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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

so what am I doing wrong?

I’m constantly getting emails from people who want me to identify that one movie they saw once starring that guy whose name they can’t remember but he was in that other movie the name of which has slipped the mind but that girl from that TV show was in it too, or want to know where they can buy a prop that was in the background of that one scene in that one episode of some TV show that I’ve never even given an indication that I watch. But these people realize I’m a busy gal: maybe one of my staff can look into it?

And then I had someone at a screening recently — another film journalism professional who presumably knows what he’s talking about, although maybe not — tell me that if I’m not making six figures a year from my blog I’m doing something wrong, because all these other bloggers-slash-writers who are simply horrible are getting rich off the Web.

So I’m feeling rather flummoxed and depressed lately. Staff? It is to laugh. There’s no staff here, just me. And while I’m still in the process of going through my receipts and 1099s and such in preparation for tax time, I’ll be astonished if I breached five figures from this site last year.

This is what I wonder: How can I be projecting an image here of a far larger enterprise than I am actually am, of an enterprise that should be making far more money than it is? If I’m doing all that right, where is the rest of it going wrong?

I don’t expect any answers. I’m just venting.



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  • Skye

    You are an amazingly talented writer. I don’t know if that helps, but it’s true.

  • PaulW

    I just called, to say, we luuuuuvz you.

    I understand the vent. As a well-known and heavily-linked site you’re bound to be swamped by the crazies (including meh). Whoever told you that other bloggers are getting six-figures probably did not mention if those sites are funded by any established large-scale media outlets, or if they’re selling black market Dr. Who t-shirts or whatnot. That guy telling you that was probably jealous he wasn’t making six-figure incomes himself… If you like what you’re doing, and you’re getting paid well enough to pay for your mortgage, food, and video games (hehe), then relax and enjoy.

    And as for the guys who email asking if you know who starred in what movie… tell them it’s called the public library and have them check there. :) P.S. please pay your taxes so that us librarians can still keep our jobs, kthnx.

    P.S.S. sounds like you need a vacation too.

  • JT

    The site is really well-organized, well-archived and professional looking which probably gives the impression of a whole staff working on it. A lot of websites operated by one person still have that ‘geocities’ look.

    This may sound like a stupid question or one that’s too personal – so I apologize – but do you work on this site part-time? I know that James Berardinelli talks in the FAQ on this website about his day job and how he only works on his website in his spare time. I was wondering if that was true for other critics.

  • You make four figures from your site? That is certainly nothing to be down about!

  • Hdj

    I really dig the site ,I think your site kicks ass.
    Is it me, and the posters like me, am I bringing your stocks down? I dont wanna be the touch of death.I really dont wanna screw this good thing you have going on here on this site.
    I like it here and it feels classy,its sophisticated. I think your a great writer and you show alot of potential. Where some other sites have alot of razzle dazzle but the reviews are not as good.

  • Yeah, that sounds irritating, but… well, I don’t know, it’s still a great site. Don’t know if it helps any, but I think my wife gets annoyed when I’m always saying stuff like “I don’t really want to see The Eye, Maryann says it wasn’t very good.”

    If you need a staff, though, put those cats to work. Freeloading layabouts need to learn to pull their own weight. As for people asking to identify actors, maybe you should put up a link to imdb? Ebert has it in the FAQ of his Answer Man column that he doesn’t answer those sorts of questions, and that’s what imdb is for. Just a suggestion.

  • Ryan

    Quick answer: Find a manager. Somebody who will take over the advertisement portion of your site, locating prospective clients etc.

    If you draw large figures of viewers, and I believe you do…then obviously companies, especially ones involved in film, sci-fi/fantasy, literature, and any other part of geekdom will be interested in advertising with you.

    This will leave you free to be creative, while the business person you have hired will expand and improve your operation. It worked for http://www.penny-arcade.com a gaming web-comic that expanded exponentially after hiring Robert Khoo to manage it. (Also, ironically, Penny-Arcade is how I found your site, the writer linked to you as an example of somebody who gave reviews that the average gamer could relate to and trust.)

    Just a thought, and don’t worry about being seen as selling out if it results in more advertisements on the site…as long as they are handled in an aesthetically pleasing manner (no pop-ups, text obscuring ads) it won’t detract from the high quality of your site.

    I hasten to add, five figures seems fairly respectable to me…

  • MaryAnn

    If you like what you’re doing, and you’re getting paid well enough to pay for your mortgage, food, and video games (hehe), then relax and enjoy.

    Yeah, that would be nice. But I’m not. I’m NOT looking to get rich here. I’m just looking to not have to be doing other work.

    Mortgage? Hah. I rent. Saving a downpayment on a mortgage is beyond me, and always will be, I suspect. Which is fine, actually: I have no desire to own a house. But I listened to a couple of other critics at a screening recently talk about how they were going away for weekends to their respective houses on the Cape or the Hamptons or whatever. Granted, these were people working for major mainstream corporate publications, but still: they’re reviewing the same movies I am, and I’m reviewing a helluva lot more of those same movies than they are. And they’re living on the Upper East Side and vacationing alongside movie stars, and I’m living a 40-minute subway ride away in the Bronx, and haven’t had a real vacation in more than a decade.

    do you work on this site part-time?

    I work what amounts to full-time hours on the site — at least 40 to 50 hours a week — but I don’t make full-time money at it. So I do other writing/editing work that has nothing to do with movies. That’s at least another 20 to 30 hours a week.

    You make four figures from your site? That is certainly nothing to be down about!

    five figures seems fairly respectable to me…

    Four figures is under $10,000. Like I said, it’s unlikely the site will cross that $10K, five-figure mark for 2007. I don’t think that’s “respectable” for the hours that go into earning that small amount. That’s way less than minimum wage.

    Find a manager.

    I’m not earning enough money to support myself. I can’t afford to hire someone. I mean, that’s absolutely been a fantasy of mine for years now: If only I could hire someone to do the administrative stuff, someone else to do the web geek stuff, someone else sell the advertising, someone else to sell me… There’s no reason why I couldn’t have an assistant doing things like sending reviews off to publicists, dealing with posting contests, picking contest winners, packing up prizes and taking them to the post office, organizing my screening schedule, actually *posting* the reviews I’ve written and updating other pages at the site with new review links, and so on. That is *easily* half the work here — it’s not just about seeing the movies and writing about them, though that of course takes lots of time too. But that isn’t possible.

    As for all those people who ask questions about movies that I’d have to be psychic to know the answers to… you’d be astonished how many people get offended when I suggest they use Google to find the answers to their questions, and that I no secret insider information to draw on for the answer to their questions. You know, I *like* that I’m obviously projecting this image of omnipotence and wisdom — it’s another indication that I’m doing something right — but I’m also mystified by it.

    This probably all sounds very bitter and negative and like I’m attacking you guys and your suggestions. I’m not. Like I said above, I’m just feeling frustrated at the moment.

  • MaryAnn

    As for the needing a vacation thing: Yeah, I do. And I’m gonna be going to Paris at the end of March for about 10 days. I’m not sayng it’s not gonna be fun, but I will be there to help a friend do some research for her novel. And I’ll have my laptop with me and will be working from there, too, and I’ll be preparing postings in advance so fresh material will be here that week, which means double work before I go. (There’s a clear correlation between how many postings go up here per day and the level of traffic… and of course there’s a correlation between the level of traffic and the level of ad revenue. So it’s not like I can just go away and leave the site fallow, even for a week.)

    But the thought of simply unplugging for a week or two and lying on a beach… impossible, for many levels that have to do with not being able to afford it moneywise or in the sense of losing ground here traffic- and attention-wise.

  • misterb

    MaryAnn,
    You aren’t making enough money because you haven’t sold out. Your fans, and we are legion, love you for that, but if you put yourself first, you would allow the industry to corrupt you. I’m telling you this not because I’m urging you to go for the bux. but because I think you will gain pride and self-esteem from the knowledge that there are thousands of people in this world who respect you for your ethical stance.

  • JT

    Huh? It’s a commercial site, there are multiple banners on every page. How does ‘not selling out’ play into this? I don’t think that’s relevant at all.

  • Nathan

    i’d like to see a list of individuals who make six-figures blogging.

  • MaryAnn

    So, how do I “sell out”? I mean, what would that consist of? As JT points out, there’s already advertising here. There could be more — I refuse to run popunder or popup ads, for one, because I find them so personally annoying, and I don’t want to annoy my readers any more than necessary. But what kind of corruption do you think is possible, misterb?

  • It would seem to me that “selling out” would probably consist of finding some major corporate entity to buy your site from you and then keep you on as the main attraction, while they’d then be able to plug you as being part of their empire. Think Engadget or IMDb or Xbox360Fanboy.com.

    As far as the Penny Arcade model goes, couldn’t you get a business manager who’d not be on salary, but who would instead earn a percentage of all site profits? That way they’d be well-motivated to increase your site revenues.

    Either way, I appreciate all your hard work on the site and I hope you can find some way to get more money out of it without reducing the quality.

  • TempestDash

    Considering how you have a fairly well regarded reputation as being an intelligent and respected critic, there clearly is nothing wrong with your work. You get income from Film.com, too, right?

    I’d reach out and talk to some of these blogger/writers who are supposedly doing so swell and get advice. You certainly deserve to live off this website.

    The internet is not as lucrative as it used to be but there is should still be room for people like you to live comfortably.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    You get income from Film.com, too, right?

    A bit. But that’s additional work. And a handful of newspapers run some of my reviews and pay small reprint fees, but again: that’s a whole seperate issue from what *this site* earns, or doesn’t.

    couldn’t you get a business manager who’d not be on salary, but who would instead earn a percentage of all site profits? That way they’d be well-motivated to increase your site revenues.

    Seems to be that someone that good would be more motivated to work for a company that could actually pay them a salary. I don’t like being asked to work for free, and I’d be reluctant to ask someone to do the same.

  • JoshDM

    MA,

    You need to set up some standardized cut-n-paste mass-mail responses to e-mail questions and use them.

    For example, when someone asks you if so and so actor was in whatyacallit movie, or anything similar, give serve that person with a pre-snark-filled e-mail that directs them to IMDB.

    And make sure the pre-generated e-mail/letter lets the reader know that they are getting a standardized response to go RTFM (read the fucking manual / in movie terms, check IMDB).

    I’d love it if my local TV-question-answering-guy from my local newspaper (Tom Jicha) prefaced each column he writes with a 2-sentence paragraph to go check IMDB; that would curb half of the questions that people asked him so he could focus on answering ACTUAL questions about TV/Film, but if he did do such a thing, he might put himself out of a job.

    Also, old people (South Florida) are notorious for not having the internets, so there is that.

    Now go watch Kentucky Fried Movie already. It’s been a few years on the request queue.

  • JT

    Or write up an FAQ and link it along the top or in the ‘who i am’ section.

  • Wish you could improve your fun/stress/work ratio, or I had the mad skillz or closer geography to help. I do refer people to your site, where they become instant addicts, and have persuaded at least one friend to buy your book… I’ll have to buy a few more copies as presents. =^)

    I’m also in the same boat with Jurgan when it comes to “Enough with the ‘MaryAnn says…’ already!” *chuckle*

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    You guys are great. Thanks for all the kind words.

    You need to set up some standardized cut-n-paste mass-mail responses to e-mail questions and use them.

    That’s pretty much the situation now.

  • Drave

    I’d work for you for free. Unfortunately, I don’t actually know anything about marketing, and I live on the opposite side of the country from you, so I can’t be much help with the day-to-day stuff, either. *sigh*

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