscription model, we would want that number to be way higher to be able to reach out to a way larger number of readers/‘fans’ (??) and try to convince them to support us. Still, it’s a start.

Equity

First, read our equity guideline for insight into what we were trying achieve (and encourage other sites to achieve) in terms of equity.

We didn’t set ourselves hard quantitative rules/targets in terms of what ‘publishing a diverse group of writers’ would mean. And maybe we should have, but this is where we’re at. Instead, we just committed to being transparent in terms of the (100% anonymized) demographic data of the people pitching us and getting published on the site, and that we could do our best to keep the relationship between those two numbers healthy (whatever that means: trying to not dip below any of the numbers too brutally I guess – again, whatever that means).

Here’s where we landed:

// table to be added after final post published

Content

Like we said in an earlier post, we were partly just trying to rip off Army Man during our grant period.

We were hoping by some bit of good fortune, by the end of our grant, we’d have produced something super-roughly like that. I don’t think we did, in the end, but that’s cool too: We ended up with something different but also rad as hell, dude 🏄‍♂️:

Army Man is much more joke-based, vs. 500ish-word humour pieces. And it was all commissions from friends, so it was easier to ensure a consistent or coherent tone, I’d guess.

And Army Man was just more joke-y – just spitballing, but maybe National Lampoon loomed larger then, and something like McWeenie’s or Poo Yorker occupies the same role today, pulling the ‘default’ humour style in a different direction, away from jokes and towards… well, in the interest of being polite, ‘something else’…

…That ‘something’ being something élitist, careerist and liberal/centrist bona fides signalling. Make-work for Warren supporters. (Which we filtered out by being explicit in what we were looking for – fart jokes and anti-capitalism; a useful tagline, for all its stupidity? – and politely declining the small handful of #stillwithher-ass pitches we did receive.)

(If we ever do a book, it won’t have an introduction by someone who had neonazi Richard Spencer on his news program, harangued two of the only (arguably) respectable Democrats – both Muslim women –for their opposition to Israel’s human rights abuses, and eulogized Donald Rumsfeld. But that’s just us. Maybe we’re out of touch.)

…Sorry, we’re losing the thread.

The point is, we ended up with something different from what we planned, but that’s alright: We’re still super fucking proud of it. Just not in the way we expected/intended. Instead of short silly jokes, we ran lots of pieces that were more literate/literary, more political, more eclectic, more satirical than a lot of Army Man’s pieces, while still holding their own in terms of joke density and general ridiculousness.

So, maybe we’re a descendent of Army Man with a foot in the world in the 2020s. And maybe that means we have a chance to be more vital than if we were obstinately anti-zeitgeist, navel-gazing and backward looking, and just doing word play while the world goes (even more) to shit. Anyway, the important thing is we paid a bunch of writers competitive market rates for ~120 pieces, those writers were from diverse backgrounds on eclectic topics, and when I read the posts I think they’re really fucking good.

Losses

Time Management / Response Time

Like we talked about in our post on emails/responding to pitches, our response time was shit. And we didn’t figure out how to get it down. Other than, if we were to get another opportunity like this or re-open submissions in some other way, we’d really need to ‘boilerplate-ify’ absolutely whatever we can and just manually write only what we need to in each response. And/or have a bigger team to share the workload better. Or maybe just control the flow of pitches better: max. [x] a week or month, e.g. Hmm… food for thought. But shame we learned this lesson mid-grant and were too swamped to take a step back and address it. Probably best to have this stuff ready to go before you get busy.

‘Life (& Death) Happens’

In drafting our grant, we now realize we assumed everything would go right. Things would be seamless! It assumed one of our two editors wouldn’t have a parent-in-law die during the grant. Or that they’d get a promotion (and a bunch more work), while the other would get freelance opportunities that couldn’t be passed up (without worrying about paying the bills). We didn’t assume website partners would also have deaths in the family and be unavailable by email by weeks, or that a not insignificant number of accepted contributors would ghost us, or plans for one of our courses wouldn’t pan out… Or we just assumed that things like reviewing and responding to pitches would take a fraction of the time it did.

In other words, we weren’t prepared for things to not go perfectly and, when they did, we couldn’t successfully adapt to meet the challenge almost without issue. What’s the lesson here? Maybe, with just two people, we were too small a team to handle either of our lives getting disrupted. Maybe we should have budgeted some payment for ourselves so that we both could have (or at least one of us could have) declined work during the period of the grant and just focused on this.

Maybe we should have figured out what we could offload, been willing to pay for that in order to claw back the time to optimize our processes or catch up on work or put in some time/energy to sustainability. Or maybe we should have just pitched a less ambitious grant that was better suited to fitting into our spare time, and leaving some leftover to account for glitches.

Revenue

Like we said in the finances post, it seems like we’d be on track to spend over $5,000 on this site in the course of a year! During our GftW period, we brought in maybe $200 – and a bunch of that was Sam’s own Coil subscription and Brave browser use, so let’s call it ~$100. Is that good?

No, okay, if we were to pursue this beyond these 6 months, we’ll need to figure out a way to get our overhead way down, and our revenue or at least our readership (i.e., newsletter subs, I guess) way up. What else is there to say?

I guess we could look at what we did wrong here: We didn’t push people to subscribe very hard at all during this period; we didn’t create the perks they wanted; we didn’t communicate regularly or effectively enough to establish a relationship with the readers? We’re not sure. At the end of this, we’ll send out a questionnaire to the readers we do have and see if there’s anything else we can glean.

Conclusion

All complaints aside, we are so happy, lucky and proud to have worked with well over 100 writers to share original, hilarious, politically savvy, ridiculous, silly, smart work by artists from diverse background, of wide-ranging experience levels, and put everything we could into trying to ensure a consistent, professional, intelligent, funny tone and quality, and to have paid these writers all a respectable market rate. We hope some or any of them enjoyed our highly opinionated editorial process and learned another way or two of revising a piece or working with editors. We hope any of our writers are able to use their pieces/bylines here to get their next one and that that one leads to the one after that, etc.

We hope our readers enjoyed a laugh or found a new writer to follow. Nice to feel less alone in these wretched times of, as we’re writing this, a fire at the bottom of the ocean, police evicting homeless encampments in Toronto and Hamilton (and, no doubt, whatever city you’re in as well), Western Canada ablaze, heavy rainstorms in July, Biden increasing police funding… It’s disgusting times out there. Laughter and solidarity are nice to have in these times.

And maybe the people we meet and establish solidarity with will even share our interest in lining those responsible up against a wall. Now, that’s funny! Or, if not that (spoil sport), whatever the more ‘realistic’ alternative is: protests, labor organizing, mutual aid, harassing the fuck out of our elected officials… (Not letting Jake Tapper and Meena Harris write for your site if you’re not The Babylon Bee or, say, a new comedy vertical from CAP.) Anyways.

Thank you to Grant for the Web for this amazing opportunity; thank you Caitlin for working so hard with us on the equity guidelines, the readers Caitlin commissioned on the document, as well as to Caitlin and Riane for their free classes (and to Pandemic University for the license on Caitlin’s); thank you to everyone who pitched to us for taking the time and risk of submitting to our unknown, new site; thank you to all our contributors for their brilliant hard work and being willing to work through our notes with us; thank you to people who read and enjoyed the work, and those who shared it on social media or with a friend. Thank you anyone who wants to make the world a better, more humane, more just place, and those who advance these ideals in their creative work, or give us respite from an ugly world because they appreciate the gravity of these things.

Hope you’ll stay tuned as we roll out the remaining posts, podcasts and magazines. And see you around as we figure out where we go next.

With love and solidarity,

Sam, for me and Janet

More in the series

  1. Website DIY #1: Intro & Domain
  2. Website DIY #2: On Starting A ‘Magazine’
  3. Website DIY #3: Site Setup
  4. Website DIY #4: Monetization (Quick Overview)
  5. Website DIY #5: Newsletters
  6. Website DIY #6: Social Media
  7. Website DIY #7: Pitches/Submissions
  8. Website DIY #8: Analytics/Traffic
  9. Website DIY #9: Accessibility
  10. Website DIY #10: Podcasting
  11. Website DIY #11: Equity
  12. Website DIY #12: Email & Responding To Pitches
  13. Website DIY #13: Payments
  14. Website DIY #14: Admin Tools/Apps
  15. Website DIY #15: Networking
  16. Website DIY #16: Audience
  17. Website DIY #17: Stock Assets (Photos/Illustrations)
  18. Website DIY #18: Finances (How To Lose Money!)
  19. Website DIY #19: Wrap Up: Wins & Losses
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