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Two Years Of Defector | Defector


Well well well. I guess it’s that time of year again.

What? Who are you talking to?

You! I assume we have reconvened here to talk about the fact that Defector has officially made it to its second birthday. You had a lot of questions last year, and so here I am to answer another round of queries, which I’m sure you have been hard at work preparing.

Uh, not really. I mean, it was cool when you guys made it through the first year, but do we really need to do this every year? Won’t it get kind of stale?

Just ask me some questions!

OK, OK, fine. How are things going with the business?

Things are going great! 

Gimme some numbers.

Oh buddy, I’ve got numbers for you:

1. As of today, Defector has published 5,316 blogs, which our subscribers have continued to pay us real money for the ability to read.

2. We brought in about $3.8 million in revenue in Year 2, which was up from $3.2 million in Year 1. We used most of that money to pay for salary and benefits for our 24 full-time employees as well as fees for the 60-plus freelance writers, producers, artists, and designers we worked with over the last 12 months Roughly 95 percent of our total revenue came from paid subscribers.

You’re rich!

Not quite. Just as our revenue increased in Year 2, so did our operating expenses. In Year 1 we spent about $3 million dollars running the business, and in Year 2 we spent about $3.7 million keeping the blog mines in operation.

Inflation, am I right? This damn Joe Brandon has a lot to answer for.

Though it is the official position of the Defector Editorial Board that Joe Brandon should send us each a check for $25,000, our increased expenses mostly had to do with normal business shit. Our tech costs increased relative to our revenue increase (our partners at Alley, Pico, and Stripe take a percentage off the top of everything we earn), and some other stuff just got more expensive. Our access to Getty Images costs more than it did last year, as does our ability to use Mailchimp to send our daily newsletter to Pal and Accomplice subscribers. Also, did you know that when you run a small business and get your health insurance through a PEO, those fuckers can just decide to increase your rates every year? Sometimes as much as 40 percent? Don’t we all love having the freedom to shop for insurance on the open marketplace?

*Shakes fist at Joe Brandon*

*Shakes fist at Joe Brandon*

Well, anyway, sorry about the increased expenses.

Don’t be. When I look at how much more money we spent on the business in Year 2, it just reminds me that a lot of that money went toward making our website bigger and better than it was before. We got our first internship program off the ground, which allowed us to add Kathryn Xu to the staff for a few months this summer. We paid her a decent living wage in exchange for some truly kick-ass blogs, and mostly failed at hiding our bewilderment at how good she was at this job despite being 21 damn years old. We were able to hire more full-time staff, too! Sabrina Imbler joined us from The New York Times (brag) and created a whole new beat from scratch, blessing our site with their shimmering coverage of creatures, Dan Campbell, and all sorts of important developments in the scientific community. (Buy their book!) We also beefed up our staff on the business side, hiring Sean Kuhn away from The Athletic (bragging again) to do all sorts of fancy data science and financial modeling for us, so that we can get better at developing our business. You wouldn’t believe the charts this guy can make. He’s a sicko for charts!

Oh, and we also put two podcasts out into the world. Alex Sujong Laughlin came on as a freelance producer and helped us get Namedropping and Normal Gossip out into the world. Plans for Season 2 of Namedropping are currently being made, and meanwhile Alex and Kelsey are full steam ahead on Season 3 of Normal Gossip. Jae Towle has also joined the Normal Gossip team as a part-time production assistant. Wow!

Oh yeah, Normal Gossip. I’m familiar with that. Isn’t that podcast like a big hit or something?

It seems to be quite popular, yes. The 21 episodes that have been released so far have been downloaded 4.3 million times, which is a lot of million to me. If you haven’t yet, I recommend reading a recent interview Alex and Kelsey did with Vulture, in which they talked a lot about the work that goes into the show and how they’ve managed to create a successful new podcast without compromising their vision.

I find the success of Normal Gossip extremely heartening, in that it seems to prove, to me at least, that the principles underpinning this website can continue to produce good outcomes for both us and our subscribers. You give us money, and then we use that money to improve the site and try new things and create good work, and then you have more things to enjoy in exchange for your money.

OK, but now that you have a hit podcast on your hands, isn’t now the time to pivot to podcasting?

Doing more podcasts could be fun, but we want to continue to be really intentional about everything we do, and that means not chasing dollars in more directions than we can handle. I was recently looking at the absurdly large podcast lineup offered by a sports media company that I shall not name, and let out a little gasp when I saw that one of those podcasts is just called Food News. I am forced to once again ask the question that is demanded by all scale-obsessed media: Who is that for?

So, yeah, we’ll try to avoid getting to the point where we have a podcast called Sports News, while still striving to make new and cool things, which of course requires time and money.

Waiiiiiit a minute. I see what you’re doing here, pal. You’re telling me all about how much effort and money goes into running a business because you’re about to tell me that you’re increasing prices!

No! I am not! We are not yet going Netflix Mode on you.

But what if I wouldn’t mind giving you more money?

Well, that would make you cool as hell, obviously, and also perhaps a candidate to use our tip jar. This is a neat little program we created that allows people to give us one-time payments for however much money they’d like, and then we use that money to subsidize free subscriptions for students and people in financial need. So feel free to toss us a few extra bucks, if you’d like, and rest easy knowing that your bucks will go toward enriching the minds of America’s youth.

What if I am not a rich person, a student, or someone in financial need, and I just don’t really feel like signing up for a subscription despite reading the site on a fairly regular basis?

In that case, my good friend, allow me to say this to you: You gotta give! I am not being rude when I say this, but if you are someone who likes the site and finds yourself reading it often enough that you’d notice if we went away, but you don’t give us any money, then you are doing nothing that will help us continue producing good work for you to enjoy. Basically every dollar that keeps this baby humming comes from subscriptions, which means that your attention alone does jack shit for us. 

Again, if you are a student or someone who simply cannot afford a subscription, please reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to try and find you a subscription in the tip jar. But if you are someone who reads and enjoys the site and hasn’t yet subscribed out of laziness or inertia, I would urge you to crack that wallet open. Based on our analytics, I can tell you that a lot of people who visit the site fit into the category of Non-Subscribing Regular Reader. If that describes you, imagine me staring at you through your computer screen right now, eyes narrowed and arms crossed.

Calm down!

I am always perfectly calm!

Anything else you want to tell me?

At this point I am realizing that I forgot to do that thing I am supposed to do, which is provide a list of links to the Best and Most Important stories we published over the course of the last year, the idea being that you will be so blown away by the cleverness on display that you will start pounding your credit card number into our subscription box with your fists. But if I’m being honest, I don’t really feel like doing that. How many of those links were you actually going to click on, anyway?

Instead, I will tell you this: Every two weeks, I make the poor editorial staff of this website sit through a meeting with me. At the start of each of these meetings, I run through a list of blogs that were published within the previous 14 days that I found to be particularly well-done or notable. I am not a very good speaker, but this is my favorite part of the gig. There are moments when this job feels like just that, a job, and I let myself get annoyed at all the little tasks I have to accomplish every day. Just doing my tasks! Fuck me, I guess! But I always snap out of it when it’s time to prepare for this meeting. That’s because I never have trouble finding a collection of strong blogs to talk about, and when I start thinking about what I want to say about each one, I never find myself at a loss for words. 

The website is consistently good, is what I’m trying to say. Good enough that I don’t think you need me to hold your hand and take you on a little tour so that I can show you the Posts That Are Worth Paying For. Just click around the site. Read some stuff. Our paywall is pretty soft, and so I don’t think it’ll be too long before you find something you like. Once you do, try to remember that it was only subscription dollars that made the publication of that post possible, and then consider helping us publish some more.

OK, I will.

That’s great. 

Good.

This conversation is over.

I didn’t even want to have this conv—

Over!





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