Well, as long as I've got people complaining about ethics and advertising and greed and all (see the comments to "Ctein's Big Deal," below), and since it's Sunday (when I do my off-topic posts, theoretically at least), I figured I might as well go whole hog and hit you with yet another craven, self-serving, Peter-Lorre-like (hey, a new adjective!) post about the website.
First of all, I've decided to stop referring to TOP as a "blog." I went to an old friend's house for dinner recently, where I met some neighbors of theirs who have recently moved here from Australia. When the gentleman of the couple asked me the quintessential American question—what do you do?—I answered, "I have a blog."
My friend (who's in traditional media) took me aside later and gently pointed out that that answer sounds imbecilic, since most "blogs" consist of trivial diary-type twitting that are seen by approximately twelve people a day*. It's not quite as bad as answering, "I like M&Ms," (I'm thinking of Brian Baumgartner's Kevin Malone character on "The Office," when the new HR director mistakes him for a differently-abled affirmative-action hire), but it doesn't quite rise to the level of implying constructive endeavor. So I've decided that when someone asks me that question, I'm going to answer, "I'm the editor of a large photography website." That word "large" is a fib—we're definitely a middlin' photography website, not large, not small—but overspecifying would be too much information, and would bog everyone down mid-phrase. The new answer does two things the old one does not: it gives me a title (editor), implying that I actually do some work from time to time, and, helpfully, it names an actual field (photography). Altogether more of a conversation-starter, and hopefully one that will make me sound a little less like a moron.
So, then, here's the new line: TOP is a "vertical photography magazine providing daily content for avid enthusiasts all over the world." That's the new tagline and I'm stickin' with it. (The concept, anyway; I do love fiddling with wordings.) Even if some days I feel cranky and don't do much besides waste a bunch of time nattering at people in the comments section.
TOP as a paysite?
So anyway. A whole bunch of people have suggested, in the wake of all the talk about Ctein's experiment, that I do something similar with TOP—provide a way for people to get set up to provide small, regular donations without having to think about it. I think I will do that, too, assuming I can, although I'm generally not complaining about money. It's not like I do that much for you, that I deserve to be riding around in a Mercedes Black Series and alleviating distress in the Third World; I'm not exactly Sergey Brin or Oprah, you know? If I could have my best month every month, I promise, I'd never complain again. But the ups and downs of this site's very modest income are scary, on account of I don't currently have what is by general consensus known as "a real job." (I'm not very good at getting along in corporate environments—I have an unfortunate tendency towards candor that has not served me terribly well.) I'm thinking of asking for either seven or eight cents a month—whichever would leave me with a nickel after the online bank takes its bite. That would be less than a dollar a year for you, which I figure is less change than you lose in your couch. This should be painless.
But—and this is an important condition—TOP will still be free, and everybody and anybody will still be very welcome to keep reading it without paying a penny. It won't become a paysite. Donation-subscriptions, if I get that far, will be purely voluntary, a way for you to say "thanks for that," or "keep it up," or "attaway." It will not determine access.
...However, I do have to decide on a periodic basis whether to keep this up or not. When I started TOP, I wanted to see if I could keep it going for a year, and I would not have taken an even bet on the chances. I was surprised to discover that it's fun for me, and uses my skills and talents pretty well. And it still seems like it's got a fair amount of energy. Well, most days it does. For the past three years, though, the decision to keep going or not has been made for me by our key advertisers. First, and quite crucially, it was my friends at LightCrafts, makers of the LightZone image editor, a low-cost, easy-to-learn alternative to Photoshop, Lightroom, and the like. A plug, there? You betcha, Bubba. Because, y'all? If it hadn't been for Fabio and the rest of the crew at LightZone, TOP would not exist today. Pretty much for certain. I'd probably be selling cars or editing some in-house corporate newsletter right now, or, more likely, the way the economy's going, I'd be laid off from selling cars or editing an in-house corporate newsletter right now. I'd be just another disembodied statistic, instead of a friendly disembodied statistic with a voice you know.
Anyway, there's good news on that front—our current major sponsor, Michael Tapes of RawWorkflow.com, recently re-upped for another year. That means TOP won't go away for at least another 12 months. Well, ten and change it is, now, but you get the point. So that's good news.
People—even Michael himself—have said to me from time to time, "too bad your top advertiser can't be N---- or C---- or some other big player." Except I don't think it's too bad. If you think about it, RawWorkflow is the perfect sponsor. It's largely a one-man band, albeit with some able help (same here); it's got an eclectic mix of products ("eclectic" should be my middle name); Michael Tapes is a true, dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast who's both committed and passionate, sometimes probably to a degree that might not even be in his own best interests (er, check); he has a passion and an aptitude for educating (me too, not to be immodest); and he knows photography from the doin'-it side (ditto, at least partly). Not a bad first-position advertiser; quite the contrary, the perfect top-position advertiser for TOP, if you ask me. Go see him. If only to say "thanks." Yep, that there's a plug. Sue me!
Time to scrape the barnacles, mateys
It does seem like it's time for a site overhaul of some sort. I'd like to clean things up, change the graphics, take care of some annoying bugs, maybe just move the furniture around for the sake of change. More than that, I'd like to take a fresh think about what more TOP might offer to make you happier. More camera reviews? More show reviews? More regular features? More different writers, more blather from me? More links, fewer links? More about art, less about art? A more wild'n'woolly comments section, or one that's more buttoned-down? More posts, fewer posts? Eliminate the blogger's—er, the editor's more annoying idiosyncrasies? Which are—? Anything at all you'd like to see more of, or less of—or are you already seven cents' a month worth of happy?
If you've got a suggestion, now's the time to let me have it. You can leave a comment (all of which I read, by the way, without exception) or send me an email. I won't promise I'll be able reply to everyone privately, so please forgive me if I don't, but I will read every last one, for sure.
(Thanks to Max Cottrell)
*Not that there's anything wrong with that, in the immortal words of J. Seinfeld.
UPDATE: Oops, it looks like I goofed—there's no way to set up subscriptions for such a low amount. So let's just say "details to come later."