Indignity Vol. 3, No. 7: Here comes Indigni2y!

It's a Brand-New Day, So Let's Greet It Together

Indignity Vol. 3, No. 7: Here comes Indigni2y!

Introducing The Indignity Morning Podcast.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 1: A 1.4 million dollar bicorne hat.
Listen now (4 min) |

Here We Go Again On Our Own

GOOD MORNING! In October, we wrote to you, the readers of Indignity, to announce that we, the proprietors of Indignity, would be packing up and moving to Popula, to become the editor and creative director there. Since then, we have continued to email you two newsletters a week, selected from our work at Popula, while suspending our billing and lowering our paywall at Indignity.

Now, the journalism business being what it is, we are making that announcement in reverse. We have had a wonderful time working at Popula, running a full-time general-interest publication and editing writers from around the world. When we launched our revived version of Popula, hand in hand with our pal (and its delightful founder) Maria Bustillos, we were working with a grant that would cover four months of operating expenses. Our hope and/or plan was to attract more fundraising to follow—enough, ideally, to get us two years' of running room, by which time we would aim to have built a fully energized subscriber base capable of sustaining Popula for the long run.

It hasn't worked out. The four months of money was four months of money, and four months is up. Popula can't keep paying us to work full-time. Consider it the world's friendliest media-industry layoff.

We don't want to stop writing for you, and we would prefer to have some money coming in, so as of tomorrow we are turning the Indignity billing back on. Happy Groundhog Day! This will return the situation for Indignity readers to what it was at the beginning of this past October. We send you things to read, we ask you to pay, we send you even more things to read if you pay.

But we're not planning for it to be exactly the same! As we were contemplating our future this past month, our occasional collaborator Max Read, proprietor of the Read Max newsletter, happened to publish an extremely unsettling essay, inspired by a Washington Post profile of the irritating and successful newsletter blogger Matthew Yglesias. The Post article had quoted Yglesias' outlook on the work of writing, capturing his simultaneous glibness and shamelessness: "I put things out. People yell at me. I will write again the next day.”

This was, Max Read wrote, horrible but instructive:

There are all kinds of things you can do to develop and retain an audience--break news, loudly talk about your own independence, make your Twitter avatar a photo of a cute girl--but the single most important thing you can do is post regularly and never stop...

[I]n a business sense the understandable assumption is that if you post more blog posts/tweets/newsletters/whatever, you will also necessarily be lowering the quality of your work. Something you take a few days on--in order to research, report, edit, or even just think through in a rigorous way—will naturally be better than something you crank out in a couple hours. Many people—especially writers, since we have a lot invested in the idea that what matters most with our work is its aesthetic brilliance or intellectual novelty, and not with the kind of basic fact that it exists on a page somewhere to help someone pass the time—instinctively believe that if you bombard your audience with half-assed crud, you’ll lose whatever audience you’ve built up, and never get the kind of reach you’re looking for. Before they post, therefore, many writers mentally calculate: Is this post “good enough,” or does it dilute the overall quality of my work, alienate my audience, etc.?

But the Yglesias profile’s very existence reminds us of an important rule of thumb for navigating the content economy in the 21st century: Under the present regime, there is no real downside risk to posting. You might lose a small handful of subscribers or followers if you overwhelm their inbox, or write an egregiously bad post—but on balance you will never lose as many readers from “posting all the time” as you will gain new ones.

Somewhere in the earliest days of the planning for Indignity, someone mentioned something about not bombarding the audience with too many things, and we took that to heart. We resolved to give the readers two things to read a week, like the well-paid newspaper columnists of yore. When we had more than two things, we'd bundle them together to keep the weekly newsletter count steady. If we came up with a niche department—like the Orioles Minute or the Wordle Postgame Report—we'd publish it on the web, rather than testing people's patience by sending it in an email.

This had its merits, but it seems as if it may not have been the best approach. To move away from the grim specter of Yglesias-style crap-shoveling to a more pleasant point of comparison—and to shift from the first-person plural to the singular perspective of Tom, your editor—when my initial despair had lifted, what the Max Read piece made me think about was Rusty Foster's work at Today in Tabs.

At a time when it's hard to be a faithful reader of anything, I am a faithful reader of Today in Tabs. You can't entirely set your watch by it, and Rusty takes days off when he has to, and he sets aside whole long spells of time off between "seasons," but most days, at around the same time of the afternoon, it shows up in my inbox and I'm glad to see it there. When it doesn't come, I wish it had. More often than not, it's there for me to read right when I'm waiting for the younger kid to get out of school.

Sometimes, Rusty is clearly in a hurry and tosses off a breezy, short edition. Sometimes he digs deep and produces something labor-intensive and thought-provoking. (Not infrequently, the quicky, breezy ones are thought-provoking, too!) Either way, it's good to hear from him.

Also I just looked up Rusty's profile on Substack and it has an orange checkmark, identifying him as a "bestseller." I'm not the only person who responds to that approach to newslettering.

So with some trepidation, but also hope, we are going to begin sending out more than two editions of Indignity per week. Keeping Popula publishing five days a week, through the past four months, has noticeably sped up our own writing cadence. We now have a daily short-form podcast in our portfolio, which will henceforth be part of the Indignity collection of editorial products, as well as the award-winning MR. WRONG column.

We aren't setting specific targets just yet; we have to get a feel for this new arrangement, and our changed circumstances also require us to devote a certain amount of time and attention to some newly acquired side hustles (Need something edited? Want to be taught writing? Inquire about our rates!). In an ideal world, we might even rein in our accumulated non-ideal planning and writing habits and start aiming to deliver Indignity at a semi-predictable time of day.

We hope that none of this meaningfully lowers whatever level of quality you may have come to expect from Indignity, and that not too many of you are annoyed by the extra output. Maybe we can create a special subscriber tier where you get less? But if we're going to make this work, we're going to need to get more readers, and we figure we might as well try the thing that everyone says might accomplish that.

As always, we like you so much, we want more of you! Here's hoping you want more of us.*

*And public domain antique sandwich recipes.