At this time last year, the last VSN print issue was at the printer and I was busy setting things up for closing up shop on the magazine. As much as I enjoyed many things about creating VSN for nearly twenty years, and as much as what I was doing was never really about money, there comes a point (especially as you get into your 50’s) when you have to look at what you are doing and wonder whether working for free is really a smart idea. Because I never made a salary from VSN. It paid for me to go to a few conventions years ago and I got to try out some products that I might not otherwise have gotten to try. But it never was enough to do more than cover expenses, and in the end it wasn’t even doing that.
Balance that with the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful stampers over the years. Some of them were/are insanely talented. Some of them were just enthusiastic beginners (a place where we all start.) I got to see people’s work evolve over time and I like to think that I have helped in their skills evolution. I also have made a lot of online friendships and acquaintances which I treasure.
You might not know that writing eArticles was not my original plan when I decided to shut down the magazine. Yes, I had mulled over the possibility of a digital version of VSN for years, but I couldn’t see how the finances would work. If I did both print and digital, would I lose so many print readers that I wouldn’t be able to afford to print issues anymore? (Professional printing becomes less expensive the more copies you have printed and vice versa.) And what would the stores carrying VSN think about that? Wouldn’t it potentially eat into their sales of VSN?
In the end, it seemed better to just shut it down with some dignity, to try to close it with some class. I tried to do right by my subscribers, store customers and advertisers, and I think for the most part succeeded.
The eArticles were kind of a last minute inspiration, a way of still writing about something I love and sharing it with many of the people who like the kind of writing I do. I say “many” because, this choice made some readers, who don’t use or like computers, very sad and they haven’t come with us on the online journey. It was hard to see them go, and because I know that some of them feel left behind, that makes me sad.
So here it is a year later. To date, I’ve offered you fourteen full length eArticles and six mini eArticles. All but three of the eArticles are available for free because a small handful of really incredible stamp company owners sponsored them.
But here is the rub. A year later, I’m back to the place where I’m still basically working for free and the income from sponsors and random orders on the online shopping cart are not covering my costs. I’ve tried a few things to try to fill in the gaps:
- I repackaged some of VSN’s Quick Tips articles into pdf form as a fundraiser. I’ve sold a few.
- I’ve offered two extra eArticles for sale on the Shopping Cart for about a year. Quite a lot of people chose them as part of their subscription reimbursement and I’ve sold a few of them too.
- I created a Master Table of Contents covering all 226 VSN print issues, also available on the Shopping Cart. Similarly, a lot of people chose them as part of their subscription reimbursement and I’ve also sold a few more.
- I also get one or two back issue orders per month.
But my costs are still more than what comes in each month.
So, trying again, on Friday afternoon I posted a brand new extra eArticle, “Choosing Color For Stamped Cards,” offering it for 99 cents. Not a lot, but if enough people purchase it for 99 cents, then it could help me fill the gap. If it did, I could do something similar next month, etc. It is a way to keep doing what I’m doing and sharing it with you. (The 99 cent eArticles would be in addition to the free sponsored eArticles.)
On Friday, I sold one copy. In the three days since, I’ve sold four more. Sigh.
Yes, I know that this eArticle will be up and available for months and (hopefully) more people will purchase it, but it’s kind of like Friday night was opening night for my play and one person showed up in the audience. Kind of disheartening. Ok, very disheartening.
In the past year, VSN’s free full-length eArticles have been downloaded over 11,000 times. Many people come back every month to get each new eArticle, so I know that there are people who like them. In fact, I often see people who get a single free eArticle on VSN’s online shopping cart and then come back and order all the rest just a few hours later. That tells me I’m doing something right.
But are most people only willing to read these things if they are free? Is there not at least 99 cents of value in each eArticle? If someone offered the same information to you as a class, how much would you pay? More than 99 cents I’m guessing.
Saturday morning I was poking around on the internet (researching of all things, formatting epub and mobi files) and in a round-about kind of way, I came across Amanda Palmer’s Ted Talk on “The Art of Asking”. Amanda is a musician and her idea is not to force people pay for her music but to “let them.” She suggests that there is nothing wrong with asking for what you need. It’s the “Kickstart” or “pay what you want” approach. Her music is available for free download on her website. People can pay nothing or whatever they want to support her.
Ok, this is not the first time I’ve heard about this approach. It’s gotten popular with independent musicians. But I thought people might be more willing to contribute if they got something in return. That is why I posted the Quick Tips files and the unsponsored eArticles, thinking that we’d both get something out of the trade.
But now I’m thinking, maybe you already get something in return? Maybe you get value from the monthly free eArticles and some of the blog posts? Maybe I should just be open about what I need to continue offering my writing online? So here goes.
To just break even, I need just a couple hundred dollars more a month. I’d really like a bit more than that so I could have a cushion for future large expenses, like when I will soon need to replace my aging hulk CRT computer monitors, upgrade needed software or get my printer fixed. And frankly, I’d like a little bit of extra cash that I could use toward replenishing my depleted IRA. (I took $16,000 out as an early withdrawal to pay off VSN subscribers who needed a refund when the magazine shut down. Tax time this year was not happy time, let me tell you!)
So I’m asking you for your assistance. To keep offering free eArticles, I need at least a few more sponsors and/or more paying orders or donations.
If you enjoy VSN’s eArticles, here are some things you can do to help:
- Purchase something occasionally on the Online Shopping Cart: eArticles, Quick Tips, The Master Table of Contents or back issues.
- Donate $2 or $5 via the new “Contribute to VSN” option. You’ll find it as a separate category on VSN’s Online Shopping Cart. If your budget is looking really good one month and you want to donate more, simply change the quantity in the shopping cart to donate whatever you like. (5/14/13 Update: I’ve added links to put a donation in your shopping cart in the blog’s right hand column and on the eArticle Library main page.)
If you get value out of what you read in VSN’s free eArticles and blog posts, please consider purchasing something or making a donation. It doesn’t have to be a lot. If a couple hundred people each purchased a 99 cent eArticle, I’d have enough to break even this month. If they did it again next month, I’d break even next month. A few hundred more each month and maybe I could start getting my IRA back to where it was a year ago.
I know that the economy isn’t great right now. A lot of people are out of work and/or have tight budgets. If you can’t afford to help me out now, that is totally ok. Keep reading for free with no guilt. (Maybe consider it as an option down the road when you are in a better financial place.)
Here are a few more things you can do:
- Help spread the word about VSN’s blog and eArticles. Post about it on Facebook, your own blog, on Twitter or on Pinterest, etc. Tell your email list stamp friends or other stampers you know. (5/14/13 Update: I’ve added a “Grab My Button” option over in the right column for bloggers who would like to add it to their blog. There are already buttons for FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. under the various blog posts.)
- Support eArticle Sponsors with orders. Thank them for sponsoring eArticles.
- Ask stamp companies that you know and like to sponsor future eArticles.
- Be a part of eArticle creation: Submit your stamp art for future VSN’s eArticles.
- And if you have an alternate idea for how I can raise the extra funds needed to keep writing articles about stamping for you, please let me know! That would be helpful too.
So there it is. I’m being completely open and honest with you. I’ve told you the situation and what I need. The ball is in your court. Whatever you choose to do is fine. Either way, whether you can help me out or not, I do sincerely thank you for your past and future readership, support and business.
Thank you, ~Nancie