So by now, hopefully, I've explained the crossroads where Versal finds itself and I've listed several directions the consultants thought we could go. In this final post, I'll list those ideas that we are considering - and I'm sure, for those of you still reading, this may cause some debate. Please be kind, I think comment flame wars are lame.
Ideas we're considering
1. Expanding sales/reach into the broader arts community
Versal, as most of you know, is "more" than "just" a literary journal, and it's been that way since we started in 2002. It's a veritable object, an artistic archive, a coffee table book, if you will. In the last few years, our editorial reach into the arts community has expanded considerably. Translating that into copy sales is a good next step. For example, we recently joined the shelves at the Stedelijk Museum here in Amsterdam.
This may seem like a somewhat vague step, but with the consultants' help we could give form to a Versal that is not run like a non-profit, but like an enterprise. Sounds scary, I know. But I can see some advantages: a bank start-up loan, for example, might allow us to rent office space, get a few of us on a payroll, and help us inch towards economies of scale if we want. One potential element of professionalization would be if members of the editorial team become shareholders - essentially buying Versal and realizing later financial return from the investment. I could definitely see this model working for a brand new journal, where each editor joins in with an investment of funds, and once the journal reaches profitability the editors get "paid".
3. Leverage our contact moments
"Contact moments" is industry speak for the times when Versal comes in contact with a person. Each of these moments is a sales opportunity. For example, we could leverage pre-ordering during the submission process by asking folks if they would buy the issue, whether published or not. A non-binding agreement, of course, but an indication for us of how many buyers we may get from our submitters, and a nudge to those who send us work that supporting the journal may be a good thing.
4. Charge for submissions
Corollary to #3 is to charge a small fee for submissions. This idea came up pretty quickly in the brainstorm, as the consultants felt it was more than reasonable to ask a few bucks for the time we invest in work review. And a few bucks would be no more than the old SASE costs, especially the international ones. Since Versal's review process is editor-only (no interns, undergrads, or the like reviewing the "slush pile" - we read it all), and we give frequent personal feedback, there's added value to sending your work to Versal. Plus, if you're accepted, your work will never have looked so damn good. The consultants were convinced a submission fee could help. I explained that there's a lot of controversy about this, and industry-disparagement of the practice (e.g. Duotrope does not list journals that charge for submissions), but I am pretty sure as both an editor and a writer that this is where things are going. The recent discussion on HTML Giant seems to agree. And personally, if I really want to get my work into a journal and it charges me $3, I think that's $3 well spent.
5. Engage our network
In 10 years, we've crossed paths in one way or another with hundreds of people. Writers and artists who have sent us work, people who have bought copies, editors we have exchanged copies with ... the list goes on and on and on. I would recommend to any new literary journal that it starts an Excel spreadsheet or database of some kind to keep track of all of its contacts. These people can be tapped for later sales (that sounds bad, but you know what I mean), sent questionnaires to gain insights into the market, asked to reach out to their networks, etc. We have probably a dozen different spreadsheets by now, so our systems in that sense are a total mess, but we could better leverage our contacts to boost sales - I'm sure of this.
6. Editors' better engage their networks
Here's an example. The strategy consultants are one of my clients (I am a freelance editor, writer and translator, working with Dutch companies to improve their English texts), and are 70-strong at their Amsterdam office. So I pitched Versal 9 to their account manager as the annual Christmas gift. We'll see if he bites. Another idea: those editors who teach in schools could teach Versal 9 - and the school pays for students' copies. It's not just about sending an email to our families, it's about tapping our professional networks too.
I hope this has been helpful, not only to other editors struggling with sustainable business models for their endeavors, but to writers out there who want more than a glimpse behind the curtain of the journal world. Though this post concludes my series on the advice we got from the strategy consultants, I will no doubt continue to share insights that we've had under their guidance, our thoughts on some of the potential directions we can go (like submission fees), and maybe a few pie charts.