The Women's World Cup had everyone talking about soccer in the summer of 1999
Like any new entrepreneur, I worked feverishly to build my new "baby" into as strong a business as I could. I beefed up the subscription and advertising base, I hired some new writers and photographers, and often pulled all-nighters finishing up stories and laying out the magazine on the day before we went to press.
And I loved every minute of it!
Over the first year or so, it seemed as if all the hard work was paying off. Advertising revenue doubled during that time, and circulation started to climb, as well. In the summer of 1999, the Womens World Cup was played in the United States, and became such a huge success that the whole country was suddenly talking about soccer.
I thought I was on my way to becoming the next Rupert Murdoch. But there was trouble brewing that neither I, nor any one else in the publishing industry was yet able to foresee.
First to suffer was the circulation. Many loyal subscribers soon found it was as easier to find their soccer news online than to wait for a monthly print publication to come out. Even at a modest $20 a year, it became difficult to maintian renewals.
Then the advertising revenue started to dry up, slowly at first, but more and more clients, it seemed, were dropping each year. Advertisers began to question the benefit of paying several hundred dollars a month to place a black and white ad on a printed page when they could often market their businesses just as effectively, and less expensively, online.
Before long, the company was in trouble, so much so that I had to take a day job selling newspaper ads, just to pay the bills, all the while working evenings and weekends on the magazine as I tried to figure out a workable business model.
It was that spell working in the corporate newspaper business that showed me just how much trouble my industry was in. Moreover, I was starting to feel like a bit of a dinosaur myself. Kids half my age seemed to have a better handle on the changing media landscape than me, a twenty-year veteran.
Far from being exhilarated by the fact that I was involved in a dynamic and exciting industry, I sometimes felt like I was standing on the deck of the Titanic, wondering if that loud scraping sound I heard a few minutes ago was anything I ought to be worried about.
I knew that Soccer New England needed a website, so I hired one of those web design companies that have built millions of well designed, but useless sites for countless doctors, dentists, lawyers and accounting firms all over the world. $7,000 later I had a beautiful site, but one that nobody ever visited. I did manage to get a few friends and subscribers to bookmark it, and even sold a handful of ads on it, but after a couple of years of dabbling in the web, I came to realize I hadnt really grasped this Internet thing quite yet.
It was a meeting with one of my best clients that finally convinced me I needed to do something about it.
Through all the ups and downs of Soccer New England there was this one client who had always been our staunchest supporter. Mike was our biggest advertiser and the kind of friend that every small business owner needs. There had been more than one occasion when, cash being tight, I had called Mike up to ask if he could cut that check he owed us a little earlier (like today!) to help us out of a bind. He had always been willing to oblige.
Mike liked the magazine, he liked me, he had a thriving business that saw the value of marketing, and he had a fairly substantial budget, at least by US soccer standards.
So in late-July, 2006, when I had a meeting scheduled to talk about his marketing needs for the upcoming season, I felt pretty confident that Id be walking out of his office with a decent sized contract, maybe even a check!
That feeling didnt last very long.
Almost as soon as I sat down, Mike explained that, while he still liked the magazine, he was diverting all of his marketing dollars for the upcoming year to upgrading his website and paying out affiliate commissions.
Huh? I didnt even know what affiliate commissions were, and here I had just lost my biggest client to them! As I walked out licking my wounds, I vowed that I would spend the next several days finding out all I could about affiliate commissions, website development and internet marketing.
I found out that there was this whole industry of affiliate networks out there, companies that exist for the sole purpose of helping website owners and merchants get together and manage the whole affiliate relationship. One in particular actually referred to site owners by a term I was familiar with. They didnt call them webmasters or affiliates or gurus, they called them publishers. How quaint.
Hey, thats what I am, I thought, and for the first time, I began to see a future for myself as a website publisher who could make money in the internet age.
If you're interested in finding out precisely how an old dinosaur like me was able to turn a love of soccer into an exciting, profitable business, go to my About SBI page and I'll tell you the rest of the story.