March 2019 marks the first time in the nearly 10 years of publishing the HBCU Digest that the publication will probably not earn enough income from advertising to meet its production costs for the year.
This is for a myriad of reasons, but chief among them is the increasing cost of hosting our print and podcast properties, paid subscriptions to more 75 newspapers and trade publications around the country from which we draw our information about HBCUs, pricing to keep our technology upgraded for file storage, recording, sound and video editing, and paying decent wages to interns and staff of the Digest. These are on top of the new costs required to advertise on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help our stories attract eyeballs, now that these sites have changed their algorithms to promote content that is not delivered by publishers, but by friends and relatives.
When I first set out to cover HBCUs, one of the major points of pride I had about doing this work was that it would always be free to the HBCU community. One of the significant challenges facing black colleges and universities is that our constituencies just don’t know enough about them. I believed that by learning more about their operations, the personalities, politics, and the policies which surround them, they would have a better chance of surviving by the will of an enlightened and empowered public.
I still believe that. But what I realize now is that the financing part of my work can’t be met without HBCUs and businesses within the HBCU community advertising to keep us in operation. And because many of our institutions do not have the means, or because digital media is not part of their short-term outreach strategy, the revenue to keep an independent site like this is suffering.
You’ve read in recent weeks my take on HBCUs which are less than transparent about their financial struggles until it reaches a breaking point. Their struggles are not tied to incompetence or criminality; they are just the unfortunate victims of how quickly and how dramatically higher education is changing as an industry, and how many of us outside of the college c-suite do not realize just how injured our campuses really are.
On our end, the Digest has tried a number of strategies to raise revenue without passing the costs onto readers. From selling t-shirts, to throwing parties, to posting job and event announcements, these efforts have made a small difference, but not consistently enough to carry the publication into a new future.
So as the publication charged with covering HBCUs, it is now my responsibility to write to all of you about my cautiously optimistic view of the future of the HBCU Digest, which is a subscription model we’ll be launching in full next Monday. A new platform for all written and audio content of the HBCU Digest will be located here, and I’ll be writing the majority of it. We will still receive letters from guest writers, you’ll still be able to comment, and the tone of the Digest will only get better as our revenue base returns and we are free of dedicating most of our time to begging for advertisers to support us.
Our archive will still be available at hbcudigest.com, and we will still solicit and create advertising campaigns for any HBCUs and black-owned businesses which wish to engage with our diverse international audience. We will still post jobs and event announcements.
Nothing will change about the Digest except the method by which it will or will not survive as a publication.
The investment from you, the reader, will be nominal. You’ll be able to have full access to all Digest content for as little as $1 and as much as $15 per month. You’ll be able to make one-time donations of any amount to see certain content. Giving more per month will grant access to content and other cool benefits like exclusive apparel and tickets to our events throughout the year, and content which will only be available to patrons.
Our goal is to attract enough donors where we are able to gross $6,000 monthly, but our ambitious goal is that among our more than 140,000 subscribers, enough people will give to help us gross $10,000 monthly to begin hiring a full-time staff of reporters and content creators.
And as a patron, you and I will have more access to converse about your opinions on the HBCU community, to debate topics and to exchange story ideas for possible coverage.
I understand that some of you may turn away from this model and the idea of paying for content. But over the next week, while all content will remain free, I hope that you will reconsider what the Digest has done for the community, and what it can continue to do with your support.
Without it, the Digest and its current revenue trajectory will likely have to significantly scale back or to suspend operations outright by August 1.
I sincerely appreciate all of your support over the years in reading and sharing the Digest’s content, and apologize in advance if this change forces you to leave our network of readers and advocates. But I hope that you will stay, and continue to improve and grow with us.
Thank you for everything, and I look forward to more great years ahead of serving our beloved sector.
Yours in Advocacy,
Jarrett Carter Sr., Founding Editor
Morgan State University, Class of 2003