From little things, big things grow

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A little bit of background on Eureka Street, for those of you who don’t know:

Eureka Street is a fortnightly web magazine. We publish about around 20 articles in that fortnight. The articles cover politics, both national and international, book and film reviews, theology, poetry, the occasional reflective essay, some humour and satire, and we have regular columnists.

Some of our regular writers include Frank Brennan, Peter Roebuck, Brian Toohey, Jack Waterford, Brian Matthews, Morag Fraser, David Corlett, and Peter Pierce.

We are a subscription based publication, but we leave some of our articles unlocked, so that people can have a look at the site and read some of the articles.



Besides me working on the magazine, we have also an Editor – Michael Mullins – who is based in Sydney, an editorial consultant who works part time – Fr Andy Hamilton – and an editorial assistant, Mary Manning, who also works for us part time. It’s a small team, but a close knit one.

Before going online, Eureka was a print publication for around 15 years. It never had a huge circulation, but it punched above its weight. When I came on board, the decision had been taken to move the magazine online.

It was not a decision taken lightly – but it was taken with one eye on the future of media, and how we, as readers, consume it. So far, we are happy with the transition.

In the last few years, the vast majority of newspapers and magazines –everything from the Economist to the Age - have developed a substantial presence online.

Similarly, a number of online-only publications have started – Crikey, New Matilda, Slate and the Brisbane Times.

Few magazines, however, have made the transition from one form of media to the other. It is a transition that has presented some unique challenges.

What has been most pleasing for us a small publication, however, has been the increase in readership. From a print circulation of around 3,000 copies a month, we now have around 20,000 readers a month online.

Being online, we can respond more immediately to news and issues as they arise, and publish articles as and when it seems appropriate.

We also reach a larger international audience more easily – some months up to a quarter of our readers have come from the United States. Similarly, individual articles can attract large audiences from particular countries, on a one off basis, as our stats tell us. Singular articles on Haiti, Eritrea, Cambodia and Samoa have been massively successful ones as they have been picked up by news aggregation sites. Sometimes we set this up, other times it is unplanned.

An increase in readership was cited as one of the main reasons for our move.

As you may or may not know, Eureka Street exists under the auspices of the Australian Jesuits.

That means that they pay our wages, provide some very good writers, and that the magazine reflects the Jesuit’s world view. So by increasing our readership, we are better able to communicate the ideas of the Jesuits – which is our reason for existence.

Those ideas, broadly speaking, are a commitment to an equitable society and to social justice – in Jesuit speak, this is called ‘The preferential option for the poor’, and is at the heart of everything they do. Having the support of the Jesuits is a wonderful thing.

They are a very inclusive bunch, and they back us in what we do. This takes the pressure off us, to some extent, financially (though not all that much). Ultimately, it’s not just the holy dollar that we are answerable to.

This gives us the freedom to keep doing things like publishing and podcasting poets, old and new, every single week, something which does not happen enough.

The parent company of Eureka Street is Jesuit Communications. It produces 7 magazines, and runs 10 websites. Because of this, we have dedicated admin, subscriptions, marketing and advertising staff – but it’s still a tight ship. There is not much in the way of excess capacity when illness strikes.

On the other hand, everyone in the office knows each other. We have morning tea every morning, surrounded by newspapers, and chat about ideas.

It’s one of the best parts of the day.

I’ve been reading the Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, by Paul Barry, over the last couple of days, and the juxtaposition is striking. There aren’t too many BMWs in the carpark at out small publishing house, and believe it or not, there is no helicopter at our disposal either. But it strikes me that the little things more than make up for this.

Often we get emails from people suggesting stories that we should write – if we could just be good enough to send one of our journalists over to do the story. It’s flattering that people think that we have these resources at our disposal, but not quite true.

Getting right up close and personal to a story - that is, having someone on the ground – is sometimes a matter of good fortune, other times careful planning, but rarely a matter of simply throwing resources around.

But to me, that just makes the game more interesting.

The foremost advantage, for me, of working for a smaller publication like Eureka Street is that you get to know every aspect of the publishing process.

The ins and outs of production, from editing, proofing, layout, story conferences, to the commissioning of articles – all of it comes back to the efforts of a few people – and with that comes a real sense of ownership, and pride, every time an issue is published.

Rather than being a spoke in a wheel, I like to think of myself as one of the wheels. The car might be a Mini, rather than a Hummer, minus traction control, airbags and cup holders, but it’s a car nonetheless (and a damn fine one, too.)

Another great thing about working on a smaller publication is the sense of connectedness to the readers of the magazine, and the broader community that is formed around it. If a reader writes a nasty comment at the end of an article, invariably I see it. If they leave heartfelt praise, I see it too.

It’s the same with letters, and with unsolicited submissions. When people write or call in, they reach us, not the metaphorical switchboard down at the other end of the building.

One of my favourite moments at Eureka Street could only have happened at a small publishing house.

Around 530 on a Monday night I was just getting ready to leave the office when a call came in on the main office number.

It was an older gentleman from Perth, and he was trying to subscribe to the magazine.

He told me his name was Kevin, he was 93, and he had just purchased his first computer.

He was wanting to subscribe to Eureka Street, but he did not trust putting his credit card details online, so could he do it now, over the phone.

Sure, I said.

So I took the details, spent some time messing about trying to work out how to work the eftpos machine, and processed the sub.

While this was going on, we got to chatting.

Kevin started telling me about how he loved Australia, and how he loved the free press we have, and how he loved his wife, Marie.

Marie had passed away a year or two ago, and it was because of this he had gotten interested in computers – he had more time on his hands now.

According to Kevin, Marie had been the prettiest girl in France when he met her, and married her, and brought her back to Australia, all those years ago.

They spoke French at home, because she insisted the kids learn it – she was apparently quite demanding – and he had had about the best life anyone could hope for.

The conversation went on for about 25 minutes - luckily he had called our 1300 number so we were paying (that’s 1300 72 88 46 to subscribe now, by the way) – and I went home about as happy as anyone could be.

This is the joy of a small publication.

And what are my 3 Golden Rules?

1. Don’t give up. An obvious one, but it can be really tough. Sometimes the subs aren’t coming in, advertising is down, and you just don’t have that killer lead story you want. It doesn’t matter. In my experience, this usually means something good is about to happen – it’s just around the corner. Even if you don’t know where that corner is.

2. Don’t be afraid to punch above you weight. It used to amaze me when I asked writers to write for us – people I really respected and had read for years – to write for us, and they did. Now I take it as a given. Writers have ideas, and they want to put them out there. Capturing that writer, and getting him or her onboard, is often simply a matter of suggesting a story in the right way.

3. Don’t apologise for being small. It’s not a crime to have a smaller readership – what is most important is to try and always think about how to increase it. This might be through a killer article, a great marketing campagain, or word of mouth. I always look on it as a positive when I meet someone who has not read the magazine before – because chances are, if they spend ten minutes with me, I’m going to do my best to convince them to put those two words – Eureka Steet – into google when they go home.

As I hope you will all do tonight.

Thank you.

 

 

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Existing comments

Good speech James, I enjoyed it immensely.
Tom Cranitch | 31 August 2007


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