It seems like only yesterday but on December 19th it will be five years since we first officially and publicly announced our plans to launch Creative COW Magazine. Five years already? Time flies. At the time, it was an insane gamble but the last five years have proven it to be a risk worth taking.
When I first came up with the idea for Creative COW Magazine, Creative COW was struggling and barely making it month to month. I was handling much of the site design and maintenance, was our only salesman, and added to these duties were a myriad of other jobs that needed to be done every day. Kathlyn cautioned me that if it failed, we would have to pull the plug on the site and walk away. But I knew that if the COW was ever going to truly compete against the likes of Videography, TV Technology, Studio Monthly, Broadcast Engineering, DV, Post, Millimeter, Film & Video, Video Systems and many other magazines -- whom many industry advertisers took far more seriously than they did, Creative COW -- we'd have to meet the magazines on their own playing field.
Yes, I was aware that the magazine business was in real trouble and that many magazines were struggling. But I also knew that there was a reason that they were struggling and it had nothing to do with the cost of paper or the fact that the world was indeed changing -- something I am all too painfully aware of, I assure you. The reason that I felt they were losing audience was that they had lost their focus as to whom they really
At a time when many publishers are failing, Creative COW Magazine along with USA Today and the Wall Street Journal -- as well as others too numerous to name here -- are growing and prospering. Why? Because they make something that readers WANT to read.
At a time when the audience is looking for answers and ideas to help them in volatile markets and a rapidly changing world, the only answers that many publishers can come up with, is to take short-cuts. Some of our competitors have fallen to the point of running a single "feature" story and filling the rest with press releases and calling it a magazine.
We work very hard on Creative COW Magazine and Tim Wilson and I are always on the phone discussing ideas, looking at what people are talking about, what we think the members of Creative COW are interested in -- and from there, we begin the process of designing and crafting each issue. I don't use the word "craft" loosely. We don't slap down whatever we get and call it an issue. There is an enormous amount of work that goes into every phase of each issue of Creative COW Magazine: planning, development, and finishing.
Sure, some issues are clearly better than others, but I can honestly say that I cannot point to a single issue of which I am ashamed or embarrassed by. We have been fortunate to have many of the best and brightest working industry pros take our calls, work with us to craft stories about their projects, their tools and their workflows.
We have watched the audience and advertisers vote with their interest and their support. We are grateful for it and know that in order to keep it, we can't take short cuts and make the kinds of compromises that have relegated many of our competing titles to the ash heap of history because they became irrelevant to those they once served.
I once had the Editor-in-Chief of one of the top-ranked magazines in cinematography come up to me at a trade show and tell me that, "You guys have set the standard for the industry and are the team to beat." Her words, not mine. She asked how we got away with not making the kinds of compromises that she was forced to make, compromises and concessions she was forced to make to curry the favor of advertisers. I looked at her and asked: "Would you like to know the truth? I'll tell you but you may think it harsh." She said she'd like to know, so this is what I told her...
"When advertisers have told us that in order to get their business we have to do a write-up on them in our magazine, we simply ask them point-blank: 'Let me see if I have this right. You want us to make the same kinds of compromises and do the same kinds of stories that have largely crippled those magazines that survive and have killed many others -- compromises that have made them largely irrelevant to their audience and have destroyed their credibility -- and you want us to do that. Did I hear you right?'"
She told me in response: "You don't really do that, do you?" I told her that not only do we do it but that she better start doing it too, if she wanted to save both her job and her publication.
Our audience would expect nothing less from us than to get it right. Tell the truth. Tell the story. Serve the audience. Don't sell us out.
So that's what we did and what we do.
It's been a tough five years. The beginning was really tough, as we started this with no investors, no money in the bank other than just enough to cover the bills. It was all a gamble. A major gamble. One sizable misstep and we'd have been just another magazine in the ash heap of history -- and the COW itself would have been there, as well.
So, thank you more than you know for being our guide, we watch you and we listen to you and we make the magazine in answer to the kinds of things we see you asking about and discussing. You truly are our rudder and set the course that we will follow.
We jokingly and lovingly refer to you as The Body Bovine
and you are our navigators in the perilous waters of today's rapidly changing marketplace. Without you, we'd have ended up on the rocks, long ago, and these five years would have never happened.
The best always,
CEO, Creative COW LLC
Publisher, Creative COW Magazine
Last year, around this time, we posted that in late November of 2008, the COW passed the Google Analytics ONE MILLION unique visitors a month marker. This year, as we wind down to year's end, we have passed the Google Analytics 2.2 MILLION unique visitors a month threshold. In fact, Q3 of 2009 sustained growth that saw the COW growing by adding another 100,000 visitors every 10 days or so.
Against this backdrop, the other day I read a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win
." When I read this, I had to smile, especially considering the last 15 years or so that Kathlyn and I have been building media professionals communities online. I read Ghandi's words out loud to Kathlyn, and she smiled. It was the story of Creative COW in a nutshell.
In the beginning, many people in the industry didn't get it. But those that were trying to keep their jobs -- floundering in the wake of rapidly changing technologies and production processes -- they got it. In fact, as Kathlyn and I have mentioned before, the most rewarding experience we've ever had at trade shows, is when people come up and talk about how they've been coming for a decade or more and how the community we've help build helped save their job. That will humble you, when you consider their family and ponder how something you have done has helped someone else protect that family. It is truly an honor that we do not take lightly.
In the beginning, the industry trade magazines and other well funded entities in this field, ignored us. We sent press releases time and again that never received coverage, as they chose to ignore us. Just like Ghandi said they would.
When we changed our strategy and launched Creative COW, they laughed at the company with the funny name. Ghandi got that one right, also. In fact, we once heard from one of the people that had worked with one of these companies, that on the day that we announced we'd be going into print, the company they worked for had a meeting in which they mooed and laughed and talked about what an aborted foray into print this would be. "Who's going to read a Creative 'COW' Magazine?" they laughed. The answer? Their former
readers, it seems.
Every year that goes by, there are fewer and fewer magazines in this market, and there are more and more websites opened, but there is still only one Creative COW -- a site with more combined traffic than all of them combined.
Is it because we are so smart? No. Then why is it happening this way?
Once upon a time we received a call from a billion dollar publishing conglomerate (who I won't name to spare them the embarrassment) that had spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this market, trying to lead in this market segment. They called us from England on a speakerphone from their board room and asked how on Earth we always managed to beat them? They told us that no matter the money they spent, we just kept growing and undoing everything they were trying to accomplish.
We told them the simple answer: we listen
to our people and we build that
. They wouldn't believe the simple truth, and because of it, they failed -- not long after selling off at fire sale prices the under-performing company they tried to build.
We have failed plenty ourselves. Having just passed 59, I look at my failures -- and my successes -- and my failures have ample company, while the successes don't come anywhere near the "populace of profusion" that my failures occupy.
What surprises me, is that some people will not listen to their failure and the lessons it is trying to teach them. They will keep going the same way, time after time, in a strategy that has never worked and that is failing -- doing it again and again. [Insert sound of Steely Dan's "Do It Again" here.]
Unlike most businesses, we do not hold monthly or quarterly strategy meetings. In fact, truth be told, we hold them DAILY. Daily? Yes, it is THAT important in a rapidly changing world such as ours is today.
The time it takes us to hold these meetings is more than made up for in a company that can turn on a dime and rapidly respond to the ebb and flow of today's business climate.
Sound crazy? It works. It also allows us to try things and to play to our opportunities in ways that we could never exploit if we met monthly, quarterly or annually.
As I wrote in one of magazine columns a while back: God gave you two ears and one mouth and is trying to teach you something in the arrangement.
We watch this market like hawks in flight. We constantly discuss what we see and where we are spotting opportunities. We fight aggressively to prove the vitality and practicality of what we see, believe and are bringing to market.
Our competitors quit laughing some time back. Now some of them call us liars and say that the comparative statistics we publish
are false. Most of our partnering companies see the desperation in those words, but for the few that believe their claims, I ask them why their lawyers never contact us? We aren't misrepresenting anything, and our publishing of these numbers is just that -- us, posting data that is available from 3rd party sources. Nothing more or less.
So we continue to compete and they compete against us. Another magazine in this market announced last October that they will go "all digital" in 2010. Two others against whom we have had to compete already went to web-only in 2009.
Tim Wilson and I understand the move to digital but not when the titles doing it have a tiny web-footprint to work from. Tim and I call these kinds of moves "imploding onto the web" and we believe that failure in print does not entitle you to success on the web.
The market is thinning and we continue to hold our daily strategy sessions and to do everything we can do to guarantee that Creative COW Magazine will continue to grow in 2010. We don't plan to go all-digital anytime soon, and would only consider such a move if there were a distribution technology that our members saw as especially valuable to them and worthy of such a change.
Don't let your own strategies be timid in 2010. Learn to thank like a marketer. Market. Listen. Fine-tune. Move. Assess. Move again. Refine. Learn from your mistakes. We do.
Today, you have to experience your failures quickly and move to your next step of refinement quickly. It makes me think of that old song by 38 Special called "Hold On Loosely (But Don't Let Go)." You have to hold and measure the move with fluidity and a ease and speed of movement that allows you to quickly adjust.
The advantage that mammals had over the dinosaurs, was that the mammals were stealthy and agile.
There's a lesson in that one, too.
Have a great New Year and we wish you every success in the days ahead.
Those of you who read some of my posts may have bumped into my enthusiasm for Philip Kotler's "Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence
If I had to pick the single most important business book that I read during all of 2008 (when I started it) or 2009 (when I finished it), it would be Chaotics. To be honest, people that read this book don't really finish it, they keep referring back to ideas and bits of it -- flashing through its pages so as to rekindle points raised within the book. As a tool for understanding the rapidly changing economy and world system, it is without peer -- in my humble opinion.
I have recommended this one to many key leaders in Creative COW and most of them have taken the time to buy it and have told me that they too, now consider this one of the most important books they have ever read. I also recommended it to one of the top sales and marketing people that I know at one of the major hardware manufacturers in this industry, and he called one day to thank me for telling him about it. We ended up talking for almost an hour about some of the key points of the book.
I could tell you about what's in it but then, many would roll their eyes and say that it would be boring. Well, let me put it this way: there's nothing quite as exciting and stimulating as the stress of watching your business and career crumble right before your eyes. Many people I know in this industry (and others), have no real idea what is going on in the world today. Just how truly all-encompassing and sweeping the changes are that are affecting the world, business, and the way we must adapt in these radically changing times. They are succeeding by luck and chance, more than by design.
Chaotics puts the world under the microscope and explores ideas that will change the way that you look at the world.
Do yourself a favor (or favour for my British friends), do your family and your career a favor, read this book.
You can thank me for steering you to it, later.
Since the introduction of Creative COW Magazine back in early 2006, we have been asked repeatedly to make the print edition available to our friends and members around the world. Unfortunately, we were not set-up to accommodate international mailings and we had no way to bill them and maintain the record keeping -- well, unless our small team wanted to work around the clock! ;o)
But recently we have added the means to allow our friends worldwide to receive the print edition and we are delighted that the response has been beyond our expectations, with orders arriving quite regularly. It has become somewhat of a hobby here at headquarters to watch them and have the team ask: "Wow, did you see that one from Siberia? Amazing!" (Yes, we really got one from a producer in Siberia.) Our sincere "thank yous" to our friends and members around the world who enjoy the magazine so much that the PDF/digital version is simply not enough.
Watching a dream grow is always an amazing thing. I remember back to when we first launched our fledgling attempt at building a media professionals community back in early 1995. We quickly figured out that usenet groups were not going to be the future and that listservs were OK, but they were not very functional and in a visual medium such as we are in, listservs are far too limited to build anything that will matter over time. So, we elected to build a website, and having just passed the 2 million unique visitors a month threshold just this month, and to see the magazine grow to the level that it has -- becoming the strongest player in this arena -- we marvel at what can happen when a team dedicates itself to excellence.
We marvel at the people who come to the COW and who are signing up for Creative COW Magazine. We are humbled to see the work in our videos-reels section and to see various jobs that are represented in our magazine registrations. When we see people that work on some of the top shows and channels, as well as occupy places on some of the top film studio teams around the globe, it makes us want to work even harder to guarantee that the site and the magazine -- as well as the many other services we provide -- will be useful and serve the needs of our members.
It was said long ago, that if you want to achieve something that is great, serve. Therein lies the secret to the magic behind Creative COW.
You are our focus and listening to you and acting on what you want is our function and commitment here at the COW. Without you and your ideas and feedback, this would be little more than a tiny site among millions on the internet. (And it stopped being that, years ago.)
Thank you to all of our friends who are taking the time to tell us that the COW Magazine is different and is worth signing up to have it in their studios at the Vatican (yes, that one came in too), in Siberia, in England, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Greece, Spain, Sweden,and a myriad of other wonderful places, as well. We are honored beyond belief that the COW Magazine will be finding its way to your studios and suites around the globe.
It's an amazing world, isn't it?
Oh, and because we want to make sure that our friends get them as quickly as possible, our magazine is being sent FIRST-CLASS to all of our subscribers. In fact we like to say that's...
BECAUSE A FIRST-CLASS MAGAZINE DESERVES FIRST-CLASS DELIVERY™
Seems many of you agree.
In December of 2008, we hit the venerable Google Analytics 1,000,000 totally unique users a month
threshold. In January 2009, we crossed over the 1.1 million marker. February found us hitting the 1.2 million level. Then, in March, the 1.3 million level was passed. And so on and so forth until, today, in September of 2009, we have reached the 1.7 million totally unique users a month marker. (Being that we serve a professional audience, we always drop during the Summer months but bounce back fast in mid-August or so, as vacation season ends and people get back to work.) At our current growth levels, we will hit TWO MILLION totally unique users a month by February 2010 or thereabouts.
We have been doubling every year for the last few years and this current cycle appears that it will be no exception. We will have doubled again, from one million to two million totally unique users a month, in a little over a year.
It's rough to keep up a growth curve like that, year after year. Especially when the technology behind all of this is quite expensive when you hit the level that we have hit -- not to mention that we compete against companies who, for the most part, are international publishing conglomerates that are mostly billion dollar enterprises.
Back when I used to teach business classes to active business owners and managers for a couple of the banks here in Central California -- as well as speaking at California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo's business classes -- one of the things that I pointed out regularly was that uncontrolled growth kills more businesses than under-capitalization. Surprised? Don't be, you can adjust and rescale a business to meet the level of monies available, far easier than most can figure out how to succeed with a business that is demanding more and more resources quickly due to the growth that is driving out of control.
Juggling these kinds of growth levels -- and the demands on both people and the technological backbone that supports it all -- is a real feat in a market wherein the number of available sponsors from which to draw support dwindles with each new acquisition. What used to be 10 companies a decade ago (in some cases), is now a single company.
Building something like Creative COW is a constant juggling act and it's one in which every ounce of both human and technological resources are constantly being drawn on and leveraged to maintain the kind of astronomical growth that we have to support here at The COW.
Sometimes, we have phone conferences and our team discusses the next phase of what we need to do to assure that The COW does not collapse under the weight of its own popularity. It isn't always easy but when you have a team such as we have built over the last decade, the job is doable and we look forward to early 2010 when the COW will in all likelihood be rolling past the 2 million unique users a month marker.
Well, it's been an incredible ride so far this year: the COW has grown remarkably, with many wonderful new additions to the site, both in the infrstructure of the site itself and the people who now make this site a part of their online home — sadly, there have also been some horrible tragedies on the personal front that have brought solemnity along with the great joy that we find in building the COW.
According to Google Analytics, we will soon exceed 900,000 totally unique users a month — a staggering number when we remember that when we started building media professionals communities online back in June of 1995, we were thrilled when we went over our first 100 members. If you would like to see how the COW now compares to other magazines and web communities, you can see the comparisons online.
We have added a new MOBILE interface to the COW. The new www.creativecow.mobi interface allows people that use an iPhone, a Palm Treo, a Blackberry and other 3G-capable cell phones and PDAs to surf the COW. And one of the great new features of this interface is that if you use an iPhone, it knows that you can't see our Flash-based content and so it won't display any of it to you. But for those phones and PDAs that do use Flash, you will find it available.
Franklin McMahon has returned to head the Creative COW Podcast. Franklin is a great host and his sense of humor and his ability behind the microphone are exemplary. If you have missed the podcast, check it out — there are a number of new episodes online now and also available at the Apple iTunes Store.
New enhancements have been added to both the SERVICES OFFERED directory and the EVENTS calendar. These enhancements allow our members to look up Services Offered based on your region and locale using Google Map technology, giving the Services Offered directory a usefullness that goes well beyond the previous incarnation of our directory. In our Events section, we have added a calendar interface that makes that area of the COW far more useful. Check them out, there is a new level of usefullness in each of these areas.
We have added a number of truly bad (in a good sense)servers to the COW backbone over the last few months. In fact, we have doubled the amount of bandwidth throughput that we have available to serve to our audience. Our previous capacity was comparable to 128 T-1 lines running concurrently. Now, we have the capacity of 256 T-1s running concurrently. Into this huge amount of bandwidth, we have raised the number of servers to around a dozen. Most of them are dual and quad Opterons. A number of them exceed the power we have seen in some of the most hearty video servers. We have also added a hardware load-balancing router that has enabled the COW to keep up with the huge influx of growth over the last year. We had to, as in August of 2007 we were just over 250,000 totally unique users a month according to Google Analytics. A year later, in August of 2008, we were well past 800,000 unique users a month and will soon pass 900,000. So, while some people complain about all the ads in the COW, we would like to thank our sponsors as there is no way we could do this if they were not there. So, thank you sponsors! You keep the lights on and the dairy going.
As some of you might already be aware, we lost a son and grandson on Labor Day in an automobile accident. It was quite a sad day for our family and friends. But we were very proud of Ronnie and will miss him and Caleb greatly — though we trust that life goes on. So Ronnie, I tip the ole COW baseball hat to you and Caleb and know we will meet again. Those with less hope and little trust are welcome to their beliefs, these are mine.
So that has been my Summer report.
With the best to you all,
PS: Thank you to the many friends who wrote Kathlyn and me expressing their kind thoughts to us in the last couple of weeks. Your kind words have been truly appreciated and we are grateful to be your friends in the journey.
Someone sent me a link to a blog written by a writer named Karen who has her own blog at wordsforhire.blogspot.com. In it, she uses my article "Clients or Grinders: The Choice Is Yours" as the jumping-off point to show how some businesses suffer what she calls "welfare mindedness." Her article is quite insightful and I am honored and flattered that my piece inspired her to write her own ideas, found in the article you can read here.
In the article, she says:
Many small business owners are standing in the welfare line and not sure how they got there. They work hard. In fact they may be working longer hours than CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They deliver high quality work. Yet, they are barely making ends meet. These businesses are well intentioned but are not appropriately targeting their market or pricing their services.Other small businesses are locked into a mentality that says they can only compete on price. To win against the “more established,” or “the “larger competitors” they have to compete on price. Does this sound like you?Still others believe that volume makes up for low pricing. These business owners proclaim “yes our pricing is low but our volume supports it.” These same business owners would like to convince you to work at a fraction of your normal fees because they’re going to give you a large amount of work.
Check it out here, she makes some insightful points regarding things that can mentally trap business owners and negotiators.