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Eyes On Those Ads!

We’ve been in a slump, but we’re gear­ing up for a new start in 2018.
It’s (still) a new year! For the first time in Extra­tone’s his­to­ry, I have missed three of these, but I did crash my car in Port­land. We are still here and work­ing, but our entrance into 2018 will be a bit slug­gish, I’m afraid. No, we have not changed our minds about adver­tis­ing on the web­site - we plan to stick to that pledge for­ev­er, but Patreon’s new pay­wall inte­gra­tion is worth dis­cussing. Let’s go over what we have done since last Fall before we start ask­ing ques­tions.
Our First Annu­al Email Awards have not been for­got­ten! The cer­e­mo­ni­al con­test will decide the best Emails sent and received in 2017. We’d orig­i­nal­ly planned to host it in Jan­u­ary, but we’re now hop­ing for late Spring, which means there’s still time for you to reflect on your inbox­es, pick out your favorites, and send them to us at Mul­ti­ple sub­mis­sion meth­ods seemed to com­pli­cate things, so we’re now sim­ply ask­ing you to… send an Email.
As always, The Movie Clos­et hasn’t let you down while the rest of us have been away. They’ve deliv­ered on enter­tain­ing top­ics like a hypo­thet­i­cal por­tray­al of them­selves, out-of-type­cast per­for­mances, and - nat­u­ral­ly - naked sex scenes (for episode #69,) as well as best ofs cur­rent cin­e­ma - for last year’s films, and the Acad­e­my Awards.
It’s also the time once again for Colum­bia, Missouri’s annu­al True/False Film Fes­ti­val. Tim and I went in 2017, but in the com­ing weeks, the Clos­et Crew will be bear­ing down upon it with all of their cin­e­ma author­i­ty, which is impor­tant and excit­ing. As March begins, every­body in the world of doc­u­men­tary film - direc­tors, actors, sub­jects, activists, aca­d­e­mics, and jour­nal­ists - descends upon our home­town at its best, trans­form­ing it into the hub of cre­ative non-fic­tion, a place where artists, cit­i­zens, and every­one in between gath­er to share in excit­ing new visions from around the globe.” Near­ly 20 years spent in Colum­bia made it no less rec­og­niz­able - for the bet­ter - dur­ing last year’s fes­ti­val. To attend as press was an intox­i­cat­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing, emo­tion­al­ly-exhaust­ing expe­ri­ence that I’ll nev­er for­get. My film lit­er­a­cy real­ly let it down, I think, but it is of a sig­nif­i­cant­ly less­er cal­iber than that of Mikel, Ben, Sam, Matt, and friends.
A friend of a friend of ours works for SpaceX - Elon Musk’s opaque space car­ni­val - and they’d like to talk about it. I doubt we’ll be sin­gle­hand­ed­ly bring­ing their rapa­cious rock­ets down, but I hear the hours real­ly suck. We’re hop­ing to pub­lish a con­ver­sa­tion in the very near future. A few weeks ago, we launched an ongo­ing list of our favorite projects thanks to The Open Web to cel­e­brate and aggre­gate those indi­vid­ual design­ers and orga­ni­za­tions who con­tin­ue to resist the industry’s incen­tive to plas­ter aging, bland­ly-designed, and fea­ture-engorged archi­tec­ture with pre­made ads and cheap, run-of-the-mill tem­plates. The sur­face of the inter­net as it is doesn’t have long left to live, and we’d like to think that the inno­va­tors you find if you dig deep enough now will be reward­ed for their cre­ativ­i­ty in the com­ing years.
I’ve spent the past month or so com­plain­ing a lot. I wrote about Mark Zucker­berg as your class ene­my, Mar­tin McDongah’s Three Bill­boards Out­side Ebbing, Mis­souri (also your class ene­my,) Nico­las Cage’s favorite movie, and my expe­ri­ences as a pow­er user” with the iPhone 8 Plus. Tech­ni­cal­ly, I’m only qual­i­fied to argue on the last one, but I’m glad folks seemed to enjoy me at my worst - rant­i­ng about a major film pro­duc­tion as a native Mis­souri­an.
On the first of this month, Wired mag­a­zine announced their new metered pay­wall on web con­tent, as per the newish reign of Nick Thomp­son as Edi­tor-in-Chief. It seems like they spent a full week after­wards send­ing me emails about it. The real­i­ty is not quite so extreme, but nev­er­the­less - now that we pos­sess the capa­bil­i­ty to pain­less­ly imple­ment a pay­wall - I’m left won­der­ing if I’d real­ly ever like to see us in any fac­sim­i­le of their posi­tion. At the moment, I don’t think it would make sense at all - frankly, we’re still com­ing out of a lull, but I still think it’s a worth­while con­ver­sa­tion about our future.
Last April, we moved all meta audio con­tent behind a pay­wall because we felt that Future­land would be a lot bet­ter off if I had a sol­id rule against talk­ing about us. Sep­a­rate­ly, we stopped the show almost imme­di­ate­ly after­ward to invest more effort into the newslet­ter, so there’s no hard data to say whether or not it would’ve worked. Let’s imag­ine these Editor’s let­ters blocked by the above screen, ask­ing you to pay at least a dol­lar a month to see them. The same log­ic applies - why would you read these if you’re not invest­ed enough to sub­scribe, any­way?, but the incen­tives aren’t exact­ly sound. If any­thing, it would be a less-intru­sive reminder that we need mon­ey to keep get­ting bet­ter and you have a straight­for­ward method avail­able should you want to help, but that’s start­ing to seem a bit naive. The imme­di­ate real­i­ty for the vast major­i­ty of users would be noth­ing more than pay­ing a fee just to read a bunch of rel­a­tive­ly irrel­e­vant, dis­as­trous­ly self-ref­er­en­tial non­sense.
In Nick Thompson’s con­ver­sa­tion with Peter Kaf­ka on Recode Media, he cit­ed the clas­si­cal advan­tages to the pay­wall mod­el, as per his expe­ri­ence with The New York­er’s tran­si­tion as Online Edi­tor. You’re try­ing to build a real­ly deep rela­tion­ship with your read­er,” he said. Intro­duc­ing the new, deep­er Wired-read­er invest­ment by first requir­ing a sub­scrip­tion, how­ev­er, is con­tin­gent upon their exist­ing rela­tion­ships with their vast lega­cy read­er­ship. He also claimed to be in the midst of a CMS migra­tion,” which is des­per­ate­ly need­ed for Wired, and has been for way too long - but… I have yet to see any evi­dence of such a jour­ney. That the announce­ment itself was pub­lished on their bro­ken, hope­less­ly-over­worked Word­Press plat­form reflects this mon­ey-first atti­tude that Condé Nast prop­er­ties can tech­ni­cal­ly afford to oper­ate with­in.
In oth­er words, it’s the shit­ti­er way to do it, and when Thomp­son sug­gests that pub­lish­ers have no choice but to think about how to diver­si­fy their busi­ness mod­els,” his accu­ra­cy is a mat­ter of a very divid­ed per­spec­tive, resource-wise. Of course, Wired’s demo­graph­ic - the more tech­no­log­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant read­ers” aren’t exact­ly poor young techie col­lege stu­dents any­more - they’re well on their way to becom­ing the rich­est group in human his­to­ry, but they were once ide­al­ists of the Open Infor­ma­tion For All sort. Now, the Sil­i­con Val­ley Lib­er­tar­i­ans will pay, but it’s a shame they weren’t instead remind­ed of why they shouldn’t have to - why they should expect the Big Boys to take a lit­tle risk and invest in mak­ing the good stuff before they ask for a return. Per­haps it’s pre­sump­tu­ous of me to cri­tique an indus­try sta­ple like Thomp­son, but I know that I’d have rather declared my will be done - that it would make the changes rather than expect­ed incen­tives which I did my best to con­jure to influ­ence the course of my ship over sig­nif­i­cant peri­ods of time. That way, the risk would lie with my pub­lish­er instead of my read­ers.
Extra­tone, though, is not owned by Condé Nast, and I am not God. Most of the read­ers we’d like to meet & keep are some­where with­in our vast social cir­cles already - they are smart, inven­tive, and cre­ative 18–30 year olds, which means they are… finan­cial­ly stressed. Ask­ing them for sin­gle dig­its a month, even, has sig­nif­i­cant weight. What­ev­er con­tent we may or may not decide to place behind a pay­wall should be excep­tion­al, and access to it should be free to those who can’t afford it, and are will­ing to ask. Lin­da Solomon Wood’s Nation­al Observ­er, for instance, is still acces­si­ble to those who send what­ev­er they can by mail - per­haps we could sim­ply do the same for those who ask for it via email. Then again, that might imply a req­ui­site expla­na­tion of a reader’s inabil­i­ty to pay, which will nev­er be okay. I look for­ward to your take on these issues - please, send me an email.
Before you go, here are a few more thoughts/questions of note:
⊚ Would it be worth it for us to find and/or devel­op a method of embed­ding the read­ing list out­side Dis­cord?
⊚ To date, Extra­tone has pub­lished 173,000 words in total, mean­ing we will eclipse Gore Vidal’s Lin­coln before Spring.
⊚ The design of this let­ter rep­re­sents the first time we have ever prop­er­ly con­formed to any brand guide­lines.
⊚ A lot of excess fat was trimmed from the back­end for the first time in near­ly a year, mean­ing that you should see vast­ly smoother scrolling and gen­er­al nav­i­ga­tion. Accord­ing to our esti­mates, page load times should be down to half or less what they’ve been.
Patre­on Lens has arrived! It’s sor­ta like orig­i­nal Snapchat, but for patrons. We’ll be post­ing reg­u­lar­ly — two or three times a week, for now — for those who’ve signed up for the $1/month entry sub­scrip­tion tier.