2:24 p.m. September 5, 2013

"Can You Help?"

Editor's note: Below is the text of my most recent newsletter to NSFWCORP subscribers. Given it contains some (hopefully) interesting numbers about the economics of journalism, I've had quite a few requests to post it online. I'm happy to oblige.


Usually in these newsletters I write about how brilliantly well everything is going here at NSFWCORP. That’s the point of newsletters, isn’t it? This week I want to try something different. I’m going to share some harsh truths about our business, and the future of online journalism generally.

(Sidebar: If you're looking for a list of this week's Dispatches, including today's new pieces by Yasha Levine and David Sirota, you'll find them all on our newly redesigned subscriber front page.)

Here goes.

In the past few weeks NSFWCORP has been written about by the New York Times, Reuters  and The Daily Beast. In every one of those articles, we were credited with solving the impossible: persuading readers to pay for online journalism. The pieces were well researched and scrupulously accurate but they were also far too generous. The dirty secret of NSFWCORP – a secret that I haven’t been too keen to share, except with our investors – is that we’re rarely more than a couple of months away from running out of money.

The math(s) is pretty straightforward. In total, we’ve raised a little under $900k in venture capital investment: about $35k for every month the company has been in existence. That’s a big pile of cash, albeit dwarfed by the estimated $5M News Corp’s “The Daily” burned during every month of its short life.

A little more than a year after publishing our first story, our subscriber base is hovering around 5,000. About half of those subscribers receive both the web and print editions, while the remainder get web-only content. We’ve sold close to $75k in Conflict Tower rooms, at prices from $3-$1,455.

The reporters from the Times, Reuters and the Daily Beast were right that we’ve found ways to persuade a growing number people to pay for great journalism. But that journalism – not slideshows or curation or any of that bullshit – is almost comically expensive.

An example from my desk right now: Leigh Cowart’s box-out in Issue Five about how North Carolina republicans tried to hide anti-abortion legislation in a motorcycle safety bill. In addition to Leigh’s salary – and we make a point of paying our writers a living wage, with benefits – her travel expenses from Asheville to Raleigh (gas, cheap hotel, food) for the story came in around $700. By any standards the story was a bargain: not much distance to travel, no nasty surprises. And yet that reporting trip alone cost the subscription fees of one hundred print subscribers. For one story. On a good week we publish 10-15 stories, not counting the more extensive investigations found in the print edition and any other special reporting we do for the radio show.

I wanted to share those numbers not to whine about how very haaard our job is: compared to  lot of independent magazines, we’re actually doing pretty well and, like you, we think great journalism is worth paying for. Rather, I wanted to underscore the direct relationship between your monthly subscription and the kind of reporting we’re able to do. Yes, we’ve raised a decent chunk of cash from investors, but without you, and the other 4,999 people like you, we would be out of business in a week. 

Put differently: If you’ve ever wondered why every week I seem to find a different way to ask you for more money – for a Conflict Tower room, or to support another 24-hour radio fundraiser – that’s the reason. NSFWCORP is like a needy, impoverished shark: if we stop asking for money, we die.

But there’s light at the end of the, uh shark tunnel. Once we reach 12,000 subscribers (or the equivalent amount of subscription revenue), NSFWCORP becomes self-sustaining. The begging emails can stop and we can focus 100% on the future of journalism (with jokes). Believe me, no one is looking forward to that day more than I am.

Which brings me to my big ask for this week: If you like what we’re doing here, if you appreciate Leigh’s reporting on abortion rights, or Mark Ames’ investigation into the government’s use of NDAs to silence whistleblowers,  or David Sirota’s examination of Jeff Bezos’ agenda for the WaPo, or the War Nerd’s brilliant analysis of what happens next for Syria , or Ian Murphy’s account of the brutality he witnessed after being jailed for photographing a cop… or any of the hundreds of stories we’ve published in the past year,  if you would like us to be able to focus more on that kind of journalism, and less on whoring for money, there's one simple thing you can do to help:

Tell three friends about NSFWCORP. Suggest they subscribe to web and print.

Maybe unlock a link or two for them first. Here are some ready-unlocked Disptaches from the past couple of weeks that will give them a good idea of what we're about...

Olivia Nuzzis's exclusive with Dennis Kucinich where he calls for an end to secret congressional briefings (And a bonus Olivia story )

David Sirota exclusive on lawmakers being scared to challenge the NSA

The best analysis of Syria you'll ever read, courtesy of the War Nerd

Mark Ames' exclusive on the deals Edward Snowden has had to make with the Russians

Yasha Levine's exclusive on Buzzfeed's community platform being used for utter evil

Former UK defence minister, Tom Watson MP, on how Britain is a laughing stock in Moscow and Beijing over the arrest of David Miranda

Dayvid Figler's exclusive interview with the couple suing Harvey Weinstein over the new Deep Throat biopic

Matt Bors' brilliant cartoon (from Print issue 5) -- "Adventures of a Guy in a Guy Fawkes Mask"

And, of course, there's Print Issue Six

If every current subscriber refers two new ones, we’ll soar past our break-even target.  And, who knows? Your friends might even thank you.

 God knows, we will.

 One more thing:

If you’re enjoying your own subscription to NSFWCORP and would like to become an even bigger part of the Future of Journalism, you can now upgrade to a ten-year web and print subscription for a one-off payment of $200. That’s just $20 a year for access to everything we publish, no matter how much the rate might increase for everyone else. 

By becoming a Conflict Tower subscriber today, you’ll get a whole decade of NSFWCORP online and in print, plus VIP access to one of our exclusive Future of Dinner Parties. There are slightly less than 150 Conflict Tower subscriptions available at a fixed rate of $200 and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Get ten years of NSFWCORP right now.

(Existing Tower residents will continue to receive NSFWCORP for life, plus access to every single dinner, forever. New lifetime subscriptions are no longer available.)

Thanks again for all of your support. As the above hopefully makes clear, we sincerely appreciate it.

Have a good weekend!



A word about the subject line of this email.

Last week, Jan Frel, editor of Alternet, came to Vegas to visit NSFWCORP. After shooting the shit about the state of journalism in America, I mentioned my frustration at constantly having to come up with new ways to ask NSFWCORP subscribers for money. We have the Conflict Tower, the Tugboat campaign to support our international roll-out, the 24-hour radio marathons – and of course web and print subscriptions.

How does Alternet ask its readers for help?

Jan laughed. “I’ll tell you the secret,” he said. “It’s three words.”

I leant forward in my chair. Three secret words! He continued:
“Can you help?”

 Apparently that’s the most effective subject line if you want readers to open your begging emails.

 “I might try that.” I said.

 “You should.”