This year I started an online magazine for bloggers, and it closed after just six months. I had a romantic notion that I could start a site for bloggers to share advice and experiences, to make friends with one another and share posts, and it would have nothing to do with brands (apart from advice on how to work with them). I wanted it to be completely free to read, no adverts, no sponsored content, and no bias. There are several blogging and vlogging magazines out there in the world, and none of them are free to read, or free from commercialism, and I thought that bloggers get exploited so much they deserved a magazine that was far removed from people profiting from bloggers without properly compensating them.
At first it went well, though it was one of the hardest things I've ever worked on. Persuading over forty bloggers to be editors and submit an article each month without being paid was something I had to do with care and tact. But I did it, and I'm so proud of that, they were from all over the world. Being editor, sub-editor, administrator, social media officer, developer and marketer in one was no easy feat, and my own blog suffered enormously. I'd go days without posting, and didn't have time to engage as much with brands and other bloggers as I used to. But I felt passionate about Bloggeration, and put everything I had into it.
Things fall apart, as they are prone to do, and without profits from charging people to read the content or getting brand sponsorship, I was doing a full time job (with long hours) without pay. Not that I wanted it, I definitely didn't like the idea of asking bloggers for free material and making a profit from that, but I did work with numerous brands to run Twitter giveaways each week (part of my promotional strategy), and many brands got in touch to ask to run Bloggeration meetups with me. Events would have been something I'd definitely have needed an assistant for, and it was fine for me to work all hours unpaid, but I would be mortified to have an unpaid helper or 'intern' – if I was making a stand against exploitation, it would have to be across the board.
I knew when I started that I'd soon see which bloggers would be in it for the long haul, though it was disheartening to see them drop like flies. When someone is volunteering their time, you can't reprimand them for not submitting an article, and I wouldn't have dreamt of doing so. However, I wasn't prepared for how frustrated I'd feel to have bloggers tell me it was taking up all their time (seriously, one article a month), or have them get annoyed with me if their post was published one day late or didn't have every photo they wanted in it, and I got a couple of huffy emails from bloggers saying they were quitting in not so many words. I'd have to go back to the square one and persuade another blogger to take their place, and I saw myself being forever stuck in a loop of this, instead of getting to a place where I could focus solely on editing and posting content. To keep bloggers motivated I'd ask if they'd like to go and review something, an exhibition opening or a new play, perhaps, spending more of my time talking to PRs to organise the press tickets. One blogger was sent to a festival and I nearly spat my tea out when I saw her review – on her own blog and not submitted to me for Bloggeration.
In the final month of Bloggeration I talked to several friends. One, who's a PR, said I should give or sell the magazine to a brand and have it sponsor the content, giving each blogger-editor a fee, and sponsoring nationwide blogger events. Another friend, a journalist, said I should offer to the site to existing blogger print magazines as their digital site, and get a wage to carry on. I thought about all the options; friends suggested crowd funding, or changing the format so I'd rely on less bloggers. A blogger friend pointed out to me how good I was at getting bloggers on board, collaborating with brands, pitching, and growing the Twitter account (it still runs and has 13K followers). She said I should draw a line under it and go to a magazine – print or digital – and say, look, this is what I can put together in six months, this one has ended now but look what I could do for you. I hadn't had any ambition when I started Bloggeration other than making it a success, so having to think about what I could do with it all was troubling, I hated people thinking I'd just set it up as a stepping stone to a job elsewhere.
It was really sad telling everyone (who was left) that Bloggeration Magazine was no more, and having the keen people be genuinely gutted. Some bloggers had put it in their social media biographies, or the 'about' section on their blogs. They'd been proud of having a title and a role, and although it was nice to hear that they'd enjoyed working on it, of course I felt guilty. When you're creative you take chances on projects, not knowing if they're going to work out, but you give it all you've got. And boy did I, as did the contributers, without whom none of it would have been possible. It took me months to get my traffic on The Prosecco Diaries back to where it was before Bloggeration existed, and I had to shift my working relationships with brands to say "I'm back to working on this blog now, that okay?"
The magazine is still up, and it gets a healthy amount of visitors looking for blogging advice. I still have bloggers meeting each other through the site (which warms my heart), and the Twitter account has a regular chat (Sundays 9.30am GMT) with a great bunch of bloggers.
What I took away from this experience:
1.) Bloggers genuinely don't mind giving magazines and brands free work, to myself included. I didn't profit from their work, but they really don't mind if other publications or brands do. I'm speaking broadly here of course, there are plenty of bloggers with big objections to this.
2.) Bloggers are great in that they'll take creative chances, and love to create and share their work. It's a pleasure to work with people who are passionate about writing and want outlets for their creativity.
3.) I can't do everything, something will suffer when you take on too much. I don't mind working for free if it's something I care about, but you also have to be realistic and pay the bills.
4.) I can be proud of myself for having the idea, ambition and motivation to start something so big and make it all come together. I can recognise my talents in being able to edit the work of others, commission, write quick copy, strategise and problem solve. I can't be hard on myself about failing because then I wouldn't know I could do all these things on a magazine if I hadn't tried.
5.) If things were different, Bloggeration Magazine could have been something really big. There were brilliant bloggers on board, and huge brands interested. It needed a team, and an office (though that wasn't essential), it needed some funding, and the only logical way to get that would be through brands who need partnerships with influencers. Though maybe there's other options, if there are I would definitely give it another go. And that's something that makes me happy about failing; I don't stay sad for long – I start thinking about how to make things work, or start new things. I think it was Winston Churchill who said "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm".
I didn't think I'd write this post, it's not the easiest thing to admit to failure. I still think about Bloggeration everyday as I run the Twitter account and pitch to brands about it. I've run some Bloggeration events and been asked to do more. Who knows what Bloggeration could be next? Whilst we were having an end of year Twitter chat today, the chat host asked if there was anything that had a huge impact in 2016, and I found myself typing how hard it had been to admit Bloggeration had failed, though I was still proud. Saying it (online) out loud was hugely cathartic. I was admitting it in public, and it allowed me to say to myself, failure is okay because it means you're trying things. As the saying goes – if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.
Thank you to every single blogger who took a chance on Bloggeration by submitting work or reading and sharing the content. You're a star, and were hugely appreciated.