Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for February, 2009

tbnl Magazine – call for stories continued

Posted by shannonclark on February 11, 2009

I have written about the types of stories we expect to publishin tbnl Magazine before – and have mentioned that a likely overall theme for the first issue is Inaugural now I have some more specifics about what we are seeking for the first issue and some specific details to, I hope, inspire friends old and new to submit stories (or in some cases as detailed below proposals for stories).

First the main thing to keep in mind is that tbnl Magazine is not a blog or an online only magazine, what we are seeking first and foremost are stories – fiction or non-fiction – which are intened to be read and thought about – which likely took time to write and will take some real time and thought to read. 

Not that stories should be obscure or obtuse – but rather that they should be focused with care taken on both the content and the form. Shorthand or simplifications such as linking to Wikipedia or writing as part of an ongoing and linked discussion (as I did in the first paragraph of this post for example) do not work as well in print. Print demands a more self-contained work, one which stands alone – while also engaging with the world and prior works (more the case for non-fiction than fiction though much of fiction contains echos and allusions to works which have come before)

Second, we are looking for original stories, stories which cannot be found elsewhere (at least prior to publication in tbnl Magazine, all authors will retain the right to sell their stories in other forms or to publish the stories to the web, including under a cc license). This does not mean that in the case of non-fiction we require only original research, indeed new stories which build upon prior coverage and study of an area are quite welcome – especially where the longer timeframe of tbnl Magazine allows for a different and new focus to a story. 

By “longer focus” what I mean is to keep in mind that every issue of tbnl Magazine is intended to remain in print for at least 2-3 years and very likely to remain in print indefinitely (and as I wrote earlier this morning our intention is to pay rates which include ongoing royalties) so we are seeking stories which are written in a timeless fashion. Not stories covering a news event just or about to happen, but stories which are analytical or which could be read and engaged with years after they are written. The features of a more typical magazine versus the news or reviews. 

We also welcome fiction from any genre (or no specific or clear genre) though I do have a bias towards Science Fiction and Fantasy (followed by Mystery) and will ocnsider stories which are part of an ongoing universe, though everything we publish should be complete and self-contained. We do not expect to publish stories of greater than 8000 words very often and almost never anything over 10,000 words. 

So what are we looking for? What should you my readers and friends be thinking about submitting?

  • Stories of your passions – explain in a clear and relatively consise way an interest you have pursued for years, your passions, the thing which you have been a “geek” about for years, the interest you perhaps rarely share with others or conversely share too often. At the BIL conference this past weekend the closing speaker spoke on the classes she has taught for the past eight years on giving blow jobs. While we probably would illustrate that particular story with care and tact, we are open to stories covering a very wide range of topics – especially when they are written with passion as well as expertise (or the knowledge of your lack of expertise and the story of how you are learning). 
  • If you are blogger a story you need to tell but your blog is not the place to do it.  Probably a story you have hinted at on the blog or which a series of blog posts have referenced and discussed but which is better as a single, timeless, written with more care story. If your blog is often writen with an eye to that day’s traffic and DIGG/Techmeme and other rankings, tbnl Magazine is a chance for you to expand upon topics and stories in greater depth and with a longer time horizon. Remember, however, that tbnl Magazine is intended for lovers of great stories – we will include stories from many genres and on many topics – sports, fashion, sex, economics, business, technology, food, design, history and much more are all welcome.
  • Specifically for Issue #1 stories about a start, an Inaugural. Think back to important personal firsts or look back at a first in a field you care deeply about – wither a business or a sport, politics or gaming. Again we are open to a very wide range of topics – for the first issue we want to start with an exploration of many starts (as well as other creative interpretations of the term Inaugural. 

So please, be creative and surprise us. 

On a technical note in general we prefer to receive the full story as a submission instead of a story proposal, though we are open to proposals for longer non-fiction stories. That said, we will likely only accept such stories from authors whom we have strong reasons to assume will be able to deliver the story on time and both well written and well edited. Very likely we may accept proposed stories for Issues #2 and following (especially once we settle on overall themes for those issues) but are less likely to accept a proposal for the Issue #1 as we are looking to publish that Issue as quickly as possible. 

Watch this blog for more details and announcements in the coming days and weeks.

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tbnl Magazine – rates experiment for the first issues

Posted by shannonclark on February 11, 2009

This past weekend I led a small discussion about tbnl Magazine and the process I’m undertaking to publish a new print magazine today at BIL 2009.

One of the ideas which I’ve been thinking a great deal about is how to set the pay rates for tbnl Magazine – for the first issues and for later issues. How can I do this in a manner which is fair to all, sustainable as a business model in the long term, sufficient to attract (and reward) great writers, and inclusive of the rights of photographers and illustrators as well as writers?

First some background based on rates based on my research so far – please update/correct this in the comments below!

Fiction Rates:

  • Over $0.05/word is considered fairly “high” with few publications offering >$0.07/word
  • Many fiction markets pay a small, flat per story rate or pay only in copies of the publication
  • Even with these low rates, open submission policies garner 1000’s of submissions to many publications
  • Rates for poetry considerably lower than for short fiction with a per poem fixed rate most typical
  • Few markets accept stories of >7000 words

Non-fiction Rates:

  • “Low” is, at least in some markets, considered $1.00/word with $1.50-2.00/word more “normal”
  • Flat per-article rates are also not uncommon for smaller publications but are often something like $500 for a ~750 word column
  • However there are also many markets which pay $10-50/article for non-fiction (yes ~10x less than “low” rates)
  • Unclear how rates vary based on wordcount, many current publications have very low wordcounts for most articles (<1000 words, often <700 words) with long form articles being exceptions
  • Rates for web only writing (“professional” blogging) considerably lower than print non-fiction rates

Academic Rates:

  • In general academic writers expect to PAY (not be paid) for publication (costs typically born by research grants)
  • Academic “payment” is more accurately in the form of peer review which in turn leads to more grants and tenure
  • Some academics may be restricted from accepting payment
  • Others (business school professors, economists etc) may be paid for non-academic writings (for business publications etc)

Photography & Illustration Rates:

  • Varies considerably by genre of publication and use of image i.e. cover photos pay more, fashion photography pays more than music or sports, news photography/photojournalism varies widely
  • Competes with stock photography which is often used for illustration purposes – and which can be as low at $1.00/image from online stock photography sources
  • Online image rates tend to be lower than print image rates (at least for photography)
  • Different categories here – photography, illustration (artistic), and illustration (charts & informational graphics) with somewhat varying rates (but which I need to research in greater detail!)

So where does that lead tbnl Magazine?

I think the typical approach today is to have highly variable rates based on the type of content, though often publications focus on just one (primarily) type of author (only fiction w/small selection of reviews or other low rate non-fiction for example). I suspect, but do not know for sure, that magazines such as Granta pay for fiction & non-fiction at similar (relatively low) rates.

The relationship between rates and the number of a given issue which is printed is also unclear to me at present – other than the obvious that high circulation publications typically pay among the highest rates, low circulation publications pay among the lowest rates.

Ideally I would like to pay all contributors at a relatively similar rate – though I also recognize that the word counts for great writing differ from type of writing – I’d rather reward a non-fiction author for writing a short but very compelling story over an overly wordy article which is less compelling to read. Likewise I want to get fiction which is the length needed to tell the story – but also short enough to be read comfortably at one sitting – i.e. tbnl Magazine will not, at least initially, be publishing novellas or other longer forms of fiction writing.

I also feel strongly that one of the virtues of a great magazine, of the magazines I prefer to read, is that the images in the magazine enhance the experience of that magazine – they add to the stories they are a part of and serve more than just a design portfolio purpose.

At the same time I also want to focus on great typography and a consistent look and feel from page to page and issue to issue – if reducing the amount of photography & illustration helps to achieve this I consider it a worthwhile decision. My goal is NOT to have a heavily “designed” magazine – ala Wired or indeed many current magazines which offer different layouts and visual design for nearly every story and feature they publish.

Instead my model is magazines which have a more consistent, focused on the text, look and feel but where illustration and images used spareingly do serve a valuable purpose for individual stories.

Keeping all this in mind here is my current – and very much subject to change – thinking about rates for tbnl Magazine’s first few issues (at least issues 1 & 2, perhaps also 3 & 4)

  • All contributors will receive one payment based on the first 2000 copies of tbnl Magazine to be printed
  • All contributors will then receive further payments (royalties as it were) based on additional sales of that issue (print-on-demand or digital) in multiples of 1000 copies (or on a pro-rated basis each year until the issue is no longer in print)
  • Contributors can choose not to be paid (either at all or after some amount) directing instead those payments either to a charity or back to tbnl Magazine
  • This will apply to all contributors regardless of genre of submissions

So what rates is tbnl Magazine going to pay for the first issues?

My current thinking is as follows, this is based on an assumption of ~30,000 words of writing in each of the first few issues (for an approximately 80 page, magazine sized publication).

Base rate of $0.10/word for Fiction & Non-Fiction (i.e. $100/1000 words) with a $75 minimum (so even articles shorter than 750 words will get $75) + 5 copies of the magazine for all contributors.

Base rate of $200/image for photos or original illustrations (including info graphics) we commission. If we decide to use images on the cover (I’m considering a typographic design) then that work would likely be paid at a higher rate, probably at least $400.

This means that for a typical issue of tbnl Magazine the words in the issue will cost us ~$3000/issue and assuming at least one image per article another $1000-2000/issue for images & cover artwork. Thus, roughly speaking, a per-issue content cost of about $5000 for the first 2000 copies.

This is a very high rate (relatively speaking) for typical fiction markets, it is a low rate, relatively speaking for at least some non-fiction markets. For a given issue I may rethink my balance of types of stories based on what has been submitted or proposed – some issues may have more than 1/3 of the magazine as fiction for example. For non-fiction I realize this rate may not be high enough to cover some of the expenses of covering a given story or the time and research certain stories take – we will welcome writings on topics a writer has published about elsewhere – provided that what is submitted to tbnl Magazine is original and not restricted by that prior sale (i.e. the research was not done as work-for-hire for example).

For every 1000 additional copies sold (print-on-demand or digital) we would then pay an additional $0.05/word to all authors and $50/image to artists.

This is, of course, assuming that the margin we can fetch on a per-issue basis for print-on-demand (as well as the net proceeds from each digital copy sold) allows for those payments. For this to work the net margin per issue sold will have to be at least $4.00/issue most likely.

Unfortunately this likely means that though I like their model in many ways the numbers don’t add up to use magcloud. An 80 page publication at $0.20/page (assuming they do charge per side of a page) would have a base cost of $16/issue, to net at least $4/issue would require that we sell each issue for $20 + shipping as print-on-demand. My gut tells me that the price needs to be closer to $10-12/issue with probably an upper limit of $15 to be workable.

I am also assuming, at least for the moment, that advertisers will not pay us on a per 1000 additional copy basis, though that when we consistently reach higher per-issue numbers and have more detailed demographic details about our readers we will be able to raise rates for advertising.

As I said, these are only initial thoughts – I welcome feedback and reactions. My underlying goal is to be able to publish a magazine every story of which I would want to read myself – and which as a whole tells a story every issue – one which rewards reading the issue cover to cover and which stands a test of time – being interesting and relevant for at least many years.

I do not expect tbnl Magazine to pay anyone enough to make a full living, but likewise I do want it to be a part of a comfortable living on the behalf of every contributor – I want tbnl Magazine to garner great works from many contributors.

Based on an estimate of $5/copy short print run costs, a 2000 issue initial print run, and $5000 in content costs, this suggests that we need to raise around $20,000 to publish issue #1. Suggesting a price of $20/issue and a target of 1000 issue #1 subscribers. (this only leaves about $3000 for design & other startup costs assuming ~$1500-2000 in shipping costs). ~100 issues would be given to contributors leaving about 900 issues for promotional purposes (or sale at select retail or at events we hold in the future). $25,000 would probably be a better initial target (very achievable with 1000 subscribers at $20/issue for the first issue + 5-15 advertisers at ~$500/ad.

Of course I will be researching printing costs in greater detail and will be looking for <$5/issue options and we could look at even lower initial issue numbers (both for cost of content & number of copies printed) to keep startup costs even lower.

What are your thoughts about these numbers?

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