This Business of Art Fix #15: A Day Late and $30 Million Dollars Short

This Business Of Me Talking About Myself

This fix is late because on Tuesday, writing this was stressing me out and then today, I swear to the sweet goddess of all that is beautiful in the heavens that I have been interrupted by somebody on Slack about every seven minutes since I sat down at my mother’s kitchen table (aka “my office”) this morning!

Anyhow. It’s weird that this was stressing me out to write, ’cause doing this fix was 100% my idea — I love consuming media about media, and I wanted desperately to invite the rest of you into the conversations I’ve been having in my head. I’d also hoped talking about What Media People Are Talking About might help more of those Media People notice we exist. Plus, I knew this column would help me stay vigilant about being on top of trends and important stories in online media. It has. It has definitely done that. But these last few weeks, that vigilance has left me feeling more cranky than informed.

I wonder if I sound like a broken record to y’all sometimes, like every story I share comes back to me pointing out one of the following things:

  1. Reader support is crucial to indie media’s existence, because ad-blockers
  2. Reader support is crucial to indie media’s existence, because everybody else has more money than us!
  3. Facebook is ruining everything

Usually, I’m preaching to the choir, too — the reader numbers for these posts are pretty low so it’s likely a good half of you are already A+ members, A-Campers, or merchandise buyers.

The more I engage with these stories, the more I feel like a jogger writing a column about high-speed rail and sometimes, gathering links feels like a broke person walking through the mall. Yeah, those jeans seem cool but nope, not in the budget! E-mail newsletters are all the rage? Lenny is making ten gazillion dollars? That’s neat, I wish we had time for that! Podcasts are really taking off, Slate has like 20 podcasts? Oh cool, yeah, it takes us like six weeks just to put together each A+ Podcast. Gawker is gonna unionize? We don’t even have health insurance yet!

The nature of the internet tends to obscure the differences between rich sites and not-rich ones — if your design is good enough, readers will happily compare your site to one working with $360 million more dollars than you have. When we launched Autostraddle, the LGBTQ and feminist web was mostly indie blogs like us with small-to-non-existent budgets — Feministing, Feministe, Crunk Feminist Collective, Racialicious, Pam’s House Blend, CherryGrrrl, Grace the Spot, The F-Bomb, Bitch. When I started doing Autostraddle full-time, everybody was shocked — writing online was something people did on the side! It wasn’t a REAL JOB! Now, people are more shocked by how little money we make for working full-time than the fact that we work full-time at all. There was no Vox, Buzzfeed LGBT, Huffington Post Gay Voices, Fusion, Mic, Bustle, Broadly, xoJane, HelloGiggles, Rookie, The Daily Dot, Upworthy or Refinery29. Magazines like Nylon and Cosmopolitan hadn’t yet found their internet footing. And nobody really wanted to talk about LGBTQ people. Now all of those places exist, and reading news related to them is feeling less and less relevant to what we do here.

So going forward, I’m trying to keep that in mind! Yes, I’m a competitive person with big dreams who wants to pay more people and pay people more, but I don’t deserve to feel sad about what we do or how we’re doing or what we have. I’m not a business woman, but I’m proud of how I’ve built this business and how the community has supported us. I’m a hustler at heart, I was selling my crayon drawings of Jackie Robinson for $1 alongside 10-cent lemonade at my Lemonade Stand back in ’86. Despite its faults, what I loved about the Broadly article was that it was the first to point out and amplify the fact that we have survived financially against all odds. (A primary “odd” being the small size of the LGBTQ women’s community to begin with.) I feel like we need a big sign on the homepage that says: WE DO THIS ON THE CHEAP, JUDGE ACCORDINGLY. Our monthly budget is obnoxiously tiny compared to our competitors, which is the other stupid thing: why are we “in competition” with them for writers and readers in the first place when we have one-twentieth of their resources?

The world is unfair but the best I can do is shore up, refocus, and have gratitude! Bless us, everyone.


This Business Of Online Media

+ This really amazing website Autostraddle.com has launched a new A+ level that hopefully will be more accessible to everybody! It’s called Cobalt and if you sign up for an annual membership, it ends up costing a mere $2.50 per month! Already SO Many people have signed up for that level and others, and it’s really exciting and we’re happy about it.

+ The Columbia Journalism Review has a story about how women’s media isn’t funded as well as men’s media is and it explains why The Establishment‘s launch budget of $1 million dollars is so tiny in comparison to what competitors like Bustle and Broadly launch with. $1 million is approximately $1 million more than what we launched with, and yet! And yet. And yet they’re absolutely right: in this landscape, it does suck to launch with only $1 million. (Also an article that asked “Who’s funding women’s media?” would’ve found an interesting answer if they’d reached out to us!) (Answer: YOU!) (Real talk: this was the main article that made me depressed this week)

TIME bought Zooey Deschanel’s women’s website HelloGiggles in a deal that could be worth $30 million dollars and then Time went ahead and also bought xoJane and xoVain for an undisclosed amount of money.

The Toast’s redesign is amazing, I love it, it gave me a lot of ideas for our next redesign. As one of the few remaining feminist indies, it’s also cool that they’ve been totally transparent about how they funded it (Nicole Cliffe’s husband paid for it as a birthday present).

YouTube has a new paid content system called Red, and some people are upset about it, but they really shouldn’t be. Everybody deserves to get paid for making content, full stop.

+ How defensible is viral content? How do we keep up with new viral trends? Apparently, right now “People with X background do something from Y background’s culture and comment on it” is all the rage.

+ Is there an ideal time of day to read the news? PERHAPS.

+ The Huffington Post, which is valued at over fifty million dollars, still doesn’t pay its bloggers.


This Business of Business

+ The New York Times asks if diversity has lost its meaning in a fascinating piece that looks at how diversity is assessed and measured across industries:

“Bragging about hiring a few people of color, or women, seems to come from the same interpretive bias, where a small amount is enough. It also puts significant pressure on the few ‘‘diverse’’ folks who are allowed into any given club, where they are expected to be ambassadors of sorts, representing the minority identity while conforming to the majority one. All this can make a person doubt the sincerity of an institution or organization — and question their place within it.”

+ The New Yorker visits Esty headquarters to talk about what impact Amazon Handmade might have on the company that started the whole handmade thing to begin with.

+ Uber’s Surge Pricing: continuing to benefit nobody.


The End Times

The hyperlink is dying in favor of Facebook Instant and Twitter Moments

+ Facebook will be mostly video in a year or two?

+ Apparently “platform ambassadors” are a thing websites need now because of all the nifty platforms that exist besides the platform of a website.

+ Facebook Instant articles get shared more than regular links. How curious that this happens on a platform OWNED BY FACEBOOK.


Advice On How To Do Business Better:

+ How to keep your cool when you interview for a job with your dream company.

+ What the team at Banana Republic wears to work.


Also we’re hiring new staff writers! That’s part of why we’ve launched a new A+ level — we’ve gotten so many amazing applications that are really gonna change things around here and we need your help

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian 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 2685 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. You are perhaps preaching to the choir, but at least in my case it’s the under-informed choir. I don’t have time/justification to seek these out myself, but I learn so much that is interesting and could be relevant to future endeavors. So thank you!

  2. I don’t even know what Facebook instant is? Or, how to distinguish from regular Facebook?

    And a totally-video based Facebook sounds like a nightmare. I always back out of links with videos–I’d much rather read about it and am rarely in a place where I can use audio if I’m internetting on my phone (which is… most of the time). I hope that trend doesn’t pick up on other sites. :/

    • Me too! I never ever watch videos on Facebook, and clicking on links that lead me to articles on other website is my favorite part of using Facebook. I would definitely rather get my information and entertainment in written form instead of video.

    • I never watch video… like… rarely. So rarely. The only videos I watch are like, Glee covers at 1am when I’m stoned and can’t sleep. Also we’ve had a hard time succeeding with video on Autostraddle too. Recently I tried to watch a video on Buzzfeed that everybody kept sharing and I had to sit through a two minute and thirty second commercial before I could watch it… by which point I no longer wanted to watch it, so.

    • Video is awful & I recently read this whole piece by Hank Green (I think?) about how Facebook unsurprisingly cheats at it. Like, stealing videos (which we obviously see happen all the time in our feeds), and then autoplay meaning that it counts us as views while we’re still scrambling to turn the damn thing off.

      I have to see a video linked really a lot before I’ll watch it intentionally, and even then someone usually has to tell me in person to watch. I am an old person. And video is less accessible!

  3. Riese, please keep up the amazing work you have done creating this website, community, and safe-haven. Without Autostraddle I might not have made it through coming out. Really. The South can be a lonely place for a queer. You are an inspiration and a healing voice for so many female-id’ed folks. We appreciate you!

  4. I can imagine how publishing this every 2x can be come repetitive and anxiety inducing, but I wanted to let you know that I do enjoy reading it! I’m such a nerd, but I love reading all the “behind the curtain” magic that goes into producing a website like this! Even when that “behind the curtain” work is maddening and unfair in a capitalist, patriarchal, heterosexist world.

    So, thanks. To quote Melissa Harris Perry, “the struggle continues”. But we are in it with you for the long haul!

  5. Well, YouTube Red (nobody thought that the name is quite similar to that porn site?) and that thing with The Huffington Post and their bloggers are like the wet dream for every outsourcing-lover around the world.

    YouTube Red seems like a cheap way to compete with Netflix; cheap in the sense that YouTube is not gonna to create original content, just use the creations and videos from the YouTubers.

  6. Just got my application in! Talk about nerve-wracking…

    AS has some of the best writing on the web. The content is thoughtful, considered, diverse, and sometimes magical. Trans content is covered by trans writers. Your community is focused but does not exclude. Those sites that are making a gazillion dollars often do it with clickbait. You all are too good for that.

    Working at a tiny nonprofit, I know it can sometimes be very little consolation when you hardly have the money to cover expenses, but truly: what you guys are doing matters. It matters so much. And you do it better than anyone else.

  7. I really, really love and look forward to this column (even when I’m sending you links that slowly choke the life out of your will to live, sorry about that).

    Personally, it serves as a galvanizer, it’s an excellent repository of what’s happening in media/women’s media/queer media, and it also makes me really proud to be here because look at us! We are scrappy AF, with so much talent and heart and hard work behind us.

  8. Hyper links are dying? I… don’t know how to use the internet any other way. Plus I’m only just getting my work to learn what they are (to link to one source document in a document management system). How can I say ‘its just like when you browse the internet” when it isn’t?!
    When will records management become mostly video based – that’d be funny.

  9. I’m sorry you feel frustrated by lack of funds Riese! You deserve health insurance. And all the things. That sucks.

    I also wanted to say that Autostraddle is super important to me, and I’m sure a lot of other queer folks out there in internet land. I’m not sure, (I haven’t done research on it) but I doubt that Broadly or any of those other sites you mentioned have a camp readers attend, or half the community vibes and support you can find here. While you may not have as much money at the moment, I agree with the other commenters on this post that what you do here matters. A ton.

  10. This column is one of my favorite things on Autostraddle! I read it every time I see it. I read a LOT of news, and it’s fascinating to me to see how the content I consume every day makes itself sustainable. I hope to start supporting Autostraddle financially after the end of this month. You guys really, truly put out content that no one else does.

    Something I was thinking about today is that the other site that I go to everyday and love because it puts out truly unique and interesting thought, Grantland, is in almost the opposite situation from you guys. Grantland writers get paid a REAL good amount (especially on an internet writer payscale) from what I have read, and it sucks that a site focused on women who love women will probably never get the intense financial backing that a sports/pop culture but in a male way one has.

    In fact I was reading a Grantland article yesterday about a writer’s trip to basically the logging sport world championship (a small event in Minnesota) and thinking how it sucks that you guys don’t have the cash to send writers to cool queer events in distant places. This column has helped me realize the frustrating barriers to really great journalism.

  11. The article about The Toast’s redesign reminded me that I find The Toast super boring… It’s praised by so many people as an /amazing/ indie feminist website & it has a fair amount of prestige to the point where many people use it as a stepping stone to publish in better paid publications / websites, but most of their content is actually disappointing. Looking at the homepage now there’s maybe 2 or 3 articles I want to read, mostly personal essays although even those aren’t stuff I would link to others. I guess people enjoy Cliffe and Ortberg’s sense of humour and I do too, occasionally, but it feels like what they publish is mostly the same kind of stuff over and over again and it gets boring. They don’t seem to feature gay/bisexual / trans / disabled / non-white / non-American writers too often either so that makes them boring to me also.

    I’m not trying to hate on The Toast but I feel like there’s prestige and occasionally money attached to feminist / women’s websites run by straight women which AS doesn’t get despite having significantly better and more interesting content.

    • fwiw, Mallory is not straight. Which is at least 50% of the reason that I find The Toast interesting.

      The rest is ~30% is the riffing on the western cannon/cultural touchstones thing (which I think is most of why they’re popular), and ~20% because Mallory will occasionally come out with writing that is really brilliant. And flavored by the fact that it’s a safe space for neurotic people like me who die a little inside when we see the wrong its/it’s. I think those things are more the real appeal of The Toast to a very specific population, although once you’re there they can be pretty funny, too.

      • My bad, I guess the lack of explicitly bisexual content on the website led me to believe that it’s run by two straight women. Like, after reading your comment I thought, how ?? could I have miss that ?? and went to search “bisexual” on the website. The only article with the word “bisexual” in the article description or title that came up was from 2 years ago.

        • I think their searching is not working very well – I just searched LGBT and the first thing that came up was from three months ago, but then I clicked the “LGBT” category tag in one and a ton came up (but I couldn’t find categories navigating…). So here’s that, there have been some really good ones recently, enjoy: http://the-toast.net/category/lgbt/

          But yes, I wish it were more explicitly part of what they’re doing – I think it was more when they began, they even collaborated with Autostraddle a bit, and it’s not that there’s less queer content now that I can tell (I’m a bit surprised you’ve missed it if you’ve been reading for a while, there’s a whole “femslash Friday” series), but it’s maybe not what they’re promoting about the site anymore?

        • I’m really not sure how you have missed that, A LOT of Mallory’s writing is explicitly about queer stuff. Within approximately the last seven days she has published:
          My Six Point Plan For Surviving the Stuart Court As Queen Anne’s Lesbian Companion
          Femslash Friday: Calamity Jane
          All I Want For The New Gilmore Girls Revival Is For Emily Gilmore To Become A Late-In-Life Lesbian

          Also, Nicole Cliffe is not American even though she lives in Utah.

          I agree that The Toast gets repetitive sometimes but I still like it. It’s foremost a humor website, so I don’t think you can really compare it to AS.

  12. A lot of you lives in LA, NYC, San Francisco right? those places have major celebrity sightings. Take advantage of it. People loves entertainment. Get your camera and start snapping.

  13. “What the team at Banana Republic wears to work.” = Mostly Banana Republic clothes. Good job, BR.

    ALSO I wish someone would just dump a bunch of money on autostraddle! Investors, where are you? Second to that, I wish I had a bunch of money to dump on you. Anyway, I think you’re great.

  14. thanks for all of these comments and all this encouragement y’all! I WILL NOT CEASE WRITING THIS COLUMN. Especially since the day after I published it, a bunch of stuff happened that i am very eager to talk to you about (not with us, but with other sites and also just general real talk).

  15. (Reading the comment policy was both entertaining and enlightening. Thank you!)

    I really appreciate coming across this post when I did. Firstly, because I find it absolutely shocking that the Huffington Post isn’t paying its writers (I’m sorry? you’re more a business than so many others!). Secondly, because I had no idea that so many of those big sites had such large budgets. Thirdly, because even though I haven’t done a lot of reading Autostraddle (mostly Beth Maiden’s columns when she links to them), I know so many people who love it so much, and I want to learn how to create or maintain the kind of community you all have. Thank you for all that you do!

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