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.
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.
If you haven't yet signed up for your free subscription to Creative COW Magazine, now is the time to visit www.creativecowmagazine.net
and sign up. I am working on the database and wanted to give some of you stragglers a chance to get in on this issue before we do the final cut-off. The Magazine continues to grow and is becoming quite popular in studios and companies around the world, so take a couple of minutes and sign-up now
Is it a good magazine? Well, here's what Christian Glawe told us: "I have to admit that, when I first heard about the magazine, I was a little skeptical... 'What can a magazine offer that I can't find online?' But all you guys have done is create the single best magazine in our field. Period."
-- Christian Glawe, editor/compositor
The new issue of the Creative COW Magazine is at the printer and will soon be arriving in the mail for those in the United States who have opted for the hardcopy edition. For our international members, we will shortly have our PDF editions added to the magazine website for downloading.
You will not want to miss this issue as Tim Wilson has sought out a great body of guest writers for this edition -- doesn't he always? -- and it will give you a window into a world of production that maybe you have never explored before. We are calling it the Games Issue but don't let the title fool you, this is definitely not kid's stuff. This issue is one that is filled with ideas, techniques and inspiration -- drawn from a market that has the music and movie industries drooling at numbers that dwarf those other two major entertainment markets.
Give us a day or so to decompress and you will find the new issue in the Magazine website.
Congratulations, Tim. You did another masterful job on this one. I am proud to work with you and ride shotgun on this journey.
I keep reading publishers bemoaning the state of the publishing world and decrying the fact that print is dying. They quote statistics that back up their suppositions and while these "facts" appear true, I have to scratch my head and wonder why they cannot seem to see the forest for all the dead trees they have proffered over the years.
Why is print dying? Well, I hate to tell them, it's not -- it's their
magazines and view points that are dying. There are other magazines, of which Creative COW Magazine is one example, that are doing very well and are growing and thriving. In many industries you will find these "exceptions" to the general market malaise and decline in publishing. Tim Wilson and I regularly discuss these issues and analyze and examine the magazines that fail and the ones that are thriving in spite of the perceived general market apathy.
So, what makes some magazines fail while others excel?
The reason is simple: there is a lack of real content
in many once successful magazines today. Many onetime industry leading magazines are now made up of paid stories and features that many readers suspect to be the outcome of advertiser purchases. Some magazines in our own industry have been putting paid advertorial pieces on the cover as their lead story. This is crazy to us, and will compromise the integrity of any publication. I remember when I loved some of the magazines in this industry, years ago. Nowadays, there are some that I haven't read a single article of any importance in a long, long time. In a survey of many of our members, we hear the same thing and we get many letters that come in after every issue of Creative COW Magazine thanking us for the content.
Here's one we received the other day:
"I just wanted to tell you that your 'New Visions' Issue is the best issue of any industry magazine I've read since the DGA [Directors Guild of America] stopped printing Action. Thank you for the intelligent, informative, entertaining articles on paper." -- Jim Long, Pegasus Productions
And this one just came in today from a teacher at a high school in Louisiana who left this comment as she signed up for the Creative COW Magazine:
"Your newsletter has helped me greatly in the classroom. Helps me to keep my skills polished. As an educator, sometimes we get a bit set in our ways. Your newsletters, tutorials, and articles keep my students guessing as to what their next project will be and has taught them and myself more tricks and shortcuts. We used to only get 2 projects a quarter completed, now we are able to double the production and at a higher degree of difficulty. Constant source of inspiration - Thanks Cow Team! -- Heather Lampo, Grace King High School, Metairie, Louisiana"
Thank you Jim, Heather and all of the many of you who write us and tell us that you see the work behind what we do for the audience here at Creative COW. Your kind words and votes of confidence are truly appreciated.
When we look at the state of the publishing industry, we are amazed that so few seem to grasp the simple formula that will guarantee that your magazine will have an audience of eager, enthusiastic readers -- serve
that audience. Yet most magazines seem to have opted for the kinds of compromises that serve their accounting department more than their audience. That kind of focus is sure to put smiles on the faces of stockholders (for a short while anyway), but it is guaranteed (almost every time) to remove the smiles from readers who want and expect honest and forthright communication and value in their stories.
Serve the audience, that seems a simple formula for success.
It always strikes me as odd that here we are in 2008, still relying on print to communicate many of the same ideas that are found in-depth on the web.
Is the immediacy of the web -- along its powerful information sources like Google and Wikipedia.org (to name just two) -- simply not enough?
Tim Wilson and I talk about this phenomenon from time-to-time and we think that it's one that shows why Creative COW Magazine has become so popular among its readership; a readership that grows daily and is already equal to that of many magazines that have had decades of lead on us. The same phenomenon is also seen in the book series of Harry Potter. (Are we saying that we are like Harry? We wish!) It's funny that people cite today's young as suffering Attention Deficit Disorder and that they are so saturated with "TV Mindset" that they can't keep their focus long enough to read anything. But Harry Potter has outsold everything else in its generation and is the biggest selling book series of all time.
Give readers something worth reading and they will read it. Make it of value and they will hold onto it.
We get letters over and over again from teachers and readers who tell us that they keep every issue we make. We are honored by their words and are grateful that they recognize the work that goes into an issue of Creative COW Magazine.
We believe that the COW is full of great people and stories and it's our job to sift through the overwhelming "mountain of information" that is CreativeCOW.net and present it to our readers in a logical flow of information that is of value to our readers. We don't just back up a dump-truck and drop a mountain in their yard. We work hard to take a concept and dig down into an idea and explore the idea in ways that our readers will draw benefit from.
The COW is a wealth of information and it can be quite overwhelming to people, at times. By exploring definitive concepts in print in Creative COW Magazine, we give our readers something worth reading that is more than the "here's a box with a knob and what the knob does on the box" journalism. Sure, there are times that we get technical but we try to make the technical within the scope of the concept being explored.
So, for those of you who write us or call and ask: "Why do you make magazines? They are a thing of the past." -- there's your answer.
Oh, and thanks again to all of you who take the time to write us and give us your feedback. We really do appreciate your time and reply.
Well, the new issue of Creative COW Magazine is at the printer and should be run shortly. Hopefully, all the work that Tim Wilson and I put into it will open up some interesting discussions and get people to open their minds to the incredible opportunity that lies in front of them. It is not often that a market shift opens up as many opportunities as that which the rapidly accelerating world of mini-media is doing. We have tried to explore this new media opportunity from many differing vantage points. This, so that readers can examine how the principles may play into their respective worlds -- or not.
One of the things that Kathlyn and I hoped to achieve when we began building media professionals sites online back in 1995, was to give professionals a way to get out of the myopic worlds we often find ourselves in as we stare at the screen in our edit and compositing suites all day. It's easy to think that the world is shaped in the form of that which we find ourselves in. It looks that way and so, there it is. Well, not always. Getting out of the rut is often hard. It takes both vision and education and that requires a time investment -- something that many of us do not have the luxury of.
So, that brings us to our hope for the Creative COW Magazine. It's an oddball. After all, we have elected to not follow any of the traditions that trade magazines have accepted as gospel in this marketplace. Instead, we have eschewed many of the core traditions that have (in our opinions) made the magazines in this marketplace largely irrelevant and bereft of the reputations that they once had. Page counts and reputations are dropping and, in our opinions at least, these factors can be laid at the feet of a lack of real relevance.
The internet at its best is a place where users now get much of the information from friends and peers online that they once got only from reading magazines and going to trade shows like NAB and SIGGRAPH. In our opinion (and it's one that is shared by many of the retailers and manufacturers that we have spoken to), few things are truly introduced at trade shows and fewer buying decisions are fomented by what is seen at them. Today, most of these decisions are already largely made, and the choices culled down to the few remaining contenders, long before they ever set foot on the show floor. Added to this, few readers trust the opinion of a single reviewer against the collective input of their peers who voraciously rip into a product and give their objective feedback online -- feedback that is often won from the crucible of a true production food-chain.
So, what then is the real purpose of a magazine in this day and in this industry, if these things are true?
The greatest strength but also the weakness of forums-based communities is that most questions and answers deal with immediacy and issues of peer-to-peer support. In among these day-to-day postings happens the great "big picture" speculations but they are hard to find. They also tend, like forums, to be quite nonlinear in their construction and so fewer people can put the pieces together in a coherent manner.
Magazines done well are the quintessential "linear learning tools." Smaller than books and because of this, bite-size but effective. They can quickly lay out a picture that the editors want to promulgate for their audience and thereby begin the process of advancing an educational process that will benefit them in the future.
Disjointed product reviews, a few tutorials and the occasional editorial won't do it.
So, we jokingly refer to Creative COW Magazine as a paean to our love of the great "concept albums" of rock music history. Give me Sargeant Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and other great albums of their ilk. Like them, we have tried to string the story together through a series of articles that will tell the tale of the rapidly exploding world of "media anywhere."
How well have we done our jobs? We hope that it accomplishes the goal that we have but it will be, as always, that the audience will be the judge.
As we get to the finish line on the new pre-NAB issue of Creative COW Magazine, the thought hit me this morning that this is really quite an amazing ride. When we started building web-based community sites back in June of 1995, we would not have dared dream that this would be happening in 2007. Or that we'd be doing as odd a thing as building a magazine and competing against the major publishing ventures in this industry. If someone had told us the future many years ago, we would have likely laughed.
It's quite a strange thing to remember the days when we paid $39 a month for a web hosting site that could hold all of us back then. There were about a hundred of us then, as the tools cost around $50,000 as the cost of entry into this market. While the cost of systems dropped, our web hosting bill jumped to a hundred a month and that seemed like a big thing. System costs kept dropping. Our web hosting bill then went into the hundreds, then thousands a month. Then the site picked up employees and the thing just grew and grew until -- well, here we are. Today, in most months, we get around 400,000 unique visitors -- some months, a lot more. We've had some months, that while rare, have hit around 600,000 visitors and up.
It's really been an amazing adventure and we have made many wonderful friendships along the way. Kathlyn and I joke that we spend more time with our virtual online family than we do with many of our blood families. We have seen you face trials, overcome and succeed, we have seen some fall and leave the playing field, we have watched others begin families of their own, and have been saddened a number of times over the years when family members have written us and asked that their loved one's picture be removed from our site's team as they passed away.
It has been incredible and I must say that I love the Internet. It truly is the place where you find the best hopes and, sadly, the worst nightmares of humanity. But I do believe that there is far more of the good than the bad. It is where you find a wonderful group like the COW Team who host and help people that they often only know from a few words on a screen. It is also where you find people trying to destroy your business using the most under-handed tricks and taking the intelligence they possess to try to ruin you. Oh well, our friends have always ridden in to our rescue and the fact that we even exist today is a testament to the friendships and relationships we have built over the last dozen years of doing this. Like most of you reading this, we have chosen to side with those who would like to leave the world a better place than it might have been, if left alone to those with darker agendas.
In the end, it's all been a remarkable experience and me and Kathlyn, along with all of us who work on the COW as employees or volunteers, thank all of you for being a part of this experience. As I told Mel Charters years and years ago when he first introduced me to the Net: "Man, I love the internet -- this is right up with the printing press and the wheel."
The best to you always,