Hey there, Autostraddler,
We wish this message came with better news, but it doesn’t. As we’re sure you’re aware, the economic and media landscape is hell right now. And, for the first time in our history, Autostraddle is making cuts for financial reasons.
While your support, via A+ and donations, has held steady this year — and we’re eternally and forever grateful to you because YOU are the only thing keeping us here at all — our advertising revenue has fallen significantly from last year’s. (Not for lack of trying!) With ad companies pulling back their budgets, I had to make what was one of the hardest decisions of my life and scale back our operations.
This means that we both will not be hiring a new Art Director (instead those duties are being shared among senior team members) and we are terminating the freelance contracts of our Subject Editors on July 31, 2023. These were part-time 20 hours/week independent contractor positions that paid a base rate of $2,000/month for writing and editing 6 posts a month as well as other subject-specific duties, with additional payments for writing and editing work beyond the contracted amount. The subject editors and our team were given notice of this on May 10th, and you might have seen that our Ro, Vanessa and Shelli have begun looking for other work. If you have leads, please do feel free to share those directly with them. Ro has elected to stay on the team as a writer, but Vanessa and Shelli will be moving on entirely and we’re going to miss them a whole hell of a lot.
During the pandemic we dreamed big. We started out with massive, weeks-long fundraisers that tested the limits of our physical and mental energy and hours in the day, especially for Nico. We managed to avoid cuts, thanks to PPP loans and ad checks from 2019. We’d hoped that the landscape starting in 2022 would be gentler on our mental/physical health and we’d be nimbly able to get our ad revenue back up, and I took out a $200k SBA loan in 2022 to avoid making budget cuts. That loan bought us an extra year without cuts — but now we have to scale back or we will shut down. We still might, but I am doing everything I can to find a new path forward.
Prior to now, we were one of the few media companies who haven’t made cuts over the last few years of financial uncertainty in the industry. I really liked that about us. But it’s happening everywhere, at media companies with much deeper pockets than ours.
Thanks to your financial support, both during our most recent fundraiser and those of you who are A+ members, we were able to offer Shelli, Vanessa, and Ro three months advance paid notice and hopefully, through that, a runway to find other work. At their request, we paid out the entirety of the three months ahead of time. We offered them the opportunity to remain on the team as writers, and to be able to offer them 25% of their original stipend ($500) for 25% of their work starting July 31st. It wasn’t an irresistible offer, and it doesn’t reflect the immense value of these editors.
These are three incredible people who have put so much of their time and heart and energy into Autostraddle.
Vanessa has been here for longer than anyone besides me and Laneia. Her heart is stitched into our walls. She’s unrivaled in her ability to foster and build community, to scream in support for your hot date and your amazing essay. Her writing is accessible and intimate, she has convinced you to take butt selfies, sleep with your friends, and really truly understand that you are hot. She taught you to be a slut and also to date and also to get married. She has given so much to Autostraddle and we are so grateful for her humor and heart — which have become intertwined with our own.
As our Sex and Dating Editor, Ro has championed bringing voices into sex that are often left out, making a space for everyone in the queer and trans community to muff and masturbate and finger with chronic pain in their hands. Ro has covered so much important and highly specific territory in their own writing and the voices thy’ve brought to the site, applying their wealth of experience to accessible content about sex, from the epic Gay B C’s of sex to pubic hairstyles. They’ve also done fantastic progressive political work, humor pieces, and a very inspirational butt week playlist.
From the jump it was clear Shelli was special — she was organizing live pandemic programming and eventually hustling to get into film festivals and pulling off incredible interviews. Her “Come Vibe With Mewp_postscolumn is one of my favorite things we’ve ever published. Strap Week was legendary. Her writing is so alive, so funny, and so unique. Every time she has 25-35 thoughts on a movie or television show, I need to know every single one of them.
We are also so incredibly devastated about losing a powerful Black voice right now. If we could afford to keep Shelli’s role as a Culture Editor or any of the Subject Editor roles, we would. Shelli is a treasure. She’s a star. Nobody with the money in the bank to keep her in that role would ever not do so. Especially us, especially with the goals we have, and all the work Shelli has done personally to move us forward with them.
We do want to be clear with our Black readers and supporters that the closing of the Subject Editor role is not a reverse course on our commitments to centering Black and other QTPOC voices and perspectives at the core of Autostraddle. The goals we put into place in 2019 remain, and the editors will adapt creatively as we switch more responsibilities onto the Senior Team. We have an amazing group of writers of color on our team and we’ll all be pitching in to recruit and foster and center Black voices and experiences on our website. Nothing, however, can replace Shelli’s specific voice.
During our last fundraiser, we asked you, our readers and funders, to buy us some time to figure out a way forward. In the past we made other promises — new hires, improvements — and in the past, we promised we would avoid cuts. We didn’t make that promise during this year’s fundraiser because by the time we got there, I already knew cuts were possibly on the horizon. The first was realizing we couldn’t afford to hire another full-time Art Director after Viv Lee, our previous AD, moved to Berlin. Those duties have been redistributed to all of us on the senior staff, with Viv staying on to manage our instagram as an independent contractor.
The fundraiser gave us a little extra money to ease the pain of any potential cuts if they came, although at that time we were still hoping to avoid them altogether. It was really important to us that we would be able to offer anybody losing a position — including independent contractors — three months notice. Again, because of the fundraiser, which we know so many of you supported, we were able to offer three months of paid notice.
We remain committed to keeping Autostraddle around, for y’all, for emerging queer and trans writers, for our readers and community — and I’m really sorry that for all our idealism, and all the many things we’ve tried, and the work and the tears we’ve all put in to avoid this — that it’s come to making cuts and scaling back financially. This is a hurtful decision. We are losing two of our best and most important team members, I know we’re cutting the positions of Subject Editors who have been hustling for us for years, who have been amazing ambassadors for Autostraddle, building community and pitching in on ad campaigns and hosting events and writing and editing incredible work.
I feel that you all might have questions about the recently successful fundraiser, and I’m here to answer them. That fundraiser was successful, and it successfully filled up the “fundraiserwp_postspiece in our budget. But that’s only one piece of the pie — the pie also contains advertising, merchandise, affiliate revenue and A+ memberships. We got extra slices in 2020 and 2021 in the form of PPP loans we didn’t have to pay back. We didn’t have that in 2022, so I took out an $200k SBA loan. In order to maintain our 2022 budget in 2023, we needed advertising to fill the hole of the loan, and we also need to start paying back that loan.
When we asked you this year to save us from shutting down, you turned up big-time. A lot of you were also asking me why we keep running ourselves this close to the edge and why I as a CEO and CFO allow this. It was clear, to you, that our budget was too high for what we could reasonably earn at our size, if we so frequently found ourselves on the verge of closure. And you were right. We have no runway. We need to start building reliable, recurring revenue streams. Fundraising is a band-aid but now we need to fortify the ship.
So, I’ve opted to make Autostraddle smaller. Between pay cuts taken by senior team members, ending the subject editor contracts, cutting operational costs and not rehiring an Art Director, we’re shaving off over $200,000 in annual costs.
We’re drawing in our defenses and doing our best to fortify what we have left. We are doing this with grief in the hope that it will allow us to weather the rest of the year, and years to come, in hopes we can build back what’s been lost. I am trying to figure out a sustainable path for our future and I hope that you’ll stick with us, and that if you have leads for Shelli, Vanessa or Ro, that you’ll share those directly with them. A+ members can see what our annual revenue streams looked like last year or in previous years via our annual report.
Some have asked us why we couldn’t simply fundraise for more. Nico brings years of experience to it but we unfortunately can’t fundraise for more or for longer with a department of one that also relies on an already maxed-out senior team for fundraising efforts. In 2021, Nico worked excessive hours to keep this place open and everyone paid through a pandemic. Any revenue stream that entails that many hours or leads to someone working to the point of physical unwellness is not okay with me. Nico loves this place so much that they were more than willing to do two fundraisers in 2022, but I made the decision to take out an SBA loan instead. We can’t do frequent fundraisers if fundraisers require that many hours of work, especially Nico’s and Carmen’s. The past two have been shorter, in part because they’ve been less frequent with smaller initial goals, to save the health of Nico and the team. I set a time limit of two weeks for our most recent fundraiser, regardless of what we’d raised in that time. We’ve learned a lot from every fundraiser about what we’re capable of raising and how long it takes to raise it.
In 2022 and 2023, we just did one fundraiser, but each of those entailed long hours from Nico and seven-day work weeks for many of us leading up, again, for months. Fundraiser time is peak insanity — in terms of non-Nico senior staff commitment, in the leadup it’s extra work from me and the Art Director and during the fundraiser it’s senior editors and social. It’s like another job on top of the multiple jobs we each already have. It’s all hands on deck and it’s really unhealthy for all of us. There’s just no way for Nico and the team to put in more effort than we already do. My workload is insurmountable on the best day. Frequent fundraisers present major challenges for us to meet our editorial and our traffic goals and work on other recurring sources of revenue.
While this may not be the most professional way to say this, especially coming from a CEO’s letter, I have no other way to put it: This all really sucks, and I’m really sorry. I will miss Vanessa and Shelli so much. I’m glad we’ll still have Ro in the capacity that we can afford to pay for. All of us have taken on more work and responsibility, with no pay increases.
The elimination of these positions does not mean that the work of these great editors in service to our community won’t be done. We are going to continue to publish about queer sex, and culture and community, we will continue to offer queer advice, and we will continue to center QTPOC voices and perspectives through it all. We are all beyond exhausted, and we still plan to continue to serve you. The path ahead is difficult, but I had to make a choice between making cuts now or Autostraddle having no future, and I chose to keep hoping, and working and trying for that future.
I invite you to bring any questions you have into the comments of this post. I understand if you’re mad, frustrated or devastated by this news.
This is our first time making cuts like this. We made mistakes in the way this messaging was communicated — to the Subject Editors, to our people on slack and externally — and have gotten a lot of open-hearted feedback about the ways in which that communication was not what they’d come to expect from us. For example, our message to the whole team on Slack also lacked the level of transparency our team needed from us at this time, and we are working to rectify that.
Also, I gave the go-ahead to Subject Editors to start posting on social media about looking for work without consulting with Nico, who would’ve advised that we communicate this with our members and readers before you saw it on social media. So you ended up hearing the news from social media instead. That is my fault and I’m sorry.
Thank you for allowing us to work to provide you with the transparency you deserve.
Thank you for being here, even in these difficult times,