Monday, July 22, 2013
The Next Big Step
There's a story I like to tell about the way my career developed. When I got involved with Gary Huckabay, Clay Davenport and the rest of the founding five at Prospectus, I wasn't looking for a writing career. I had a fiancée, student-loan debt, a journalism degree, a new job and a burning desire to work in baseball. I read Rob Neyer; I didn't want to compete with him. The job that developed, first through the BP annuals and then the Web site and writing for ESPN.com, just kind of happened. I looked up one day and realized that I wasn't on a path to something better, but that I actually had a great job.
I recognize now that I've gone through a similar path with the newsletter. I launched it -- well, relaunched it, after the first run in 2002-03 -- in May of 2010 because I wanted an outlet for the work I'd been doing while at BP. I saw it as a means of generating some money for work I enjoyed doing, while waiting to figure out what I would be doing next. It's more than three years later, and I look up, and the newsletter isn't a side project. It's what I do. I write more frequently and in greater depth for it than I do for any other outlet, and I put more non-writing time into it each year. The newsletter may not yet be my largest project by some measures, but it is the one I am most passionate about.
To date, I have always left a window cracked. Each year, I've set a fixed end date for the newsletter, usually the end of January, so as to maintain maximum flexibility to jump for other opportunities, or to bail out if the newsletter was no longer viable. If the Yankees call me and offer me a chance to play third base -- I have as many functioning quads as the starting left side of the Yankees' infield and I'm not that much older than those guys are -- I can't have an obligation to write hanging over my head. I also wanted to be careful about the date my commitment to the newsletter ends becoming a burden if subscriptions didn't keep up with expectations, where I'm writing at a huge loss for a dwindling audience.
I look up, though, and once again, I realize that I'm not on my way to something. I'm already here. The newsletter is successful and growing and fun and rewarding. It's what I do. I write for Sports Illustrated -- with tremendous pride, I should add -- and SI.com and I talk to great radio hosts around the country and, good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, soon enough someone will put my Charlie Brown head on TV again.
But the newsletter is where I live. It's been good to me, and it's time I start treating it as well as it's treated me. Effective today, newsletter subscriptions will be sold in rolling intervals. Instead of a fixed end date, new subscribers and renewals will be able to purchase subscriptions that will end not on January 31 of the following year, but 12 months to the day they subscribe. (Six-month subscriptions will also be available, and I may expand the options over time.) The annual subscription rate will be $29.95; I am going back to that price point for a few reasons, none all that significant in isolation but when combined, they push me back to the higher figure.
If you are a current subscriber as of July 22, having purchased a subscription for $24.95 or $19.95 or being given a Friends and Family subscription -- basically, if you're getting this in your inbox -- your subscription will end on February 14, 2014. That tacks two weeks on to every active subscription. Through August 30 -- operators are standing by! -- you can renew for a full year for $24.95! No matter when you renew, a renewed subscription will run through February 14, 2015.
I've doubled the subscriber base over three years despite having some life-sized monkey wrenches tossed into 2012. My renewal rate is nearly 80% despite not having an auto-renewal program (I still won't). As of this afternoon there are 1,418 paid subscribers. There are those of you who see an upside here I don't necessarily see, but I may be too close to it. Maybe I can get to 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 subscribers. Maybe there are that many people who will, to get back to first principles, recognize and support quality if given that option. We live in a media environment where something as high-quality as "Outside the Lines" is being buried by ESPN, and where the new Fox Sports One is building its brand around ex-athletes cracking jokes. Surely there's room for an alternative. Surely there's an audience for an alternative.
And if the Yankees give up on Luis Cruz and call me, well, we'll all figure something out.
Posted by Joe Sheehan at 1:55 PM