Another update on where the blog stands. Understandably, I continue to receive emails from readers wondering about various site-related matters – notably, what happens now/next, whether *this* is it, what path I’m going to take ultimately, etc. So instead of answering each email directly, I thought I’d post a general response here that everyone can read.
To start, I’m still developing the physical site, in terms of look and feel, as well as the “backroom” tech operations, making necessary adjustments as we go, and learning a few things along the way. So the site as it exists today isn’t going to be the same in, let’s say, 3 months. There will continue to be additions and subtractions, upgrades, etc. It certainly won’t be the same a year from now, and beyond (but that’s a longer conversation which I address briefly below).
But first, this morning, after much trial and error, I finally settled on, and installed a new commenting module. The previous module attracted lots of SPAM comments, which is why I’ve had the “Comment Moderation” feature turned on. It’s still turned on, even though I’ve swapped commenting modules with one that should deter SPAM bots. Once I’m sure that the new module works well, I’ll remove the “Comment Moderation” feature.
I continue to test and try new ideas, fixing aspects of the site that aren’t working as they should; for example, the Facebook sharing app that you’ll find within each post, has a of glitch that grabs the wrong image whenever you share a post on Facebook. That’s obviously annoying, and I want to make sure that you’re able to share posts without having to fuss with making sure the correct image is being attached. So I’m working to fix that.
I also just upgraded our email subscriber/newsletter service provider from FeedBurner, which is free, but for a reason (it’s mostly outdated), to MailChimp, which costs money, but is a far more robust email newsletter application, and definitely worth the price. So those of you who receive our content via the daily email newsletter may have already noticed the change; although I’m still learning about MailChimp’s many options, so the current look and feel of the newsletter, as well as how and when it’s delivered to you, will probably change over time, as I make useful adjustments that ensure maximum reach and usage.
Also, while the only ads you see on the blog are those in the right-hand column (the Amazon ads, which are mostly unobtrusive), and the few I have embedded within some posts, we will eventually have to rely almost solely on ads to generate revenue from the site – which was the case when the blog was on Indiewire. Obviously the goal is to make sure whatever ads are featured aren’t crashing or freezing your browsers, or getting in the way of reading/watching the site’s content (as it happens from time to time when I visit other websites – especially those that are dominated with ads). But just be aware that incorporating more visible ads on the site will start to happen sometime soon. It’s really the key way that most websites you read today generate revenue.
Finally, in the next few weeks, in terms of the longer term life of the site, I will be announcing the launch of a crowdfunding campaign, which I previously said was a possibility, to raise money that will go into, not only keeping the site up and running for the next several months, but also to invest in building a small but solid S&A team, so that we can begin to work towards all those wonderful ideas I shared in a previous post, that I want to introduce and make a part of the S&A brand. I can say frankly that the site as it exists today is lacking so much in terms of original content. There’s a lot that I want to do beyond just the day-to-day publishing of news items, with the occasional review, interview, *think piece*, film/TV history piece, etc. Even I get bored with it all, and obviously want to (and plan to) do so much more.
As I said previously, my initial long term vision for S&A was to build a global brand – a massive online space where readers anywhere in the world can read/watch/hear about black cinema wherever it’s happening. In addition to even more news, reviews, essays, interviews, etc, the site would comprehensively cover black filmmaking/filmmakers globally, adding new features like original video (scripted and otherwise) content; on-the-ground reporting worldwide; streamed live events like round-table discussions and conversations with creatives at all levels (not just those who’ve *made it*); comprehensive film festival coverage (especially black film festivals globally); ongoing screening series in which we highlight films that may not have been widely-seen, but we believe need to be; podcasts; even eventually financing and producing our own films (web series, shorts, and features eventually) – the kind of work that we often champion on this blog, but that we are not getting enough of (or at all); also community and educational spaces (on and offline) where creatives of African descent can network and learn; and so much more – all of it happening on a global scale.
In a nutshell, wherever what we call “black film” is happening, we will be there to cover it, and do so thoroughly, in every possible way, and every possible angle. Long-time readers of this blog will have seen glimpses of most of the above ideas introduced on the site over the years, although just not fully committed efforts, because of unavailable resources (people, money, time). So it’s really now come down to fully committing to the original goal, and doing the necessary work that it takes to get there.
Since the split from Indiewire, I’ve been paying for all of the site’s expenses (as well my own livelihood) from my savings entirely. The hosting fees, which are a lot more expensive than I expected, given the amount of traffic the site gets, to every marketing campaign (Facebook, Google, Twitter especially) that I’ve run since April, to help regain some of the traffic that the site lost after the split from Indiewire. There are also several smaller expenses, like the daily email newsletter service (MailChimp) we use to ensure that our email subscribers receive our content. But collectively, it’s a bit of a drain on the wallet, especially when you’re not earning any income at all.
So the crowdfunding campaign is certainly not expected to get us from 0 to 100; not even 0 to 50. It’s meant to jump-start the operation, lay a solid foundation, build a small team, and begin investment in some of the original ideas I have, to put the site and brand in a stronger position after a period of time, so that it can begin to generate income on its own, whether via advertising dollars, and/or offering some high quality premium content that would require subscription fees to access. We’re in a very competitive space, as more sites that rely on ad revenue continue to flood the marketplace, diminishing individual shares of that revenue; so one has to become very aggressive in claiming market share if one is to survive and thrive.
The end goal beyond the fundraising campaign is to put ourselves in a position to rely entirely on the site for revenue that would be reinvested back into the business, so that we can continue to grow and evolve over time, and not have to continuously rely on crowdfunding every year for financing. I would also love to stay as independent as possible; but I’m also fully aware of how difficult that could be in this environment, given how much I want to do with the site. So I’m exploring all strategies beyond a crowdfunding campaign, which is simply not a viable business plan over the long term.
But when the time comes, sometime in the next 30 days, when I announce the launch of the crowdfunding campaign, I will explain all of this in much greater detail. For now, just know that there’s a lot happening behind-the-scenes currently, as Jai, Sergio and myself work to firmly ground the business. And where the site is today, is nowhere close to what it will be after the necessary work has been done to get it to that wonderful place that I envision for it. And I’m very much looking forward to getting to work on all the possibilities.
So thanks for hanging around! You won’t be disappointed!
If there are any questions, comments, problems, suggestions, or others who are interested in potential partnerships of any kind, etc, email at email@example.com.