13th Monthly Milestone Message

Selling your cake and having your journalism, too
A can of spam

Canned meat is a terrible delivery device for icing.

On the second day of each month, The Ann Arbor Chronicle provides a kind of status report about The Chronicle itself in the form of a milestone message written by either the publisher or the editor. We alternate months.

First a note about spam. Long story short, I’ve retrieved many messages from our spam folder in the last month. I may have missed some. My apologies for apparent non-responses.

Two months ago, I wrote about cake. That’s because – as I put it then – “[G]iven a choice between pie and cake, I prefer cake.” Over the years, I’ve put a lot of thought into cake. Deep thought. Nearly 15 years ago I wrote an academic paper in semantics called, “On Having Every Cake and Eating It, Too.” It was 50 pages long and included many diagrams. I bring this up mostly to emphasize that I can go on and on about cake … in a very scholarly way if I have to. No worries, I’m not going to delve into the contents of that old paper – mostly because I don’t know exactly where it is. It would be easier to find if it had been published.

So I’d like to focus now not on my scholarly relationship to cake, but rather on my personal relationship to this, the queen of all desserts. There are two basic parts to cake: the cake part and the icing part. Now, what’s the cake actually there for? In my view – and I’m aware that this is not a majority position, but I remind you that I have written an academic paper on this, so you can’t just dismiss it as crazy talk – the cake part of the cake is merely a delivery device for the icing. The icing, to me, is the essential and enjoyable part of what makes the cake worth eating.

The icing is the part I’m willing to pay for.

In that respect, most people who are willing to pay for the The Ann Arbor Chronicle right now have the same relationship to The Chronicle as I have to cake. The text you’re reading right now is the cake. It’s a delivery device for advertisements.

This idea is the basis of this month’s bits of news: (i) an actual subscription option for The Chronicle – cake, and  (ii) new advertising software – icing.

Why Think About This at All?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the way The Chronicle pays its bills (advertising plus voluntary “subscriptions”), mostly because of an essay written by Bill Tozier, who’s a Workantile Exchange colleague: “Grasping at Golden Straws.” In that piece he suggests that newspapers might actually survive if they focused on selling journalism instead of selling advertising. Translating Tozier’s point to the cake conceit: newspapers might actually survive as actual newspapers, if they focused on selling the cake and not the icing.

Here at The Chronicle, I’d like to think that what gets “sold” is journalism. Many of our advertisers support us because they believe in the kind of journalism we’re providing – we’re extremely grateful for their support. And a couple hundred readers have “bought” the journalism we have on offer through voluntarily sending us some money.

But the idea of providing an option for voluntary subscriptions was not a part of our original game plan.

Subscription Option

Because we’d like to more strongly emphasize that we’re trying to “sell” journalism here at The Chronicle, we’ve installed an actual online subscription option. Using the “Subscribe” button below will set you up to have $10 billed to your account each and every month. We’ve also installed the button on the Subscription page.

It’s not required that you use the “Subscribe” button. If you don’t like the amount we’ve set, or if you’d prefer to make a conscious choice each and every month – or week, or year – the regular “Donate” button is still available:

The fact that many readers have already voluntarily set for themselves an amount they contribute as a subscription fee each and every month is a testament to the fact that people will buy what we’re selling. In retrospect, we might have thought more seriously at the outset about the idea of “selling journalism.” The “Subscribe” button is a nod in the right direction, I think.

New Advertising Software

Because Chronicle advertisers also support and believe in our work, we’ve overhauled our advertising software. We paid Trek Glowacki, who’s another colleague from the Workantile Exchange, to program a new module for the website that causes the advertisements to appear – in the left and right sidebars. Until now, we’d been using a free WordPress plug-in for that.

Glowacki has given us the flexibility to make more ads appear than before. We are using this new power to cause our current advertisers’ ads to appear more frequently. This benefit to advertisers does not cost them more.

That’s because, as Glowacki puts it, “You guys don’t do advertising on the internet like most people.” We don’t bill for ads based on the number of times an ad appears or the number of clicks. Advertisers pay for a slot for a month at a time. So the fact that their ads appear more often now just means that readers can view them more frequently.

It also means that the left and right sidebars don’t seem quite as empty as they did before. They’re now filled with some really pretty ads.

Another feature of Glowacki’s ad server: We now have the flexibility to throw up a page of nothing but ads. It’s  for folks who just want to look at ads.

So for those readers like me, who like to eat just the icing, without the cake, here you go: [Chronicle Advertisers]


  1. By Matt Hampel
    October 2, 2009 at 10:28 am | permalink

    I always wondered about the use of the verb “throw up” in web development. Maybe it means I’ve eaten too much cake.

    It’s nice to see all the ads in one place. They serve as a kind of who’s-who of engaged local organzations.

    In any case, you should link to the new “all ads” page on the advertisers-with-the-chronicle page (the one that’s currently linked to by each ad). And “ad” some information on how to advertise, too!

  2. By Bob Martel
    October 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm | permalink

    Hi Dave, The link to the “all ads all the time” page does not appear to work.

  3. By Dave Askins
    October 2, 2009 at 1:38 pm | permalink

    Re:[2] Bob, I’m not sure what the problem is — it works for me.

    Destination is not a Chronicle server: http://advertisements.heroku.com/all

  4. October 2, 2009 at 2:32 pm | permalink

    oooh…and the ads all together make a pretty, colorful collage, too!

  5. By Ruth
    October 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm | permalink

    I’d like you to consider a page of employment classifieds. It seems like it would be fairly easy to be set up, and really useful.

  6. October 3, 2009 at 8:05 am | permalink

    To push a metaphor farther than it maybe ought to be pushed (though I hear they’re more flexible if they get a little exercise): Sometimes folks buy icing in a can just to eat it with a spoon. Sometimes.

    You know, if you put a little effort into making the all-ads page into a gallery, I think it might actually be kinda fun to browse….

    Also, this is Trek’s webpage, which could do with a link.

  7. By Barbara Levin Bergman
    October 5, 2009 at 3:13 pm | permalink

    Hi Mary and Dave,

    I’m a regular reader and I fan. I am glad to subscribe. But I don’t want to do so through PayPal.

    Is there a way I can just charge my VISA monthly? I really am not willing to pay a fee to PayPal.

    Keep up your great service. Would a check for a year’s subscription be the answer?

    Barbara Levin Bergman, Washtenaw County Commissioner, District 8