The Case for Elephant as a Major Media Presence in the Slime & Muck of these Dark Ages.
I just read an article in The New Yorker, today, about how it’s easy for companies to grow fast who are “aggressive” in down economic times. Couple that with the lack of a sustainable business model for media today (you know, newspapers are dying, magazines are thinning, and the web while popular is free to read) and it’s a great time for growth if you’re hungry, lean, relentless, inspired and focused.
I am all those things. Why? Because I was given a choiceless mission, an inheritance, from my only father guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and my teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. And I took a vow: to be of benefit.
Not to be of some benefit. To be of benefit to “all sentient beings.” That’s a lot of people! And animals. And it’s said to include blades of grass.
Many of us have taken that vow: to dedicate the merit of whatever we do to others, first. I’m not unique in that. That said, media represents an easy way to communicate with thousands of people, and impact and effect people’s thinkings.
As the UN Charter says, it’s in the minds of men where wars start. And so it’s in the minds of men where wars can end, and true peace and societal and environmental harmony can begin.
Over the past 7 years, I’ve devoted myself to a media company called elephant. First as a magazine, elephant succeeded in not only breaking even, but growing steadily without a dime of investment—we may have been the only independent magazine to go national over the past decade.
But there was a problem. Ultimately, our distribution, as it grew, became hypocritical. While we printed on eco-paper, magazines still get milled and shipped, shipped and printed, shipped and shipped again until they reach their destination. Problem: the average magazine in the US only sells 3 or 4 out of 10 on the newsstand. The rest get recycled, which sounds nice but is energy intensive, involves more shipping, you have to pull the inks out. So I tried, and failed, to find ways to distribute more responsibly (as a free magazine, we “sold” 9 out of 10 copies, which was awesome). Finally, seeing the wave of “new media” and the first deaths in old media
…I gave up, and jumped online.
elephantjournal.com was essentially a new business. A year ago we had no traffic, no ads, no readers, no “social media” presence really. I declined investment, gave up my source of income, gave up my staff, offices, car, house. It’s been sad, stressful—and inspiring.
In 15 months we’re already at 175,000 unique readers a month, according to Google Analytics. We won first place nationally in twitter for our #Green content. Our Facebook Page is bigger than, say, Dwell Magazine’s, or Tricycle and Shambhala Sun (which I appreciate and respect) combined. I’ve been named Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, the world’s biggest green media company. There’s been a bunch of other generous awards, which have helped give us renewed legitimacy. elephant’s been named to more than 20 top lists for our Buddhist, yoga, and environmental coverage.
Thing is, we need to improve. Compared with our days as a magazine, we have little editorial oversight. Our quality goes from good (we have 25 wonderful Columnists) to…not so great. Why? The volume of content a web site has to produce in order to stay in business is huge. We publish maybe 70 articles a week. Huffington Post publishes 70 an hour, at least. In our days as a magazine, we published only 40 articles and tidbits over three months..!
My plans are ambitious. It’s easy to grow, now. I want to grow to 1,000,000 unique readers a month by December 31st, 2010. Once we’re at a million readers, our mission: to “bring together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society” will begin to reach beyond our choir or community, sangha or kula…and to the masses.
Our little Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis has featured Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, Amy Goodman, Alice Walker, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Khandro Rinpoche, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Terry Tempest Williams, Sister Helen Prejean, Robert Thurman, Sharon Salzberg, Congressman Jared Polis, Senator Udall. Given a little love, it could provide a mainstream forum for truly worthwhile voices and leaders.
How you can help, if so inspired:
I’m asking you, my sangha, to give me a chance. I’m not asking for a donation. I’m making an offer: for $9/month you will:
1. …keep elephant independent
2. …enable me to begin to pay our writers—raising our bar to proper journalistic standards, which are fading fast online. I don’t get any of this money. I’m paid from ads.
3. …get your name or business name on every page of elephantjournal.com. 175,000 people visit our site each month already, and that number is steadily growing.
On June 17, when my loan expires, if we’re at $10,000 a month in recurring “Grassroots Sustainability Network” subscriptions, we’ll be able to become a first-tier media player in the US. We’re already at nearly $1,500, now.
To see your name or business on every page of our site, click here.
Yours in the Vision of Enlightened Society,
Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis ft on 20+ sites: Huffington Post. Treehugger: “Changemaker” – Discovery Network’s Planet Green: “Green Hero” – Shambhala Sun: “Prominent Buddhist” – Naturally Boulder: “’07 Entrepreneur of Year” – 5280 Magazine: “Top Single ’09” MNN: Top 10 US Green Video Blog – Beliefnet: Top 10 Buddhist Blog – Shorty Awards: #1 Green Twitter in US Twitter: @elephantjournal has been named to dozens of Top Follow lists @waylonlewis: personal tweets. We’re huge on Facebook.