A cry of help for elephant.

Via on Apr 19, 2010

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The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful.

Toward Sustainability: 45 Days to Go.

This was written in February, but I hesitated to post such a transparent Sob Story. Today, I figured, what the hell, made a few light edits, and…well, may it be of some benefit. ~ ed.

This may well be the most important article I’ll have published in my 7.5 years of publishing elephant, first as a magazine, now as a new media web site.

The good: elephant magazine may have been the only, and was certainly one of the very few, magazines to go national in the last decade without a buck of outside investment. We were buoyed by strong advertising support, and a passionate readership (whether they agreed with us, or no).

elephant gay rights cover magazine

We’ve largely succeeded in jumping from the sinking boat that is print media into new media—publishing a blog—thanks again to our passionate readership

(you)

and our success in social media

(we’ve been named top 10 in twitter for green, yoga and Buddhist content by 20 organizations, and won the national twitter Shorty Award for #Green tweets in 09; and our Facebook Page—which gives us 20% of our traffic has gone from 1800 to 11,000 Fans in only three months, making our fan base larger than Dwell Magazine’s, for example).

Our traffic is now at 166,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics, giving us a far wider reach beyond our core or choir than we ever attained as a magazine. And that’s all in our first year online.

Additional honors: I was just named Treehugger’s Eco Ambassador (Reader’s Choice in Culture & Celebrity. Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis videos have been accepted on 20+ green sites columnist: Huffington Post, Shambhala Times, Intent, Care2, Twilight Earth & Simple Earth Media. Treehugger named me “Changemaker.” Discovery Network’s Planet Green named me a “Green Hero.” Shambhala Sun: “Prominent Buddhist.” Naturally Boulder: “’07 Entrepreneur of Year” – 5280 Magazine: “Top Single” – MNN: Top 10 US Green Video Blog – Beliefnet: Top 10 Buddhist Blog.

The bad: my decision to kill the magazine was a costly one: in finally admitting that there was no way to grow big enough to become part of the US cultural dialogue without selling out our walk-the-talk eco-responsibility principles, I gutted 6.5 years of hard work. I gave up our offices. I gave up my staff (we were at about 12, including part-timers). I gave up my car. When my dog, Redford, cut his foot recently, I couldn’t afford to take him to the vet (he’s fine, thanks in part to the good folks at Farfel’s).

Sounding like a country song, yet?

And, in a month or two or whenever my mortgage company gets tired of calling, I’ll give up my house. The house I hoped to, you know, live in, and create a life in—wife, 12 children, the full catastrophe. I haven’t paid myself for three months, as per usual, and neither my business card nor personal card work—meaning my eating habits closely resemble that of a college freshman (free food? Where!). Only, I’m 35, now. Old man Lewis. Finally, our advertising support has largely dried up, though of late it’s been coming back again. The few ads we get, by and large, are half-gift certificate (which has been key to my ability to stay fed and caffeinated, thank god).

The beautiful: Lindsey Block, my sole remaining staff member, has worked without pay off and on for much of the past year. She’s down to four hours a week, or something. I have three great interns. Our traffic is set to hit 800,000 uniques in one year, and our twitter, Facebook and stumbleupon presence is really just getting going (sample tweet from this morning: OMG. First @DeepakChopra. Then Burger King. Then @Peta, @WholeFoods + @Bogusky. Now @Alyssa_Milano, my jr high crush, have RTd ele! W/thx!).

And while things may be dark, debt-ful and lonely on the surface, the fact is elephant has a great resource: love. It’s a resource money can’t buy. Traction with our readership.

The plan: we’re not asking for donations. We’re not a non-profit. We’re in this business not only to “spread the good word beyond our core or choir and to the masses, who didn’t know they gave a care”…but to inspire the business world, by proving once again (as we did with elephant magazine) that it’s possible to do well while doing some good.

Additionally, it’s my goal to start paying our writers, and so provide a decent living for the hundreds of quality journalists who find themselves out of work as the tectonic plates of our fourth estate—the business and art of media—shift, for better and for worse. Paying our writers, of course, will have the added benefit of providing better researched, higher quality and more original content that is not beholden to our advertising support.

Over the next year, I hope to shift our dependence on advertising to the one person who can save elephant: you. We’re not asking for a lot: $9/month. That’s $108/year, a lucky number in the Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

But don’t get out your credit card yet. Here’s what we’re offering, in return:

1. a la the million pixel web site, or say the donor plaque at your local library, we’ll feature your name on our home page, and just about every page of our web site. If you pay at a higher level, your name/business name is bigger.

So that’s it. Simple. If we get about $10,000 bucks in for each month, we’ll be able to free ourselves of dependence on anemic, time-intensive advertising, and begin to really speak truth to power. We’ll be sustainable, as a business—walking our green-minded talk. We’ll be able to focus our hours on more quality editorial, and we’ll be able to pay our writers for their work, instead of charming/cajoling/begging them to work their craft without making a livelihood in return. Our Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis will be able to tour college campuses and yoga studios (and make money doing so: we already are featured enlightainment at Telluride Yoga Fest, LOHAS, Bioneers, Earth Day, Slow Money*, Wanderlust*—all expenses paid).

Basically speaking, we’ll be able to begin to finally effect the larger cultural dialogue, as I have up to now only been able to do in occasional featured articles on Huffington Post. And god knows the world needs a first-tier, successful and independent-of-advertisers media company that can reach the masses, and (like the Daily Show, or Oprah, or the New Yorker, or Dwell etc etc) be available to millions of citizens everywhere—not just our choir.

Click here if you’d like to support.

This campaign will end June 17, (we’ve already pulled in $1,500 since we soft-launched this).  If, at the end of that time, we’re breaking even, we’ll keep going. If, at the end of that time, we’re well shy of our goal—break-even sustainability—then…well, it’s been quite a ride, this elephant.

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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21 Responses to “A cry of help for elephant.”

  1. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    Jennifer Tanner
    I love you, Elephant.

    Ashley Sinclair Smiley
    I love elephant! KEep it coming!!!!!

    Grace Wing-Yuan Toy
    Elephant, I love the thrifting post you did last year. Please do more of those! Thanks.

    Valerie Holmes
    Will share, Waylon. I wish I could give you 9 dollars a month. What about asking for just a flat donation from people? Maybe some can just give 9 dollars… :)

    Danika
    I'm subscribing, but I'm not sure I understand what you want for "Link Name."

    elephantjournal.com
    Danika, click the link and all will be clear. You can have your name or business name on every page of our site, linked to your business…or donate your link to a non-profit of your choice.

  2. We're with you all the way. Let us know what else we can do.

  3. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Danika Carter
    Ah, that's what I thought, just wanted to be sure. Thanks.

    Sandra Nicht
    shared on my feed – I wish I had money, but I'm about to stop doing what I love and apply for a "real job" just to keep my house…. not that I'd be making any more than I am now… never mind.

    Cindi Stevenson
    posted and also posted the other two.

    Bernadette Birney
    all of the above.

    Lori Landau
    posted. and if you add me as a writer, I'll not only write for free (in the beginning) I'll subscribe. and I'll FB & tweet the heck outta ya.

    Paula Lysinger
    re-post all the time ;- )

    Jay Winston
    Posted…will tweet, too…

    Livia Shapiro
    done done and done

    Tiffany Hutchings
    Subscribed and I will repost everywhere I can. Good luck!

    Jesse Atkinson
    inspired and signed up! (@theCloverPages.com)

    elephantjournal.com
    Lori, would love to find out what you'd like to write, any of our readers are always most cordially invited to write: email us at editorial at elephantjournal dot com
    …and thank you Jesse and Tiffany, you've given a morale boost to this sleepy boy.

  4. BTW, since this went out, 6 businesses/or individuals have joined. We can do it. This can work, and it can make us sustainable, and readers/businesses can get a deal in the bargain.

  5. Jessica says:

    Way, you are an inspiration. Few are bold enough to REALLY "walk the talk". May the universe and it's pocketbook shine on you for your commitment, your vision and your open heart. I will join. Namaste.

  6. $9/month is indeed a crazy deal for a link on every page of ele. And what is that really? 2-3 smoothies from the juice bar? One month of Netflix? A pound or so of raw almonds?

    I will share this and do my best to spread the word.

    "One act of beneficence, one act of real usefulness, is worth all the abstract sentiment in the world." -Ann Radcliffe

  7. Pam Aries says:

    Gee..it seems like everyone is having financial problems…I wish I could help. I had to move in with my neice ! no job no car no home. Dang. I love Elephant and I wish you well.

    • Been a tough year for everyone, which makes it tougher for everyone who's having a tough time—fewer folks inspired to help one another than in good times (even if the good times just seem good 'cause we're riding a credit bubble).

  8. Jessica says:

    I know how it is putting everything that you have from your blood, sweat and tears from your heart only to have it leave you totally broke, Waylon. The same thing happened to me with my yoga studio. Fortunately, I did "sell out" to a wonderful buyer that helped me recoup some of my financial losses and provided me with a new direction. I was frightened with what that would mean for me, worried that the future would change so drastically….but it's been the best thing that happened to me. I admire you for walking the same path for so many years.

    • Well, selling a yoga studio may not be "selling out"! As long as you sell to a good steward. Selling a percentage of a business generally means a giving up of independence, a focus on the bottomline before mission (instead of at same time, as in triple bottomline), and agreeing to sell out entirely in a few years' time. Elephant is first and foremost about mindful media, independent forum, getting the word out beyond the choir. Not making 30 million by selling to the Man. We can do well and do good, I believe that.

  9. Jessica says:

    I agree with you completely about selling a percentage of business. By the way, it did go to a very good steward and is thriving. :) I only wish I would have had your courage and humility to reach out to my members instead of quietly struggling for 2 years. I believe it, too, my friend!

  10. Freda says:

    How sad that only a few people will support this site with their cash. I think there is no value here as most of your content can be found on other sites including the sites of your guest bloggers.

    • Well, I'm happy to dispute that—our 25 Columnists, a number that's steadily growing, almost all provide original content.

      Secondly, serving as a "one-stop-click" for all things mindful is useful—it's called being a content-aggregator.

      Thirdly, you've said the exact same thing before and we thoughtfully replied. Are you bored? Would you like to write something (original), including your criticism, about what you want ele to be? Why do you keep coming back to comment, if you think what ele is doing is so useless?

      Finally, nearly $1,000 came in, in the last 24 hours alone, and all those dollars came from people who appreciate what we're trying to provide, here, a forum unafraid of dialogue, disagreement, and one that's intended not only for the choir but for those who didn't think that gave a care about trying to grock "the mindful life." Even more importantly, perhaps, those dollars weren't donations—our readers and colleagues are getting their name, with link, on every page of the site.

      Hopefully our new model, in paying writers, will continue to increase the quality of what we do to your standards.

    • gwenbell says:

      Freda,

      I love three things about elephant.

      One, the community that rallies around this site – its mission, vision and highest ideals.
      Two, the incredible people that keep it up, running and rocking out. I count myself in that number.
      Three, the fact that all opinions are welcome, all comments approved. Even those that may be misguided.

  11. Marco says:

    Waylon,
    I believe in your gift of bring your community together for deeper dialogue about what matters and have always appreciated your candor and sense of humor. I will subscribe and share with other so that you can continue to give your gift. I would like to support you in doing live events which are for your members to build your community support.
    Best,
    Marco

  12. Folsom says:

    So, I really like the idea of Elephant. But lately it seems like your content is uninspired gossip. It says nothing of merit and does little to help with any issues facing our world. It simply says yoga is cool and being quasi-Buddhist is cool and check out how many times we can post something about nudity or sex. Why would I donate money to a for-profit that puts out a lot of uninteresting drivel? I think the only reason I still come back is that I hope you return to the quality work that used to be in your print journal. This is the problem with journalism today – it isn't journalism.

    There are some exceptions of course, you currently have a well-written, worthwhile piece about Bananas and occasionally I see other decent essays.

    Also, it is my opinion that all your pleading for support is only working against you. You should be demonstrating strength as a business, but instead you are telling us how poorly your run your company. Which leads me to ask, why would anyone want to put money into a sinking ship?

  13. Big love to you, Sarah–I know you've been struggling mightily to find your own way and do great good work!

  14. swatijr says:

    blessings waylon. the new community concept is going to advance your visions, i know it!

  15. Thanks for asking. The house isn't close to 900K, strange that you heard that, but people love to make shiite up.

    I don't own it; the bank does, as they'll make it abundantly clear when they repossess it. It's green renovated, something I couldn't do when I lived in an apartment, uses no electricity (I made $9 profit off my solar panels last month), and my staff works here (when I have a staff, which I do thanks to the loan, again). It's downtown, so I could give up my car. The average home price in Boulder is $500K, my house is more than that (because it's old construction, and downtown), but not by much. I put zero down, had $500 in account when "bought" it, and the above plan—which is a good deal for subscribers, since you get name and link—will not go to me, as I said above. I'll get my salary from ads or sponsorships or speaking engagements, our talk show.

  16. Shabba-hoooooo says:

    Woops sorry about that. I had that figure in my head after seeing a listing for when it was on sale? Or maybe that wasn't even your house. I'll just go ahead and put my foot in my mouth right now.

  17. Ah. Remember I bought that house wayyy lower than what I tried to get for it, which I don't expect to get for it. And…I bought it when I had the magazine, and thought it was worth the mortgage if I could live downtown, give up car (saves some dough) and work here instead of renting office. Then I gave up mag 'cause no way to get huge while staying eco-responsible, distribution sucks, and decided to rebuild 6.5 years of work online. So now haven't paid myself much at all for nearly two years. While you may be understanding, my bank hasn't been. But again, none of the above name+link for $9/month, good deal, will go to me. It will go to operations, staff, and writers.

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