Medium: take a chance on us.
Developing a successful new model for journalism is our goal, too. But we need the tools to do it.
Dear Ev & team,
I love Medium. Professionally, it’s opened up new possibilities. Personally, I think you’re doing god’s work. As both a writer and a reader, I love using the platform and dig the mission.
And I have a favor to ask.
When Ev announced in January that Medium was shifting its direction away from ads, I was excited. Ads are, in my opinion, a bane of ethical publishing, and create unsustainable environments for quality journalism. That’s why, when my business partner asked me to help her launch a new hyperlocal arts publication last fall, I knew it needed to be nonprofit. Think Michigan Public Radio, but on Medium and Instagram.
I see the Medium team rolling out some amazing tools for more transparent monetization, like the Membership program. I’m so excited that you’re building the tools that publishers like my partner and I need. And I know that you’re beta testing them with large commercial partners, before rolling it out to the “little guys” like us.
The thing is: we need these tools now.
cultured.GR covers art and culture here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We launched with the financial support of over a dozen local arts organizations, which gave us enough to pilot, while we pursued grants, corporate, and donor funding to close remaining 60% of our annual budget.
Readership has been going well, with a strong launch and numbers that are growing slowly, but steadily. Editorially, it’s exceptional. Holly (co-founder) is a genius editor, a locally respected arts writer, and oozes love for the arts. Our freelance writers and photographers (20+ now) are superb. Our sponsors are enthusiastic. Arts orgs, artists and patrons love our content. In our first quarter, our content reached over half the residents in the city on social media.
The publication is going gangbusters. After our initial push from arts organizations, however, fundraising has been challenging.
Subtext: we launched a nonprofit arts publication right before a new administration proposed slashing public funding for arts and journalism, in the midst of significant social unrest.
Oh. And did I mention that we’re geographically focused on Grand Rapids, Michigan? If that name sounds familiar, it’s because a) we’re awesome, b) we’re home to the notorious ArtPrize, and c) our new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a GR native — and one of our community’s strongest philanthropists and supporters of the arts.
It’s just…a competitive and complicated funding environment in GR right now, and a bit of a rough time/place to be a nonprofit startup in arts journalism.
Of course, fundraising is never easy. I’m hustling hard to close the gap.
We’ve got several solid grant applications out, and asks of all sizes on the table. I’m tailoring a few of our grant applications to fund projects centered on diversity and access — like producing audio versions of each of our stories, and dedicating a column to the perspectives of local artists of color. I’m working with local hospitality businesses and developers to build corporate partnerships. We’ve got a solid product and know our audiences.
What I need — what we really need — is an effective way to turn our readers into donors.
For example: if we had 100 people become monthly donors at a $20/mo membership, we’d have $24k/year in steady, recurring income.
If we doubled that to 200 donors, our readers could become over 40% of our income. Which is exactly what we want: to be an investment of our community.
But implementing this isn’t so easy — as you know.
There are third party fundraising sites that can be patched in, like Patreon. I just discovered that Gumroad embeds payment forms into Medium, a product for which I’ve been searching for months. We’ve tried online fundraising campaigns, using PayPal, but beyond mobilizing our core supporters, weren’t able to raise a pulse. There are no monetizing solutions that are streamlined, and the disjointedness of switching platforms isn’t conducive to nurturing readership. Nothing provides the turnkey, customizable donor experience a lean, two-person organization like ours needs.
Nothing, except Medium’s Membership program.
I know that our little West Michigan arts and culture journal is a drop in a vast sea of digital publishers waiting in line to be beta partners. And that our West Michigan Nice tone, and our careful easing in to critical conversations are likely to be seen as more quaint than innovative.
But we’re doing something important with our community. We’re supporting conversation in our arts community in order to nurture a healthier community overall. We’re doing it transparently.
More significantly, we’re trying to build a model for hyperlocal nonprofit journalism that can be both scaled and replicated. Other cities are already eyeing our model. If cultured.GR proves successful, who knows what’s possible? There isn’t a city in Michigan that doesn’t need a strong arts publication.
Our mission is parallel to yours, Medium. We want to develop a new model for journalism that empowers local communities to connect around the information that’s important to them. But we need the tools to gain our readers’ investment.
We may not have the volume other beta partners can bring, but we have: 1) the kind of direct insight into the needs and quirks of small, hyperlocal publications which you WON’T get from larger partners, 2) the industry experience to manage the beta process and provide valuable feedback, 3) a killer product, and 4) a heluvalot of heart.
We may be small, but we have the stuff to be mighty.
So come on, Medium. We’ve taken a risk on you. Will you take a risk on us?
Thanks for all you do.