Me making more media: how can it be sustained in 2017?

Yesterday I posted about having two big decisions to make, looking ahead to 2017.  Both decisions concern the various future of education and technology content projects I run, including the FTTE report and the Future Trends Forum. 

Thursday’s post was about possible changes to these productions, including new efforts and possible reorganization.  I learned a lot from people’s thoughtful feedback here and elsewhere (Twitter, Facebook, emails).  I’m grateful for that.

Today’s post is about sustainability.

How can we keep doing all of this media production?

FTTE logoIt’s not a new question, but remains an urgent one.  To recap: my business generates most of its revenue through speaking engagements and consulting (see here for the latest update).  FTTE research and Future Trends Forum discussions feed into that, helping keep my work fresh, current, informed, and tested.  From an economic perspective, creating all of this stuff is part of the cost of doing business.  Or it’s a loss leader.

Yet running these projects takes up a lot of resources, especially time.  FTTE is really a part-time job, taking around 2 hours/day throughout the year, plus up to a single day of production time for each monthly report.  The Forum is also the equivalent of a part-time job, when we factor in hunting down guests, arranging each session, arranging sufficient recording spaces (remember, videoconferencing requires bandwidth, and as host I can not afford iffy connections), and a lot of extra behind the scenes work.  If I add to these two a podcast and/or game development and/or Twitter chats etc., the resource investment grows further.

Forum discussion: Anya K. and Rachel M.

The Forum really takes off when there’s bandwidth!

Let me scope this out a little further.  I’m not talking about writing books.  Those have other issues, of course, especially in the 21st century, but they do offer publisher support.  I’m not talking about books in this post.

For important context, please recall that I, my wife, and our little firm are utterly independent.  We have no endowment.  No campus or other institution hosts us.  There’s no public (government) funding involved.  Yes, I have a connection to the New Media Consortium, but it’s not a paying one. Put another way, I don’t have an NMC job.  In the past I have done some very limited and specific work for them on spec, and hope to do more, because they’re awesome.  But that has always been NMC as a one client engaging me for a specific service and/or product, limited in time, and not to sustain my futures media work.  BAC, independent, is on its own.

There is no extended family money flowing into BAC. We are – literally – a mom and pop operation.  Again, we’re on our own.

Ceredwyn and Bryan in mirror

So, in that context, can we make all of this futures media production support itself?

There’s been some success on this front so far.  NYSERNet generously supported FTTE in 2016, and I hope to continue that relationship.  Shindig has contributed not only their technology to power the Forum videoconference, but also significant staff time in the production process, which is excellent.

FTTE donate buttonIn addition, over the past two years I’ve experimented with asking people to contribute to FTTE if they’d like to, through the “pay if you like, as much as you like” option.  There have been results, but scanty ones.  Fewer than 5% of people who sign up to the report actually contribute.  The amounts tend to be under $10, and are one-time additions, rather than regular payments.  Each contribution is much appreciated!… but, so far, are not enough in aggregate to float the ship.

What else can or should we do?  Here are some options that have come up in conversation with other people, and through my research.

  1. Expand sponsorships.  These could be from businesses or nonprofits or families.  They could sponsor individual productions, or the whole combination.
  2. Set up a Patreon account for some or all of my future of education production.  Contributions would fuel my videos, podcasts, reports, and more.
  3. “ “ “ Kickstarter for a specific project, such as a podcast season, or an FTTE run, or Forum season.  I’d happily create good things for higher donors, such as special reports and unique meetings (videoconference or in person, depending).
  4. Launch in some other crowdfunding platform.
  5. Run ads, depending on the medium.
  6. Seek an institutional host or sponsor.
  7. Charge for some content, such as FTTE or special reports.
  8. “ “ face-to-face future of education workshops based on this work.  (I already do a little of this)
  9. Change nothing, and accept that these media projects are costs to bear, supported by other aspects of the BAC enterprise.
  10. Do less of this media production work in order to free up time for other tasks and services.
  11. Other?

Each of these has different costs, implications, and affordances, which I can get into if people like.

What do you think?  What would you advise?

I’m blogging here to brainstorm and seek your feedback.  I appreciate in advance your honesty and creativity.  As ever, of course, I also appreciate and am humbled by your support.

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20 Responses to Me making more media: how can it be sustained in 2017?

  1. nukem777 says:

    All of the above! Also, you have about how many email subscribers? How about a one week banner like Wikipedia asking for donor support?

  2. Cathy says:

    I think the Patreon route, where you have a steady income from a large number of people would provide you with more peace of mind.

  3. nukem777 says:

    Have you considered a Slack channel for some volunteers to help you with administrivia?
    And a Medium page for Best Ofs from all your various portals? One stop shopping 🙂

  4. ted newcomb says:

    Have you consdiered a Slack channel for volunteers to help with administriva?
    And a Medium blog for “Best Ofs” from your various portals? One stop shopping 🙂

  5. VanessaVaile says:

    Let me say up front, I’ll pitch in digitally (behind there, another story tl;dr, not permanent though) and verbally (free advice), but, living on social security, that has to be about it. If you’re a mom and pop business, I’m granny with a cart

    Which projects contribute the most toward building a client base? Which nourish your spirit? Both?Blog and forum are my favorites. I skim the report for items I missed on my own feeds — not so many but it’s a good check for me. FB and Twitter are handy for on the fly when I am already there anyway. Personally, I’m hoping for podcasts, which are also effective marketing

    • Thank you for the offers and thoughts, Vanessa.

      “Which projects contribute the most toward building a client base?” FTTE and the Forum seem to be about equal.

      “Which nourish your spirit? Both?” Yes, different parts of me.

    • Maha Bali says:

      I have somehow managed to miss the report! Is that monthly? Could it be done in a way that takes less time or done less frequently to save u time….e.g. bimonthly?

      I have a pretty good idea how much time it takes to do sthg like FTTE forum because of course vconnecting is similar (probably a bit more work to get guests on, but less work per individual because we have so many volunteers… So Slack suggestion may help you – but if people help you, I am sure you will find a way to reward them even if it’s not possible to do so financially).

      I was gonna offer writing (not books, but for magazines and such, e.g. let em host your report) for a fee, but i figure that’s unlikely to be substantial, financially. But ur THE Bryan Alexander. Would writing a weekly or monthly post for a big edu mag be worth something? Financially, I mean, more than they would pay for writers w less of a reputation?

      I have a feeling there’s an idea just outside my grasp right now, a flipped idea,but it’s eluding me. I will sleep on it and come back.

      • My dear Maha, writing for a fee is a fine idea. I’ve done some of that for various enterprises. Are there any you have in mind?

        Now, FTTE and the Forum are two different things.

        FTTE is a monthly report. It’s around 3000 words, very condensed.

        The Future Trends Forum uses the #FTTE hashtag, but is another animal. That’s the weekly videoconference.

  6. Joe Murphy says:

    Kickstarter strikes me as an interesting way of working in public, since it implies a willingness to disclose some of your costs. It could also position these activities as explicitly experimental, in that the expansion happens (and perhaps continues) in direct relationship to people’s willingness to pay for it. (This goes against your loss leader concept, of course, which is something to think about. People can get pretty entitled over their Kickstarter donations/investments/purchases.)

    I feel like I see more interesting “walled garden” activity on Patreon than Kickstarter. Some of my creators use Patreon like a private blog, and there seems to be more community interaction on Patreon posts than Kickstarter updates. I think this comes from the fact that I’m funding “creators” more than particular “projects”. (This is more a semantic distinction than a practical one, since there’s close to a 1:1 correspondence between creators and creative projects. But I brought it up, so the semantics must matter.) It also isn’t a representative sample, so YMMV.

  7. emdalton says:

    I wonder if there is anything you could do re: a subscription or consulting model with this? And/or zapbox, which adds interactivity and mixed-reality to a google cardboard like setup. Or any other kind of implementation consulting. Maybe that’s not your gig. The world also needs more “analytics literacy” so people don’t put their faith in simplistic click-counting systems. We’re working on some aspects of that at Moodle HQ. Do you think there’s an opportunity for collaboration there? We’re trying to extend Moodle past the locked-in model of most LMS designs. Contact me if you’d like to discuss this further.

  8. Bryan…thank you for your transparency and openness to asking your community to brainstorm with you models for economic sustainability as an independent scholar.

    Does your network include someone from a technology or publishing company – or a foundation or professional organization – that works in higher ed?

    Some smart company or foundation or professional organization should hire you to help them in their communications, messaging, and outreach to higher ed. It would be in their interest for you to remain independent – and to be critical of the organization that you are working with. (And of course to disclose any financial connections).

    I know that I no longer will take calls, read e-mails, or attend events for edtech companies or other organizations where I don’t have a prior relationship with the people working at the place. However, if you interested me to a person (or a product or a service) then I would give my full attention.

    For instance, I have no idea what Google or Microsoft are now doing in higher ed. If you could understand what they are doing – and explain it to us – then I think that would be a great service to Google or Microsoft.

    For relatively low dollars from a Google or Microsoft perspective (or some Foundation) they could get some of your ideas, your attention, your network, and your unmatched skills in relationship building. Again, the more independent, open, and critical of everyone you are the better – they should want that criticism because it brings authentic communication and legitimacy.

    Why big companies and foundations (and professional organizations) are not beating down your door I don’t understand (maybe they are?).

    • Good question, Joshua.
      And a tricky one. I caught enormous amounts of flack by working with Adobe last year (especially from people who didn’t actually read my work). Back in the NITLE days everything we did was seen through a Mellon Foundation lens (they were the initial and generous supporters for years).

      Are there examples of this kind of relationship you can point to?

  9. File this under “Other”: I have been looking closely at Clark Aldrich’s small sims ( recent article here: or here:

    I would love to see you turn your ‘futurism’ skills into short sims whose purpose is to show how they too can be futurists.
    Or how about a short sim on online book clubs. I am already planning on stealing your format and use it in my own classes why not create short sims on how to do it. I think companies/universities/NGO’s etc. might be wanting a little more handholding than just a set of instructions. You have made the online book club work. Maybe you can share that with others.

    You are ideally situated and suited to the job of gamified ‘splainer. Just a thought.

  10. Pingback: Crowdfunding my future of education work in 2017 | Bryan Alexander

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