Answering A Few Big Questions

by John Cheese, EIC

I wanted to take a few minutes to address some of the questions that I've been asked since early December. This isn't an article, so I'm not going to link it on the main site, or put social media share buttons on it, or add a comments section to it or anything like that. No copy editing or pretty graphics. This just just me, talking to you.

At this point, it's public knowledge that on December 4th, 2017, Cracked laid off most of its staff. I'm not mad at them, and I'm glad they're still moving forward as a site. I still visit it a few times per week to see how they're doing.

One thing you need to understand is that layoffs like these aren't a "Cracked" thing. They're a "the whole internet" thing. Here's a short, very incomplete list of sites that have felt the same shockwave:

Funny or Die

The Awl

Buzzfeed

ESPN

The Escapist

Gothamist and DNAInfo

Refinery29

FiveThirtyEight

On December 5th, the day after getting the news, I was approached by several big-name sites and magazines. Unfortunately, some of those offers were out of the question, as they required me to move to a new state or sign exclusivity contracts that didn't pay enough for the clause. But I was pretty excited, because I was getting a ton of support from sites, writers and editors I respected. It felt good -- which was a much needed emotional boost, since at the time, I was in a blind panic.

On that same day, I was contacted by Brian Brushwood. We had been fans of each others' work for years, and I was really happy when he told me that he had been planning on building out his existing site (this one!), and he was interested in me spearheading that project.

Over the course of the next month, we talked, planned and did the math. He flew me down to Austin, Texas to speak in person, which I thought was super classy of him. He gathered his entire team for a meeting, so I could talk to them in person and get a feel for how they operated. Every single one of them are incredible people, so I was even more excited after that meeting.

By the end of that trip, we both made a full commitment. We're now married.

No, but seriously, we decided to go all-in and give this site an article section. In his words, "I'm giving you the keys to the spaceship. It's yours to fly wherever you see fit."

Now here's where I can just imagine the confused looks popping up. "If all these huge sites are in such a financial decline, why in godless hell would you stay in that medium?" And to be perfectly honest, I asked myself that same question. At the time, I almost left it for good.

What changed my mind were those talks I had with Brian. I told him that if the site depended on 3rd party, embedded ad networks for the main revenue, I couldn't do it. That form of income is dead, and there is no reviving it. He agreed. We talked about eventually bringing in celebrity guest writers, and I said my only concern was that they needed to know that their work would be edited, exactly the way all other writers for the site are edited. He agreed.

Understand that these weren't compromises. I wasn't setting up some sort of demands, and then he agreed as a set of conditions. These are things he already believed, himself, long before our conversations. It meant we were on the same page, right out of the gates. It didn't hurt that he has been running his own thing for a couple of decades and hasn't yet died of starvation.

When we were talking about the actual site -- what it means, what makes it different -- one phrase kept coming up over and over: "We want to make you the most interesting person in the room." Not me ... the reader. And I love every molecule of that sentiment.

See, back in 2012, my best friend David Wong wrote one of the best articles I've ever read. It's called "6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person". The philosophy behind it is that the cold, cruel world doesn't give a crap about who you are. It cares about what you can do. What makes you worthy of a great job, a spouse, or even simple attention at a party?

That's what The Modern Rogue does: It 1) teaches people interesting skills, and 2) gives them great stories and facts to tell in social settings. Everything we do is tailored around making you a more interesting person. And also, rogues are just goddamn cool.

So back to the most important part of that original question: "If all these huge sites are in such a financial decline ..." In other words, "How the hell do you expect to make money when very few other sites have figured it out?"

The truth is, we're taking a risk. Brian is taking one by footing the bill. I'm taking one by putting my stock in a brand new entity. Yes, it's a branch of an existing, successful show, but building a creative endeavor from scratch is always an uphill battle, regardless of the size of the existing audience.

Right now, we have two sources of income: Patreon and our store. Both are important for different reasons.

Patreon: Obviously, this is our most stable source of income, and we want to be totally transparent about our goals with it. If we can break $10,000 per month, that not only covers a significant chunk of staff salary, but allows us to pay freelancers more money. It also allows us to bring in more and more writers. My ultimate goal is to have 3 brand new articles every day of the week (including weekends), but that obviously requires a massive amount of work. Way more work than one person could handle while still maintaining any semblance of quality. I'd have to hire more editors, and I'd need the funds to do that.

The Store: Obviously, not everyone can commit to X amount of dollars per month on a steady basis. But people do love cool stuff, and I'm actually pretty proud of the stuff Brian has in his store. If it had been just a t-shirt shop, I wouldn't have been nearly as into it. But he has things in there I'd actually buy for myself: Wristbands that shoot fireballs, lock-pick training kits, puzzle boxes, some sweetass looking playing cards. I'm not trying to sell you those things -- at least not in this post. I'm just trying to convey to you that I'm actually optimistic and excited about the fact that he has a business that's actually cool.

In the long term, we're talking about putting out a subscription model for exclusive content. We've talked about building our own convention somewhere down the line. That stuff takes time, staff and resources. We have lots of plans for some incredible projects, but it all starts with: Build the site ... get it in the black.

I personally believe that all of the goals we're setting are possible, and that's what I'm riding on. If Brian didn't believe it, I wouldn't be here right now.

But the most important thing you can do for the site? If you like an article, share it. Facebook is dead for publishers and businesses, and has been for at least a couple of years. Every time they put out a new algorithm, it puts more and more weights on websites like ours. That means the days of posting an article there and banking on a traffic injection are over. It means websites (not just ours, but all major websites) rely on word of mouth more than ever.

If you like what I and a buttload of our current freelancers have done at Cracked for almost a decade, spreading the word about our new home can do wonders for making this place big.

Hugs and Kisses,

-John Cheese
Editor in Chief
TheModernRogue.com