Friday, October 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm.

Adventures in self-publishing: SplatF’s first quarterly report

Dan FrommerHoly cow, it’s already been three months since I started publishing SplatF. Among other clichés: Time flies when you’re having fun.

As I’ve noted all along, one of the reasons I’m doing this is to see if self-publishing online is a viable business. (For some context, see my notes after one month here.) So how about a quarterly “earnings” call?

  • Highlights of the past couple of months: Some great links in from Fred Wilson and other people I respect, real grown-ups following the @SplatF Twitter account, continued appearances on CNBC and G4TV, a random shout out from Jeff Bezos, launching my Creators and Employee of the Month series, and the fact that most people are still returning my calls, even if I don’t have a global news brand behind me anymore.
  • Traffic has more than doubled since the first month. In September, about 130,000 people visited SplatF, generating 220,000 pageviews. Still small! I frequently got that many pageviews per day at my last gig. But if I can eventually double those numbers again, and again, and again, I will be in great shape.
  • The most important thing I care about is attracting happy, long-term, repeat readers, rather than one-day spikes. That takes a while. But I’m hopeful, as thousands of visits were a person’s 15th or more, according to Google Analytics. Other good proxies include the @SplatF Twitter account, which now has 2,300 followers, and the SplatF RSS feed, which has 3,200 subscribers.
  • The most popular stories, among 325 posts: Analyzing the Netflix-Qwikster move, defending the iPhone 4S, my post arguing that Apple is making its iPhone user experience worse by forcing developers to remove links to external stores, my 500-day review of the iPad, and pondering what Apple should do with its iPod business.
  • Top traffic referrers include Techmeme, Twitter, and Daring Fireball. I’ll probably write about this in more depth someday, but it’s amazing how much Twitter influences how someone like me or Michael Arrington or Brian Lam can start a new site and immediately have thousands of readers. This sort of endeavor would be much harder without Twitter. (Obviously, most of it has to do with the work we did before our new sites. But Twitter is the glue that connects us with our readers, and that’s really cool, and something that didn’t used to exist. It’s obvious why Facebook and Google are trying to get a piece of that.)
  • Infrastructure costs are still relatively low, though a bit higher than before. I bumped up the RAM in the SplatF virtual private server to better handle traffic spikes. And I started using Amazon’s CloudFront CDN to cache images and other static files, which has taken a big load off my web server for a surprisingly low cost. All-in, it still only costs about $50 per month to keep the site up, while maintaining complete control. That’s even lower than my coffee budget.

So, this self-publishing thing: Is it viable? So far, so good, actually. Thanks to my ad partner SAY Media, the business side is starting to look real. To use Paul Graham’s term, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been “ramen profitable” since the get-go, between SplatF, my part-time work at Business Insider, and some freelance writing I’ve done. And as traffic grows, revenue will too.

I still have a bunch of other ideas for things to work on, but it looks like SplatF will be able to pay for the time I spend on it, which has been my goal all along. And from there, we’ll see. (One thing I’m not interested in doing is taking any outside investment for the site. While I’m flattered by the suggestion, that’s not something that would make sense for a one-person operation.)

In the meantime, thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and suggestions; get in touch. And, if you promise not to tell, I might actually take the rest of the afternoon off for the first time since I started publishing.

Previously: Adventures in self-publishing: Here’s what a month-old news site looks like