From the Publisher: The SunBreak’s Progress, Chapter 3

by on September 16, 2011

Hey, it's MvB!

On August 25, 2009, The SunBreak went live, in its bootstrappy way, with Bumbershoot coverage. (Now every year at Bumbershoot-time I am reminded of our mortality.) I have been trying to pull back the curtain on running an online magazine, as time permits, and it’s probably time for another update, on the occasion of our second birthday.

Editorial

What’s new-ish? We just anointed Tony Kay as our new music editor. Audrey Hendrickson is now our managing arts editor. Philippa Kiraly writes for us occasionally about classical music. I always feel like I need to get out there and interview more people just for being themselves, but you know Seattle–people are shy. I believe we’re in the double digits in actual paying subscribers now. It’s always thrilling to get that email from PayPal.

Besides our home page, the all-time top stories have been our most recent coverage of Vivace’s Brian Fairbrother’s death in a bicycle accident, a repost of a Kaiser cartoon explaining health care reform, Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl making a surprise appearance at a Mike Watt show, video of a rock avalanche on Mount Rainier, Jeremy’s investigation of a Kultur Shock imitator, a conversation with an economist about college tuition, and Cliff Mass getting canned by KUOW. You can’t say we don’t mix it up.

Our fifth most popular content page of the past two years is our A&E section! That, in conjunction with our home page coming in at #1, makes me feel good about our redesign offering readers helpful ways of navigating the site to find posts they are interested in.

Platform

In Chapter 2, as you recall, The SunBreak was negotiating a move to WordPress. This has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. There’s a learning curve, but over time the platform keeps impressing me with its sturdiness and functionality. The choice of Disqus for comments, on the other hand, we’ve had the chance to regret.

It was frequently slow and stalled out, and then finally quit on us, so we’re back to using WP’s built-in commenting system. Now styling our new comments is up top of the design to-do list, followed closely by finishing the design of our category pages.

Traffic

How about a blizzard of statistics? We are blessed with over 1,300 Twitter followers. On Facebook, we’re closing in on 400 fans. RSS remains around 300 spartan subscribers. As has been the case all along, Facebook fans are big news readers, leading all non-search referrers. (Filtering for the t.co Twitter URL, I see that with 1,300 followers, our most popular tweet generated all of 45 clicks.)

Demographics from our Facebook fans

Part of that is certainly because of Facebook’s ability to provide multiple impressions: For the past 30 days, it’s given us 48,000 headline impressions within FB, generating 3,000 referrals. (In contrast, our RSS subscribers looked at over 6,500 excerpted items, and clicked for the full story over 1,300 times.)

On the site itself, for the past 30 days we have 36,000 page views from 21,500 visitors, according to Google Analytics. Quantcast says that averages out to 14,700 visitors per month over our lifetime. 60 percent are Windows machines, 30 percent are Macs, and 7 percent are Linux. Top browsers? Firefox (33 percent), IE (28), Safari (14), and Chrome (13).

Business

Here is our weak spot. It’s unfortunate that running an online magazine leaves me little time for beating the bushes for advertisers. It took me forever to write up a little section about advertising on The SunBreak on our About Us page. (“As little as $150 per month!”) As a bootstrap operation, largely run through volunteer efforts and staff happy hours, we don’t actually require that much revenue to keep chugging along, but I have to admit to feeling stymied by the apparent need for a dedicated ad salesperson. That tends not to be a volunteer position.

In the progress column, we finally have a 728px leaderboard placement (we originally designed the site to include a 468px banner ad in the masthead area, just in time to see everyone switch en masse to 728px). Reverse-engineering lemons from lemonade, we’ve been using the 468px placement for sponsorships (first Strawberry Theatre Workshop, now City Arts Festival).

I still have a dream that someday something like the beLOCAL Ad Network will fully spin off from its media parents, and be free to develop as purely an advertising selling entity. In my mind, this is the best way to recoup ongoing investment in the technology, is to scale as broadly as possible, without concern for “competitors” getting a cut of ad revenue.

To date, there’s a frustrating absence when it comes to a local online ad aggregator who could harmonize total coverage of the Seattle-Tacoma DMA, and take responsibility for selling for network members. We are tiny fish in that equation, but the existence of such an enterprise would spark, I think, a re-emergence of independent, niche online media.

In the meantime, who wants to sell ads for us?

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