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chickpea mag #21: coming home

We finally got our print issues from the printer and are hard at work shipping them all out for the holidays. This issue, more than any before it, was a true labor of love for us. We decided to do almost the entire issue in-house, meaning that we came up with each feature concept, writing, editing, recipe testing, photographs, illustrations, lettering, and design. Each piece fits better in the this issue than ever before, though, because we thoroughly went over and over each page in great, great detail before finalizing it. We really hope you enjoy this issue, and each kind word means so incredibly much to us here.

In the spirit of Offscreen Magazine's transparent blog posts about their business, we also wanted to talk about how we've been doing this year. This has been one of the most tumultuous years we've had since we started, both personally and for the business. 

Our Year So Far

  1. We started out 2016 moving out of our studio space, which was totally a lifestyle decision, not a money one. It took us over a month to clear out our house to make room for our studio equipment and then actually pack up, move, and unpack everything in. 
  2. After we finally sold our house in April, we spent almost two months living out of our moving truck, with less than a week's worth of clothes in our suitcase. Our business came to a complete standstill as we had no way of shipping orders, receiving stockist checks, or pretty much anything one needs to pay printers and contributors. It also pushed back our entire editorial schedule, so that we could only publish three issues before the end of the year, which further reduced our income this year. (The fourth issue for 2016 is coming up though, we just didn't want to ship during Christmas and New Year's!) 
  3. On top of all of that, one half of our two person team lost his day job earlier this month, which was the only thing keeping us able to pay our mortgage and fill in any cashflow gaps for the business.
But I wanted to go over what has gone well and what hasn't gone so well over these last 11 months, to reflect on how we'll be moving forward in the future.

What went well. 

  • Our design is, in our opinion, the best it's ever been. 
  • Error and typo rates are lower than ever. 
  • Issue themes have been really helpful in focusing our work and assisting us when we try to explain what each issue "is" to someone who's never heard of us. 
  • We've been more consistent on social media than ever before, and our response time to social media messages and comments is great right now. We put a big focus on Instagram because 1) we love it and 2) it helps us share our lives every day - we really love showing the behind-the-scenes of our work there.

What didn't go so well. 

  • Because we're trying to do day jobs to keep the lights on, we have to be very focused on our time management. That means Monday might be stockist work, Tuesday might be shipping orders, Wednesday is customer emails all day, etc. Our email response times haven't been up to our standards because of this. We've already been working to remedy it, but it's a work in progress. 
  • During all the hard times of this year, we've also realized that our business doesn't work in its current form. Every money problem that could come up has come up in 2016 - from stockists, to contributor payments, to paying our printing bills, it all caught up to us. (In our worst income year by far - great timing, right?) We've been working so hard to fix it all, but we're not businesspeople, so it's taken so much longer than we expected. This manifested itself in having to push issues back further and further - if we had no money, we had no way of printing or shipping. This compounds every season.

chickpea mag studio space

What's sparking our change

To fix all the problems that came up this year, we looked to our conscience to figure out what we wanted to do. We still will not do advertising or paid "partnerships." We don't want to lower our pagecount, or sell our subscriber list, or anything else that would serve YOU less. If anything, we found ourselves going in the exact opposite direction - to serve YOU more.

"Way" back in 2011, when we were just dreaming up the idea of Chickpea, we had several core tenets that we knew we'd never want to change. Don't sell an unrealistic lifestyle expectation. Don't sell things that are meant to pile up in a landfill. Only sell things we use ourselves. Don't go after instant fame, because it doesn't attract the right people. Prop up others in our community as outreach for our cause.

And we started out that way. Go check our very first issues - they were way more zine-like, and we printed & sold only a few hundred copies each. We hand-wrote all of the addresses on our packages. As we grew, we dreamed of reaching thousands, tens of thousands of printed copies each quarter. When we first started out we were constantly getting requests for back issues that had sold out — it was our number one request! So every issue we printed extra to ensure we could meet that demand. But those issues sold a lot slower than we anticipated. Now we’ve got a whole wall of magazines going back to 2013. Add them all up and it's a significant amount of time and money invested in something that won’t pay off for another few years.

So why even do it? Why buy the extra issues if they're not going anywhere? Why put ourselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt when it doesn't serve you, the reader, whatsoever? We thought it was the "right" thing to do - people asked for it and it made us look (and feel) legitimate to be printing so many magazines. Besides, most magazines are printing beyond the numbers we were printing, so we had to catch up! Not to mention most printers won’t even talk to you until you’re printing thousands of copies every run. But we're not like most magazines. We had even thought of dropping the "magazine" in our name because it doesn't really describe us accurately in the first place. So why do what others are doing, just because it seems right? It isn't a good fit for our tiny business, no matter how big we may seem. 

So from now on:

  1. We're printing only what is sold during the pre-order period, leaving just a couple hundred issues extra. 
  2. We're shipping everything by ourselves again, rather than delegating it to expensive and slow-shipped shipping houses.
  3. We're dropping the seasons from our issue titles, because they don't accurately describe the content of our now themed issues, and confuse people into thinking they can only buy a fall issue in the fall, and can't in the winter. 
  4. We're focusing on expanding our freelance design work, making our digital work amazing and our accompanying kitchen products even more useful, to help diversify our income. 
  5. We're switching from high-minimums offset printing back to more-flexible digital printing. 

What are the benefits of digital? What makes it different from offset? 

Digital printing means lower up-front costs for us, which means pre-order times can be shorter, which means issues are shipped WAY more quickly. Offset printing requires huge sums of money (five figures) that need to be paid in cash up front, preventing us from shipping on time. This doesn't work for our small business. The only change is that the paper finish is slightly different - the quality and weight of the paper won't change, though. We think the difference in wait times and cost will be a huge improvement for us (and you!) all around. 

 

Thank you so much for being with us through this wild year - we've found more resolve to keep doing what we're doing, only to be even better in 2017. We hope you love it and see only good things for us next year. <3

Comments

Elinor Manoogian-ODell:

I just listened to an interview with the founder of Zappos on the podcast “How I Built This.” He talked about doing things that serve the customer, but that may not be totally financially sound. His example was offering free shipping both ways – great for the customer, but bad for the business. Zappos didn’t grow as fast at first as if could have, but it obviously paid off as they are well known for their excellent customer service. Reading this blog post, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that. Thank you for the look into the business-side of the magazine and for continuing to provide amazing content. (I also discovered the magazine on Instagram, so that focus is well worth it in my opinion! )

Jan 30, 2017

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