State of the Autostraddle Union #2

Hello weirdos! It’s me, Riese, the CEO of Ideas And Let’s Face It, Everything Else! As 2011 fades into memory and we sit in our underpants awaiting the assorted natural disasters and economic massacres that 2012 will surely bring, we are prone to reflecting on the past while keeping a keen eyeball on the future. This reflection/anticipation period is very conducive to what I’m about to deliver to you: the Second “Annual” State of the Autostraddle Union Address.

The last time I presented the Union’s State to you was January 2010 — over two years ago. At that time, I declared: “We got 120,000 unique visitors in the month of December 2009 and nearly 500,000 page views!”

Well, in December 2011, we got 388,000 unique visitors and over two million page views. And in January 2012, despite the site vacillating between broken and completely down for a total of about three days, we still garnered over 400,000 unique visitors and, again, over two million views.

Also, we were super thrilled to learn that we’ve been nominated for Weblog of the Year in the 2012 Bloggies — the ‘net’s highest honor — as well as Best Entertainment Blog and Best Community/Group Weblog. Have you voted for us yet? You should, time’s running out and I’m firing one teamster for every award we don’t win!

But of course we wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for what happened last April, when y’all raised over $20,000 for us in ten days and everything changed. So let’s start there! Some of you hadn’t even found Autostraddle when that happened, so this recap is really important True Hollywood Story type information.

You’re probably wondering how that whole “become financially sustainable” plan is working out. Have we squandered your hard-earned cash on liquor, fast women and frozen yogurt? Did Coors Light offer us an advertising contract? Do I still use cardboard boxes for furniture and a chair for a desk? Well, we are still here! We’re still here!

technically sarah is actually not here but you get the picture

After the fundraising drive the biggest thing that changed was our attitudes — as I said at the time, we hadn’t realized how demoralizing and bleak we’d become, constantly fighting off the negative self-talk and antagonizing messages from colleagues and friends. “It’s impossible to make money in lesbian media.” “Why don’t you get a ‘real job’?” Also it turned out that our love for you wasn’t unrequited, which is always encouraging.

So after the fundraising drive, in May 2011, Laneia and I both brought on Interns and started working with a woman we’ll call “Arls” who had volunteered during the drive to help develop us into better leaders/managers. Talking through our “processes” was a revelatory experience — we met with Arls every day, sometimes twice a day, to talk through management issues and take a good hard look at the things we needed to improve.

laneia: i mean i try to come off as more or less professional in emails to the outside world but for the most part, i feel like we’re all just a bunch of crazy girls in combat boots running around in mud puddles
riese: we are
it’s like you said in the meeting
we had a sleepover and decided to call it a business
laneia: yes
and that’s also what i love about it!
riese: exactly. 🙂

– May 5th, 2011

We had a lot of shit to fix.

See, when we launched, 75% of our team was NY-based. The site was small and our readership was small. I’d been working face-to-face with (Design Director and Co-Founder) Alex nearly every day before I moved to Oakland and she to Los Angeles in October 2010. Alex then got a full-time job, Web Developer Tess’s job got mega-busy, Managing Editor Sarah Palmer shipped off to law school, Taylor got a full-time writing job, Rachel got a 9-to-5 for the entire summer (which didn’t stop her from writing like a motherfucker, however, because she’s the fastest writer in the land) and never once had we taken a time out to recognize that we had new working conditions now which would require new structure. Also, the inherent problems of not sharing a real-life 3-D workspace were multiplying (and continue to).

a day in the life

Meanwhile, our readership was growing and our bank accounts were emptying. We’d only made it to April at all because a lot of you had been donating — generously — to Autostraddle for months if not years, way before the fundraising drive started (and I have your names tattooed on my heart).

Anyhow, trying to do a lot with a little is a delicate process and we’d been handling it sloppily. With Arls’s guidance, we’ve started holding morning editorial meetings, implemented strategies to make our daily operations and communications more efficient, honed in on developing the hardest-working writers into familiar faces, and actively sought out contributors and guest pieces from new voices.

I won’t get into ALLLLL the boring details, but just know that Arls really helped us get there, big time — we worked with her near-daily from May until December of 2011.

In June 2011, Taylor and I met up with Meredydd, a miraculous Canadian marketing guru who had lots of experience with brand management. We had a long chat about audience demographics, other websites, and what our next steps would be in order to improve our appeal to advertisers.  So she put together our audience survey and now we have a media kit that advertisers can actually use, and we have a better idea of who YOU are and what you want.

With our new structure, we’ve been better equipped to deliver what you said you wanted — like more posts. Since the fundraiser, we’ve established a schedule that ensures you wake up to a new post and get usually three more posts per day than you used to. In January 2011 we published 135 posts — in January 2012 we published 195 posts.

You also wanted social networking. We added Autostraddle Social in June 2011 and we’re still working to make it better. A lot of that will change when we scrape together the cash for a new server.

As far as overall management goes, our donation drive enabled two pretty major things: Laneia was finally able to move herself and her kids into their own apartment and the other being that instead of losing Rachel to a barista position when she started grad school in September 2011, we were able to bring her on as our third “full-time” employee. I believe the current pay rate is approximately $2 an hour but still — if we can be “job creators” then I think the 1% can try a little harder! It blows my mind that these assholes getting bazillion dollar tax breaks can’t hire anyone when I lie awake at night dreaming about job creating. Everyone who works here deserves it, and also I can only work 80 hours a week for about another six months before I literally die.

Our writing staff is getting more diverse in terms of gender identity and race, and hopefully it’ll get more and more diverse as the days of our lives go on like sand in the hourglass. We’ve also been able to republish some stuff from JezebelElixher, and Bkyln Boihood and are developing a relationship with Dapper Q to further diversify our content.

We added some shiny new faces to our team in 2011, like Brittani, Lizz, Whitney, Rose, Sebastian, Jamie and Annika as well as our dedicated interns; Grace, Bren and Madi. We also got to see a lot of our former interns and contributors become shining stars, like Laura, the hottest contributing editor in all the land, Carolyn and Gaby. We’ve been consistently pleased by the ongoing efforts of our longtime writers Crystal, Jess, Taylor and Katrina.

We launched a bunch of new features that we’ve miraculously continued doing for more than one week, like You Need Help, Autostraddle Kits, Things I Read That I Love, Playlists, Fashioncaps and debuted our first ever narrative webseries, Unicorn Plan-It. We got a lot of neat press, too.

You wanted merchandise — we debuted another spectacular calendar, printed posters, Autostraddle This T-Shirts and A-Team Shirts! By re-investing donation money into printing and selling merch, we were able to survive the rest of the year without being broke again! When we get the money to print more stuff we’ve got a few other things in the pipeline for you.

So, nation, what is on the horizon for the future? Well, on January 1st, 2012, after three days of minimal sleep, I maniacally sketched out a “2012 business model” in all-caps on some notebook paper. I also inexplicably felt inspired enough by the future to put a “You Do You” sticker directly onto my wall and write “2012” in permanent marker underneath (which means I am now spurred on not only by my passion for this work and by your shining faces, but also the possible loss of my security deposit).

As a huge company running on a tiny budget, we’re at an interesting crossroads right now. A taco stand becomes a taco store and then eventually a taco store chain as its profits increase; in online media, however, growth can happen entirely independent of financial growth. Right now we’re running like eight taco stores while gathering modest returns on the taco stand, because that’s just how much our employees love those tacos.

all these girls love tacos!

Presently, our primary obstacle to effective growth is that we lack the professional expertise and the manpower to move dramatically forward on anything besides editorial things (and over the past few months even that workload has become too much for the three of us), and I don’t think that’ll change ’til we can pay more people to do more things, from writers to party planners to software engineers. Basically right now Laneia and I are doing the marketing/PR stuff, Alex and I are handling ad sales and I’m handling merch sales and accounting. Our secondary obstacle is that we’re enabling our continued existence by paying ourselves $2/hour, which can only really be temporary.

Ultimately, we can sit around all day and pray to Isis that a magical investment fairy will drop several hundred grand into our laps so we can effectively take over the world (the math has been done on this, we truly could explode with enough investment cash), but that’d be a really boring day.

Instead, we’ve decided to create a brand new business model for online media! Yup! 

Listen, if anyone can do it, it’s us, right? I mean, we’re pretty special. Most of you are the most compassionate, generous, smart and funny human beings on the entire internet, and it’s so awesome that so many of you are now making 3-D friends and even getting laid because of connections made on Autostraddle.

Everyone’s telling us that nobody will pay for media if they can get it for free. I disagree. You can get Jesus for free and the church isn’t going bankrupt, but people still put money in the plate thingies at church, so. We’re gonna be diversifying the fuck out of our revenue streams while also praying for magical investment fairies.

There’ll be advertising, of course. We’ve found some like-minded kickass advertisers like Pariah and Girl/Girl Scene, and have another big campaign coming up this year that we’re thrilled about, but we’re realistic that for many reasons; advertising alone won’t sustain us any time soon.

When y’all did your holiday shopping via our affiliate accounts this winter, we saw big returns, so keep that up, please, that’s so cool.

We’ll keep selling merchandise — Laneia, Rachel and I made a ‘zine for you that’ll come out soon, and we’re printing more t-shirts and will be adding more fun things, too. Just today a new batch of surprisingly enormous You Do You stickers arrived in my mailbox!

You’ll keep donating, right? Yes! Of course you will. Because all ye subscribers help us sleep at night, and all ye occasional donators make us smile all day. Could we pull off another fundraising drive for a week this year? I don’t know. We’ll see.

[Also if any of you have a fancy camera — the kind that press people use to take good pictures that cost like $800+ — that you don’t need anymore or are looking to replace, please email me, we’re in despereate need!]

We’re also branching out into doing more LIVE things. For example, a big group panel and/or me standing on a stage at your college or University, talking about myself while you stare at your fingernails! It’s inspirational, I recommend it, please email Laneia.

this is me inspiring people

AND

And!

We’re doing an event. A multi-day event the last weekend of April. We’re gonna be announcing it tomorrow, but it’s basically the best idea we’ve ever had and the success of our pilot run will determine whether or not hosting similar events a few times a year will be a large chunk of our business model. We’re hoping this could be the future of our business, and it involves you! Seriously write it on your Google Calendar or maybe on your palm.

I’m actually so excited about this that I probably won’t sleep tonight. You guys! I can’t even. I really can’t even, I’m not just saying that to imitate Rachel and Laneia.

this is us, circa 5 hours from now, being excited

Anyhow, wow! We’ve come really far from our modest beginnings, and we’re so excited to keep going and getting better and we’ve got such a good team and you guys — YEAH YOU — are our heart, soul, and probably also our kidney and/or liver. We love you all so so much and that’s part of what makes this place one of the specialest places on the internet. We want to keep bringing smart, funny, unique, challenging content to you that you can’t find anywhere else. We want to pay our taxes, get a new server, and build a colony on the moon.

Those of you who’ve made this possible should pat yourselves on the back. If I was there with you, I’d do it for you, but I’d probably also go for a sneak-hug.


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Profile gravatar of Riese

Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2452 articles for us.

99 Comments

  1. Riese, I love you and the entire AS staff. Seriously, this website has been so instrumental in my life for the past year; I don’t know where I would be without Autostraddle. It gave me the voice I so desperately needed but couldn’t find. So, I will buy all your merch and tell everyone I know to read this website, because I need AS in my life! And when I’m rich and famous someday you will get all my money.

  2. I love Autostraddle but if you guys don’t bring it up I always forget to donate (I mean it. Not being cheap. For real)
    Suggestion: have 3 fundraising drives a year, one every 4 months.
    You could start in February and have an “Autostraddle loves you” themed fundraiser. Then around June/July have another one, could be “Keep Autostraddle Independent” or something like that. After another 4 months have a “Are you Thankful for Autostraddle?” fundraiser.
    I love you all and I want my girls to have nice things

  3. Thank you guys for all your amazing work! I don’t comment often, but I’m here everyday, just soaking up the awesome. I don’t know what I’d do without Autostraddle. Probably die of being completely uninformed about everything. (For real, this is the only place I get my news. /lazy) Anyway, you are all the best.

  4. Autostraddle, I love you even though your website won’t let me log in right now.

    I’m going to donate money because one time Laneia gave me really awesome advice in a You Need Help (which I promptly ignored because I suck but whatever)

    Also you guys are teases because know I have to wait until tomorrow.

  5. I first discovered autostraddle a few days after the last state of the union. I made my way here because of some other article, but i read the state of the union, and then i came back here every day.

    i find when i want to feel a part of the world and feel good about myself, i come here. facebook doesn’t cut it, autostraddle is the daily feed i actually need/want on the daily.

    Thanks, Riese and team. i’ll keep subscribing. and you keep being awesome.

    • Just saw my name on the donators’ wall, and I thought of what people could tell me. That I shouldn’t have because I’m broke and that I could have saved to pay for the train to go and see this girl I like, or finally get my driving license. Except I’d be mentally worse off without AS, I wouldn’t have met this girl I like in the first place, and I’m rubbish at driving anyway.
      I feel so much better with AS as my favourite website ever and YOU DO YOU stickers everywhere.

  6. Neat, I didn’t know a state of the union addresses could be interesting.

    I stopped donating last year for a few months because I got a new job and became busy and couldn’t read much online… but I’m surprised I made it on the hall of fame! I bought a T-shirt on sale though so that balances out???

    Keep persevering! d-(^_^)-b

  7. every month when I get the paypal notice that I’ve donated, I get a little excited to be supporting such a rad thing. this is the only time in my life that I get excited when money is removed from my bank account, in case you were wondering.

  8. You ladies are pretty damn inspirational. You put a ton of love and labor into an idea you believed in and it became this powerful and vital force. For that I thank you, because with AS I’ve learned so much about myself, life, this queer community, whiskey, and how use cats to illustrate all of what I learned. I’m excited to see what you have planned for the future and will be donating my monies soon!

    Also, I’m really hoping the event is Bay Area (just a wish).

  9. thank youso much you guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IM GETTING ALL CHOKED UP RIGHT NOW

    also, it’s true how autostraddle has the best readers- all you guys are so intelligent in the comments *SWOON*

  10. Don’t worry Riese, if you want to keep your security deposit you just need to match the paint colour of your wall, get paint of that colour, seal the permanent marker with PVA glue, then paint over it. Sealing it is important as marker can bleed through paint otherwise.

    The More You Know!

  11. This is going to look really dumb but i want to try to be helpful: have yall invested pay per mile advertising?

    You can get anything from 10 cents to 15 dollars for every 1000 page views that a site gets.

    So if you got 2 million hits a month, with ten cents per 1000 hits you could make 200 dollars a month (at least!) just off hits.

    If you got 10 dollars per 1000 hits you could make 20,000 a month.

    This would produce more money then ads that people click on to make you money?

    Just a thought… My girlfriend broke up with me so instead of buying her a valentines day gift I will be donating to autostraddle <3

    I hope this wasn't annoying! I know you ladies are doing everything you can xxx

  12. Thanks so much for the past year!
    You help me know where I am in my life.

    When I get paid next week (there’s currently £4.88 in my bank account)from the great job i got this month (a great job that I think my autostraddle aided self-confidnece helped me to get- I mentioned tegan & sara in the interview and my girlfriend in the first staff meeting) I am going to donate for the first time. I hope you always exist. x

  13. I only started properly reading autostraddle most days in dec. Now it’s a fairly fullblown obsession. Multiple times a day. Thank you so very much. Also for posting on Sunday so that when I wake up on Mondays in Australia there’s something new to read. Also the Also see bit. That’s super good.

  14. I think this post encompasses why Autostraddle is so awesome and different from other sites. You’re honest about what you do great and what you need to work on and you ask for our help and our donations and our suggestions on how to make this place better. I mean, what other site does that, really? It’s like we’re all one big team, it’s not just you guys creating content and us reading it, we all have our own little parts to play in making this the best community on the internet.

  15. Autostraddle is so much more lovable than every other website. Why is that? For one thing I really love hearing about the process, it’s way more fun that way.

    Also I met/saw/photographed Riese when she was at Yale and it was hilarious, fun, and awkward for all the happy homos in attendance. INVITE HER TO YOUR PLACE!

  16. Donated. This is the only site on the internet where I feel truly at home- and this is even whilst primarily being an avid reader who doesn’t comment much (that because so many people here already share my perspectives enough to say what I want to say before I’ve even said it! Seriously! I feel understood here).

    I like that this site is honest, funny, intelligent, brimming with passion… reading about your dedication to Autostraddle warms my heart, because sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who still has dreams, and sometimes I feel like I never see people going out on a limb for something they love and believe in so much- especially in the face of other people not understanding or believing in that venture too. Your passion here reminds me that people still do take risks and leaps of faith and love like that; it thus inspires me to do that. Thank you for that.

    (But seriously, a very real part of what I want to do in my life, amoung other things, is to challenge life’s mundanity by learning how to / making large and amazing puppets (a la this excellent group ERTH) and roaming the city streets inside them entertaining children and hopefully inspiring some sense of wonder in adults because OMFG I’m at a cafe on my lunch break and there’s a DINOSAUR!)

    But yes. Also, thank you for You Do You. I think that’s a very ultimate part of why I love this site- because you guys, AND the awesome community here (who ensure that I always read the comments as well as the article!), really do seem to believe in that and all that it stands for.

    Ultimately, you’re awesome and thankyou. I shall definitely try to keep supporting you guys. This site is so much more than ‘just another website’ and it deserves to flourish forever and ever. And ever. The end.

  17. “…if we can be ‘job creators’ then I think the 1% can try a little harder! It blows my mind that these assholes getting bazillion dollar tax breaks can’t hire anyone when I lie awake at night dreaming about job creating.”

    THISTHISTHISTHISTHIS!
    As an accidental business co-founder, I just want to scream this from the rooftops. Our little non-profit business pays our event acts more than most people and we don’t understand it.

    The whole point of this comment is that it is fucking awesome to know that Autostraddle, a site that I love and delightfully force upon others, has the same beliefs as myself. This State of the Autostraddle Union is like, the best Valentine’s Day present ever.

  18. Again, Riese, you said all of the things! Thank you all for working your asses off so that I can have quality entertainment/thought provoking articles/pictures of kittens in my life everyday! This made me realize I should definitely donate again, because if AS stops being a thing I will be super super sad…and very bored at work 😉 I love this team!!! Words can’t explain the feelings I have for this site. Keep doing you!!!!!!!
    <3

  19. This kind of honest transparency is something I really love about Autostraddle – I think it’s so admirable and awesome, and I wish I wasn’t so broke so I could give you lots of moneys.

  20. Thank you for writing this. It must be hard to take a step back and analyse this incredible chimera of your hopes/dreams/entire life. It all sounds encouragingly positive, and the whole site is kind of an unfathomable achievement already.

    This probably isn’t the right forum for any more suggestions, but this threw up couple of things for me:

    1. Like people have said above: remind us what we need to be doing to help. As well as donations, simple stuff like making sure people whitelist the site on adblocking software to ensure you get ad revenue, using the affiliate link, maybe making search plugins with the affiliate tag built in (I edited mine to do this but I am not 100% it works) so people literally cannot forget to use it.

    2. Regarding donations, while acknowledging how important they are, I get the feeling you are reluctant to push for them too hard. I view them more as a pre-payment for something amazing in the future.

    You mentioned specific things that you need money for (servers, paid positions), I think people would be so up for donation drives for that kind of thing, especially if they were tied to special perks a la kickstarter, e.g. donate $20 towards a server and we’ll let you post images because we’ll actually have the capacity for it, donate $30 towards a techie and we’ll give you expanded user space once they’ve programmed it.

    I feel like Autostraddle’s future is so bright I want to read next year’s state of the union already to find out how great it’s been.

    • Oooh I like your #2. It reminds me of stuff like Oxfam where it’s like donate $20 and you send a goat – it’s tied to specific things. (OK, so you don’t necessarily send a literal goat, but it goes towards something related like agriculture).

      What would be fun is to do some sort of auction or perk-like thing where we could pay to get some fun lesbosexy type thing with the money going to A/S. Pay $100 and Harto writes & performs a love song about you. Pay $200 and you get to hang out with Brandy & Julie at a movie. Fun experiencey-type things that only Autostraddle could have. I’m sure there are readers who are willing to offer services or products!

      Also re: merch – this is something that takes some effort to organise but could be useful for the future. Amanda Palmer got so many custom things donated to her that she decided to commission those people to make merch that she then sells. There’s been perfume, lunch boxes, dolls, all sorts of things. Any crafty A/Sers out there?

      Here’s a start – design your own whiskey!
      http://www.whiskyblender.com/

  21. I am so grateful that you guys made it after all, and that this website exists, and exists in all its wonderful present glory. Being here has formed me so deeply, I can’t even imagine myself without it. You helped me feel okay and normal and like I could have a bright, bright future. So I’m taking this moment to say thanks. *hugs everyone*

  22. So while currently I don’t have any money at all ever right now (oh god) sometimes I do and when I do I subscribe to some things that I really believe in. Like, you know, I donate like $5 or $10 a month or what ever. And it’s automatic and that’s cool because then I don’t have to think about it because sometimes I forget. So maybe I can’t afford $50 all at once, but I can afford $5 a month.

    And maybe like my only $5 a month isn’t that big of a deal but I bet that you could totally get bunches of lady lovers to also join the site as members. Sometimes the sites/podcasts that I subscribe to send me something as a thank you, but sometimes they don’t and either way it’s cool because they’re already totally giving me a lot of awesome content.

    So what I’m saying is maybe think about adding membership subscriptions to the site so that after I get a job I can give you guys $10 a month.

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