With any new business, there are bugs and hiccups to work out, constantly. Metaphysical Times is not immune to this. We are currently experiencing print production delays we need to inform you of.
We needed to see exactly what a cycle looked like so we could determine what worked and what didn’t work and make adjustments accordingly. We used our personal savings to cover costs to produce Beltane out of pocket so we could track costs and have an accurate idea of what it would cost to produce our vision of an issue and set our sales and other goals accordingly.
We have encountered some major issues and more than a few setbacks in our plans. We tried to ensure that our customers were affected as little as possible as we scrambled to keep things functional and produce the newspaper as intended. Several things have not gone according to plan and we are struggling more than we anticipated we would be at this point.
In the spirit of transparency, we feel it is best to let everyone know what is happening, how it will affect them, and why. While we have tried very hard to keep things going with as few disruptions as possible, there have been circumstances beyond our control and some of our own making that are having major impacts on our ability to produce and send out print copies on the expected schedule. The following issues are the one’s that have a major impact on both Beltane and Midsummer Print Issues and how we have or are fixing them.
Please believe with us that while we might be struggling at the moment, we are not bowing out. We believe in the purpose that the paper serves in connecting people with the people and information that they need and the print version of that is only one method of many we have in place to continue serving that purpose. The ability to share information and connect people is still possible. We are not giving up on that. We just might not be doing it in print for the time being.
When we purchased the business in February, we ran into some unanticipated snags with the business domain name and emails. We were locked into the hosting service until May 2nd. We paid for 2 months of hosting service to the former hosting account owner and spent that time working out how to move the website from the old host server to the new one without downtime and customer facing issues. We maintained and updated the site where it was for that 60 days.
We were assured we would receive the website database and files in the condition the site was in on May 1st, so we moved forward and published Beltane on the website as planned April 15th. We prepped back ups of the website after every change we made to the site through a plug in so when the move happened we had files to fall back on if something was messed up and could fix it quickly.
When May 1st came, the former host account holder (not the former owner) entered the dashboard of our website without permission and modified and damaged our website. We changed their access level to our website dashboard from admin to subscriber when we opted not to continue using their services to update and maintain the website shortly after we purchased the company in February. Despite some tension and issues with emails being blacklisted that we could not get resolved, we moved forward business as usual.
On May 1st, the hosting account owner accessed the website dashboard through the cPanel of the hosting service and set their level back to admin and proceeded to modify the site without our knowledge. The site was supposed to be transferred as is and no access to the dashboard of the website was necessary to do it according to any of our knowledge or research. We found the website had been modified 4 hours later, when they sent an email notifying us that the files had been sent and the code to transfer the domain was provided.
They deactivated plug ins and logged out of accounts necessary for the website to work properly, including theme upgrades, back-up logs, email addresses, and the shopping cart. It was our understanding that all of the accounts had been set up with the business email addresses and passwords we had been given already, and things would only need to be renewed when the time came.
In most cases, the licenses for plug-ins had several months left before they had to be renewed. We had time to work that out. Deactivating them meant we had to set up all new accounts for everything and pay for them up front, immediately or the site wouldn’t work. Creating new accounts, especially with the shopping cart, meant we had to do a complete reinstall of the plug-in, in order for the plug-in to work properly and data to be preserved.
They also deleted a plug in that held backups of the website that we had not gotten a chance to download to the new server yet, so up to date versions of the website, before and after we published Beltane, were just gone. Then they sent us files for the broken version of the site, and deleted the site from their hosting service as soon as we downloaded the files they sent. That was not part of the agreement.
We opened a Federal Investigation for unauthorized access to our dashboard and destruction of company property, but because the former host did as they promised (sent the code we needed to move the domain name, and sent us the website files as the website was on the date promised), and we had a website, broken as it was, no criminal charges will be filed. We now have a “friend” at the FBI looking out for us and checking in periodically to see how things are going.
They did recommend we file a small claims suit against the former host account holder (not the former owner) once the site is back where it needs to be, track our costs to rebuild it, and report any new issues we encounter that can be attributed to unauthorized access to our website. We are compiling information and funds to do that, but a small claims suit carries major costs in both time and money and can take months or even years to settle. We don’t expect to see anything come of it in the near future.
Without the website, there is no business, so our priority has been to rebuild the website completely from scratch, with aesthetic and security improvements, that is 100% our own build on a server that we own and have access to whenever we need it.
In total, the website was completely offline for about 72 hours. We continued to have issues with the site crashing for reasons we couldn’t figure out until we got the brand new site built and launched.
Based on sales history for the 90 days before everything broke down, we are able to review and estimate that we lost a total of about $1,000 in sales from website down time. This does not include the loss of trust many potential customers would have in our business, if the site was functional the way it should have been when they visited but the site was down. We have also determined that it has cost us well over $4,000 to rebuild the site from the ground up and create all new accounts.
When we did a financial analysis of the business before we made the purchase, we had a complete list of costs to produce a single issue of the newspaper in print and online. Shipping costs were included and showed an average of around $350/issue. We budgeted for $500 to cover any miscalculations and new additions of subscribers and distributors between issues at the postage rate at that time.
In April, postage costs increased and the cost to send 20 copies of the newspaper went from $3.19/package to $4.85/package. We began shipping in batches until the budget ran out. We’ve sent out several individual packages since then to the people who have called or messaged to inquire and funds become available to send them.
We also encountered several production issues with our printer. We opted to stick with the same printer because their location was nearby enough that pick up/delivery would be about the same for us as it would be with a new printer in our location and they were already familiar with our publication. We have not been thrilled with that decision.
Members of their staff were out of office or turned over while we were working to set up a new account so it took weeks to get a cost quote and set up an account. When the new account was set up, payment was made and our file for printing was received, our papers were delivered to the previous location instead of held for us to pick up. We came back empty handed on a 300 mile round trip and they picked up the papers and delivered them to us the next day. We have been in the market for a new printer locally but are struggling to find costs on par with what we pay with the current printer.
We reduced the print volume substantially for Midsummer with almost all of our distributors dropping out. When we sent a request for a quote for 500 copies, we were quoted a price by the sales guy, and then were informed by the printer that they do not do print runs of less than 1,000 copies, so we would be paying for 1,000 copies but only getting 500 copies and they didn’t mention anything about that in the quote. When I asked the sales guy about it, he said the price difference was minimal, like $18 more for 1,000 copies. I asked to increase our count to 1,000 copies and have yet to receive a response.
We are waiting to hear back on quotes from local printers and printers in other locations. Print copies for Midsummer are going to be delayed and the date is yet to be determined, but they will be printed and sent as soon as we are able to. Even if they are late.
Distribution Loss Issues
This issue is 100% our own doing. Our initial analysis of the business finances showed very clearly that distribution was a cost that far exceeded the revenues it brought in and it was not sustainable for another issue, let alone long-term. It was one of the things we knew we needed to change right away, so we came up with a plan.
We believed that the newspaper was doing well enough for the businesses that were carrying it that the majority of them would be accepting of our need to charge a shipping and handling fee for 10 print copies going forward and be willing to actively encourage their customers to subscribe and get their own copies delivered right to them. We included an invoice for $20 with Beltane and a letter explaining the change with each package we prepared to ship.
We were more than hopeful that the invoices would be paid and we would have the funds that we needed to send out the rest of the Beltane Issues and have a good dent in covering costs to produce the Midsummer issue, without taking on debt.
We figured we would probably lose a few distributors, especially some places that moved fewer copies every issue. It happens. We were not at all prepared for the 87% loss we experienced between those who contacted us to cancel because they received the invoice and those who haven’t responded at all despite having copies of Beltane and invoices for Midsummer in hand.
We collected feedback from those who chose to cancel and were willing to discuss it and those who called with questions about the invoice. Based on their wants and needs, we created an affiliate program. The idea being to have a system in place that makes sales at their store attributable to the newspaper and encourage retailers to recommend their customers subscribe to the newspaper, while maintaining customer loyalty to the shop. These were all concerns mentioned by former distributors.
While we lost some ground with distributors, and we might lose some with subscribers who don’t receive copies on time, we are beginning to gain some with events, the affiliate program, and a sponsorship advertising package available for cash purchase and in kind or exchange services.
Issues with the current economy are not helping matters much, but with flexibility and time we will get through this and be back to printing issues and them remaining free to pick up from several locations all around the country, on schedule. We are focused and committed to being back on track by Lammas or Mabon at the latest with print issues.
We sincerely apologize for any inconveniences this will cause. Issues will still be published on the website as they have been previously and PDF versions can be viewed and downloaded to your favorite device as always. Bonus content for paid subscribers is also still available on the site. If you encounter issues with logging in to the website, please email us at [email protected] to let us know and we will get you in as quickly as possible.
Metaphysical Times Staff