Author Archives: Mark Armstrong

Electric Literature Moves to WordPress — Here’s How an Indie Publisher Thrives on the Open Web

Electric Literature launched 10 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, as a quarterly print journal with a mission to make literature more relevant, exciting, and inclusive. And today they’re celebrating the launch of a new website on WordPress, at electricliterature.com.

Surviving (and thriving) for ten years as an independent publisher is no small feat. Over the years the nonprofit organization has grown its online audience — with offerings like Recommended Reading and The Commuter — while expanding its membership of readers who help fund its work. The website is free to everyone and relies on the generosity of its community to donate to the site and support its mission.

How does an indie website make its business work in 2019? We talked with Electric Lit’s Executive Director Halimah Marcus about some of the lessons they’ve learned in the past 10 years.

Slow and Steady Growth Can Be a Very Good Thing

Sometimes raising a lot of money from investors means you’ll grow fast — but also burn out sooner. “Slow and steady growth has been important to our longevity thus far. Ten years for some companies isn’t that long, but ten years for an indie online magazine is quite long. We’ve seen many of our peers close during that time and also many publications that were much better funded and larger than us as well.”

Focus On Your Mission

Marcus and company made a deliberate decision early to become a nonprofit with a mission to support writers. “That was an interesting discussion. For the most part I think it was the right decision, although there are many different ways to look at this question. We were definitely a mission-driven organization. With Recommended Reading we partner with other magazines and indie presses and publications to promote their work and to give an online platform to many stories that have never been published online and never would be published online.

“It was our goal to build a literary ecosystem, to showcase how diverse it was and to give access to it. There was nothing about what we were doing that was about making money [laughs]. Becoming a nonprofit to be mission-driven, to be able to have access to grant opportunities, to be able to solicit donations and make those tax-deductible was going to be important for our financial model.” As a nonprofit, Electric Literature receives funding from foundations including the Amazon Literary Partnership, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts — an important source of funding for a publisher when revenue from online advertising can fluctuate dramatically from month to month.

Memberships (and Your Members) Matter

Direct funding from readers makes a big difference for the business. Electric Literature does not paywall its essays or fiction — the site is totally free and readers have an option to donate or subscribe with a recurring monthly payment.

Its membership program hit some bumps when it briefly moved it to Medium — the platform switched its membership model in 2018 and Electric Literature was one of several publishers who were left scrambling. Marcus’s advice? Think carefully about who you let between you and your readers — it’s very hard to regain subscribers after you’ve lost them.

Most important of all is making sure those who do donate to your publication feel special. “I think the lesson that I’m always learning and figuring out how to do better is to make those people who have shown you that they care about your publication and that they’re invested in it feel included and appreciated. Make sure they know who they can talk to if they have a question or if they just want to make a comment or they have a problem. That’s something that is so important.”

Make Your Home on the Web Your Own

“You’ll see that on the new website the look is very vibrant and positive and is pulled through every article and every space. Icons inspired by electrical symbols such as signals and inverters are a part of the design we were able to bring through. It’s important to be able to have control over what our product looks like. Our editorial vision is now able to extend to the way the work is presented and what it looks like.”

For more on Electric Lit’s new site, check out Marcus’s letter to readers.

Announcing Newspack by WordPress.com — A New Publishing Solution for News Organizations

Over the past 15 years, WordPress has grown to become the world’s most popular publishing platform for the open web — and it’s especially true for news organizations. Through WordPress.com and our enterprise service WordPress.com VIP, we’re proud to host sites for some of the most trusted names in journalism — from Time.com and CNN to FiveThirtyEight and Quartz, as well as individual sites for reporters and bloggers all around the globe.

Today we’re excited to announce funding for a new platform, Newspack by WordPress.com, aimed at small- and medium-sized news organizations. Google, through the Google News Initiative, is taking the lead in backing the project and has committed $1.2 million. Other funders include The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which is contributing $400,000; ConsenSys, the venture studio backing Civil Media, which is contributing $350,000; and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is contributing $250,000. An additional $200,000 from a fifth source is expected to be contributed toward the project later this month.

News organizations interested in being part of the pilot launch can go to newspack.blog to learn more.

With many local news organizations struggling to find sustainable models for journalism, we’re seeing a need for an inexpensive platform that provides the technology and support that lets news organizations build their businesses and focus on what they do best — providing critical reporting for their communities. Our hope with Newspack is to give them a platform where they can continue to focus on what they do best, while we focus on providing world-class technology and support across their editorial and business operations.

In addition to WordPress.com parent Automattic, partners in the project include Spirited Media, which operates local digital news sites in Denver, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and News Revenue Hub, a spinoff of Voice of San Diego, which provides revenue solutions for digital publishers.

For more information, and to sign up for email updates, go to Newspack.blog.

Introducing the 2019 ‘Anything Is Possible’ List

A coffee co-op owned by its farmers, a sewing community empowering people of all body shapes and sizes, and a 12-year-old journalist are among those named in WordPress.com’s first-ever “Anything Is Possible” List for 2019, celebrating 14 extraordinary people and organizations who are using the web to make the world a better place.

This year’s inaugural list includes nonprofits, artists who are using their work to raise awareness, and bloggers who created community when they saw a critical gap.

Here are 14 inspiring sites for 2019, where Anything Is Possible:

NappStar

Congolese-American sisters Melissa and Annette Roche started NappStar, an innovative hair salon specializing in loc hairstyles, after growing up watching their mother work on people’s hair in their community in Maryland. They now operate a thriving business in New York City.

It Gets Better Project

The It Gets Better Project was launched in 2010 to help LGBTQ+ youth feel supported and connected in the face of bullying and intolerance; over the years, the organization has collected a massive archive of over 60,000 stories all sharing the same theme of empowerment.

Orange Street News

Hilde Lysiak started Orange Street News, her small town’s only newspaper, at the age of 9. She’s been serving her community nonstop since then, reporting on everything from snow days to the local drug crisis.

The Sewcialists

The Sewcialists is an online global community that brings together sewing and knitting fans committed to celebrating their craft, making it accessible to people of all body shapes and sizes, and focusing on sustainability and empowerment.

Beer&Body Craft Beer Girls

In an often male-dominated industry and cultural niche, Kate Christensen decided women who enjoy craft beer need to have a safe community space in which to connect, educate one another, and discuss responsible consumption, health, and wellness.

Stephanie Land

A blog-to-book success story — Stephanie was a single mother facing homelessness when she started blogging about her experiences living with poverty and working as a house cleaner. After going viral a couple of years ago, she now has a new memoir, MAID, coming out in January.

The Spelling Champ

High-school senior Cole Shafer-Ray finished third at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2015; after coming so close to winning, he decided to channel his talent and energy into empowering others to excel at competitive spelling bees, starting a successful consulting business.

Pachamama Coffee

Based in Sacramento, Pachamama Coffee has a powerful story of social entrepreneurship: it’s a grower-owned cooperative through which coffee farmers from Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru sell their fair-trade beans across farmers’ markets, co-ops, and retailers around the U.S.

Ideas Beyond Borders

A nonprofit aiming to correct misinformation and fight against extremist narratives, Ideas Beyond Borders was founded by Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, who arrived in the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee in 2013. The organization focuses on educating and bridge-building via translation, bringing English texts on human rights and adjacent topics to Arabic-speaking communities in the Middle East.

Rebrand Cities

Founder Hajj Flemings identified a major obstacle for small businesses in American communities, including many owned by people of color: they are still on the analog side of the digital divide. Rebrand Cities works to bridge that gap by bringing small businesses online and opening up new opportunities for small business owners across the country.

Kelsey Montague

Kelsey Montague

Street artist Kelsey Montague explores the interaction between public art and the human experience, having created street murals in cities including Cape Town, Galway, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Manchester, and New York City. She will be painting a new mural in collaboration with WordPress.com in January, to be featured in Los Angeles.

Maeband

Maeband founder Holly Kjar and kids.
Maeband founder Holly Kjar and two of her kids.

While pregnant with her fourth child, Holly Kjar was frustrated by the lack of affordable maternity wear. So she teamed up with her mother to create a brand new belly band, and launched a new online business on WordPress.com that allows women to keep wearing their favorite clothes during pregnancy and empowers them to stay active while saving money.

Faces of Auschwitz

Faces of Auschwitz founder Marina Amaral
Faces of Auschwitz project lead Marina Amaral

Faced with growing ignorance about the Holocaust among younger people, master photo colorist Marina Amaral decided to bring victims’ stories and humanity to life by colorizing photos from the Auschwitz Museum archives. They can now be explored on the website of the organization she leads, Faces of Auschwitz.

Corvid Research

Seattle-based wildlife scientist Kaeli Swift launched a WordPress.com blog as a grad student to share the knowledge she’s collected through her research on urban crows. Her site has become a thriving online community for others who share her passion for these fascinating birds — and an entry point into the study of nature for people all over the world.

To read all of the Anything Is Possible stories, go to wordpress.com/do-anything.