Thanks for three great years. Now, about the future...
How to help us do the best possible work we can.
When we started Tone Madison three years ago, we didn't really know what to expect. We just thought we had something to offer, and chronicling the arts and culture scenes of Madison was a habit we just couldn't shake.
Madison, you've surprised us with your generosity and support. It's enormously gratifying to have an audience of people who actually care, who push us to do better, who turn our journalism into a bigger conversation. We've been extremely fortunate to have a group of contributors who bring depth, wit, integrity, and conscientiousness to the work, readers who support us through Patreon, and sponsors who get what we're doing.
The audience is the most important part of it—if our work isn't valuable to you, there's no point.
Looking at the years ahead, Tone Madison has a choice between surviving and thriving. We've spent a lot of time the past three years trying to figure out how to make this financially sustainable. The vast majority of the money that comes in is used to pay our contributors. I can't say the pay is lavish (though it's competitive with what other local outlets pay freelancers), but I think that asking people to write for free is just not right. I won't do it. I currently don't pay myself for work on Tone Madison, and won't until the site is profitable or self-sustaining on a much different scale. We don't spend money on wasteful overhead—we don't even have an office.
I believe that what we've done on a financial level is fundamentally responsible. We've gradually worked at creating multiple sources of revenue, with the long-term goal being that we're not overly dependent on any individual one. We've got ads, we have Patreon donors, we sell merch, and our events pull in some revenue. (We also pay the performers who play our events.) Over time, we've become more deliberate about strengthening each of these revenue streams.
We want to be able to not just keep paying contributors, but also bring in more of them and run more of their work, to and keep finding new ways to make work that improves this community. When you give to us through Patreon or attend one of our events or buy a koozie, shirt, or ridiculous magnet, just know that that's where the money is going—paying people who write our calendar previews (which is very hard work, especially in the fall when things get so busy in Madison), who write opinion pieces that challenge people to look differently at their city, who go out and do real reporting on the societal and business shifts affecting the arts in Madison, who create beautiful and frequently spit-take-worthy illustrations. More than 30 people have contributed to that work over the past three years. They're the real reason why we care about having this thing on a good financial footing.
While I deeply appreciate our advertisers and the work our sales team is doing to bring in more of them, I'm also aware that Tone Madison has to develop diverse revenue sources. I think there's a way for us to make ads one part of a healthy business model, and continued reader support will allow us to do that. Having that balance lets us focus on what makes Tone Madison valuable in the first place, and lets us work with individual advertisers in a meaningful way.
I'm confident that with your support, we can keep doing this work with an eye toward the future of media and the problems and promise of the ever-changing city around us.
So here's what I'm asking. If you're able to make a small monthly donation to our newly revamped Patreon, drop a few bucks on one of our merch items, or even give us a one-time gift through Square Cash, please do. The vast majority of it will be used to pay wonderful people for their work and what doesn’t end up in their pockets goes towards keeping the lights on. Our Patreon donors receive various perks, including free admission to our 3rd anniversary show on November 9 at Art In.
If you're not able to pitch in financially, but think the work we do is worth supporting, take a moment to tell your friends why, or even share stories, subscribe to our podcast and review it on Apple Podcasts, or join our email list. In return, we'll be as transparent with you as we can about how we go about our work, and we'll keep striving to create journalism that we and you can be proud of.