Distance Newsletter 02
June 20, 2012
Welcome to our second newsletter! We have a lot to announce, and we hope you take the time to read all of this.
Distance 02 is being printed right now; if all goes well, copies will ship to subscribers and preorders on June 27. It's about extracurriculars, with essays by Cassie McDaniel, Sharlene King, and Francisco Inchauste. If you already subscribed, you should have received a link to download the digital bundle earlier today.
This is the important part of the email that you should read right now.
This will be a little numbers-heavy, but such is the way with money. I promise I'll try to keep it entertaining. The short story: Distance is in the red, I'm scared, I'm resolving to hustle the hell out of this, and we probably can't keep doing this without your help.
First, some facts:
An issue of Distance costs $5,180 to print and $3,420 to pay writers. That's $8,600 per issue.
A physical copy of Distance costs $20. Customers (you, hi) cover the costs of the envelope, toner, label, and postage at checkout. So that's about $17 of profit assuming a total sellout of the print run.
It takes $768 per two years to run the shop with Fetch to serve the digital bundles. That's a fixed cost that doesn't change with the volume we do, and we used our Kickstarter project funds to support it through the end of 2014. That said, we make $4.55 per digital bundle after our payment provider's fees.
Now, some circumstances:
Sales cratered in May. We sold all of twelve print copies the whole time, for a total of 464 print copies sold so far. After the Kickstarter campaign ended, we sold 33 subscriptions and 17 physical copies – which was what I expected to be selling every week. If Distance doesn't keep selling copies, we can't keep making issues.
Distance 02's print run took an entirely preventable $690 surcharge because it was preflighted at the printer before we noticed a document-wide irregularity with the footnotes. We're changing our low-level editorial process for Distance 03 and beyond so that almost certainly won't happen again, but it was $690 that we would rather have had in our coffers.
On my personal front, I have received only enough freelance work to sustain myself and pay my rent – which would be fine if Distance were making more money than it has been. I lost a gig that could have easily paid for all of June the day before it was set to begin. I recognize that it's feast or famine in this industry, but it's really bad timing all the same.
In a perfect world, I'd be making enough per month that I could safely pay for a small portion of Distance 02's printing and shipping. Why would I do that? Because I believe this publication is an investment during its infancy, and it will take time – and the release of more issues – for a large enough canon to develop, with enough consistent themes and discourse running through it, to provide the momentum necessary to sell in profitable volume. That's a gamble I'm willing to take, but if I can take steps to get us to a profitable volume today, you bet I'm going to go there.
Why did the Kickstarter not account for all four issues? Because I expected far more single issue backers than subscription backers, and I expected far more sales after the Kickstarter ended. All of that was a huge risk, and now I am (literally) paying for it. In retrospect, I should have run a $40,000 goal to cover all four issues – and if we didn't make it, then maybe Distance was never meant to be. That was a mistake, and I'm deeply sorry for it.
Why not sell more sponsorship slots? Because that simply isn't what we're about – and besides, too few have sold so far that I would want to rely more on it. That would only increase the risk.
So that is where we are. Understand, though: contrary to several of our peers, I do not want to run a business that loses money in order to make some grand point. If something this new is losing money only six months in, after maniacally tracking all of our expenses and sales, I am straight up doing it wrong.
What am I doing to fix this?
Single print issues now cost $15, and subscriptions cost $50, as of today. The vast majority of criticism around Distance is that it's too expensive for a slim, softcover book. I appreciate everybody who purchased issues and subscriptions at the old prices – the difference singlehandedly covered one of the author's fees this issue – but I'm lowering the prices in the hopes that I can sell more. I did not take this decision lightly; it feels like devaluing my own work, but the market appears to have spoken.
Subscriptions remain up, but they still begin with Distance 01. New subscriptions will receive Distance 01 and 02 at once, with 03 and 04 to come once they are released. Why not switch the subscription to begin with Distance 02? If I do that, then I have to print five issues, because the subscription will cover issues 02, 03, 04, and 05. And to be entirely frank, if this email – and the next two weeks that I'm devoting to promotion – sell only twelve copies of Distance, it's going to be a lot more painful to refund all of the new subscribers than it is to have a weird subscription system. This reduces the overall risk. The whole goal with this is to keep risk to a minimum, so I can focus as much on making a good product as possible.
With the help of a good friend, I redesigned Distance's website four weeks ago. I think it's much simpler and more persuasive.
I am pounding the pavement through June and July, writing individual, personalized letters to design and technology publications, press outlets, and various people I have a tremendous amount of respect for, in the hope that Distance will be featured somewhere. I have put together a press release for Distance 02, which I probably should have done earlier. And: I am being more generous, giving free copies to press and friends. In a weird way, that helped sales quite a bit with Cadence & S.cc); it may well help here. Either way, 1,536 unsold copies of Distance 01 aren't doing any good sitting in my office.
What can you do?
Tell the world. If you got any value out of Distance so far, don't just say that you did – say exactly what you learned. That's much more powerful (and more gratifying for me, FWIW). Share Distance's website far and wide. I'm promoting myself, but I'm the most biased one here: you aren't, and that, too, is fairly powerful. We cannot do this without the support of our readers.
Post about Distance on your blog. Be entirely honest; your feedback is hugely valued by me and our authors, and your thoughts will make us better in the long run.
Perhaps your podcast needs more curly-haired Italian people. To fill this need, I'm available for interviews. The last time I was on a podcast, I crashed their servers by linking it. I would like to crash your servers, too.
I probably need hugs. Just don't be creepy about it.
Overall, I underestimated how much work this was going to be. I'm still trying to do the best I can, but now it seems clear that I need to take more responsibility for everything. Maybe in a year or two I'll look back on this as a scary bump in the road. But I reckon even great things don't sell themselves; in design as in life, it's all about the best way to express things. And it's always better to try, when it's something you believe.
The Publication Standards Project
I recently wrote a long essay for A List Apart about the digital publishing landscape. I'm very happy with how it turned out; in a weird way, it served as a nice example of what a good Distance essay could be, even though it wasn't written for us.
But I'd be promoting this essay even if I hadn't written it. These issues affect all of us, even indirectly. We've neglected ebook development for too long, and all consumers of ebooks feel the pain as a result. Towards that end, I began The Publication Standards Project to address these problems and spur people to action. I hope you'll consider joining us by signing up for our mailing list at that page, or by following @pubstn.
Some good recent writing
One more thing: if you bought the digital version of Distance 01, now you can buy the physical copy for $5 off the full price. I hope owners of the digital bundle will take advantage of this; it's a great deal for a handsomely made volume that stands up well to the rest of your shelf.
And as always, thank you for reading.
– Nick Disabato, publisher