Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Social Networking

When the economy took a dive late in 2008, ad revenue for The Rogue Voice disappeared as quickly as the black hole that opened when the government agreed to hand out hundreds of billions of dollars to undeserving bankers.

Where did all that money go? Where's the stimulus for Americans who don't own banks or have huge interests on Wall Street?

My magazine ran on a limited budget, funded mostly through a handful of local advertisers. With so much financial uncertainty and hundreds of billion
s of dollars floating out there somewhere, and with no guarantee that any of it would ever reach Main Street, what little advertising we had quickly dried up.

We got behind in our finances and have been unable to print another edition since January. Readers began to contact us, wondering when the next edition would come out.

"As soon as we get the funding to print another issue," we responded.

One devoted reader called and asked me to meet her at a local restaurant. During our meal, she said: "If you go out of business, it'll literally ruin my lunch." She explained that one of her great pleasures was to pick up a new issue, order calamari, a tall glass of wine, and lose herself in the magazine. The only other magazine that gave her as much reading pleasure, she said, is the New Yorker.

At the end of our meal, she wrote me a check for $500 and said: "When you're ready to have a fundraiser in my home, let me know."

"I'm ready now," I said. Several weeks later, about 40 friends and supporters of The Rogue Voice met in the back yard of her San Luis Obispo home. We collected about $900 in donations, enough to cover about a third of our existing print bill.

Meanwhile, New Media advocates, mostly younger, enthusiastic entrepreneurs devoted to digital, online publishing urged us to begin posting content on the web.

We met with prospective web designers. One bid requested $3,200 for a four-page website, plus $80 an hour thereafter to design and add subsequent material. Additionally, she wanted 80 percent of all new subscriptions that resulted from the website.

Eventually, I met and worked with a student from Cal Poly who was eager to show me—free of charge—the multifaceted benefits of publishing online. We got a homepage posted, with a few samplings from the latest edition (www.theroguevoice.com). It's a work in progress.

While working with him, I lauded print as one of the few really satisfactory escapes from our digital-driven world while he assured me that publishing online will bring more readers, provide greater publishing flexibility, and more opportunity for dialog. Besides, he suggested, print will soon be obsolete.

It was hard to argue the point, especially given the fact that so many print publications are going out of business. I suspect that print will continue to go out of fashion until it becomes mostly a specialized service for readers willing to pay premium dollars for high-end printed matter.

It's hard to imagine anyone getting as much enjoyment from sitting under a tree, reading from a laptop or a Kindle, Amazon's new reading wireless device, as they would from a book or magazine. Personally, I've never found my computer reading experiences to be as pleasurable as touching the pages of a book. But then I'm an Old School reader.

My student friend, after helping me put up a homepage, recommended that I next sign up with Facebook so that I could begin generating traffic to the site. I did as told. I began "social networking" online, even opening an account with Twitter.

Before long, I realized that I've begun participating in the same narcissistic cultural trendiness that has been so much a target of The Rogue Voice. We've won over our readers—a widely divergent readership—because we unabashedly celebrate the dogpatch, slacker lifestyle and have been contemptuous of anything trendy.

So, here we are, at a crossroad, attempting to hold fast to our original vision of giving voice to individuals who live on the edge of society, who are not pretty and politic, who speak their minds with brutal, humorous and disturbing honesty, claiming ground in an unfamiliar and unsettling digital landscape, hoping that this social networking will help rather than hurt our endeavors.

1 comment:

  1. It has certainly become the conventional wisdom that online social networking is essential to building an audience online, but I have my doubts. Every site takes time and energy, and as for the results... each contributes something, but is it worth the investment? I was speaking to someone yesterday who said it's far more important to build communities of writers who sustain each other, sharing links and nods and content. You might think of social networking as just a minor servant to the greater goal you've been pursuing all along—lending voice to rogues everywhere.