Many folks in the Backwoods Home family were saddened to discover that Claire Wolfe’s September 17 installment of her online Hardyville series would be her last.
Claire began writing regular columns for BHM back in 2001, starting with her “Living the Outlaw Life” series, which continued for a little over two years. In October, 2003, she revived her Hardyville series as a twice-monthly website column. It became a weekly series in January, 2007, when she began crafting continuing, multi-episode stories about the fabled town and its independent, freedom-loving citizens.
While Claire will no longer be writing about Hardyville on the website, she will continue her regular movie-review column for the Backwoods Home Magazine print issue, as well as her new print issue column titled, City girl/Country life.
Most of Claire’s columns and articles will remain online indefinitely and may be found in her archive.
This is another case of a very talented writer coming to the conclusion that online applause without sufficient monetary compensation can only sustain you for so long. The Backwoods Home Magazine print issue will at least pay her a reasonable sum for her talent and hard work.
I think we’ve found a suitable solution to the question and answer problem on Jackie Clay’s blog. We’re going to restrict questions to readers who are paid subscribers to the print issue. In a few days we’ll put a form on Jackie’s blog so people who want to ask her a question can fill it out with their name and address, which we’ll compare to our database of paid subscribers.
Simple solution, huh? That will weed out at least 80 percent of the questions, unless some of those nonsubscribers decide to subscribe. To date, we’ve had a total of one person out of the 80% of nonsubscribing questioners at Jackie’s blog take advantage of the free Jackie Clay CD-ROM offer and become a subscriber. Not exactly encouraging.
Many of the questions asked on Jackie’s blog over the last three months were redundant anyway and could have been found by a simple search of Jackie’s CD-ROM. After all, it has 11 years worth of her questions and answers from the pages of the print issue.
I’ve also decided to restrict Jackie to blogging twice a week, rather than three times. She has been spending many hours blogging and answering readers’ questions, actually exhausting herself in the process, and not enough time writing for the print issue, where the major portion of her paycheck comes from. Jackie writes for a living, and as much as she felt obligated to the magazine to answer all the questions thrown at her, she seemed relieved yesterday when I told her she would now only have to answer questions from our paid subscribers. To answer questions, she typically had to crank up the generator after she put her aging Mom to bed, then spend a couple of hours responding. Henceforth, we’ll automatically filter out questions from nonsubscribers before the questions get to her.
Jackie obviously doesn’t want to be the “heavy” in this. That’s my job — being a mean, stingy publisher who insists his writers’ intellectual output reap monetary reward. I also don’t want her exhausted. Writing is hard work, and I’ve got a few other writing projects for the print issue I’ve asked her to work on.
By the way, nonsubscribers who want to subscribe to the print issue, so they can ask Jackie questions at her blog, will have an opportunity to do so once we get the new form in place on her blog.
There is another, very important, issue at stake here. It’s exhaustion of a writer. David Lee is a good point. I mentioned a few blog posts ago that David Lee has decided to stop writing. He’ll not only stop writing his blog, but he’ll stop writing for the print issue, at least for a while. That’s a big loss for the print issue, and I lay the blame at my own feet.
Lee is a real talent. He not only writes but has tremendous knowledge in the building field. He’s exactly the type of talent I seek out for the print issue. I knew several issue ago that he was thinking of putting his writing on a back burner while he pursued his art and other things, and I pursued him with an offer of substantially higher payment for his articles if he would continue writing for the print issue. He agreed. Then I got this blogging idea and asked him to blog too. Unfortunately, BHM earns so little from the blogs that I was only able to offer him a small amount of money to blog.
But Lee wrote his heart out anyway, producing sophisticated mini-articles with each blog post. I remember telling my daughter several times: “Read this guy. He’s giving you a blueprint to get your own home.”
But then he quit. After three terrific months of blog posts, I believe he exhausted himself mentally. You can only keep up intellectual output at that level for so long. It is mentally exhausting because writing at the level of a David Lee is very hard to do. What I, as the manager of BHM’s best writers, did, in effect, was to prematurely burn out one of our best writers. He was on the fence anyways because he has talents in other areas he wanted to pursue. But I could have had him as a writer for the print issue for at least another couple of years had I not burned him out on the blog. Huge mistake on my part, and I’m going to make sure I don’t repeat it with Jackie Clay.
Moderating comments to control spam
By the way, it turns out our blog software moderates all comments in order to control spam. So if you comment on any of the BHM blogs, you will have to wait for me to okay the comment before it appears. I moderated comments for the blogs today and found one real comment, but 106 pieces of spam.
I’m not a very religious person, but when O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, I remember thinking, “I sure hope there’s a God because that bastard needs to fry for what he did.” Well, maybe God doesn’t need to intercede after all. O.J. is charged with some pretty serious crimes — two counts of kidnapping at gunpoint among them — and even though the case looks a bit flimsy at first glance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s convicted “of something” anyway and goes to jail.
Ever since that incredible injustice 12 years ago when O.J. was acquitted by a moronic jury, most of the rest of American society has ostracized him. No endorsements, no appearances on sports shows, not even a mention of him by TV football analysts when they discussed great running backs of the past. That’s because we all knew he did it, and as a society we purposefully ostracized him.
These current charges may very well stem from a setup, as defense attorneys say, or it may really be just about “payback” for what O.J. got away with in 1995, but I’m still hopeful. Maybe this IS Divine Retribution interceding. Maybe God is playing a little joke on O.J., and holding him to account after all — in this life.
I seem to have overlooked a lot of blog comments that my blogging software had flagged for moderation. I deleted a bunch of spam, then gave the go ahead to the ones now posted. I don’t know why the software flagged some of these comments. I’ll be more prompt with my moderating duties in the future. I just flat out forgot to do it while I was on deadline for the new issue.
I moderated the comments on all blogs. Of 281 comments on Jackie’s blog, 277 were spam. Of 363 on David Lee’s, 362 were spam. Of 88 on John Silveira’s blog, about 83 were spam, and of 56 on mine, about 50 were spam. Those spam bots and spam cockroaches are sure active.
It’s after midnight. Lenie has been asleep for a couple of hours, and I intended to go to sleep a couple of hours ago too until I discovered this spam oversight.
I appreciate the feedback on my last post about the viability of the blogs. The BHM webmaster, Oliver, and I discussed this subject at length today. We’re looking into reviving the paid e-issue or setting aside a restricted part of the website that people will have to pay to see. Or a combination of both. Print issue subscribers will get priority. Maybe we’ll make access to the restricted website area free to print issue subscribers, but have nonsubscribers pay for access. We’ll see.
Reviving the e-issue means investing in the technology to do a Flash type e-issue, as the old pdf version was too easily pirated. I don’t care about the few people who pirate it for personal use; it’s the websites who pirate it, then present it as their own, that I mind.
Whatever we do, I don’t want to waste a lot of money and time creating something for which there is an insufficient market. I’m not sure how we’ll determine what market is out there. THE CD-ROM we’ve been offering the readers of Jackie Clay’s blog for a few days has sold zero CD-ROMs so far. That may be significant since the first week of an offer is when your biggest sales tend to take place.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario, and keep in mind I’m just thinking out loud here: Print issue subscribers of the future will be able to opt to also have access to the restricted website and e-issue for an extra $5 above the cost of a $23.95 subscription. Non-print issue subscribers would have to pay $10-15. The restricted area would include blogs by Jackie Clay, Massad Ayoob, and John Silveira (Silveira has been very busy so hasn’t posted much in his blog), as well as many good articles that were not published in the print issue due to lack of space. The revenue would give me the money that I could use to motivate both bloggers and writers. Then it becomes a numbers game, as everything is in a capitalist society: Does the revenue pay for the product? Right now it doesn’t; the print issue must supplement the website.
We could do it as a membership thing much like Bill O’Reilly does at his website. We can give away everything he offers for becoming a member, plus maybe a coffee cup with a BHM logo and a signed photo of Jackie Clay.
We’ll see! There’s a lot of dangerous ground to tread here. I’m not worried about ticking off the free users (that does not include print issue subscribers) who now use BHM’s website. I’m worried about the money BHM will have to spend to set up this restricted site and new e-issue and whether or not we’ll be flushing our money down the toilet.
A lot of businessmen think it’s unwise to put all your cards on the table like this. I don’t. I have always thought out loud. I think it’s best that everyone involved be aware of what likely lies ahead. Maybe someone will have an idea that makes better sense for BHM.
One of our bloggers and best writers, David Lee, has decided to stop blogging for a while. I learned a lot from his alternative building blog during the three months it was on the BHM website. David’s got a lot of things he’d like to do besides writing. An accomplished artist, writer, and builder, he’s decided to move his family onto a boat he’s been building. I can’t say beyond that, but you can read his goodbye at his blog if you’d like.
About half of all bloggers stop blogging after their first six months, according to Bob Walsh, author of Clear Blogging, a very good book I’ve been reading on how to blog. I had visited Walsh’s website, www.clearblogging.com, in the past but was unable to access it today. But I recommend his book.
I have my theories why people stop blogging. First, they get tired of it. Second, it usually pays nothing (although BHM pays both Jackie Clay and David Lee). Third, it’s a lot of work to blog three times a week, the minimum you need to hold an audience. As a businessman, I have a stake in understanding whether or not blogs are worth pursuing because they cost time and money.
From a business standpoint, the first three months of the BHM blogs indicates they are not financially viable. Blogs, according to the Clear Blogging book, are worthwhile doing if it encourages people to buy your product. In BHM’s case that means buying a subscription to Backwoods Home Magazine or one of our books or CD-ROMs. I’m doing an experiment on Jackie Clay’s blog right now by offering the blog’s readers a free Jackie Clay CD-ROM if they’ll subscribe to BHM. It just started a few days ago, and the CD-ROM offers hundreds of questions Jackie has answered over an 11-year period while working for BHM. In other words, it’s a super duper version of what her blog is all about. But I’d be willing to bet money that very few readers of her blog will go for the offer.
Why? It is the nature of the internet to get stuff for free. Internet users do not want to pay for anything. They simply expect everything for free because information is free all over the internet. I don’t blame them. I too like my news and information for free, but it doesn’t solve my problem as a businessman of how to pay the Jackie Clays and David Lees of the world to blog at the BHM website. And of course my problem becomes the bloggers’ problem if I decide to discontinue the blogs.
It IS worth my time to do my blog because my blog has a different purpose. I am simply keeping in touch with a loyal subscriber base. The magazine’s readership and the BHM staff and writers are like an extended family, so my blog helps keep that family together. The benefits will accrue to BHM in all sorts of intangible ways. In other words, my blog doesn’t need to pay for itself; it’s just another job I do as part of my publishing duties.
But this whole blog experiment highlights a peculiarity about the internet, namely, that internet readers are not nearly as valuable to a magazine as print issue subscribers are. Print issue subscribers pay the bills; blog readers contribute nothing but applause.
So we’ll see how this blogging experiment pans out. The more I write about it the more it will become clear in my mind. Descartes once said, “I think therefore I am.” For me it’s, “I write therefore I think.” For blog readers it’s, “I think everything on the internet is free.”
Did you notice Tiger Woods won the Fed-Ex cup today? The New England Patriots will play San Diego in an hour. I bet BHM artist Don Childers a dollar that my Patriots will beat his Chargers. He’s probably already mailed me my dollar.
Well, Lenie made deadline. Issue no. 108 (Nov/Dec 2007) has begun its long road to the newsstands and subscribers’ mailboxes. When finally distributed, in mid-October, the issue will conclude our 18th year publishing BHM.
Nice run so far. We’re still as independent as we were with Issue no. 1. Nobody owns us. We are not beholden to advertisers or to some big corporation that must always be careful not to write anything that could be misconstrued as offensive to some obscure group. It’s a wonderful feeling to be your own man — or woman. Oops! How do I say that? … your own person, your own societal entity? You get what I mean.
Of course, the best part about being an independent anything is that you are your own boss. You don’t have to answer to anyone. I don’t care if you’re a publisher, an owner/electrician, a store keeper, or a self-employed truck driver. If you are your own boss, you’ve got the world by the old yubangees.
Meanwhile, Subway continues to emerge at the front of our building. The plumbing is in, the windows are in, and the electrical started going in today. The franchise owners, Shannon Lawhorn and his father, Keith, own five other Subway franchises, including the one in Brookings, the nearest town to the south of us. Both hard workers, Keith brought in his tile cutting equipment and intends to cut and install all the tile in the new franchise himself. He and his son are typical of how owners work: They started out with one franchise and both worked themselves silly until they got six. They are still working themselves silly. Some day, a group representing a bunch of lazy people will probably accuse them of being rich people who don’t deserve their success. Luckily, however, America still has plenty of hard workers like the Lawhorns who seize the American dream and make the most of it.
John Silveira is writing the editorial this issue. When I said the issue went to the printer, I forgot to mention that it was minus the editorial. I started writing it but was in a dark mood about the state of America. Paragraphs like this came out:
… On the BHM website, we run a catchy ad for my book, Can American Be Saved from Stupid People, that contains a little oval button with the words “Click Here to find out.” Don’t bother clicking that button. I’ll tell you the answer: It can’t! I should have made the book just those two words and saved everybody a lot of time.
American can’t be saved because nobody wants it saved. More accurately, it’s not even a topic of discussion, except among a few fringe people. America is dead. With its most important freedoms largely gone, America is a shell of its former self.
I can see the outrage among some of you. How can I say this. America is still the freeest country in the world. That’s debatable, and even if it’s true it’s like saying a dirty wall is still cleaner than a filthy wall. We are the most regulated society in history, and we have a higher percentage of our population in prison that any society ever.
Want examples? Read my editorials from the past 18 years. They’re all online free, or in the Stupid People book. Read John Silveira’s too. They’re also online free. We’ve both railed against the attacks on America’s freedoms for 18 years in these pages. But now it’s over. America has lost. …
I finally said “Enough!” It’s too bleak, plus I didn’t cite any supporting data to back up my assertions. I also just felt tired. I called John and asked him to write an editorial about global warming. We had been talking about it the day before, and he has a much better grasp of the salient issues. I get bombarded daily by email from global warming proponents. Most are just socialists in green skin, but their numbers are overwhelming. What’s the old saying — “If you say an untruth often enough, it becomes true in the public mind.” That’s global warming. John is a lot more knowledgeable than I am in this area, so he’s the one to write this.
It’s the next day. John’s still smoothing out the editorial. Nice calm ocean. I think I’ll go fishing.
Today was our breakthrough day when everything falls into place. There is so much to do and so many details that need to be addressed that we’re all on edge, wondering if this is the deadline we’re going to miss. I love this day. All the preparatory work has been done, but things are in pieces all over the place, like a big puzzle. The articles and ads are in, most have been read and proofed, but nobody knows how it all fits together. Except me. I am the organizational expert. I understand complex systems.
As with every deadline, I schedule a time for all key players — Lenie, Lisa, Lorraine, and me — to sit at the “round table” and put together the issue. The round table is a poker table I had built years ago to serve as both a poker table and a surface where issues can be put together. We have yet to play a poker game on it, but we’ve put together a lot of issues.
Lorraine, the ad manager, brings the ads. Lisa, Lenie, and I have assembled the articles. Rhoda, our chief proof reader, has already gone home but her careful eye has gone over every article. I’ve done a preliminary assembly of the magazine in my head, but the details are very fuzzy. The round table is where we make everything come into focus.
It takes us less than three hours to lay out the issue, except for a few holes Lenie will fill in with various ads she’ll create out of her head. Lenie will work late the next few nights putting together the actual magazine from the blueprint we assembled today. She is relieved too. She doesn’t mind the work, so long as she has a blueprint.
Annie has set her share of articles and now will work on setting our two-page “Christmas specials” ad. I’ll go home and work on my Note from the Publisher and editorial. The bulk of the remaining work, however, falls on Lenie. It’s stuff no one else (maybe Annie) can do, involving many aesthetic details of layout that are crucial to selling the issue.
This breakthrough day is dependent on the preparatory work that has taken place during the previous two months. Lisa is the lead here, dealing with submissions and key writers. Lorraine takes care of the advertisers. Lisa has contacted me many times for guidance with articles, and Lorraine has done the same with Lenie for ads. We all have a good handle on our jobs, complementing each other with our understanding of what needs to be done.
But it’s like magic on a day like this. And it is always just a single day leading up to deadline that we make this breakthrough for the issue at hand. I wonder if it’s like this at other magazines?
We’re very busy on deadline, but Lenie and I did have time to take in Robby’s first soccer game of his high school career, which was played about a half mile from the office at the grammar school field. Gold Beach High won, of course. We beat Illinois Valley, whose team had to travel about three hours for the game from a town that’s even smaller than ours. They are in a higher division than we are so it was a big thrill for us to beat them 1 to 0.
We’ll work through the weekend on deadline for Issue No. 108, which is the Nov/Dec 2008 issue. Lot of work left to do. Lots and lots. I try and start off deadline for an issue by reading the letters from readers and arranging them for the Letters section. The letters pump me up and allow me to dive into the workload. I never fail to be utterly humbled by the nice things people say about the magazine.
Silveira has a great article that will lead the issue, and from which we’ll get our cover. Lenie emailed Don Childers a photo from the article so he’ll have a guide for his cover drawing.
While we’re on deadline tomorrow in our downtown Gold Beach office, a crafts fair will be taking place in our parking lot, a car wash to raise money for the soccer team will be taking place in the parking lot of the bank next door, and a multi-school cross-country meet that includes two of my sons will be taking place in a route that goes around the high school track, then out of the school grounds along the nearby beach, then back to the finish line at the school. It’s going to be a busy little town. My youngest son, Sammy, who will be running in the cross-country meet, will race back to the fair at the BHM parking lot to sell brownies and cookies.
The issue is strong, again. Annie finally got her computer running in North Carolina today so we sent articles to her to lay out. Deadline is Thursday, Sept. 13. A lot of things will come together by Tuesday. It will be like magic. I’ll be the master conductor once again. My symphony is all ready to go. Just a few chairs need to be put in place, a few strings tightened to the proper pitch. Everyone knows their part. It will be a wonderful symphony. I actually play a very limited role in the talent it takes to produce this symphony. My talent is to organize, then conduct it. Sometimes I get a tremendous feeling of power, but then I quickly remember my proper role after reading a brilliant article by the likes of Massad Ayoob.
I’m working Jackie Clay too hard on her new weblog, so I told her to treat it secondary to the print issue. It is the print issue that BHM is all about. The blogs are fun but the print issue is the real thing. So Jackie’s next blog entry may be delayed a bit. Silveira is far too busy to post into his blog so I’ve put a photo of him in this blog post.
The hummingbirds seem to be leaving our area. I’m assuming they are migrating but it is kind of early. I wonder if we’ll have an early winter. We keep three feeders outside the kitchen window, as Lenie and I both like to watch them. I take care of the feeders, mixing four parts water to one part sugar, then boiling it for a couple of minutes. They’re beautiful birds and very self-sufficient. You don’t have to worry about preventing them from migrating by leaving full feeders out too late in the season. Hummingbirds know when to migrate, their internal clocks being triggered by the growing shortness of daylight hours. They can usually avoid our cats, although once in a great while a cat will succeed in catching one. They are very pleasant to watch as you do the afternoon dishes, which often falls to me since I work out of the home office while Lenie goes to the Gold Beach office. There are lots of sites on feeding hummingbirds: Operation RubyThroat and Bird Watchers are only two of many. Hummingbirds are like colorful carp in a pond, put there by Nature to take your mind off the ordinary things of the world. You can’t help but study them and lose yourself in the natural world. They are both frenetic and serene, with their wings beating and sounding like tiny little helicopters, yet remaining nearly motionless in space as they sip the nectar from the feeder. You have ample time to study their colorful plumage, just as you have time to study the magnificent colors of a slow moving carp in a pond. This is the natural world’s transcendental meditation. No mantra required. A publishing tip — Efficiency Expert John Silveira, BHM’s senior editor, has been staying at my home for a week or so. Yesterday he was making a cup of coffee using a one-cup Melitta cone and paper filter. First he set up the cone and filter, then ground the coffee in a small cutting grinder. As he poured the ground coffee into the filter, he remarked, “You know, an efficiency expert would tell me how I’m doing everything wrong. I should have put the water on to boil first before doing these steps.” Only then did he put water in the kettle and set it on a stove burner to heat. I laughed because I was making the same mental observations of his actions. Silveira, who has known me for 43 years, probably deduced what I was thinking as I watched him. You see, I am an efficiency expert. Not by training but by birth. I could have told Silveira the exact steps to take to make his coffee in the shortest time possible. I do everything that way, whether it has to do with publishing BHM or running my life. No matter what task I approach, I quickly size up the steps to accomplish it, then prioritize the steps and do them in the most efficient order and manner possible. I do this without any effort, and no one ever had to teach me how to do it. It is simply the way I am. I am hard-wired from birth as an efficiency expert. This is a very fortunate attribute for me because I am a magazine publisher. If a publisher is not an efficiency expert, he better hire someone who is and can train him because a publisher has too many tasks to accomplish in a day to go about each task in a roundabout way. There are companies who hire themselves out as “efficiency experts” to other businesses. For a fee, they’ll examine every facet of your business operation and show you how to save time, thus money, in your operation. This is especially valuable in assembly line type operations where every movement of an employee performing repetitive tasks can usually be improved upon so the employee, and thus your company, can produce more product. Very often, it is worth hiring such experts. The service is less valuable for a magazine like BHM because the printing of the magazine is already farmed out to an efficient printer who has installed the best efficiencies in order to be able to compete for our business. What remains of our publishing operation involves a lot of thinking, and thinking is difficult to corral, especially as BHM tends to think “outside the box” of traditional publishing. If you are contemplating becoming a publisher, determine if you are a natural efficiency expert. If not, you’ll need to acquire this critical attribute unless you want to end each day with many tasks left undone.
It’s hard to imagine a more carefree youth than my three boys and their friends have in this remote country setting near the southern Oregon coast. They have no city attractions to distract them from the fun and adventure of interacting with Nature. Not only are they far removed from the bad side of urban civilization, but they are often face to face with Nature and all its delightful displays of the wild and unexpected. I’ve talked a lot about the Rogue River near my home with its great salmon and steelhead runs, its miles of wilderness beauty and swimming spots, and its ferociousness if you are a boater and make the wrong move. But the Rogue is only one of several rivers around here. The favorite for my three boys is Pistol River, which is located only a few miles from our home. It has sand dunes that often block its outlet to the Pacific Ocean, and that has a special attraction for them. The backed up river this year unexpectedly formed a 1/2-mile long huge pond. They spent the weekend down there. My sons and three of their friends took Jacob’s four-man raft, inflated it with a foot pump on the beach, and pretended they were George Washington and his army crossing the Delaware. Once they landed on the opposite sand dune their game morphed into many other games, one after the other, as fast as their imaginations could carry them. They rafted, swam, even snowboarded down some dunes into the river. (Only mountain kids would think of bringing snowboards to the sand dunes.) They were soaked, sandy, tired, and happy at the end of each day. I was with them for both Saturday and Sunday but stayed on “the road” side of the river, intending to read a book. But I had my old 10×40 power Zeiss binoculars with me, which meant I could not only enjoy watching the kids, but I could look for whales. I spotted a pod of greys just beyond the dunes, about a half mile from what will become the river mouth when the rains begin later this month. What a sight! They were rolling in the kelp and blowing water 20 feet in the air. The whales just seemed to be hanging around, taking their time migrating to their calving grounds in Baja California in Mexico. I never got any reading done. It will be another few weeks before there is enough rain for the river to break across the sand to the ocean. The river is always changing. It’s outlet to the sea can vary by nearly a mile from year to year, so there is usually a long spit of sand for us locals to walk on. Often, after school, my boys like to stop at the Pistol River sand dunes to play. At low tide, they walk across the little tributary to Pistol River to the dunes; at high tide, they take off their sneakers and wade across. I walk on the beach, enjoying the sea air. I never get any reading done. Pistol River is a great place — an innocent and timeless place for kids. Jake, my oldest boy, turned 16 today. But he’s still a little kid in this type of country. There’s no hurry to grow up when you have places like Pistol River.