Doing kottke.org as a full-time job FEB 22 2005
I recently quit my web design gig and -- as of today -- will be working on kottke.org as my full-time job. And I need your help.
I'm asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that's you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis. If you find kottke.org valuable in any way, please consider giving whatever you feel is appropriate.
This will be a one-time "fund drive" lasting 3 weeks, you may make contributions via PayPal, credit card, or check, there will be some great gifts as an incentive for you to give (more details here), and your contributions will be the primary means of support for the site. And yes, I have absolutely no idea if this will work and I'm completely nervous and exhilarated by the challenges ahead.
If you're uncertain as to whether you want to become a kottke.org micropatron, please read on. I'm going to explain what it is I'll actually be doing, why I'm doing it, how the site might change, and what I'll be doing with your hard-earned money.
Why are you doing this?
I've been self-publishing on the web for almost 10 years now, first with a little site on my school's web server, then on various ISP accounts, then 0sil8, and finally kottke.org for the last 7 years (almost). Looking back on it all, this little hobby of mine has been the most rewarding, pleasurable, maddening, challenging thing in my life. I've met so many nice, good people, formed valued relationships with some of them, traveled to distant lands (and New Jersey), procured jobs & other business opportunities, discovered new interests, music, movies & books, and lots of other stuff, all for putting a little bit of me out there for people to see.
And yet, I almost quit last spring. The site was getting out of hand and wasn't fun anymore. It was taking me away from my professional responsibilities, my social life, and my relationship with my girlfriend. There was no room in my life for it anymore. As you can imagine, thinking of quitting what had been the best thing in my life bummed me right the hell out.
After thinking about it for a few weeks, I had a bit of an epiphany. The real problem was the tension between my web design career and my self-publishing efforts; that friction was unbalancing everything else. One of them had to go, and so I decided to switch careers and pursue the editing/writing of this site as a full-time job.
Ok, but why else are you doing this?
- Blogging -- or personal publishing in general (not that they're synonymous) -- as a pursuit has been somewhat marginalized as a hobby or something one does to support other more worthy and/or lucrative pursuits. People leverage their blogs in order to write books, write for magazines or newspapers, pursue art or photography, go work for Gawker, Mediabistro, or Weblogs Inc., get jobs at startups, do freelance design (as I used to), start a software company, or as a vehicle to sell advertising. All worthy pursuits, but I'm interested in editing kottke.org as my primary interest; blogging for blogging's sake, I guess.
In the recent comics issue of McSweeney's, Chris Ware notes that "in the past decade or so, comics appear to have gained some greater measure of respect, due in no small part to the number of cartoonists who have begun to take the medium seriously". This is me taking online personal publishing seriously because I feel it deserves as much.
- With decreasingly few exceptions, media is supported by advertising. Content on the web in particular is heavily ad supported. I'm interested in exploring other avenues with a special interest in discovering sustainable ways for other folks to do things like this as well.
- I'm attempting to revisit the idea of arts patronage in the context of the internet. Patrons of the arts have typically been wealthy individuals, well-heeled foundations, or corporations. As we've seen in many contexts, the net allows individuals from geographically dispersed locations to aggregate themselves for any number of reasons. So, when you've got a group of people who are interested in a particular artist, writer, etc., they should be able to mobilize over the internet and support that person directly instead of waiting around for the MacArthur Foundation or Cosimo de Medici to do it.
- I'm interested in too many things to settle on design or programming or writing or a particular topic. kottke.org indulges my desire to be interested in too many things (as Neal Stephenson put it recently).
- And not to get too mushy here, but this has been a dream of mine for a long time now. Thought it was high time to stop dreaming and start doing.
How will you doing this full-time affect the site?
First, let me tell you what won't change. The content on kottke.org will always be freely available to everyone who visits, regardless of whether you have contributed or not. No special "member" content or services. Think of kottke.org as non-crippled, fully-supported shareware...you only pay if you feel it's worth supporting.
kottke.org will also not become any less personal or any more professional. This is still my personal web site and is not going to mutate into a vertical blog about tech, design, politics, pop culture, or even asbestos. I'm not turning into a journalist. I'm still going to write and post almost exclusively about things I am interested in, whatever those may be at any particular moment. Just so you know, I may occasionally post cat photos, as is my right as the editor of a personal web site.
What might change on the site will be driven mainly by two conditions:
1. kottke.org is now my main professional priority. At long last, focus!
2. I will have available to me, for the first time in years, large uninterrupted chunks of time with which to produce creative works.
The goal is to use the increased level of focus and time to create a (much) better site. More time means there will be more content of a greater variety. Some days, that may mean more posts and more links. I'll be able to go to more (hopefully interesting) events in NYC (& elsewhere) and write about them. I'll have time do the occasional bit of real journalism, collaborate on neat projects like Dropcash, and do larger projects that require longer time scales to finish...dare I hint at a return to more 0sil8-like projects? (I dare.) And there are opportunities that I'm sure will present themselves as I settle into the luxuriant folds of full-timeness.
Why not advertising?
Like I said above, there's got to be a way to support media that doesn't involve advertising. But more than that, I don't want to disrupt the relationship dynamic we've got going here. There are currently two parties involved with kottke.org: me and the collective you. Advertising introduces a third party. In my experience, the third wheel of advertising often works to unbalance the relationship in favor of either the author or the readers (usually in favor of the author). If ads were involved, I might feel the need to change what or how I write to appease advertisers. I might write to increase pageviews and earn more revenue. I could fill pages with ads, earning more revenue but making the content more difficult to read or pushing some content off the page entirely. You could block advertising and deny me needed revenue.
None of that is appealing to me. If I'm writing, you're reading, I'm responding to what you've got to say about my writing, and we're mixin' it up in the comments, why do we need a middleman? Why not keep that dynamic intact if we can?
What's your monetary goal?
Quitting my job to run kottke.org full-time is possibly the dumbest economic decision I've ever made in my life. This undertaking so isn't about the money. (I'm gonna link to Ludicorp's about page here because their corporate philosophy matches well with my philosophy in approaching this.) At best, my goal is to make about 1/3 to 1/2 of my former yearly salary to support my efforts here for a year. I have no idea whether this goal is even remotely achievable...only the hope that it is and the desire to make it happen. Like I said, dumb economic decision.
As with anyone starting a new business, I've tightened things up in order to give myself the best chance of success. I've moved to a (way) cheaper apartment in Brooklyn, cut way back on eating out (I'm learning how to cook properly instead...hey, if I can learn to cook, you can pony up a couple of bucks), will be using my cache of frequent flier miles when I need to travel, and am curtailing my spending in general. It feels a lot like right after I got out of college...without the ramen noodles.
Are you excited?
If by that you mean "do you feel like you're going to throw up?" then yes.
Ok, that's about all I've got for now. That's definitely the most difficult thing I've ever had to write; I hope it came out OK. Thanks for reading and I hope you'll consider supporting the site. If you've got any questions, send me some email or find me on AIM (I may be a little slow on the IM uptake...I'm anticipating a busy day or two). I'll probably end up compiling questions I get into a later FAQ post of some sort (or making corrections/clarifications to this one).
Again, thanks for reading.
(Oh, and I should be on the webcam most of the day today. I guess you should be able to tell roughly how the above is going by how much I'm smiling. If instead you see me rocking catatonically in my chair clutching an empty pill container, call 911.)
Update: Hi there. Not a lot of time (today has been crazy! have you ever gotten IMed by 300 people in one day?) but things seem to be going pretty well. If you've emailed to ask to be put on the micropatrons list and don't see your name up there, don't despair...I've got a bit of a backlog. I'll get the names up there as soon as I can. And more later..but for now, thank you to everyone who contributed, you're too kind. Off to dinner before I starve.....