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Cover image for The Nordly — Final Grant Report
The Nordly

The Nordly — Final Grant Report

Jonathan Gershberg
Editor-in-chief of The Nordly
・4 min read

Here we are at the end of our project. It has been a wild ride for the team behind the greatest (and only) satire site in Minnesota, one that we were so honored to have the opportunity to take.

Project Update

At the conclusion of our project, we are confident that we made the best written topical satire Minnesota has ever seen, made possible by Grant for the Web. We generated more, better content, created by a diverse group of contributors on timely topics relevant to our hyper-local readership. However, despite these achievements, we still struggled to generate significant Coil subscriptions.

Progress on objectives

Immensely Scaled Up Production
In the 10 months of our grant we’ve produced as many articles as we did in the two years prior! In short, this grant allowed us to more than DOUBLE PRODUCTION in less than a year. This demonstrates the value of having the resources to compensate writers for their work.

Supported Diverse Group of Local Writers
This increase in production was in large part thanks to the work of our staff writers, a group that represents the diversity of our state. Because of their efforts, more than 50% of content was produced by writers from underrepresented groups.

This may be the objective we are most proud of accomplishing. Comedy is an industry dominated by white men, and we were determined to not let The Nordly be part of that problem. Instead, it became a space that championed voices rarely given a platform in satire and Minnesota media at large.

Not surprisingly, the quality of the writing, and the breadth of subject matter have dramatically improved thanks to a more diverse group of writers, which has allowed us to reach new audiences. Not only is it the right thing to do, but prioritizing a diverse team has paid dividends in many other ways.

We Published a Book!
Although we greatly underestimated just how much time and energy it would take, we finally finished a satirical book about Minnesota culture called How to Minnesota, that is available for Coil subscribers. They include some great graphics Check it out!

One Big Challenge - Coil Subscribers
Despite the success above the one thing we were not successful in doing was driving new Coil subscriptions. Could we have done a more aggressive subscription acquisition campaign? Yes. But our revealed some structural issues that prevented adoption among our fan base.

The biggest feedback we’ve received is that the extra steps of downloading an extension, or using a specialized browser, prevented people who would otherwise be interested from subscribing.

Also, our experimentation with the 100+20 model did not generate nearly the number of subscriptions we thought it would. While it is hard to pinpoint exactly why each reader didn’t decide to subscribe to read that extra paragraph of jokes, we have a theory that reveals a bigger problem with the online written satire industry.

In conversations with the editors of similar sites across the country, we have heard that many are shifting to shorter form content, more akin to meme pages. Our data show that most readers tend to read headlines mainly on social media, and never click on the link to the site in the first place. Then the vast majority will skim the article (avg article pageview time is <30 seconds), and once they get the gist of the joke, they leave the site.

This means that our incentive of putting a few extra jokes, or even a whole article, behind a paywall didn’t work, because most readers already got what they came for - the headline.

In short, audience demand is changing, and longer-form satirical articles may be read by less people, rather than a mass market product.

Because of all these factors—even as our site traffic increased significantly — Coil revenue remained flat and negligible during the entire grant period.

We hope that in the future there will be a big enough adoption of Web Monetization that would be able to bring in significant revenue for sites like ours.

Communications and marketing

Press Coverage
The biggest newspaper in the Twin Cities, The Star Tribune, did a large, glowing feature on us in the Variety section (which is particularly funny given just how many articles we have devoted to making fun of them).

This feature was the best advertising a site could ask for, and immediately spurred the expansion of our audience beyond our typical audience of young, urbane Minneapolis residents, to include older folks in the surrounding suburbs.

Social Media
Thanks to the social media wizardry of Maddie Spott, one of our staff members, our audiences have increased more than 200% across platforms in the last 10 months.

What’s next?

We are so grateful to have this opportunity to experiment with Web Monetization and fully realize the potential of what an equity-focused regional satire can be.

We believe that once our collective efforts spur a large-scale adoption of the web monetization model, when a Coil subscription is just as ubiquitous as a Netflix subscription, it could be the main driver of our site revenue.

Until then, Web Monetization will continue to be one of the many ways, including ads and direct contribution, that readers can help sustain this little Midwestern comedy website that will continue to mercilessly mock the mayor of Minneapolis.

Additional comments

Huge thanks to Ayesha Ware and the rest of the GftW team for everything! Because of your support, we believe that we are at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we sustain vital digital community resources, like local satire sites.

Discussion (1)

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radhyr profile image
Radhy

Congrats for The Nordly team for completing the grant project 👏👏👏