[Something More]

The Depressing State of the Horror Community

Depressing Times

The horror community, we’re a ferociously passionate bunch. And contrary to what most outsiders might think of us weirdos who are obsessed with horror movies, we’re not violent, evil people. We’re often very sweet and kind people. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we push ourselves to be intrigued, to be frightened, to know ourselves. From that can come understanding and empathy for the human condition.

I was a pretty lonely child, in the sense that my love of horror movies was pretty exclusive to me, in my own little world. I never really had any friends or family that could relate to excitedly talking about the creative ways Jason would kill people for hours at a time. It really wasn’t until the internet became more mainstream that I could truly flex my curiosity muscle and find my people, my horror geeks. I think it’s always an epiphany when you realize “Oooh, it’s not just me!” Other people will happily nerd out with me about the super specific details of movie land, stories, characters, masks, weapons, special effects, blood, gore, soundtracks, etc.

Of course, among those horror fans of us that like to write about it, we’re all readers first. I can’t remember what came first for me, magazine publications like Fangoria or strictly online publications, but in terms of websites anyway, I first sunk my teeth in with UHM, I was right there with Bloody Disgusting since the very beginning (2001), and have come across many others that just begins to scratch the surface.

I think the most amazing thing about our community is that we’re not competitive, we delight in any good content, wherever we can find it. After all, we’re all really just fans of the people that actually do the real work: making the damn movies in the first place. While some strictly commercial horror websites have come out in recent years with a staff of writers and money to promote their brand right out of the gate, trying to capitalize on “the horror craze,” I think most of us horror sites started out as just one person, writing about stuff we liked for fun.

Although most of us started out with the truest and most altruistic of intentions, with making money with our sites not even an afterthought, as we got older, we realized the unfortunate truth that’s beaten into all of us eventually, that money makes the world go ’round. Halloween Love has always been about having fun, sharing with horror readers, who are no different from us, our peers. I was able to support that fun out-of-pocket for a long time, until I couldn’t anymore.

After writing that update a few months back, a fellow horror fan, one Jimmy Champane (writer for BD), suggested that I give Patreon a try, which I did. Though, I never really announced or campaigned for it in any way, I just quietly updated the site with a tip jar heart link that if people happened to stumble upon and click, could leave us a small donation. Jimmy, very sweetly, left us our first tip, but no others have come in since, and after the depressing trend that seems to be hitting the community, I think I’m glad there weren’t any more.

I’ve had many a private discussion with fellow horror bloggers about the economic state of the community, and the general consensus is that you’re either the number #1 horror site or you’re not making any money. Bloody Disgusting is clearly the king of the hill, the most popular horror website in the world, and they fuckin’ earned it, from the ground up. There seems to be some resentment, jealousy, or whatever in the community, as is inevitable when you’re the most popular kid. But, it really all comes down to one thing, pounding that keyboard, day after day, putting the time in, creating great content. If you put in 15 years doing anything, there’s nothing about making money that you can call selling out. It’s called a career.

I’m almost a decade too late to ever reach what BD has achieved, but I thought at least I might be able to carve something out for myself? I always assumed that at least websites that were in 2nd, or 3rd place, sites like Dread Central, must at least be doing okay? Well, after today’s announcement, my naivety was set straight. If Dread Central, a site infinitely larger than Halloween Love is in the same boat as us, following suit, putting up the white flag, and launching their own Patreon page, what business do we have being on there?

After just one day, they’re going to hit their goal. UPDATE — Actually, I thought their top goal was $1k (which is probably all we’d need here at HL), but if you expand the “Goals” section on their Patreon page (pointed out to me by a few people, including Steve of Dread Central himself), they actually need a minimum of $7.5k/month to sustain their current operations! That is a very important detail and huge distinction. And they absolutely deserve it, don’t get me wrong. But, now, my gut feeling is to delete our Patreon page because the trend is just so depressing, and if a site like Dread Central is asking for $1/month, the lowest you can ask, how do we have any right to ask for the same? It takes a lot of guts to ask for help, and I respect everything Dread is doing, but I can’t be apart of this trend. Really, that’s kind of a moot point though, to be honest. Even if I felt right about rallying for readers to help, asking directors we know to pitch in a word of support, etc., it just wouldn’t happen. We don’t have the readers, the years, the juice to get that kind of support.

I’ll keep our Patreon page up, but I’ve disabled the monthly feature, so that it really is just your basic one-off tip jar or donation type feature, for people to use if they decide to on their own, not from us asking them to. While I fully respect others for whatever steps they need to take for survival, the only way I know to help Halloween Love survive, is to just accept the fact that we’ve probably hit our peak for readership, popularity, whatever you want to call it. We just don’t have commercial appeal and that’s okay. We just need to remain genuine, do our best, and keep doing what we love, even if we remain a small fish in a very big pond and aren’t able to keep the content coming in daily.

Make no mistake though, I fully understand that passion can only take you so far, and I must admit that because of money, we’ve taken a few hits. Without money, you can’t passion your way through spending time writing when you need to be earning money elsewhere and obviously, you can’t afford to pay writers any longer. Our biggest blow in terms of losing the content battle came when I could no longer afford to pay John Squires, a very popular writer, who used to write for both Halloween Love and Dread Central actually. I wanted nothing more than to be able to hire John, Martyn, or any writer full-time, but I couldn’t.

It wasn’t long after that he was picked up by BD, who could afford to pay him. Was I mad at John; was I mad at BD? Of course not. I was very sad to see John go, sure, but it had nothing to do with business. What HL was and has always really been about, is that lonely child that just wanted people to relate to, to play with. I’m sad because I’ll miss the neato content he brought to the sandbox. But, on the flip-side, it was awesome to see John rise through the ranks and make it to the most popular horror site in the world, where even more people can enjoy his writing, and he can enjoy some financial security that he worked his ass off to earn.

With this latest news from Dread Central, I think that pretty much paints the picture. If Dread’s not doing great, you can expect that that’s the case for all the rest, iHorror, Shock Till You Drop (bought by CraveOnline), FEARnet (bought by Chiller/NBC), etc. Even Bloody Disgusting had a minority stake purchased by a mysterious company called “The Collective.” I only say mysterious because it’s very difficult to pinpoint a website or other traces of its existence. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

In any case, the point I’m making is that it seems to be that you either remain on the fringes, like Halloween Love probably always will, or if you have any real chance of making money, you need to be popular enough (meaning a lot of traffic to your website) that a larger company wants to own a stake and give you a boost of resources, merge with you, or buy you outright.

The days of running a horror site independently and making decent revenue, if those days ever existed, seem to be gone. But, I would of course be happy to be wrong, if anyone wants to correct me with examples of horror sites that are financially successful, or if the experiment Dread is trying with Patreon turns out to be a bigger success than just alleviating some financial burdens. But, even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be able to be replicated by other sites. In fact, if too many sites start joining Patreon, that could diminish its power a bit. I’m sure readers are happy to drop a few bucks for sites here and there, but if it starts to become an issue where every site is asking for compensation, it’ll become something different, something bitter.

So, just what the hell is actually happening? Why is it that things are this way? I think social media has had a HUGE impact on the way websites operate, and not just in terms of ad revenue. Most people prefer the comfort of digesting content directly on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, many of our readers will only leave social media just to read an article, but return quickly to comment on the post that was shared on social media instead of the actual article itself. I’ve seen a trend for some brands even to go as far as to skip having a website at all and just use social media.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the state of psychology and technology and the fact that people are addicted to their phone and social media, as that’s common knowledge in 2016. But, it’s gone so far, that it’s actually disrupted the website, and even Google. A website seems stale, lifeless. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Why comment on a website if no one is going to see it? Why not comment on social media where it might actually be seen and engaged? Believe me, for corporations and marketing agencies, these trends haven’t gone unnoticed. Why buy ads on Google, why buy ads direct from a website, when you can buy Facebook or Twitter ads with better targeting, more engagement, and more bang for your buck?

So, while horror in general is a pretty big market, when it comes to advertisers, it’s actually pretty niche. In other words, if you’re going to bother buying ads to promote something horror-related from an actual site at all, why not purchase advertising from the #1 horror site that will attract the most views and clicks? And if they can’t afford BD, why not just buy ads on social media for cheap and target BD readers anyway? And if they’re really poor, well then they’ll just spam the rest of us smaller horror sites to try and get us to promote their stuff for free ;).

While it really is frustrating that I receive emails every single day from people trying to get me to advertise something for free, where if only one person a month actually bought an ad it would make a huge difference, I still get it. I understand the hustle of trying to share something in a world that’s competing for your attention in a million different ways. Organic exposure, or something going “viral,” nowadays, is really just an orchestrated and very expensive marketing campaign.

Just having something good isn’t enough anymore. You need money to have the ability to let people know of its existence above all the other noise. That’s why I’ve tried to come up with tools for horror promoters to promote their own stuff for free. Because I really do support horror and want to help people promote their stuff, but obviously I can’t just write a preview or review for ever Tom, Dick, or Harry that hits my inbox with the “Please share with your readers.” stick.

And for all you fans out there that are strictly readers, perhaps wondering what the hell is going on with content these days, why so many sites have resorted to weird tactics, spamming, click-bait headers, pointless rumors, some even plagiarizing, or simply disappearing altogether, here’s perhaps a peek behind the curtain, but probably to no one’s surprise, it all comes down to money. I don’t know whether to call it a double-edged sword, a “chicken or egg” dilemma, or what, but it’s certainly very tricky. One way or another, even if readers aren’t being charged, it costs money to create content, and it takes a lot of content to make money.

So, unfortunately, even though we just want to write and say “fuck off” to nasty, annoying, depressing concerns of money, it’s not as simple as just having the desire to create great content. It’s a privilege to be able to dedicate time to content. Your rent or mortgage has to be paid; food’s got to be put in the fridge.

I wish Dread Central, other horror sites, and the horror community as a whole the best of luck to conquer these hurtles and get back to having fun, what it’s really all about!

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