When an essay falls in the forest…

…was it really published?

It’s not quite that bad, but the response–or, rather, the lack of response–to the primary essay in the May 2011 Cites & Insights, namely “The Zeitgeist: 26 is Not the Issue,” has me puzzled. And that, along with a possible sponsorship that seems to have gone sideways, has me wondering about the future of C&I once again, in both questioning and possibly positive ways.

The numbers and the links

Normally, there’s a pretty good spike in C&I site visits the day I announce a new issue and the next day, trailing off over the following few days to its “normal” level. The “normal” level–or, rather, the daily average–for 2011 to date is 400 sessions per day, 991 pageviews per day, 28,367 PDF downloads through 4/29 (that’s 238 per day) and, excluding PDFs and the home page, about 521 article (html) views per day.

Realistically, the normal level is around 300-350 sessions per day; the first-day spikes this year have been as high as 700.

I can usually get a good sense of early interest by looking at the first week’s numbers for a new issue and its essays–but also by seeing who’s mentioned an essay in a blog post or elsewhere. I was hoping for reasonably good impact for this Zeitgeist essay–I thought the timing was good, I felt as though I’d done a really good job on it, I thought it was still pertinent.

But…the first week’s numbers were, while not pathetic, pretty poor. As for mentions elsewhere, other than one blog repeating the issue announcement, I saw none–and still see none.

I just checked the record for the first 23 days of each issue that actually appeared this year:

  • February 2011: 729 issue downloads and 506 essay views for the lead essay, “Five Years Later: Library 2.0 and Balance.” Those are great numbers–and as of today, it’s up to 1,196 issue downloads 923 essay views.
  • March 2011: 383 issue downloads and 326 essay views for the longest essay, the continuation of the Library 2.0 essay. Not great, but not terrible; there really wasn’t any first-day surge for this issue.
  • April 2011: 448 issue downloads and 168 essay views for the primary essay, Writing about Reading. 448 issue downloads for the first 23 days is still quite respectable…
  • May 2011: 319 issue downloads and 150 essay views for “The Zeitgeist…” That’s a total of 469, That’s only three-quarters as high as the next lowest figure (for Writing about Reading).

I don’t believe the sum of essay views and issue downloads passed 400 until this week. More to the point, the essay not only didn’t have any effect on the ongoing conversation regarding HarperCollins and related issues (and it is an ongoing conversation), it seems to have been wholly ignored.

(Just for fun, I looked at the comparable period for 2010. Sessions are down about 9% in 2011; pageviews are down about 7%; PDF downloads are almost identical–maybe down 2%. HTML pageviews are down significantly.)

This essay was unusual in that it was, I thought, timely. Indeed, I would have held the issue for at least another week if the essay hadn’t been timely.

Now, I know the reality here: I propose, you dispose. But I’m wondering what’s happening…

tl;dr? LWS? NAV? TOF;GA? NNW?

Five possibilities are abbreviated above. Expanding slightly:

  • tl;dr=Too long, didn’t read? Maybe. I tried to be as succinct as possible while covering nearly 100 source documents and including key text. The result is about 20,000 words. Is that actually too long for people to read? Maybe so.
  • LWS=Last Week’s Shiny? While there has continued to be some discussion of issues related to HarperCollins “26 and you’re out,” the Shiny Thing seems to have moved to, well, McMaster’s. (No, I don’t plan to do an essay related to that particular brouhaha.) Maybe I should abandon any attempts for timeliness; maybe the attention spans don’t extend beyond a week or two.
  • NAV=No Added Value? Possibly the first couple hundred people who read the Zeitgeist piece decided that I wasn’t really adding anything valuable, and thus didn’t bother to suggest that other people might want to read it. That’s certainly possible, and raises the more general question of whether I’m continuing to add value at all. Maybe this one’s a bad example…
  • TOF;GA=Tired Old Fart;Go Away. The most discouraging possibility–that most people who used to read C&I, or who might benefit from it, have concluded that I’m a tired old fart who should really go join the local Friends of the Library and stop bothering them. I really, truly don’t want to believe this one…
  • NNW=Not Native to the Web. While the essay itself was and is available as an HTML page, it’s not polished HTML, because it’s generated as a byproduct of the primary publication, a PDF produced in Word. Because the primary publication is a PDF optimized for print, links aren’t live (and generally don’t appear as links). Maybe that’s a growing issue.

Reactions and possibilities

I’m looking for reactions. I suppose the lack of any reactions, if that’s what happens, is itself a reaction of sorts.

If the general sense is tl;dr, that might influence future essays in C&I….but that conflicts with other readership numbers. Maybe it’s just too long for this particular issue?

If the general sense is LWS, well, I can live with that: In general, C&I has always been a little less than top-of-the-news current, and I’ve found that leaving time for reflection has been useful in many cases. Maybe that should be my general rule.

If the general sense is NAV–that’s harder to deal with, but I’d look at specifics.

If the general sense is TOF;GA–then that’s what I should do.

Then there’s NNW. And here there are some possibilities, if I believe it makes sense to continue C&I. I’ve been pondering a revamp that would make C&I “web-first” in some ways: That is, essays would be prepared (still using Word) using a template tuned for the web, with HTML versions posted after they’re edited–possibly (possibly?) even on a rolling basis before an issue is complete. I might even make essays or the issue as a whole available in ePub format, if future conversions work out better than in the past.

The canonical C&I would still be the PDF, I think, and it would still be designed to be space-efficient in printed form. I say “canonical” because copyfitting could result in some words and, occasionally, sections of composite essays being changed or removed to achieve the almost-exactly-to-the-end-of-an-even-number-of-pages goal.

If I do all this, which would involve some deliberate effort, I might also do one other thing to make C&I more web-native: Adopt a new CC license, dropping the “-NC” so that the only requirement is attribution.

If I had new sponsorship–or thought I could successfully adopt a “by the issue” sponsorship/ad model that would yield, say, $5,000/year in revenue–I’d be encouraged to make this package of changes and refresh C&I’s overall design in the process. I’m also wondering whether it’s worth trying a Kickstarter approach to pay for the next, say, 18 months of C&I…

I’ve never used public numbers for what I’m actually looking for in C&I sponsorship. Here’s a possible set, more modest than I’d like, but hey:

To underwrite a single issue without explicit advertising and without a sponsorship line on the home page (but with sponsorship noted on the first and last page of each issue and the closing paragraph of each HTML essay): $400. For a full year of such underwriting: $4,000.

With explicit advertising–up to a full page in the PDF issue, up to a text paragraph in the HTML: $600. For a full year, $6,000.

C&I home page sponsorship–with a credit line and possibly banner, but without actual issue underwriting: $250/month or $2,500/year

Home page and issue underwriting without display ads but with other forms of credit (the ideal): $500 for an issue, $5,000 for the year. For all of this and ads in the issues: $700 for an issue, $7,000 for the year.

All of these are negotiable. If I go the Kickstarter route (and am accepted, and achieve the goal), those who provided high donations would be the sponsors, and there would be no advertising.

Thoughts? Responses? Should I just let C&I dwindle off to nothingness…(that is, would I add more value to the field by spending my time with the Friends group bookstore–just as I’d certainly add more value to our household budget by spending that time greeting people at the local Walmart, if I was willing to do that…)

Yeah, I know: 1,396 words in this post. tl;dr. Such is life.

 

7 Responses to “When an essay falls in the forest…”

  1. GeekChic Says:

    I do like your long form essays – I find your writing cogent and clear and you are good at making difficult topics easier to understand.

    What generally motivates me to read certain portions of C&I over others is whether the topic is of interest to me or my workplace (so I never really read much on OA as it is not a topic that drives me or my workplace, for example).

    However, I tend not to read essays where I feel the topics has already been “done to death”. For me, HarperCollins was a topic that had been done to death already. Also, I still feel that the uproar is much ado about nothing given that there are major publishers that don’t offer e-materials to libraries at all.

    “Timely” issues may always be susceptible to being done to death given how many venues there are for commentary about the latest “thing”. I look to journals (which is what I consider C&I to be) to be less timely and more in depth.

    For what it’s worth.

  2. Geek2 Says:

    For me, this month has been so crazy I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I do read each issue and C&I is always worthwhile. Even if the format or length needs to change, please keep it up!

  3. walt Says:

    OK, that’s a start: one “LWS” (last week’s shiny) or, perhaps, No Added Value. Could be worse. Keep ‘em coming. This is likely to be a difficult set of decisions…

  4. Guy Aron Says:

    Dear Walt

    I don’t know if I can say anything to help you decide your next course of action, but I will give it a try.

    I follow your Atom feed, which is how I came to read the blog post, but don’t routinely open C&I unless something in it happens to attract me. The fact that this doesn’t always happen says more about me than about the publication. What I do now is pretty specialised; I upload higher degree theses to the university repository, maintain a wiki and do some general cataloguing. I’m not blogging any more (although I follow lots of blogs).

    Maybe the reason behind this is more NNW than anything else. If C&I were a blog it would be possible to scan the contents and c;lick on content that for some reason interested me. Because the content isn’t accessible that way I probably don’t open an issue very often. It’s competing with other information sources that give more of a clue about their contents from my feed reader. I enjoy C&I when I do open an issue (although I might skim a piece that isn’t really on a topic that grabs me); you write as well and engagingly as ever and I like the personal nature of your observations.

    I hope this gives you some clue as what might be behind the phenomena you are trying to get a grip on. I do wish you well in whatever you decide and applaud your desire to keep your communication with your audience (which I assure you is still out there) real and vital,

    Regards

    Guy Aron

  5. walt Says:

    Guy,

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought of “web-native” quite that way–and, to my mind, turning C&I into a series of blog posts would be the end of C&I (and perhaps, or perhaps not, the enrichment of Walt at Random).

    It is already the case that you can “click on content that for some reason interests you” from the announcement posts, as each article summary (other than My Back Pages) has a live link as its title.

    I could–and perhaps should–expand that by doing separate, smaller (or longer) posts for each article, possibly going back to some earlier issues. I’ll have to think about that.

    Actually posting the full text of each article? Again, that would turn C&I into a very odd blog, and would mean the end of the experiment (and, probably, of any chance for sponsorship). Frankly, without the issue structure, I don’t think I’d put even half as much effort into the essays…

  6. Bob Pemberton Says:

    Walt,

    Guy hit the nail on the head. It is not long form versus short form but the inability to see what is in each issue before accessing it. Your RSS feed shows only that there is a new issue where it needs to show a headline and a summary.

    C&I has been a blog from the beginning but in PDF form but it is not about that but the lack of structure that gets in the way. Over the last few years most of us have moved into getting comfortable with scanning a lot of RSS feeds and C&I asks us to step out of what has become a comfortable workflow.

    C&I was the first place to go for so long, it deserves to move forward.

    Bob

  7. walt Says:

    Bob,

    I don’t understand. The announcement of each issue includes the contents–a link for each essay and a brief description of that essay. “A headline and a summary” is how I’d put it, and that’s been true for years now. It sure shows up in my RSS feed for issue announcements…

    I also don’t understand “C&I has been a blog from the beginning”–it’s designed as an ejournal, it appears periodically, it’s not a set of independent pieces provided in reverse chronological form. I suppose you could call D-Lib a blog, too, but that doesn’t make it one.

    If you’re saying that each essay should have its own posted announcement, well, that’s one possibility. Is that “moving forward”? I’m not sure. If what you’re saying is that C&I is really just a bunch of blog posts like any other bunch of blog posts…I’m not sure what to do with that either. If that’s the case, then the issues go away, which means that C&I also goes away: I already have a blog.

    Maybe that’s moving forward. I dunno.


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