“Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.” – Gandhi
I woke up today to find an email from a reader with simply this quote in the body.
Last night over dinner with friends it was surmised that I had made my decision. This morning, there is a distinct nervousness in my soul.
Yes, today is Day 9. But I’m not ready. I will take today to be with family, to discuss anything and everything but this. I will enjoy today’s spectacular Phoenix weather and forget for just a moment. Hopefully then, my gut instinct can come through more clearly.
The answers to more questions and some direction later today…
You’ve never been a very publicly interactive bunch, perhaps this is a cultural by-product. Avid readers and consumers of information, but sharing is something we’re programmed to be leery of. So while hundreds of you visit this blog daily and thousands drop by the main magazine Web site regularly, the levels of participation on our poll, about the future, remain low. (Take it here.)
What’s notable is that someone finally had the guts to tell us off, the guts to choose the option “Good try, time to say goodbye.”
Even though I know it is a strong possibility, the sting is there. But we are here to be honest, right? So please continue.
The last few days have been a ping pong match between passion and practicality, but last night I gained some clarity. As I listened to my musician boyfriend rehearse for a show tonight, I realized that true passion isn’t really something up for debate. He transforms when he plays. (shameless plug: http://www.jmillerlive.com)
I used to do the same when I spoke of or worked on East West. Now, I just stew on numbers and my lack of sleep. Can I find a way to revive my original love for the mission behind the product? I’m trying, and I’ve made one decision thus far. We won’t go quarterly.
I will leave you today with a line from a song the guys were rehearsing last night while I lamented the loss of “Ugly Betty.” Even Mode faces challenges. Sigh.
These lyrics hit me…coincidence or sign? From Hook, Line and Sinker by J. Miller - “Heave-ho, High Low, Fast Slow, Yes/No…Are you really living?”
* Tomorrow and over the weekend I will simply answer questions here. Anything you want to know about this decision, my life as publisher/editor or my takes on the industry. Some call this 9-day idea brave, others stupid. Either way, I am here to share anything and everything. Please send questions to email@example.com
Why not go Web only? It is a question I have received from the start of the economic downturn, and one some of you are asking now via your emails.
The overall answer is that it just doesn’t feel right. And here’s why:
1. We should all know by now that just slapping up a Web site doesn’t guarantee revenues are on their way. Web advertising is as tricky as print ad sales. It is far from a proven model. And while I think our site, designed and built by me, is of course adequate, we don’t have the resources to maintain it to the level I would like. And more resources only cost more money, so you must sell Web ads. (at start of this 9-day introspection, I revealed that I never wanted to be a “sales chick”)
This brings me to Folio’s interesting Q+A with Meredith National Media Group president Jack Griffin. He said, “At the same time, there’s no getting around that display advertising on the Internet is going to be no one’s salvation.” I recommend giving the whole Q&A a read. It did make me think maybe we can just wait it out….but would subscribers be OK with that option? Again? Unlikely.
2. I have two other entrepreneurial friends that have Web sites with strong audiences and great cache…still, they are not successful at the bottom line and they are running ragged like me. Yes, there are success stories too, but you need the investment to keep up with technology and to have the resources to maintain the brilliance of your product. We aren’t suffering too far from meeting economic goals, but I am suffering from OVERWORK for too little. And Web only doesn’t seem like a solution to the latter. (Slightly off topic, a recent article on burnout in the NY Times caught me eye. I think I am suffering from burnout related only to East West work, because with other projects I am fine. Perhaps as one reader said to me recently I need rest and reprieve. )
3. The main reason I am reluctant to go Web only, however, is the content. The content is what made us. It is what sets us apart, it is what got national media attention and it is what readers come to us for. They don’t want dating tools or social networking communities, I know, we tried both. They don’t come to us for breaking news and they don’t come to us for short humor snippets. They come for the in depth and the interesting, both of which are better suited for a read away from the glare of the computer screen.
But, of course, I could be wrong. This is where I stand now. Where I’ll end up on this one depends on what arguments come from out there where you sit.
Each day I decided I will share a reader comment that was sent to me. Feel free to leave comments here as well and engage.
Sent after day 1, “Hi Anita,
Brave and understand your situation. It is definitely time for a change. A reprieve and rest. It is never easy to transition, but I would believe these feelings come with lots of confidence that something better will be revealed. Whether its similar or not. You are testing your soul’s purpose.”
I had the idea for East West, then known as EW Woman, while working at The Arizona Republic so many years ago. Parked in an editorial planning meeting for the wedding issue of the paper’s new style/fashion insert, I suddenly felt different from my colleagues. I had nothing to contribute. My wedding experiences were far different from those of mainstream America. I went to weddings of a different sort throughout my childhood…those with saris, mehndi and days of boisterous celebration.
Back at my desk, I realized stories about teeth whitening and vintage shopping just weren’t cutting it. I had other stories to tell, those of my culture and the diversity I grew up in. And I wasn’t just thinking of the Indian community I grew up in. My friends, my world — as a brown girl growing up in white Scottsdale — was always a diverse mix. I got along with everyone, but always related most to my peers from other ethnic backgrounds, those that navigated two cultures.
The research began.
Were there magazines out there for this niche, those covering a merging of cultures? I only found Jade, an online magazine, at the time. So I went for it. Two months later the first online issue of East West appeared. Eight months later we made the switch to print. Two months before that I lost my biggest champion. He helped me to refine my business plan and he found every mistake on the Web site, whether I wanted him to or not. He truly was East West’s first copy editor. I lost dear dad in December. East West in print premiered in February. I threw myself into my work. I threw myself into this dream. I had nothing else, or so I felt.
Today, that need to push forward and push hard has quieted within me. I have emerged from the cloud, I have other loves and other things to enjoy now. And I realize that in my fight to make it, I lost the story. The last two issues of East West made this clear. Overwhelmed at making the business side shine, I lost my love of the story. When East West first began, we stood out because of the true heart that went into every editorial decision, because of the risks we took to tell important stories, because we were forward thinkers. The last two issues still spoke to these values, but I personally felt less engaged. I felt less of me went into those stories because of the stress of business.
I came across a publication out of North Carolina recently, The Sun. Founded 30 years ago as a for-profit business, today it runs on reader support only. It is a non-profit, ad free. It is all about the story.
A quote from their “About” section, “The Sun is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine…that has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human. The Sun celebrates life, but not in a way that ignores its complexity. The personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that appear in its pages explore the challenges we face and the moments when we rise to meet those challenges.”
The Sun’s platform makes me wonder. Could East West strip away the fashion and the gloss and become a non-profit digest? Would that reignite my passion? Would that please you, the reader?
What if we focus back on the stories that changed readers’ lives and made the media and the mainstream hear us…from Asian Americans and Aids to Minority Medical Disparities and first person accounts of merging culture in relationships, career and more?
What if? But then again, as marketing experts will say, ‘How can you mobilize such a diverse readership?’ Will pan-Asia America really support their own media?
* As usual the East West reader is quiet in public comments, a more contemplative bunch. We were never able to get a true online community started, but that isn’t what you wanted…you all wanted the story/the content.
Anyway, I digress, I did receive many emails from yesterday’s post. Thank you for the thoughts, ideas and support. Keep them coming. I want to hear your ideas. Don’t be shy. I am opening up here with stories I rarely tell. It is scary, but necessary.
I’m tired of the hustle.
I’m past the age of a quarter-life crisis, and I am certainly too young for this to be of the mid-life variety. This, I sense, is just a change in circumstances, a pure desire for more time to live and less stress.
From the start, beginning back to 2003, this magazine — whether it was online, then print and online, then hiatus, and then back to test the financial landscape — has defined my identity. For years, I welcomed this. I lived East West, and we met with great success for a small niche publication hailing from Arizona. We were recognized nationally, I won awards for my risks and I thrived on it all. But with this latest test run, our emergence from hiatus to gauge the economy, I feel differently.
My heart isn’t in it like it used to be. In good times and in bad, this is a hard industry. It requires 150%, and in the case of East West, even more of me. We are extremely small and this time around even leaner. How much can one person or even two do? At what cost – financially, mentally and emotionally? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself of late. Questions without definite answers.
Can East West survive? Yes. Do I want the pressure of ad sales and of meeting the bottom line anymore? I’m not sure. I started the magazine because I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to speak of and to my culture. East West was not created out of a desire to become a sales chick.
I’ve spent the last three weeks stewing about this, ignoring the emails and the queries from writers, readers and industry. Simply stuck, hoping an answer would just appear. I’ve focused in on a vision of simplicity, and I’ve allowed myself to entertain offers.
But the reality is, this is not a simple decision. I need to talk it through. Nothing happens in isolation, and this is the form of communication that best suits me. So for the next week or so, until Jan. 31 when a decision will be made, I will talk here, and I hope you will help by sharing your thoughts and suggestions. I will open up about the journey and my feelings today. I will flush out the options I’ve been batting around — switch to non-profit, become a quarterly digest, just say goodbye altogether — and if the choice is the latter, what will I do next? There are offers. But what is right. When a brand defines you, how do you walk away?
I hope to have an answer in 9 days.