If we want a better Baltimore, we need a better Baltimore story.
News media publishers are struggling to design a sustainable revenue model for digital media. The good folks at Readability understand the publishing problem and put forth a well-intentioned experiment to redefine how we consume digital information. Unfortunately, on June 13, Readability announced that this model had failed, leaving 90% of the money unclaimed, because only about 2,000 publishers out of millions had registered to receive payment. They are desperately trying to channel the money to the rightful publishers, and getting skewered by critics in the process.
Crowdfunding is a semi-viable option for publishing digital media. Sites like Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go are helping to fund everything from individual articles to whole books, like Frank Chimero's self-published Shape of Design. Crowdfunding is great for one-off publications like Chimero's book, especially because funders can opt to receive a hard or soft copy of the finished product, but a less sustainable option for weekly or monthly publications.
For the past two years, I've enjoyed a local web publication called What Weekly, which documents the Baltimore Renaissance with vibrant, digital multimedia. What Weekly is a passion project, co-founded by Brooke Hall and Justin Allen. During the past two and half years, they've logged thousands of hours creating, editing, and publishing content for FREE. They have assembled an eclectic band of writers, photographers, and artists, who regularly contribute content to the publication, also gratis.
What Weekly tells Baltimore stories worth sharing. In a recent blog post, Seth Godin recommends elevating the "positive outliers" in a market. "The most efficient way to get the behavior you're looking for is to find positive deviants and give them a platform, a microphone, and public praise. The tribe is hyper aware of what's being celebrated, and when you celebrate those that are moving in the right direction, you create a powerful push in that direction." The folks at What Weekly are Baltimore's positive outliers, and they push Baltimore in the direction of creating, making, and celebrating great art and technology.
What Weekly is now facing the problem of sustainability, and is in imminent danger of shutting down. What Weekly's readership has increased exponentially since its inception, with their site seeing more than 100,000 hits this quarter. And yet, their fan base is noticeably absent in their hour of need. To date, their $10,000 capital campaign on Indiegogo has raised only $7,670 from just 118 backers, averaging only $65 per backer. The campaign has just 6 days left.
This is bad news for Baltimore. Of their thousands of readers, only a small fraction of consumers are stepping up to support them financially. A $50 donation after two and half years of weekly publications works out to less than 40 cents per issue. Few people will be moved to action by a retroactive pay-structure, and contributing to a capital campaign seems more like a charitable donation than paying for content. If What Weekly can raise enough capital to continue, the publishers will need to give some serious thought to designing a more sustainable revenue model.
In the meantime, we must step forward to support them. What Weekly's plight is two-fold. They are suffering from an industry-wide revenue dilemma, as well as local apathy and inaction. If Baltimoreans let What Weekly fail, then they should stop complaining about Baltimore's lingering association with The Wire. We can't fix the crumbling schools, crime rates, or the government corruption overnight. We can start telling different stories, better stories. What Weekly is telling a better Baltimore story.
Let's save our stories:
There are 2 ways you can help What Weekly stay alive while they work to build sustainable revenue streams:
First Way: Donate here - http://www.indiegogo.com/whatweekly
Make a tax deductible donation. There are only 6 days left on our fundraising campaign. There are lots of great rewards left to claim.
Second Way: Vote here - https://www.missionsmallbusiness.com
Vote for What Weekly to qualify for a $250,000 small business grant.
Just login with Facebook, and search "What Weekly," and then click "VOTE."
If you've already voted for someone else that's okay. You can vote for more than one business.