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Behind the scenes at BeefJack: On funding, ethics, and the tremendousness of transparency

Lewis Denby June 4, 2013 - 10:53 am

How is BeefJack run? How do we make our money? And how do we avoid the pitfalls and conflicts-of-interest that come with our field? Executive producer and former editor Lewis Denby lays the cards on the table.

When my position at BeefJack became less about the content on these pages, and more about the business of running a website, one of the big questions I was faced with was this: How do you successfully monetise a small, independently run games blog, in an age where small, independently run games blogs exist in such quantity?

Now, it’s no secret that most games publications are funded largely by advertising. Publishers buy ad space on websites and in magazines, whether directly or via a third party, which brings in the money that allows the website to function. It’s the gold standard of the specialist media, and has worked for a great number of successful websites over the years.

But the fact remains that more and more games blogs are launching every week, and each one adds to the fiercely competitive scene in such a way that advertising becomes a buyer’s market. The more blogs there are, the less essential your blog becomes to advertisers, and the less money those advertisers are willing to pay for a slot.

Over the years, we’ve tried a number of different routes to securing finances for the site, most of which involve the sale of ad space. We’ve worked with third parties, we’ve sold directly, and we’ve introduced bespoke ‘advertorial’ packages to meet the demands of a market which is increasingly rooted in text content-based digital marketing (don’t worry, we always label them appropriately). Regrettably, one of the things we’ve discovered during this time is that, for a publication of our scope and size (a non-mainstream, alt-focused site with between 200,000 and 400,000 unique readers per month), trying to fund ourselves exclusively through advertising presents little more than repeated dead-ends.

I don’t want to sit here and pretend that we don’t make any money from advertising – clearly we do, otherwise the site would be all lovely and ad-free. But the funds simply do not cover the costs of running the site. Not even close. The reality is, we need to get creative.

As you may know, BeefJack doesn’t just consist of a games website. We also have a game development studio, making games for a variety of clients as well as a couple of our own bits and pieces here and there. We do our best to funnel some of that money over to BeefJack.com, but it still doesn’t leave much breathing space for a small company like ourselves.

That in mind, I wanted to discuss a new initiative we’ve set up at BeefJack Studios. As of a couple of weeks ago, we are now offering PR and marketing services aimed at independent game developers. We’re fortunate at BeefJack to have a number of people working at Studios who have a great history in marketing, sales and PR, and I have spent the last few weeks assembling a new team dedicated to offering these services. We’ve already started working with a couple of clients, across a few exciting indie game projects. And I think we could be onto something.

At BeefJack, we strive for absolute transparency. I don’t want to go into the nitty-gritty of how rival publications make their money, though I will say that there is more going on than meets the eye in a number of high-profile cases. I’m not here to point fingers, and I certainly don’t want to trigger another debate about paid-for reviews and scores and suchlike (I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: to my knowledge, they simply don’t exist). But what I do know is that I don’t want any secrets here. They’re not useful for anyone, and I have too much respect for you lot, regardless of how ugly and smelly you all are.

So I want to lay this on the table: Yes, we’re a games website that also owns a property that makes its own games. Yes, that property also offers PR and marketing services for other indie games. And yes, we do funnel sums of this money back into BeefJack.com, to allow us to keep publishing the awesome articles that you come here to read. We want to start paying more people for their work, and paying fairer rates, even though we’re a small organisation. To do this, we need to make money. It’s a business, at the end of the day.

Since we launched this new service, I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the ethics of it all: if we’re publishing articles about games, but also offering PR and marketing services for other games, doesn’t that present a conflict of interest?

The key, I think, is again transparency. We’re not here to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. That in mind, we’ve been very clear internally about a couple of pillars we intend to uphold.

Number one: Editorial will function entirely separately from BeefJack Studios, in the sense that none of our writers or editors are also game developers, or marketing reps, or PR people. Moving forwards, we are going to ringfence teams. We want to ensure that, in the same way that most publications handle their ad sales, our journalists are never subjected to the politics of business in this way. They write what they want to write, under the ever-watchful eye of mighty editor Jamie. If we’ve sold a PR campaign to someone, just as if we’d sold them an ad campaign, this should not influence our editorial content.

Number two: If we write about a game we’re representing, or a game we’ve worked on, management will ensure that a full disclosure is added to the text.

In essence, I think this is the fairest way of doing things. By ringfencing teams, in the way that most publications ringfence their ad sales, I hope to protect our editorial integrity. And by adding full disclosures when BeefJack has partnered with any companies we’re writing about, I hope we can add an extra layer of transparency and honesty about the way we do business. We’ll never consciously allow these partnerships to affect the words we write, but we think it only fair that you know about their existence, so you can make up your own minds.

And, as with everything we do here at BeefJack, your feedback is going to be pivotal. If you have any questions or concerns about anything to do with the way we run things at BeefJack, my email inbox is always open at ldenby [at] beefjack [dot] com. I promise to read every one, will pass on relevant comments to our director, and will do my best to reply (the caveat being I obviously can’t discuss things like the specifics of how much money we make, or the details of our agreements with partners). I am constantly on the lookout for ways to make BeefJack a better place for everyone involved – whether that’s business partners, our staff, or – perhaps most importantly of all – the hundreds of thousands of people who come to our website every month and make all of this worthwhile. Because you’re all awesome. Even if you do smell a bit odd.

Warmest of well-wishes,

Lewis Denby
Executive Producer
BeefJack

About Author

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Lewis Denby

Lewis is BeefJack's executive producer. He manages projects, oversees new initiatives and looks after budgets. Back in the day, he used to write about games; if he's good, we still let him sometimes. View all posts by Lewis Denby →

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