Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Today, on the chopping block: EMG-Zine

Today, we are starting with EMG-Zine

First, some background.

EMG-Zine was a project I thought up with Jennie back in 2005. I remember brainstorming about it on the (then very lively!) EMG forums. When we first brought it up, there was *so* much enthusiasm for it. We were going to build an awesome .php site for it, but best-laid plans an all... I ended up hand-coding the first several issues in html (as that was all I knew at the time), and eventually hired Janet Chui to build me the first automated incarnation. I have since tweaked it almost beyond recognition, practicing my (then) ham-fisted coding as I revised subscription perks and modified the whole structure of the site.

I roped in a bunch of enormously talented columnists - Janet Chui took up Healthy Green Artists for more than two years, Ursula Vernon tackled random topics with Wombat Droppings, Annie Rodrigue started Behind the Art (which was later taken over by Melissa Acker, as Annie became our art director and later switched to an Ask the Artist column), Amy Waller ran a short-lived column on Cosplay, and Marina illuminated us on Myths and Symbols for nearly three years. Giovanna Adams joined us as a columnist in 2008 to bring us artist spotlights (focusing on historical artists), and Constanza Ehrenhaus took up that column in May of 2009 (focusing on current talent). Nicole Cadet gave us a year of Part Time Painter columns, and I posted about general EMG news every month.

Feature articles have showcased advice by CE Murphy, Layla Lawlor, Theresa Mather, Selina Fenech, Amy Edwards,
Jenny Heidewald, R. Bail, Christy Nicholas, Megan Myers, Liiga Smilshkalne, Joleen Flasher, Audrey Wildhagen, Sonya Fedotowsky, Sylvia Leung, Dawn Obrecht, Elizabeth Barrette, Lorna Cowie, Erika Harm, Cris Griffin, Lisa Victoria, Jessica Douglas, M.C.A. Hogarth, Lisa Cree, Deirdre Murphy and a whole lot more...

We always have a piece or two of fiction or poetry for the theme of the month, and a high-quality gallery of artwork, which surprised me by coming out top in the reader favorites of a poll I ran... erm... a while back. For two years, we ran webcomics - Erika Harm's hilarious Falheria, and Laura Melis' epic Tomb of the King.

By August of the very first year, I knew I couldn't juggle it all myself (what with also building a house and learning how to install plumbing and running the REST of EMG), and put out a plaintive call for an editor. Megan Myers answered that call, and jumped in to provide a year and a half of amazing direction. When she stepped aside to focus on having a darling rugrat, I threw myself at the mercy of my audience, begging for another editor, and Jennifer Broschinsky took up the banner. For nearly all of the issues, our polish was provided by the fabulous design skills of Deborah Grieves, who provided our graphics every month and also designed us wallpapers. A rotating art board helped select artwork for the issue, and... I'm undoubtedly missing others who have helped out, because, well, look at this list. DUDE. You guys are amazing and unflagging and I appreciate you SO much. EMG-Zine would SO not be where and what it is without you.

We've published 59 issues now - December will be five full years of publication, without a single missed month. There was one late issue, back when I was hand-coding in html, because I was personally without power for a day and a half.

We've also published three hard-copy anthologies, all gorgeous, full-color, useful resources that have received raves. Note that I will be discussing the anthologies further in a separate post.

Overall Feelings about EMG-Zine:

I am enormously proud of this publication, and think I have the right to be. The archives are freaking incredible. The refinements made to the subscription system are starting to close in on something pretty awesome. The newest incarnation of the site pleases me. Gold sticker stuff.

Cold Hard Cash and Statistics:

The first year, there were a fair number of subscriptions. People were eager to support it, and most of them ordered the bundle with the anthology. They just about paid for the expense of programming the site, but not quite. There was nothing leftover for the capital to invest in the anthology, but I had that set aside already. The second year, subscriptions dribbled off significantly. Now, we're at one or two subscriptions, total. Advertising never really did much... Project Wonderful brought in 0.30 a day at its top, and is usually sitting at 0.00. Direct offers for advertising space brought in some token payment ($10 or $20 total). Likewise, advertising campaigns to draw in new readers have been a complete bust, costing between $10 and $90 per month and resulting in one or two new readers and no subscribers or anthology purchases.

I pay the editor, all of the positions, the columnists, feature and fiction writers in credits, which can be spent at any branch of EMG, for my own artwork, merchandise (when I was still selling it), print services (prints only available now), Portrait Adoptions, subscriptions to the 'zine or to Torn World, copies of the anthology, or coloring books. It's not quite as good as actual factual cash to a contributor, but it's still acting as cash out of my pocket. When I sat down and figured it up, I'm losing about $150/month to support EMG-Zine, not including my time, hosting expenses, capital invested into the anthologies or periodic advertising experiments. It varies a little, because an adoption becomes mostly cash out of my pocket to pay the artist, whereas selecting one of my own art prints costs me relatively little.

Popularity wise, we seem to have a good flow of submissions and material. We get about 1000 page views per day. Reader interaction is poor (just two or three letters per year). Sometimes I feel like I have to nag about submissions - especially art - but overall, it's still active and engaging.

Regular Time and Energy Investment:

The month-to-month investment of my time is relatively little now. With Jennifer and Annie managing the content, I mostly make minor program improvements, supply my news column, generate a cover graphic, and answer any top level questions that need answering. My job here is to make things work more smoothly when possible and distribute credits. I have... erm... gotten terribly behind here, and am pretty much allotting credits as contributors actively ask for them rather than being pro-active about letting them know what they've accumulated. The webpage has the potential to manage quite a lot of this for me, and I've gradually improved things to the point where it's only going to be a day or two or work to fully automate this. A hard day or two of work, but still just a few days.

What this project requires next:

What really needs to happen, and where I've dropped the ball with this project, is that I need to reconnect with our initial subscribers and regular readers and convince them they need to support this awesome resource. I've watched several publications and webpages that offer a small fraction as much run successful (and, erm, not successful) support campaigns, and have always felt a little dirty at the thought of doing the same. I am not going to starve in the street if I continue to foot the bill for this venture. But yes, it is a whopping $1800 a year, and yes, that is a serious chunk of my fun money for the year. Like... all of it, honestly. I can do this, OR I can buy a coveted piece of artwork or a new computer. Not both. And my computer may last another year, but it's already getting pretty dated. So, I need to get over my capitalist shame and let it be known that I am not an inexhaustible source of money and time. It's that, or stop paying the contributors, and AS a contributor, I would feel pretty rotten about that.

I have set out the themes for all of 2011, and collected artwork ahead for the year, so I will see EMG-Zine through to the end of next year. After that...? Something has to change.

There are a few webpage improvements that are overdue:

  • The above mentioned credits system. Now that I've been managing a similar subscription with credits system over at Torn World for a while, I have a solid idea of how to implement this is a very safe and functional way. A few days of work.

  • An author/artist/staff directory. This is shamefully lacking. A few hours of work.

  • Gallery improvements. I want actual art pages, rather than what's there, and the ability to allot subscription dollars to artists as well as authors. A day or so of work.

  • Submission flow through the lilypad. View your submissions of artwork and written material through the lilypad - you can easily see what's where, and see when (if!) it will be published. A day of work?

  • Better subscriber perks. Originally, only subscribers were going to have access to the archives, but I'm a big softy and want the information to be public, so I couldn't maintain that. The supporter dollars and advertising space are a big part of their perks now. I have a few drifty ideas in my head about maintaining a count for new visitors - they can view up to 5 articles in the archives at a time, and then they get another 2 with some nagging ads, and then they are cut off. Maybe, if you're registered and logged in, you get another 5? This allows a very popular article to draw them in via a link (or a writer showing off their published story, etc.), and then reinforces the idea that hey, there's more here you want - pay up and you can get it. It would clear with sessions, so technically they could restart their browser/clear their cookies, and view more, but what a hassle. Articles from the current issue would NOT be included in that count. I have no idea how hard this would be to program. If I'm good, maybe just a few hours... if not, a day or more.

  • Karma integration. Submitting articles, letters to the editor, artwork, etc. would earn you EMG karma, which could be spent on a subscription (without subscription dollars), or other perks around my sites. Quite challenging. Several days of work, I think.

  • Twitter/Facebook share links. Easy. Less than an hour.

    Final thoughts:

    EMG-Zine is definitely safe until the end of 2011. After that? Well, today is laying out the facts for this project. Every day this week, I'll do another. When I get to the end, I will decide what stays and what goes, and make an overall gameplan.

    I am still enthused about EMG-Zine. I feel good about what we've accomplished. I think there's still a lot of material out there to share. But at its current reward to cost ratio, it's not sustainable. I can see where I need to make improvements. Are they worth making? Will they do the job?

    I'm still thinking.

    And, in other news, I've got a stack of orders to mail, and plan to catch up on emails this afternoon unless I get some paying work in the door. Which I really sort of need! *merp!*

    I'm still writing... I have about ten more scenes all outlined ahead of me, which I think will get me to my wordcount goal and then, the book will be DONE. Well, not really, because there are a LOT of holes to go back and fill, but I think it counts as a first draft.

    40351 / 50000 words. 81% done!
  • Tags: chopping block, emg, emg-zine

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