April 20, 2010

A cry of help for elephant.

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).

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


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.

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