You Can Help Metropole

aimicale in chinatown
Chinese people help each other; so can Metropole people.

Not a Prize: Become a Famous Media Person

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Thursday, 22. January 1998:- During the week some readers received an email from me, requesting ideas for getting some funding for this magazine - Metropole. I only wrote to readers who have written, and responses have already included some good ideas.

From one reader I learned that there may be a misconception about how Metropole is presently funded. Metropole carries no paid advertising - all the posters, all the mentions of various companies or shops, all the coming events' mentions - all are editorial material.

What the Bon Marché, BHV, Samaritaine, Printemps or Galeries Lafayette may be doing in any particular week, is considered to be 'news' for the benefit of readers and visitors to Paris.

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed that I try to keep the mentions of the big department store names balanced. By the same token, I did not attempt to run a Christmas window competition last season, because the BHV could not participate for technical reasons.

Normally, when a publication is started, a 'zero' number is done and the commercial people take it around to ad agencies to find out if it will fly. Pretty much the same thing is done for all new media launches.

The Internet is a little different. It doesn't look like, taste like or smell like other media. The body of acquired knowledge and methods for other types of media doesn't apply here.

Because my resources are limited, I had no choice but to make Metropole's 'zero' number - the 'maquette' - the number 'one.' It was a bit of a risk when it started and it still is.

Who Wants Metropole?

Big media types would say, 'Metropole exists because readers asked for it.' This is not true. It may be true for an extra 20 channels of cable-TV, but it's not true for Metropole.

I figured out that people from around the world, who may be planning an expensive visit to Paris, have a right to know more about what they'll be getting. The Internet provides the technology to supply this information, right now.

Before starting, I decided that Metropole was going to boost all of Paris - and this means that nearly everybody gets a 'mention' at one time or another - and they all are, are in fact, news. The posters are a reflection of what is going on in Paris right now, just as much as a weather report.

So it is no secret that Metropole boosts Paris and Parisians. You might think the city would be willing to fund this magazine. That would chinatown fashion be nice for me; but it would make me a city employee - and Metropole's objectivity would be obviously compromised.

Thinking further along these lines, a whole raft of possible funding sources are eliminated. Helpful people ask me why I don't charge you - the readers.

There are three main reasons for not doing so.

First, you already pay to read Metropole; you pay your ISP and you pay teleco line charges.

Since most Chinese fashion is made of silk, it is really slinky.

Only some Metropole readers are regular; others read it when they are planning a Paris visit and others when they are looking for something specific, like Napoléon's birthdate. These readers don't want to be bothered by subscription forms.

The final reason is, while it might be technically possible to set up a 'micropayment' system - 'pay per read' - I don't like the idea and haven't the resources to put it in place in any case. Even if you want to send 25 cents for every page you read, I won't be able to handle it.

How Many Readers?

Newspapers, magazines, radio, broadcast TV and cable TV all have very approximate ways of calculating readership. They can ask a sample of 100 people of what they are buying to read, listening to, or watching, and multiply the number by 1,000 or 10 million, to get a rough result.

On these numbers, traditional media bases their advertising rates. They do not know if you look at every page in a newspaper or a magazine, they don't know if you are listening to the commercials on radio or watching them on TV - in fact, all they know is what you've told the survey people. And this is converted into 'facts.'

Meanwhile, over here in 'newmedia,' I get a list of statistics every month from Metropole's host server. This is from computer software that counts 'hits.'

Actually, it counts 'page-reads' rather than 'hits' because a Web 'page' may contain many items, and if I counted each of these it would give me a high but phoney number. If I used this and I wanted this number to be higher, I'd just put more items on the page. So, 'page-reads' it is.

Helpful people ask how many readers Metropole has. I try to look smart when I say, "I don't know exactly," but it never comes off well. Metropole sits on a small server, just south of Paris, which does count the requests for 'pages' it gets. The problem is, it doesn't get all of the 'requests.'

This is why: as an example, take AOL and its 10 million subscribers. Suppose 5,000 of them wanted to read Metropole all at once. AOL's servers would ask my little server for 5,000 pages, but my server can't handle this volume of traffic. 'Server busy,' it would say. But 5,000 readers won't ask all at once.

When one AOL reader gets a Metropole page directly from my server in France, this page is then copied and saved on an AOL server called a 'proxy-server.' The next AOL subscriber to ask for samaritaine inde the same page, gets it straight from this AOL 'proxy-server,' not from Metropole's host server in France. This saves unnecessary traffic on the Internet.

AOL has hundreds of these 'proxy-servers.' All of the other big operators have thousands of them. When you get a Metropole page from one of these servers, Metropole's host server in France can not 'count' it.

The only thing this photo has to do with Paris is that Samaritaine sent it to me as a reminder of their oriental in-store expo. The Bon Marché has one too.

There may be some magic number or 'rule of thumb' I'm supposed to use to extrapolate from the number of pages my host server distributes, but I do not know what it is. It is probably one of those - 'each newspaper sold represents three readers' - sort of number.

If I 'fixed' Metropole's code so that every request for a page came to the host server, then this server would overload, and this would cut access not only to Metropole, but all the other Web sites on the server. This is why everybody lives with 'proxy-servers.'

You Are Classy Readers

Instead of having a hard number for sheer quantity of readers, Metropole has quality readers. In December, the host server counted page requests from 64 countries besides the USA. For 2,149 pages, the software couldn't figure out from which country the request came from - it even counts these 'unknowns.'

In December, the number of pages transmitted jumped 20 percent over the November figure. Normally, the pages delivered fall off in mid-October and pick up again at the beginning of February. So instead of doing Christmas things, more people read Metropole instead. More than ever before.

Many Metropole readers come to France. I do not know how much you spend here, but there is a Paris office with some numbers; although they are not 'hard' numbers either. This office estimates an average visitor to Paris spends between 1,000 and 1,500 francs a day. French visitors tend to spend less because they are more likely to stay with relations.

Finally, on top of all the other guesswork; most Metropole readers really do have a computer and online access. Computer prices are always falling, but we all know a computer isn't the first thing you get after buying a refrigerator.

All in all, Metropole readers are pretty classy and you are not the poorest people in the world.

Dream Job? In Paris?

Some readers have accused me of having a 'dream job' here. I get to wander around Paris at will, and I'm on fairly good terms with the boss. Neither of us gets paid, but the 'dream job' itself should be adequate compensation.

Who, you may ask, gave me this job? Actually, a long list of former employers are responsible, going back 35 years, so it is a long story. Although I have lived and worked in the Paris area for over 20 years, I have only been looking at Paris for the last eight of them. Many things in Paris are as new to me as they are to some of you.

It is considered 'bad form' in publishing to talk about the hardships of the job, unless you're on a mission for the National Geographic Society magazine, in which case you always have to put up with extreme conditions.

The 'hard-nut' of Paris is that it is so big. It is too big for one guy to cover - the same guy who is the photographer, cartoonist, managing editor, Hed Ed, and who does the 'reader's letters.' I do the secretarial too and answer the phone.

I like doing Metropole every week. Every completed issue is as much a surprise to me as it may be to you. Usually, on Tuesday evenings, I have no idea about next week's contents. On Wednesday morning, half of it is a possibility. Then all I have to do is go and get it.

To do this, I have Wednesdays and Fridays available to be 'on the street.' Early in the week I recover from the issue just done and reply to reader's letters. I have a family and I run a car-pool with four kids, who go to three different schools. This ruins Tuesdays and Thursdays completely, except for setting up dates.

It doesn't leave much time for doing the magazine.

Who Pays To Produce Metropole?

I do.

Now that Metropole is in its third year the fat man of publication, it is time to get it funded somehow. You want more Metropole and I want Metropole to have more 'voices,' not just this mono-babble we've all been living with.

Metropole still has no commercial department to go around banging on ad agency doors. We don't want spot - blinking, flashing - 'banner' ads, do we?

What can I tell them anyway? Metropole has modest, but rising, numbers. The 'proxy'-factor is unknown. Metropole's readers have computers and some of you can even afford to visit Paris.

It is not quite like the 'Fat Lady' singing, but the show can start anytime now.

What about this: if Metropole is to be funded, who would you like to do it? You understand, this would maybe mean a neat little logo on every page, and a couple of pages saying nice things about the people paying the bills.

Since this is going to be in your face - why shouldn't you choose who it is?

If we get some names together, we can even vote for a favorite. Imagine it: Metropole's readers choose who the sponsor is to be. It will be a media 'first' if we can pull it off!

If it works, we will all be 'famous media people.'

And I'll be able to hire an unemployed French kid to drive the car-pool and maybe do some light housecleaning around here.

If you've got any ideas all of us can use, just write me.

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