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June 23, 2005

An Open Letter Containing a Modest Proposal

by Ron Hogan

I've really enjoyed the eighteen months or so of Beatrice in blog format. I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish and thrilled by the attention that it's gotten from the media, but mostly I'm humbled by the enthusiasm and the consistently kind words that you, the readers, have shown for the site. As a writer, it's genuinely gratifying to know that I've created something other people actually pay attention to and like, and I've continually tried to improve upon the site's successes to make it even better. Of course, that takes time, and at a certain point the amount of time it takes to make the best Beatrice possible runs up against the amount of time spent on freelance writing--in other words, if Beatrice is going to take time away from paying work, it's time for the site to bring in some money.

That means either taking on advertising or soliciting the audience. And while I believe the ethical issues of selling ads to publishers while reviewing their books can be dealt with responsibly, overall I find the whole process disruptive. I'm sure you'd rather read another item or two instead of looking at ads, and I know I'd rather be writing and editing those items instead of dealing with the administrative hassles of taking on ads, even with help from adspace brokers. So I'd rather look at the other option: turning to you. Other bloggers, from political commentator Andrew Sullivan to R. K. Milholland, creator of the online comic Something Positive, have had success raising funds from readers' donations, and I'm willing to give a "pledge drive" a shot.

But I don't want you to think, "Oh, he's just hitting us up for money." So here's the deal: there are specific improvements I want to make to Beatrice in the months ahead, including:

  • "5 Questions With..." as a regular weekly feature
  • a more consistent schedule for guest features
  • the return of "book review reviewing," fully integrated into this site
  • expanded events coverage, including readings, panels and festivals

In particular, it'd be fun to resume "review reviewing," which was a necessary casualty of my freelance workload... I hope those are things you would be interested in seeing here, and if you've got other suggestions, I'm always receptive to constructive feedback. The deal is this: If enough donations come in to free up enough time to do all this--and I'm thinking that would be roughly $25,000--I can guarantee you that by Labor Day, you will have strong cause to celebrate your decision to support the site financially and, I hope, no cause to regret it.

Especially since I've run the numbers, and if every member of my core daily audience donated just $10, I could readily meet my goal. Of course, I don't expect everybody to contribute, and anybody kind enough to do so can send as little or as much as they prefer. And if this works, I don't intend to repeat it again until June 2006 at the earliest, so the question is, I suppose, whether you think a year's worth of Beatrice is worth $10--less than you'd pay for access to Salon and its book section, and much less than just about any print or online publication dealing with books and publishing. That said, I'm certainly not out to supplant anybody; I'm the first to admit you'll find out more about what's going on in the biz by subscribing to Publishers Lunch--I just hope you'll also find some entertainment and insight in the other features I offer.

I want to stress two things. One, the site will always remain freely accessible. You wouldn't be paying for exclusive access, merely contributing to the upkeep. Two, the site's survival is in no way dependent on your strictly voluntary donations. Beatrice will go on no matter how much I raise, and if I fall short of my goals I'll still try to implement as many improvements as I can (or revisit that advertising issue again).

That covers what I have to say. If I've persuaded you, your contribution is greatly appreciated. I'll keep you up-to-date on how it's working out in the days ahead, and whatever your decision, I thank you for your enthusiasm for the site.

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