I had no idea that nautilus were still commissioning features when they knew they had no guaranteed income stream to pay their writers.
When nautilus ran into serious financial trouble they did not publish many of the articles they had commissioned, mine included - this meant that they would only have to offer a much smaller kill fee for these unpublished pieces. I am waiting for this fee (and am aware of several others writers in this situation). But we didn't know the pieces would never be published. We were never told. Instead the promised nautilus issue emerged that day, we told our friends, we scanned the pages with genuine excitement, and our features were absolutely nowhere to be seen.
Emails to the editor (naive, perfectly friendly emails) went unanswered for weeks.
I actually honestly wouldn't have minded as much if they were up front last year and said look, we just don't have the money, we messed up, we're sorry. They're a publication I truly want to survive regardless of my input.
But I'm a freelancer and that promised money was going to see me through Christmas. They should not have been actively commissioning when they did not have the means to pay. It was also really humiliating to email them for weeks to ask where our articles had gone. Why not reply honestly to us at the outset?
Christmas came and went. I couldn't afford presents for my family. I lost the chance to submit elsewhere because it was a time-sensitive piece. I had to apologise to my interviewees who I bet won't be so generous with their time the next time a writer approaches them. They've been burnt, too.
And even now (in the last week) nautilus have told me they're about to merge with AAAS and so we'll all get paid. But it's clear from the Undark piece that this is not true.
Sometimes magazines run into problems. I get that. I feel bad about it. But then don't commission pieces when you know there's no money to pay freelancers whose livelihoods depend on each and every word they write. We actually get paid by the word! Don't humiliate writers by making them beg for checks for weeks of work. And don't promise a merger is imminent with a big science institution when that big science institution will deny it. Good on Undark for this piece. And congratulations to the many fantastic science magazines who do the industry proud.
Let's do some math - how many subscribers do they need to break even if they pare down staff, go all digital, and raise their price a bit? Hand-wavy numbers for minimal viable staffing, but should be order of magnitude correct:
$ 600,000 Freelancers, $5K per article, 20 articles/issue, 6 issues/year
$ 200,000 2 editorial
$ 100,000 1 marketing person, online marketing savvy
$ 100,000 2 support staff (clerical, PA, etc)
$ 200,000 2 management/fundraising/operations staff
$ 100,000 1 webmaster/IT person
$ 100,000 outsourced services (HR, payroll, website hosting, etc)
If you charge $60 for an annual subscription - very reasonable for the content - they would need 23333.33 subscribers to break even.
They got $1.2 million last year in grants, some $9.5 million in funding since 2012. If they can't manage to attract 24K subscribers with that kind of funding they don't deserve to stay in business no matter how good their content is.
I love their content, but they need somebody who knows how to run a business to be in charge.
There are some sectors of the magazine industry, maybe science isn't one of them, that are actually doing really well. I've been on three different junkets with outdoors magazine editors in the past 6 months, and many large brands that advertise to the Duck Dynasty crowd are abandoning digital and going back to print.
Digital, it turns out, is mostly a scam. I've written in other places about why this is, but the nutshell version is bad ROI metrics and, even worse, the incentives on all sides are so perverted that the bad metrics and rampant fraud are a fundamental structural/business problem that no amount of tech can solve.
At any rate, the jig is, increasingly, up on digital (FB and Google excepted, because they run genuine performance advertising platforms at a scale that nobody else can match), and advertisers are actually going back to print, TV, radio -- venues where the ROI metrics are old, established, widely agreed upon, and fairly reliable.
Anyway, this situation is very complex and very very very different from what the typical HN "dead tree is expensive and for losers, the future is digital!" commenter thinks. If anything is in real trouble right now for deep structural reasons, it's digital, not print.
You probably find all this hard to believe -- I did at first until I heard it confirmed by the sixth or seventh person. I know that what I just said sounds like "up is down, and black is white", but this is how it is in 2017.
I rarely click on ads. I've probably been a successful ad conversion less than a dozen times since 1996.
Print is different. Getting ads is a significant reason for having a newspaper subscription. Many magazine ads are both more useful and more effective than the ad units that you se online. I probably made a Nikon/Canon decision based on a combination of print ads.
Somehow TapeOp magazine manages to deliver ~41.5K free print subscriptions every other month, at least in the US (digital subscription is included).
TapeOp has advertising, not sure if editor/publisher draw a salary, and I'm guessing that freelance interviewers/product reviewers get paid little if anything. Nonetheless, they've been the most kickass music production/recording magazine for more than 20 years.
Some info on how they do it:
I think print based reading material will have a place for longer than most people would have predicted a few years ago.
I go to their site to subscribe, and they are selling a year of the print & digital for $29. That's insane -- they don't even add on postage fees anywhere in the checkout process. It's literally $29, out the door.
I signed up for 2 years and just hope they are around for that time. I can't believe the direct costs of printing and shipping such a beautiful magazine don't exceed $5 per issue (12 issues over 2 years for $60).
Maybe they have found how price sensitive consumers are for their content, or maybe they know they can get higher ad rates with more print, but I don't see how they're even covering their costs for printing and shipping this to me, much less content or editorial staff, etc.
A few Quora answers put the cost of printing a typical magazine at less than $1 per copy. Magazines have a special postage rate that's cheaper than a single first class stamp. That means printing and sending the print magazine could cost just about half of what you're paying for the subscription, leaving the other half to pay for the content and overhead.
Yeah I didn't really get that. I kept looking for a * somewhere to indicate that it's $29 monthly. I'd have no problem doing monthly. $29 out the door is absolutely insane.
You say the problem is dead-tree publishing but I don't think the additional layout and printing costs are so much bigger than what you've outlined above. They're trying to cut costs by not paying the people who actually produce the content (as opposed to those who package it through the editorial function); their other alternative is to produce more popular content that would attract more ad revenue, but that would mean a loss of quality because markets don't always reward quality.
This is, literally, why we can't have nice things.
Society could harness it for good or bad. We have cheap applied science things (microprocessors with radios and amazing magically touch sensitive displays without ugly cords with endless content and ability to just call each other anywhere* on the planet), and we have of course things like the great firewall of china (and turkey and so on) which do deep packet inspection, enabled by very similar technology companies.
But it's immutable. You can't choose the second best thing. Because that just means your preferences and thus your utility function values underdogs above topdogs, hence you'll see those as the best. It's just tautological. And sure, we'll probably climb out of this hole eventually, but maybe with things like patreon and co: http://alternativeto.net/software/patreon/ (for example AdBlock + Flattr seems like a good solution to the advertising hell)
Furthermore, just to talk about the original point of "capitalism is killing quality news" ... are you sure? I mean there are still quality news outlets, and there will be, but the problem is that people don't read them. And bias. Even if you could sign up to be a journalist and magically get a fixed income if at least 10 000 people are reading your stuff, there would be a lot more crazy/spam out there. _Because_ people are people, they cheat, they like easy solutions, they are greedy. They prefer easy explanations, they prefer silver bullets, they prefer gods and guns for law and order even if we know that education and equality is the answer.
What is happening here is that too many bench warmers are trying to make excuses for why there are enough subscribers to the site. After all, all these people how can't they get a paltry 25k.
Simple, not that many people really know about their site and of those apparently the bulk just don't care. Maybe the content isn't really that interesting. Call a spade a spade.
then throw in, there is just such a wealth of information out there that it is easy to get lost and any one trying to sell stuff is going to have to work very hard to get noticed and even harder to make the sell.
Greed doesn't require capitalism, it occurs about any place where someone has stuff other people don't and where government leadership plays off the feelings of jealousy, income differences, and racial differences. Greed requires politicians who are more quite capable of telling you someone else has stuff you don't have and it is not fair or that you deserve stuff for free... provided you vote for them
The magic of capitalism is happening in China right now. You have hundreds of manufacturers making everything, driving prices down.
In the US, we're more like a command economy in many ways. We have these huge sectors like healthcare and defense that are 100% top down procurement and probably represent 30% of the economy. Another 8% of the economy is financial services, which is mostly a small cartel with direct government supports.
The telecom situation is the same thing. The corporate idiots bake out risks and the US turns into a dinosaur. Lots of real innovation will start happening in Asia.
I have only heard of one person who made it work with a reasonable margin and that is Maria Popovo from http://www.Brainpickings.org but she is an anomaly.
A subscription isn't that expensive, and part of making the world you want to live in (one with greater scientific literacy) is putting your money where your mouth is...
FWIW, you can also donate at: http://www.nautilusthink.org/donate
I suppose the first page might leak the amount of your donation, but nothing that's very sensitive.
From what is said in the article, they are getting the investment that they need, but things are moving slowly. I don't know how true that is, but I want to believe.
As the replication crisis wreaks havoc and meta-studies continue to reveal major structural issues with work in these fields, I just can't bring myself to read Nautilus anymore.
Another business wholly dependent on investor patronage.
We need to examine how we can continue to crowdsource legitimate cultural and creative endeavors. It seems that we're backpedaling to a medieval system, where science and art could only be done when bankrolled by a wealthy patron, whom the scientist/artist would have to accommodate if they expected the patronage to continue. [The dependence on corporate sponsors is really a form of this too, and as paying subscribers have evaporated, these have become ever-more-crucial.]
Stringent copyright regimes have only brought us heavily sanitized, commercialized, vacuous media. I would argue loosening this would benefit most small writers and publishers. At the very least, limiting copyright terms and keeping some culturally relevant icons in the public domain would be a huge boon. For example, imagine if someone besides Disney could benefit commercially from the Star Wars franchise, which was originally released 40 years ago. Isn't that long enough for its creators to have had exclusive control?
Something like a web-based micropayment service that dispensed monies based on time spent reading/enjoying would be useful, but it's hard to get everyone on board. I know there have been a couple of HN'ers who've made a pass at it, but to this point, nothing has stuck.
What I'd really like though is to support one or two major publications and then have a slush fund where I could pay per article to other sources.
I don't know... does HN have enough readership where it could collect funds and redistribute? It's my primary source of reading random material.
NYT is like NPR -- high quality reporting, but they beat you over the head with a stick to get across whatever broader point they have. It gets a little ponderous. The secret of the NYT is that you escape that crap by turning the page... the features are a treasure. I've been hooked to Science Times since second grade. They have stuff on art, books, etc... that's why you subscribe. The news is a commodity.
Unfortunately I can't afford all the different publications that might have an interesting article from time to time, but it seems like it would be their loss if they completely paywalled everything off.
Maybe something more like gym memberships would work where you could purchase say a 10-article "punchcard" or a subscription.
One of the things I like about print magazines (and newspapers) is the serendipity--you read something that wouldn't normally grab your attention because it's on the next page and...you've already paid for it, after all.
Paying per article seems like it would push people only to read things that they're sure they'll enjoy (based on the author, title, etc).
I wonder if an opt-out payment scheme would work: you authorize the site to bill you up to (say) $5/month. When you finish reading an article, the site deducts $0.25 from your account unless you take some simple action. If your account is empty, you read for free until the next month, and maybe some "proud support/well read" flair or something.
It does put a limit on the site's monthly revenue, but perhaps ensuring that readers feel like they're getting what they paid for helps make up for that.
If anything I feel like the focus on what he says is just distracting people from the more important news which is what he's doing.
Perhaps we should monitor the quality of the articles closely.
That's very interesting and important. I know the Templeton Foundation as funders of 'research' into creationism. Richard Dawkins, for example, is apparently a critic of theirs and refused to participate in a project of theirs. The Templeton Foundation's Wikipedia page tells some other interesting stories with names you may recognize (with the caveat that it is Wikipedia).
I wonder what influence they have on Nautilus. It's a genuine question; the world isn't black and white, Templeton is not evil, and I don't know their current level of funding for Nautilus - perhaps they could use more Templeton money. OTOH, funders can have subtle influence in many ways, from story selection to self-censorship.
EDIT: Oops, should have kept reading to answer one of my questions: "[The Templeton Foundation] has dialed back funding for Nautilus, although it gave the magazine an additional $1.25 million in 2015, and a little more than $1.2 million last year"
The only money in content is advertising since humans need some coaxing to produce it. This is resulting in companies that focus on content being controlled by advertisers behind the scenes. These days it's simple to get "paid placement" almost anywhere with zero mention that the content is sponsored.
This also explains why the best articles seem to come out of companies that don't sell writing. Google employees and the like are putting out research and case studies for fun, labors of love.
That said, I do love reading their pieces and it makes me sad that they're in financial trouble.
Note: I read the content online now, but would greatly prefer paper. I subscribe to the Economist and a national opinion magazine. A digital subscription is just not my style (for now, who knows what the future will bring..).
To all writers and editors: keep up the good work. Quality publication. Hope to hear more about the AAAS deal!
I really hope that this is some obscure tangle that, when solved, will really help some of these publications prosper and make some happy readers here on the continent.
I wish more of us can do the same.
> Science journalism is basically dead as a thing. Many of the top publications pay late or not at all. The rates for freelancers is consistently low and the expectations are high and getting higher. Other than a very small number of high performers, this is not a job and the best that most can expect is to be scraping by as a freelancer. Understandably, many simply stop doing it.
Anyway, I've subscribed. Overseas subscriptions are surprisingly expensive on account of the international shipping, but I like print.