journal on a coffee table

Accepting That I Am Back At Square One

I have been very public with my work over at Retro Dodo, for the pure reason that I want to help those on a similar path. Back in 2019 when I was building on my own, it was a pretty lonely place and it’s not something I wish upon anyone taking the risk to build their own path in the independent publishing world.

Back then many informed me not to be public about my projects because it could attract competition, and that it has, but competition that I know are building inferior brands to me. The one thing I wasn’t expecting from building in public is the confusion that it brings.

Unfortunately I have my foot in the SEO industry, an industry where there is no one way of working, nobody knows what works, they just know what doesn’t work and that brings conspiracy, advice and strategies that are simply trial and error.

So the last 6 months has thrown many ideas and opinions my way, thousands of opinions in fact, and I have to decipher those opinions (some hateful and upsetting, some incredibly helpful from random folk that I now value highly) and figure out what I think will work. I believe this has certainly confused me even more in a time when I need pure focus.

The last month has been a rollercoaster because of that, but I have now moved from a state of confusion and anxiety, into a state of acceptance.

I have now accepted what has happened, where I am, what I can do and what strategies I have used that has bitten me in the ass. I have built my websites with Google’s guidelines at the forefront of my strategy but it doesn’t work any more and the future of independent publishing is incredibly clear to me now, albeit bleak.

This clear path is different to the path I have sailed down and requires an immense amount of work from myself, all while reducing my team from 6 to 2. Although this work scares me, it has brought upon me a huge sense of relief.

The confusion has gone in regards to my media company. It’s evident I will no longer be able to build a brand that competes with the biggest media companies in the world (which was my goal when I started), I now simply want to have fun with my brand, build the content I want to build and craft revenue streams that do not rely on algorithms.

It’s evident that we rent our audience in this digital age, anyone that says otherwise has not felt the wrath of these corporate giants. You think you own your newsletter subscribers? What happens when AI simply summarises your newsletter emails, what happens if their email provider classes it as spam and hides it from their inbox?

The same goes for followers across other social platforms, what happens if they change their algorithms, or shadow ban your accounts for no reason. What if Patreon decides to take a larger cut from your pledges? What happens if YouTube decides not to show all of your subscribers your video, even if they subscribed to notifications… oh wait that’s happening.

The algorithm isn’t showing YOUR users YOUR content anymore, it’s showing users the content that keeps them on their platforms the longest because… money, baby.

I watched a podcast episode featuring Jack, the Founder of Patreon talk about how algorithms no longer show the users what they actually want. The subscribe button WAS great, and worked to notify your subscribers that your content is now live, but algorithms have destroyed that and users can no longer find your content naturally. It’s a great videoh that I recommend you all watch.

The recent catastrophe that has happened across my business, and thousands of other site owners businesses has opened my eyes up to the future of publishing. I wish it didn’t happen like this, it was so aggressive, so fast and Google hasn’t said a word to help those that have been affected.

I watched their Google I/O event too and the word “AI” was mentioned hundreds of times which made it clear to me that Google is moving forward into a search engine that will not require you to click on publishers websites.

Google will answer everything for you without the fluff, and this is what will destroy those that build information content websites. Because I have accepted this, I have to build a publication that survives this.

And I’ll be honest, this ecosystem will make it incredibly hard for content businesses to thrive, instead we’ll be working to survive which deep down hurts me to say it, as I personally don’t want to work on a business that helps me survive… I want to work on something that I enjoy which gives me and my family a good life.

But there is hope, and for us small independent publishers, it’s time use our size and our personality to our advantage. The big media companies go through staff all the time, I know this because I used to work at one of the largest media companies in the world. So, it’s hard for their audience to build relationships with the “staff”.

Use YOURSELF as the advantage, get in front the camera, create meet ups, show them your personality and start building a valuable relationship.

Here’s what I think the future of independent publishing looks like.

Community is king, not content. Independent publishing will be community led with the following revenue streams at the forefront of its strategy, this will makes you more resilient to the big G and social algorithms, alongside being able to survive in a world where these algorithms are biased against engagement and not value:

  • Paid Memberships
  • Events
  • Products
  • Sponsors
  • Affiliate Marketing

Simply put, we need to be building publications that do not rely on display advertising. This is where your team size plays an advantage, the smaller your team the less overheads, meaning the less you need to make to become profitable.

The truly successful “small” independent sites of the future are not the ones that make the most money, but the ones that have the highest profit per employee without relying on display advertising.

I believe creating a brand that truly has community behind it, will be the ones that are most resilient to change. Make the user want to find you, and they will follow you to other platforms should and when those platforms decide to turn off your lights (which they will).

The most important revenue streams will be the most reliable, and that is memberships.

Memberships is where your true core audience will go to support you in trade for extra benefits. It’s mandatory to create a place of value, featuring exclusive content, discounts, and anything else that gives that Patron value. The goal would be for your memberships to pay the bills, to keep the lights on and to give you and your team the opporuntity to make content about what you want, when you want without bowing to algorithms.

If you can do that, then in my eyes, you are incredibly resilient to anything that could potentially destroy your content business, but I know thats easier said than done.

Next, to build a true bond and a relationship with your audience I believe many publishers will start creating their own ticketed events. This could be small meet ups, expos or small gatherings at the pub, anything you can do to meet those that enjoy your content and to build relationships is what will help them bond with your brand. Again, something these large media companies cannot do as well as us that build brands that we genuinely love.

If done right, these events can be a business in itself. I am trying to build a retro gaming expo for Retro Dodo next year, and I already have brands and a sponsor lined up for it, though it is a huge job to manage, especially when you consider things like security, insurance, managing electrics if you were to build a small expo for example.

Building your own products can be a lot of fun and a way to generate extra income should you already have an audience. Again, there is a huge learning curve with making your own products. I’m not talking about hoodies or stickers (although that can work), I am talking about a unique product that’s super high quality and that will get your community excited. I am currently working on something for our community, but again, it’s a mighty task as I have to work with a designer, a manufacturer, learn about shipping products internationally, abide by laws like returns and refunds etc.

Then finally sponsors and affiliate, likely something many content creators have been doing for some time now, but nonetheless a great income stream.

This is where I think this industry is moving. It’s obvious Google is moving away from the classic blue links, and all we can do is adapt.