You have been wonderful over the past four days, sharing, commenting, recruiting, sending messages of support, and of course signing up. We have jumped from 508 to 601 members - thank you! - but we still have a long way to go to the 750 members we need to survive, and the 1000 we need to thrive.
Many of you have kindly offered suggestions. Here, I'd like to answer some of the most popular ideas we hear, and tell you how you can help the most.
So what went wrong?
To answer the question some of you asked, this has not been a slow decline or a lack of support over time - it was a sudden blip. In February we had to reboot our payment system, requiring us to cancel every single subscription and then convince all our members to sign back up again. Many people did return, but many did not get around to it, did not bother, or did not get the memo, leaving us with bills to pay and not enough income to pay them. Hence the recruitment drive.
Victorian Costume Design: How to design something new, that would be right at home on the pages of La Mode Illustrée (Lisha Vidler, April 2010)
Why don't you run a Kickstarter?
This is probably the most popular suggestion that we've heard in the last few days.
Crowdfunding is one of the most awesome success stories of the Internet age, but I strongly believe that it should be used responsibly. If we all turn to crowdfunding too easily, people will tire of seeing the hat being passed around, and worthwhile projects could suffer.
I don't deny that we're worth it. Crowdfunding could indeed buy us time if it comes down to the wire. But it is firmly a last resort, and it isn't the ultimate solution.
We have bills to pay every month, so we need fishing rods, not fish. If I need to make this business work better, I want to do that work and attempt to meet that challenge myself before throwing up my hands and expecting to be bailed out.
Meanwhile, I appreciate your offers of financial support very, very much. I think you should save those pennies, because in future we may have an awesome extra creative project to fund, and then we'll need that investment so that you can help us make something new and cool. And that brings me to your next suggestion.
Why don’t you start selling patterns/books/[insert product]?
One of these is already in the pipeline. It's hugely exciting and you're going to fall over each other to get it, but it will only come to fruition in October at the earliest, and that’s not fast enough to fix this issue. Good products take time to develop properly, and if we don't fix this cashflow issue now, that product won't happen, because it has upfront costs (another reason to exceed the basic 750 members that'll get us out of immediate danger.)
Again, we think that if we can recover properly we'll be able to fund this ourselves. Let's save Kickstarter for something really big.
Why don’t you lower the price?
As I'm sure you can imagine, we hear this a lot. Just as often, in fact, as you hear it about the corsets and costumes that you might sell.
Reason 1: It's true. If the price was lower, some more people would sign up... but not enough to pay the costs of running the sites.
In order to make a low price work, you need a very big potential audience indeed. We are not Threads magazine; we have a very small audience with a very particular need for highly specialised information. You guys don't want to know how to make a wall hanging shoe organiser or a smoothly fitting pencil skirt; you don't even want to know how to make My First "Corset" Bodice With Lacing, or My First Generic Renfaire Wench Outfit. You want something much, much more specialised than that. The cost of making Foundations and Wardrobe for you has to be split between a very small, special readership. We have set the lowest price possible that can make that work, so that we *can* get by with a minimum readership under 1000 members, and not 10,000 or 100,000.
Lower the price, and we'd have to extend the reach by dumbing down the content.
Reason 2: Some commenters reason that since we are not producing a print magazine, we should charge less than print magazines. Unfortunately, the lack of printing costs would only be a "saving" if our readership (ie the money coming in) was comparable to a print magazine. The reason that there is no printed corsetry or historical costuming magazine is that the audience is not big enough to pay for it. It's not that being online makes it cheaper to run than a print magazine; it's that it only works if we're online only, because the audience is so small.
Reason 3: Threads, Vogue and Glamour are full of advertising. We have none. We don't have that income source (although we're considering a small amount of it now) because the flip side of being online-only is the unwritten rule that if you are paying for something online, you don't get advertising with it. So we have a small number of members, and their memberships have to single-handedly pay for this all to happen. If the burden of cost is borne by memberships alone, the price has to be higher than average to make it work.
To those who suggest that we ought to make the sites free and sell advertising instead: no. Just no. We'd need BMW and Calvin Klein on a sidebar to replace, reliably, every single month, the revenue that pays my team and my writers to do their best work.
Reason 4: Just as the answer to your corsetry or costume business is not to try to compete with Chinese factories, our job is not to compete with Threads or Craft magazine. We are producing something specialised for people who want something special and unusual. It costs more to do that, per reader, than it does to produce Threads for a vast worldwide readership.
Reason 5: Finally, we're doing a good job, but we want to do a GREAT job. If you saw Saturday's post about how we make this site happen, you'll begin to see another reason why we do not lower the price. We already do not pay writers enough for the extraordinary number of hours they put in; $100 per article is nominal at best, and I'd like to double that, for starters (don't even start me on how much I pay my endlessly patient, hardworking, loyal team). Meanwhile, I want to be able to answer all emails in 24 hours or less, and that can't happen until we can afford to hire Polly for more than ten hours per week, and hire a second person to add their support. We cannot lower the price and keep improving; it just doesn't add up.
Cut and construction of a late medieval kirtle and the very popular V neck gown,
often simply referred to as the Burgundian gown, Izabela Zebrowska Pitcher, January 2011
Why don’t you sell individual articles?
Vogue sells its magazines on newsstands so that readers can buy one when they feel like it. This works because they have hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who are willing to do that, meaning that overall, they reliably sell a ton of magazines each month, and the bills get paid. But even for Vogue, ongoing subscriptions are the lifeblood of the membership income.
Casual here-and-there sales to a tiny audience will not keep such a small business as ours going. We need loyal, dedicated support from our small audience to survive. Selling articles individually will discourage monthly members - loyal members will resent that they're paying for others to be able to cherry pick, and all but the most faithful members will cancel their subscriptions in order to follow suit and pick just the articles they want the most. We don't have a big enough potential audience to make that work.
We aren't Vogue. Sorry. We are a specialist publication for a specialist audience. The running costs are split among a small, dedicated group of enthusiasts, making the price higher than normal. The payoff is the highly specialised, highly detailed information that you cannot get anywhere else (Roll pinning tips for corsetry and re-sizing historical patterns such as Janet Arnold's, not wall hanging shoe organisers or pencil skirts).
An annual subscription to The Treasurer, the monthly magazine of the Association of Corporate Treasurers, is UK£240, for exactly the same reason - they're charging $30 per month, complete with advertising, and you have to sign up for the year - and their small readership is 10,000 subscribers, not 602. A smaller reach makes the cost per reader higher if the publication is to survive. We are positively tiny, meaning that readers have got to be passionate supporters if we are going to make it.
I must be out of my mind, but as some of you know, I love an ambitious project. I believe in Foundations and Wardrobe, I think they deserve to exist, and I hope you do too. We're pulling this off by the skin of our teeth, against the odds, folks. You're smaller and more special than you realise.
So what's the solution?
So now that I've ruthlessly shot down all of your biggest ideas (sorry!), what's the answer?
The issue with Foundations and Wardrobe is not that the price is too high. It's not that we don't sell enough different types of products, and it's not that we don't sell articles individually. It is that we haven't successfully communicated the value of these resources to the small audience for whom they are made.
Consider the comments made over the weekend by members of Foundations Revealed:
"FR is always my first go-to whenever I need help, or inspiration... you really don't know what you are missing if you don't subscribe!"
"I heartily recommend it, too. Foundations Revealed is where all that advanced information is, beyond the basics that we find in a few books. It's brilliant stuff and would be a crime to lose it."
"The amount of knowledge I have gained from being part of these groups is truly priceless. If I could tally up the amount of time and money I have SAVED through the resources of these sites I am quite positive it would be in the thousands of dollars. Instead of trying to go it alone I can go to the experts with a click of the mouse. The simplest techniques all the way to the high end couture, they cover them all... this is one expense that is absolutely worth every single penny."
Non-members protest that they cannot possibly justify the price, and yet once they try it out, members sing our praises and tell each other that "you'll have to bar the doors and throw rocks at me to get me to leave!" Are the members that much wealthier than the non-members? Have I hypnotised them into expensive submission? No. They just took the plunge, liked what they saw, and found it to be more than worth the price.
The missing link is that we have not yet communicated the benefits they have found well enough to the people on the outside. We have not been visible or vocal enough. That's about to change.
How you can help – four ways.
Right now we have 601 members. We need 750 to survive beyond the next eight weeks, and 1000 to pay our taxes at the end of the year and keep moving forward and improving our service comfortably. If you see value here and you want to support this project, SIGN UP HERE, and share this post on social media.
Existing members can become an affiliate and use our links and banners, connected to your profile, to earn commission for every person you refer.
We're toying with the idea of adding a small amount of discreet, relevant Advertising to the sites - if you have a small business you'd like us to help champion, stand by, we'll have a section for that ready soon.
Why are we trialling advertising? That's the subject of my next post.
I think this thing is worth saving. I hope you do too.