The year 2019 was a bit of an experiment for us here at Old Mission Gazette. When I launched the newspaper in 2015, I had intended to run it as a traditional publishing model, earning revenue by partnering with advertisers on the Gazette website, in our email newsletter, and on our social media channels.
But with social media being what it is these days, and many companies doing their own marketing, we just couldn’t earn enough that way to pay the freight. Also, the number of ads I’d have to run would overwhelm the Gazette website.
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So in 2017, we started the online store, Old Mission Peninsula Store, and began selling our own unique OMP and northern Michigan tees, sweatshirts, hats, cards, photos, drinkware and lots more. I’ll be the first to say you can’t just open an online store and expect to start rolling in cash. There is a LOT of backend tasks to running a store – setting up the website and making sure it runs smoothly, creating channels to third-party printers, marketing current merchandise, creating new merchandise, establishing reasonable shipping prices, figuring out profit margins, troubleshooting order glitches, and so (very) much more.
We DO earn some revenue through the store, and we’ll continue working with it to streamline things. But it’s time-consuming and challenging. Running the Gazette is second nature to me. I can write and publish stories all the live long day. Running an online store? Not so much. It’s a steep learning curve and very much out of my comfort zone.
And as I’ve mentioned many times here on the Gazette, neither Tim nor I have a trust fund, we haven’t inherited anything from our families, and we’re not rich. On the contrary, with all of Tim’s ongoing medical issues and trips to U of M Hospital in Ann Arbor (one new liver and three aneurysm surgeries, to name a few), we’re saddled with lots of medical debt from which we may never recover financially. But I’m not whining. That debt means Tim is alive, and for that, I am ever grateful.
Our traditional, ad-supported publishing model for the Gazette began to change a couple of years ago. Readers began asking how they could help support the Gazette if they didn’t want to advertise or buy more stuff (I totally get it). One OMP friend asked how things were going, to which I replied, “Well, we’re working on it.” She suggested asking for reader donations, and I initially balked at the idea. “But you’d do it if you needed to, right?” she asked.
I wasn’t so sure about that, but well, we needed to do something. So I created a “donation page” and installed a tiny “donate” button at the top of the website. You really had to search for it.
It took me a couple of years to to embrace the idea of reader contributions, even though many larger publications – like The Guardian, to name one – do earn revenue that way. The publishing business is a tough one to be in these days, as evidenced by the number of magazines and newspapers – both print and online – closing down in the past few years. Only a crazy person would start their own community newspaper.
But start one I did, and it’s been a series of trial and errors over the past five years, as I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work, and whether a person can make a living at it.
This is the first year where I started to feel like reader contributions could be a viable revenue stream – and that I could be ok with accepting them. As another OMP friend told me earlier this year, “It’s not charity. You’re providing a valuable resource for the Old Mission Peninsula community. People will pay for it.”
Ok, maybe, I thought, still unsure about the concept. After she told me that, however, I pushed myself further into the idea. I created a few “donate” display ads for the Gazette website and email newsletter, and I installed links to the donation page at the top and bottom of every story. Donations became more consistent, and after someone asked about setting up recurring donations, I created that option here. (It’s currently only available with PayPal; I’m working on figuring out this option for credit cards.)
And then there would be periods of time when no donations would come in, and I’d think, ok, this is it. We’ve tapped out our readers. Time to throw in the towel on this experiment and go get a job at Costco (that’s my default backup plan).
And right after that, an online donation would come in or a check would arrive in the mailbox. And I’d think, ok, Jane, let’s keep moving forward with this. It’ll all work out. (People who know me know that’s my mantra when life gets tough and things seem impossible – “It’ll all work out!”)
This is all to say thank you, dear readers, for your support. Thank you for keeping Old Mission Gazette alive and moving into 2020. Thank you for your encouraging words to keep doing this thing we do. Thank you for believing in us. We love serving our OMP community and truly couldn’t do it without you.
If you would like to help support the Gazette online with a credit card or PayPal, click here.
If you would like to set up a recurring donation through PayPal, click here.
If you would like to send a check in the mail, make the check payable to “Old Mission Gazette,” and mail it to Old Mission Gazette, 12875 Bluff Rd., Traverse City, MI 49686.
P.S. We have investigated shifting the Gazette to a nonprofit model, but we’re not sure that’s the way to go. We’ve also thought about establishing an official subscription cost, but we’re not sure about that either. We don’t want the Gazette to be behind a paywall. We want our stories to be available to anyone who wants to read them.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb