Do you want mindful, independent media to go big?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jun 12, 2010
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It’s up to you.

State of the elephant.

On June 17, it was three months since I secured a loan intended to help us to hire staff, become a professionally-run, sustainable business, and to accelerate our growth.

In that time we did three things, as a business:

1. We staffed up. With an editor, I’ve been able to invite and digest maybe twice as many great columnists who are offering unique, original, quality content that—delightfully for both myself and I’m sure some readers, isn’t by me..! With an operations manager, ad manager and executive assistant rolled into one—that would be Lindsey Block, the sole representative who’s survived since our days as a print magazine with offices and a staff, including part-time photographers and videographers, of 12—we’ve been able to magnetize more advertisers, and do number 2., below. With an ad salesperson…well, I wasn’t able to find an ad salesperson with experience in the LOHAS/yoga/green demographic. Still looking. They don’t have to live in Boulder, though that’s a plus, of course. I also hired a (very) part time editor’s assistant, to work with and train our six interns who help post content and do some original writing of their own.

2. We’ve debuted our Grassroots Member Network. For $108/month, you get your business or personal name in lights. For $108/year, you get your name, business or fave non-profit in a modest font size. Hundreds of those who love elephant and want to see it continue have signed up.

And just last week, we debuted a $1/month plan for those who may not love elephant, but read an awful lot of it. A box pops up on the second page you click, and it’ll never pop up again (until you clear your cache), whether you accept or reject its entreaty to support our journalism.

3. We’ve grown our readership from 140,000 unique visitors a month to 200,000 unique visitors over the past three months.

Above: The last approx six months.

Above and below: The last thirty days (measure by the day, below).

Problem: our Grassroots Network has been only modestly successful. Many of those who want to see us continue, and have retweeted or shared our many supplications for support have been unable, themselves, in tough economic times—or have been insufficiently inspired themselves—to take out their wallet and get their name on every page of our site in return for $9/month. That’s to be expected. Our monthly net is now about $2,000, just enough to support one modestly paid not-quite-part-time staff person. It’s not yet enough to pay for three staff persons, not including myself (I get paid from ads, most of which are donated, discounted or for trade, still. Only a few recent ads up top, like Naropa, J.Crow or New Belgium, are paying fair amounts).

So, for all those who’ve asked what happens to elephant after June 17—I’ve sworn to move on to more profitable enterprises, personally, given that I haven’t paid myself much of anything for nearly two years, now—well, let’s just say that if we don’t get more support, elephant can limp on. If we don’t have any staff beyond Lindsey. Given our growth and success on Facebook and twitter, I’m confident that we can achieve 1,500,000 unique views/month by the end of December, 2010. If I have no editorial help, I think elephant could still make 800,000 unique monthly visitors.

So the question is, am I personally willing to continue to live on my laptop, lose my home, and march on without much of a paycheck? How much do I believe in elephant’s ability to grow and become a force of “mindful,” independent, quality journalism in the 21st century? How much do I believe in elephant?

How much do you?


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & 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. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


15 Responses to “Do you want mindful, independent media to go big?”

  1. Hippie Pride says:

    Well, even though all the buddhist, eco, yoga stuff here is kind of interesting, I am definitely enjoying all the drama you bring to this site; will you close down the site, will you lose your home, will you pay your bloggers who post here, will you get a staff, etc.. This beats any reality show. Keep up the good work.

  2. Andy says:

    You need some other revenue streams. Why don’t you consider a marijuana dispensary and/or grow operation out of Hotelephant?

  3. Carrie says:

    wish you must luck love your site

  4. Next episode, our new pot dispensary will get hit by mercenary deadheads. Stay tuned.

  5. Hippie Pride says:

    Good idea and maybe you can also sell tie-dye tee shirts and love beads. After all, isn't Boulder a hippie enclave?

  6. Brooks Hall says:

    I’m wondering if you might be willing to build your revenue stream over time. You’ve (and we’ve–readers, writers, members, sponsors, advertisers, staff…) done a great job building membership and such… Elephant is getting better. And just like public radio has seasonal pledge drives, maybe you (and we) can build this over time.

    I wish you (and us) well no matter how you decide to proceed. But, let’s keep it up–meaning everyone involved!

  7. Brianna Burke says:

    I agree with Hippie Pride – all of the drama has been fun. However, I don't think it has helped with your mission – independent journalism. It seems more and more the articles and titles are sensational pieces geared to drive traffic (I love all of the keywords you stuff in the headlines), rather then actual journalism where articles are researched, facts are verified, etc. I also note that your new model of revenue has hurt your Google rankings (as some others noted in your previous pleas for money), despite your supposed gains in readership (which might or might not be fabricated). Google seems to think your new "grassroots" model is turning the site into a type of link farm. I sure hope to see an improvement in terms of real (versus sensational, often sexually oriented) content come June 17. Time will tell…

  8. Funny: the whole point of reader-supported is that we can afford to pay writers to create original content. As for fabrication, you can go to hell–I've many times screenshot our google analytics numbers. Talk about sensationalism—your comment is a prime example.

  9. Yah, but they all, already, have plenty of tye-dye shirts and love beads and Phish albums.

  10. Well, I'll have lost two of three staffers…and added four interns. So it won't help our quality improve, and Brianna charmingly notes…but until we're sustainable via our "link farm," as BB calls it, it'll be the best we can do. Or, we can do as BB suggests and toss in the towel, since we're just a big spam blog.

  11. Now I feel really with it. I went took my then 16 year old son and friends to a Phish weekend campout attended by 70,000 in Lake Oswego, NY about ten years ago! (I cheated though. They camped out and I stayed in a hotel.)

    Oh, yeah, and you already know how much I love Elephant.

    Bob Weisenberg

  12. Andy, I've literally had this suggested. Perhaps pot in basements could be the overarching new biz model for all new media! You wanna keep quality journalism free for readers? You gotta be high.

  13. I've added current screenshots above, so you'll know I'm not lying.

  14. I wish I had said that! I concur 150%. EJ rocks!

  15. Brianna Burke says:

    Thanks for responding, and thank you for making me feel included in "your" community. My comments were relevant, and they were not below the bar. I find it ironic that someone that preaches "mindful life" would feel the need to attack rather then simply dialog. I didn't say there was anything wrong with a link farm, I was just pointing out what Google thinks of such a "grassroots" effort. I think the responses to my comments reflect an ironic turn – people are ready to defend the herd without questioning the purpose of the herd or where it is going. How does anyone know that I do not, or have not, supported EJ? I stand by my comments – I sure hope that come today we can begin to read articles that are in line with independent journalism – i.e., they are fact checked, not wholly sensational, and lead to a greater understanding of the issues. I hope that as this "community" grows, they also learn to respect other opinions. The Editor seems to have difficulty with this, as he gladly references my comment in several of his responses. I didn't say EJ was a spam blog (but obviously it is on the Editor's mind for him to reference it…), and I also find it ironic that the very model touted as bringing EJ up to a more professional, "mindful" standard is actually not going to do that (less staff, more unpaid interns – where is the money going?). Nor did I say to toss in the towel. I think the Editor has proven my point – EJ loves sensationalism but not real journalism.