Smile Politely

Closing the books on 2007–2012

Deciding to invest in Smile Politely for the first time with an intentional sense of financial commitment did not come easy for us. After five years, and countless ups and downs, we’ve had our fair share of “Oh shit” moments that could have forced us to fold it, pack it in, shutter the virtual curtains. But we haven’t, despite the misgivings of many, many people who ask us the same question, almost invariably, every single time:

“How, in this day and age, does publishing make sense, even online?”

The short answer is that it simply doesn’t. At least, not from a financial perspective. I can state, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no matter how hard we work at Smile Politely, no matter how buck wild we choose to get selling advertising in the future, no matter how comprehensive our coverage becomes — nothing will make this a truly profitable or “successful” enterprise.

And for me, I think that’s for the best.

Part of the reason Smile Politely works — and fails at times — in the way that it does is simply because of its “low-paid labor of love” status amongst those who choose to contribute to it. No one person is going to make a full-time salary publishing an online magazine that is firmly rooted in one community of just 150,000 people. There aren’t enough people to read it, and not enough ad dollars in the community to fund it, at least to that degree.

But here is what’s real: People read this magazine. You are reading it right now. I read it every day, and so do over 1,500 people. And sometimes as many as 3,000, depending on whether or not Rob McColley has covered or previewed an Illinois basketball game or if we’ve written something that irked enough people to link it through.

So, for that very reason, we’re going to make our first real step into furnishing this magazine with many, many upgrades. We’ve hired a local company, Single Stereo, to handle the coding and design. Mason Kessinger, a founder and the original designer of the magazine, has given us an amazing template with which to work. Single Stereo will be taking that design, and lifting it, tightening it, expanding it, shrinking it, building upon it. There will be more spaces for local advertisers to promote themselves. It will be far easier for the community to comment on articles. Gone are the days of logging into your SP account to be able to start a discussion. From here on out, your social media of choice will log you in without so much as two clicks of a mouse. Or, two taps of your finger to your mobile device.

And speaking of mobile devices, we’re implementing a mobile responsive site to accommodate the many readers who access our content this way. No more pinching and squinching to see the words on the page. It’s all been managed for you in advance, much like the other national websites you look at daily. Beyond that, our SPlog will become far more interactive. Everyone who chooses to do so will be able to upload to the SPlog directly from their phone. So take photos of good stuff, and let us know what it’s all about. You can share that with people. Even further, our writers will now be able to upload their own stories and design the way that THEY want them to look. This will allow our contributors to express themselves in more dynamic and meaningful ways. And the hope is that it will inspire even more people to start writing for us.

We are, after all, the only TRUE community magazine in this game. No other outfit in town offers what we do: a place for YOU to publish your thoughts, your stories, your profiles, of what makes these towns tick. None.

So, we’re signing off for a few weeks, as we normally do this time of year. It’s time for a hearty glass of nog and brandy, a roast goose perhaps, and a chance to offer a loved one something of value simply for being part of your life.

But when we return on January 14, expect to see a different Smile Politely. Expect to see growth. Please — hold us to the standards to which you think we should be adhering. We need that. But please, above all, keep reading. We’ve got a ton of great things in store for you in 2013 and beyond.

And yes, we are starting a print magazine, too. Bonfire Quarterly will hit the streets on May 1, 2013. It’s going to look amazing and change the way people see print around here once and for all.

We’re still asking for donations to help us get started, so if you are feeling that giving spirit, we’d love your help. Otherwise, just keep reading. Keep reading, keep reading, and if you are feeling up to it, contribute. This magazine is as much yours as it is ours. That’s a fact.

Cheers, and Happy Holidays to you all,

Seth Fein

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