BY LISA MARIE BASILE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & CREATIVE DIRECTOR
On October 31, my staff and I relaunched Luna Luna Magazine. Actually, let me clarify: I forced a relaunch. Fed up with WordPress and its forever-glitchy plugins and crashing themes (we're a volunteer staff who operates late-night from our bedrooms, and we don't have a tech support team), I made the switch to Squarespace. I even bought a brand new URL (to hell with SEO! Just kidding, that's a huge pain point).
This overhaul wasn't conventional, at least not for a content-focused publication. But I wanted something beautiful, something that could create the magic reading experience we envisioned, and I wanted something that reflected our aesthetic. I also wanted that something to be easy for our team, since we're mainly updating on the go. Ah, such is the glamorous life of a niche internet magazine. There were plenty of others variables, and I won't pretend I knew everything, but I believe in big fucking risks that positively impact long-term sustainability.
I made a frightening decision to change our editorial focus and voice too. This is to say that I had push-back as well as major support. A lot of tense G-chat debates and in-person conversations. A lot of excellent points made all around. A lot of weighing clicks versus craft. A lot of wondering if Luna Luna Magazine was repetitive, redundant, messy, wonderful, necessary, unique or impactful.
Joanna (our managing editor and the one I've worked most closely with for the better part of a year+) wanted to ensure the magazine's success in practical ways: consistently publishing content, making sure our pageviews were growing. I too wanted that, but I struggled with the things that tended to make things clickable. I refused to let Luna Luna Magazine become yet another Click This Headline magazine. All things said, Joanna's eye for strong and shareable content has meshed beautifully with my stringent (aka relentlessly pushy) creative direction. (My boyfriend called me the 'witchy Anna Wintour', oh god.)
Intermission: No, for real, props to the Luna Luna Magazine team for being absolutely badass.
Part of the risk of relaunching this October was in cutting a portion of the kind of content we published. We had started as an edgy, darker arts & culture magazine in the summer of 2013, but we slowly became a daily feminist touch-point. The majority of our content focused on women's rights and feminist first-person essays. I loved this, and meeting so many incredible women and writers did things for my life that for which I am endlessly indebted. Our pageviews skyrocketed.
However, I fell and felt deeply out of touch with our content. I wanted to keep writing about women, but reduce any one niche focus in order to do more of everything: art, culture, the original occult vertical, confession, intersectional content and even bad feminism. We don't want to be perfect; we're explorers.
We were also publishing so much that I couldn't edit (9-5 jobs, am I right?). I couldn't work with my writers closely and I couldn't go through with a fine-tooth comb to find the voices and perspectives we hadn't published already. I felt that there needed to be a way for me to connect with my writers as much as our readers. After all, Luna Luna, as I envisioned it, was always a community for dialogue and opinion from the inside out. It was about creating a space for readers and writers to be friends, supporters and dreamers together.
Maybe I'm an idealist. Maybe I'm lacking a sense of entrepreneurialism. But no. I've worked in rigid corporate content institutions, and I've worked at startups where growth at lightspeed (sacrificing quality) was the dominating factor. I've written for clickbait paychecks and I've written beautiful essays that will probably never be seen again. And time and again, I come back to that which makes me proud, makes me uncomfortable, makes me feel I've collected a menagerie of perfect words.
Balancing that obsession with beauty and slow growth with the way the internet works is a struggle, I won't lie. After all, we want to be able to sell ad space on our new site. In my day job, I'm all SEO and headlines, but at Luna Luna, I can and will take the time to finesse it.
Since we relaunched, our bounce rate reduced by over 50% - a beautiful thing. Our older site (lunalunamag.com) had more pageviews of course (three years' worth), but people were leaving. Was it the site design? The content? We don't know. Now people are sticking around. Our return visitor rate shows we're building a beautiful community. And our top-viewed articles show that our readers are still coming for the art and staying for the intimacy. This is an area we'll continuously work on.
We have a long way to go. We have to pay our contributors. We have to build a more diverse editorial staff. We have to develop our regional focus (starting with NYC), and we have to do community work. We want to work with organizations, host readings, host speaking series, and throw networking parties. We want to grow sponsorship relationships and make a difference for people on and off the site. This takes time, money, discipline and vision, and we definitely have two of those things. You guess which.
Our goal is to fundraise for our writers this year, to say thank you, to sell ad spots, to steadily publish beautiful content that is unique and sometimes imperfect, to balance the light and the dark. We aim to balance the markers of actual real world site growth with a continued focus on selectivity and calculated aesthetic development. Those secrets we will keep, but we hope you'll come along.
And so, I leave you with some of our most popular content pieces as we ended 2015: