What Happened to The Fog Horn?

 
 

Friends, family, writers, potential writers and readers:

Last week we pulled The Fog Horn from the App Store, and cancelled your automatic subscriptions. 

But let's back up.

We began building The Fog Horn in August 2013, and launched exclusively for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch on December 15th. Since, we've received wonderful, constructive feedback and warm reviews from many of you, from online "tastemakers" and both tech and literary critics. 

We're incredibly proud of the six issues we've published so far, comprised of 24 stories from 22 writers, across a variety of fiction genres: comedy, horror, fantasy, historical, sci-fi and personal drama. Conor Britain built, customized, endlessly updated and perfected our magazine on the TypeEngine platform. He helped us say no to extraneous features while maintaining a technical product that was virtually error-free. Bryan Flynn developed our iconic masthead, drew custom headshots and created six covers (seven, including our intro issue) that belong among the greats. They speak to our tone, content and era in a way we couldn't have foreseen, nor imagined. Classic, but contemporary and riveting. All in all, we feel the product we created has been a qualitative success.

So what happened?

Any passionate indie app developer will tell you that rising above the cruft is their biggest obstacle, and often their primary culprit when it's time to close up shop. Even the big players face a nearly insurmountable crowd of millions of competitors -- our competition isn't just other short story magazines, we face other general interest and niche magazines, and reading apps, and texting platforms, and games. Oh, the games. We all fight for one thing, and that's your attention. And your attention is increasingly fractured, and spread thin -- and not just among mobile apps and games, but consoles and a brilliant, saturated, diverse TV marketplace. And blockbuster movies. And superb online content, branded and glossy, or not. But quality nonetheless. It is, to say, an uphill battle. One that we were well aware of when we decided to build The Fog Horn.

To make our mark, we decided to offer the highest quality reading experience, devoid of extraneous garnishes and features. And we worked tirelessly to provide an intimate, open, positive publishing experience, highlighted by our industry-leading compensation: $1000 for a published story. In a world where writers can reach the whole world with the press of a button, but can't find a paycheck for their life, we wanted to provide a safe haven for original writing, and a beacon for a new, revitalized pay structure. Writers should be paid for their writing. 

So we attracted a tsunami of submissions. Nearly 1000 since launch, at a rate of almost 7 a day, or about 210 a month once we really got going. Of those pitches, we requested 45 stories -- 6% of submitted pitches. We published 17 of those, so 37% of the stories we requested. Cleaning up the math, we published 2% of our public submissions. We never broke from our model of four stories a month -- curated, consumable and of the highest quality we could find. The Fog Horn remains a predictable structure but also an appealing size and usually thematic collection, to fit into your busy lifestyle. To garner your attention.

We run a lean, efficient business. We're four: myself, Conor, Bryan and a volunteer copy editor (and one of our launch authors), Chris Starr. Our content costs are transparent: I just listed them, above. Otherwise, we spent money on our website hosting (SquareSpace), TypeEngine platform costs, legal, and finally, an extremely slim marketing and advertising budget. 

With little left over to spend there, it barely made a dent in our downloads. Hyper-targeted Facebook ads actually did nudge the needle, but we didn't spend, nor could we afford, to do a big buy or continual targeted spend. The rest we chalked up to marketing R&D.

I believe most of our downloads came from positive word-of-mouth, through social media and press coverage. We received very little tech coverage: as none of us have previously sold a company, without exponential network growth and with the app not built nor positioned to be the next WhatsApp, we were mostly ignored by the big tech blogs. For those that did give us a chance, we thank you, every day.

In turn, you downloaded our app for free, and enjoyed a 7 day free trial. From there, nearly 46% of you subscribed. We can't tell who unsubscribed, or who didn't, or who downloaded and never opened it (a frustration all Newsstand publishers face). But we know that our conversion rate is off-the-charts relative to other digital mags. People who found us and read us, loved us, for the cost of $3.99 a month. We spent quite a long time getting to that price. The App Store revolution has created a race to the bottom -- software and related products are cheaper than ever, and yet we truly believe our new stories are worth a dollar each (and even less when considering the "all you can eat" archived content). 

How have you consumed the magazine? You read equally on your iPhone and iPad, and barely on your iPod Touch. You loved to read at 1 PM, 7 PM and 9 AM -- your lunch, and commutes. Thursday was your favorite reading day. And you stuck with us, coming back every month at a steady clip.

The issue, as always, was finding us. 

We didn't, and don't, have the money for huge advertising and marketing. And I'm not sure how effective it can be. We don't strive for ground-breaking features, so the tech world will never eat us up. And we're unwilling to stop paying writers. But we endeavored to live and flourish on the major social platforms, as much as our limited staff and time could provide. We reached out with targeted, personal messaging to the appropriate major tech and literary critics, and occasionaly had success. But like everyone else, it's about bandwith. We get it.

We've reached out to successful writers with huge followings, and more modest followings, in an effort to bring their existing readers in. We got a few, and many others loved the project but couldn't commit, and that's the issue with attracting big writers: they're busy writing.

We'd love to expand to other platforms -- Android, Amazon, Windows and the web. But it's very expensive, and complicated (as any developer will tell you), and we won't sacrifice our quality experience for breadth. Until we can do it right, we're not going to do it. And to do it right costs a lot, and takes time. Of all the platforms, we're already on the one with the highest spending consumers. It's part of the reason we went there first. So the returns are unpredictable, at best.

Advertising is an option, but it's an ugly, intrusive experience and advertisers don't pay too much for smaller, niche audiences. Venture capital isn't interested, as we don't offer one of the two typical exit strategies: acquisition or going public.

We've always treated our business like a true start-up, and most fail. That's life. We probably would, too. By some measures, we did. Not in the product itself, but in our stunted growth. We haven't become profitable.  Because our current product is a subscription model based on a monthly delivery, we couldn't provide that going forward and so we did the right thing and cancelled your existing subscriptions. We have temporary plans to re-submit the app as a stand-alone collection for purchase, and hope to do so, soon. The stories are timeless. We are assessing other platforms, writers and business models. We've spent a lot of money to make something we're indelibly proud of, and something many of you loved. We've paid 22 writers for their work, and nobody can take that away, either. They hail from five countries and three continents. We were touched by them, and their words, and their need to have their voices heard, and we strove to offer them a light in the darkness: a tangible (if digital-only) example of their work, followed by a real paycheck. Because we believed in them, and we continue to do so, and we believe in publishing, and writing, and reading and the need to keep innovating on an ancient product. 

We're not done yet. But we are on hiatus. In the meantime, you can read what you've already downloaded. Your app won't disappear. We'll be in the Batcave working on new, profitable ways to deliver exciting, curated fiction right into your hands. Because if we don't make money, we can't pay writers. And if we can't pay writers, we don't attract quality submissions, and we're just another free outlet: free to read, free to ignore.

Thank you for your support, and your time, and your hard earned money. We love you and appreciate everything you've done to make The Fog Horn a success.

Quinn, Bryan, Conor and Chris

Subscription Update

Hi folks --

For several reasons that we'll detail soon in a longer post, there won't be a new issue this month, or in the near future. We're taking an indefinite break from publishing the magazine.

You shouldn't be charged a subscription fee going forward, but if you'd like to pro-actively cancel, you can do so by contacting iTunes Store Support for a prorated refund here.

Please note: Apple does not allow us to cancel for you or offer refunds. You have to go through them. Your other alternative is to edit your subscription preferences upon receiving your monthly invoice email from iTunes.

The app will resurface very soon with the existing six issues available for stand-alone purchase. More to come on that.

Thanks for understanding. We love you guys and we can't wait to return stronger, faster and more melded with this goddamn bionic interface.

— Quinn

Feel Like The Walls Are Closing In? Join Us!

Some days you just wanna break shit. Some days, that feeling lasts for days. Or weeks. Or months. Or years. Or you just end up breaking shit.

Love. War. Religion. Success. We've all got our own demons. But we're all tortured in some way.

This is an issue about getting out of your own head, or... Or! Completely failing and/or embracing the madness. Sometimes it works out. Most of the time, it doesn't. So there's that.

Many thanks to Chris Starr, Tlotlo Tsamaase, Steven C. Schlozman and Isa Hopkins for four exceptional stories. To Conor "Danger Mouse" Britain for continuing to refine our product and building for the future (we've got some exciting stuff coming) and Bryan Flynn for another daunting, terrifying cover. Just super strange that it's an MRI of your own noggin, Bry. Super strange. 

— Quinn

Issue #5: Who Are We, Without Family?

How do we define ourselves without parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, lifelong robot servants and loyal friends? Where do the lines cross? When are they the same? How do we know what we'd fight for? How do we know what we'd give up? How do we know when too much is too much?

The authors of Issue #5 — Philip K. Dick-nominated Cassandra Rose Clarke, James C. Wolf, Danielle McLaughlin and Sara Taylor — explore these questions in a medley of powerful, intimate stories. We join them in the snowy British Isles, the woods of the deep South, Hitler's Germany and in a hospital colony in the not-too-distant future.

Without family to tell our story, who would we be?

— Quinn

We're in the LA Times!

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Thanks to David Ulin, book critic at the LA Times and fan of our little pub, for this awesome interview. We get tingly inside when the big boys embrace what we're trying to do here.

Have a read, and then do us a solid and pass along, would you?

-- The Team.

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Say Hello to the Ladies of Issue #4

We're incredibly excited to announce the publication of Issue #4, our very first all-ladies issue. 

We're committed to publishing talented female voices from the world over, and this month we are very lucky to feature four women — Ellen Goodlett, Ajla Hodzic, DeAnna Knippling and Tlotlo Tsamaase — who just killed it. Along with a wide and wonderful variety of writing styles, they bring a truly international perspective: hailing from Colorado, New York, Bosnia and Bostwana. This issue is a blend of science-fiction and personal drama, with four original short stories that are compelling and complicated, with nary a clean ending in sight. 

But back to the ladies. I'm lucky to have had a legion of strong women in my life. I wouldn't be the same without them. My grandma escaped an under-siege France in World War II and then raised 9 amazing kids. My other grandma was a badass Radio City Rockette who traveled the world entertaining troops in the same war, and spent the rest of her life teaching underprivileged girls to dance. My mom raised 4 kids, is a teacher and has been a reading advocate her entire life. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law both have doctorates. My sister founded a non-profit providing free education to underprivileged women in Africa and is SO much smarter than me. My wife is a successful writer and amazing, kick-ass working-mom role-model and SO SO much smarter than me, and so if it sounds like I'm bragging, I AM THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

We are happily, eagerly and passionately committed to publishing great female voices and building a magazine women want to read and contribute to. In addition to the other amazing women we've already published, these four keep us on pace to do just that.

Pick up Issue #4 today!

— Quinn

PS: Say hi to The Goat. Find out more in "Between Dog and Wolf".

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On Paying for Writing

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.
— F.D.R.
 This is not F.D.R.

This is not F.D.R.

We at The Fog Horn believe people should be paid for hard work. So we support raising the minimum wage to a standard above and beyond a living wage.

From this same philosophy, we decided pay our writers $1000 for each published story. Well -- that's part of the reason. We also needed a way to stand out among the many outlets for writing in 2014. Paying writers at all would get us half-way there. That's how bad it is out there. But we wanted to draw a line in the sand, and $1000 felt strong.

So call it what you will: a beacon of light in the fog, a shot across the proverbial bow or a giant middle finger and "FUCK YOU" to the rest of the industry (you can guess our favorite).

Whatever your poison, the only thing that feels better than publishing a new voice is sending them a check.

Without decent pay, Americans are unable to contribute to the consumer economy (to say nothing of providing for their families). Without their contributions, businesses bring in less revenue (and can hire fewer employees); with less collective revenue, we have smaller growth and a smaller GDP; with a smaller GDP, the terrorists win, we can't fund a space program; if we can't fund a space program, we get hit by an asteroid that we didn't pay to deflect and the American dream dies (along with every living soul and hint of vegetation).

Pay your workers. So, at the very least, they can buy peanuts.

Homer: Twenty dollars? I wanted a peanut!

Homer’s brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!

Homer: Explain how.

Homer’s brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services.

Homer: Woohoo!

Netscape for Books

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It's happening again. It's happened before, and it'll keep happening.* Companies and industries fail to innovate, and everything comes crumbling down.

But not without a fight.

There's a fun new study that more or less slaps independent writers on the wrist and says "Have fun on food stamps. If you want a real paycheck, remember who keeps the lights on."

The new lesson from this study is that the chances of having a financially viable writing career may be best for hybrid authors and traditionally published authors.

Hey, cool! Thanks for the info, Mr. Dinosaur!** To us, and other super smart people like Brian O'Leary, this feels like another not-surprising example of established industry players defiantly standing still while the new world passes them by. Hope Netscape's treating you well, jerks.

So, let's pretend you haven't made it past the pearly gates at Random House, like everyone else. Have you considered independent publishing? Other formats? Done your research?

Independent authors are electing to sidestep the supply chain, publish without identifiers, and test new forms and new platforms that look nothing like a book.

Feels like a revolution to me.

So maybe your novel isn't ready yet, but there's never, ever been a better opportunity to experiment with a variety of formats. I'm sure you've heard about Kindle Singles, but have you tried The Atavist for non-fiction, The NewerYork for your crazier, experimental works or The Fog Horn? (blushes)

There's absolutely zero chance we can offer the sort of wealth that a traditionally published New York Times Bestseller implies. But we do offer $1000 for published short stories. And we feel like that's a hell of a start. The money's green, son.

So many new opportunities to make your mark. Don't fear the future.

Every word counts. Use the tools available to you and get paid.

We're ready when you are.

 

*Oh, and Final Draft? You're next.
** This is not to imply the dinosaurs died because they failed to innovate. But having a space program to research and deploy asteroid-deflection measures wouldn't have hurt. Ahem.

 

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Issue #3: Happy Valentine's Day, You Poor Bastards

Ok, we're one day early. But hear me out.

This morning we published Issue #3 of our young magazine, and it's a fun one. We asked for stories about "love", and you sent some classics. And we were desperate to get it out the door before you head out and make some REALLY bad decisions.

So: consider Issue #3 your "How To" guide for navigating this treacherous holiday. Here's how to use it:

1. Check out the beautiful, heartbreaking new cover from Bryan Flynn, above. Look back at your own shitty, hand-made card. Consider your options.

2. Open up and find a heavy emphasis on comedy about old lovers, new lovers and desperate lovers (aren't they all the same?). Mona Awad, Kira Hesser and Marc Watkins opened their hearts to you — won't you do the same?

3. To close it out, please enjoy a delightfully creepy voyeur piece from John Paul Davies that'll just demolish your trust in nice boys from the local university.

Helpful, right?

Because, honestly, isn't that how love works? Find a good-looker, have some laughs, make a little sexy-time, and then they stab you in the fucking back.

If you haven't subscribed yet, check us out on iTunes here. You get a 7 day free trial, and then it's just $3.99/month ($1/story).

Have a nice day.

— Quinn

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Matthew David Brozik on “Office Creeper”

Continuing our new Behind The Story series, here's Matthew David Brozik on his Issue #2 story, "Office Creeper".

- Q


  Matthew David Brozik

Matthew David Brozik

In 2008 — the day before Halloween, as it happened — my wallet was stolen in more or less exactly the way I describe Mason Blank’s wallet’s being stolen in “Office Creeper.” The office personnel in the story are similar to the people I worked with at the time. Although having your wallet stolen by a real-life office creeper might well seem like the sort of thing that would — and even should — inspire a short story, I didn’t use the incident as fodder for some five years. I couldn’t tell you why.

When I did write the story, and I had to decide what was in Mason’s wallet that was so important, I first drew a blank, of course. This was — is — the crux of the story, after all. I realized that it had to be something dangerous… and uncontrollable, or only partially controllable. At that point I remembered the otherworldly creatures I’d created for a to-date-not-yet-published comic supernatural murder mystery novel I’ve written — "mirmyjs" and "umbryjs." And an umbryj fit the bill quite nicely.

As for the front of the card… My brother-in-law bought a pack of cards that read “You’re a douche,” and he gave me one. To give to someone else. Not because he has a low opinion of me. I’m pretty sure, anyway. And that’s what inspired the card in the story.

While the “lesson” of “Office Creeper” might seem to be that someone has to pay for a crime, the lesson of the real life incident was that there are good people in the world — even in New York City. The man who found my wallet and turned it over to his boss, who called me, didn’t have to do that. He could just as easily — more easily, really — have done nothing. But that man saved me a hell of a lot of trouble, and in the end my loss was purely monetary. And then I got a good short story out of the experience.

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Issue #2

We're very excited to publish Issue #2 of The Fog Horn today. This issue features awesome new short stories by Brianne Kohl, Matthew David Brozik, T.E. Grau and Conor Powers-Smith.

Thanks to Bryan for an incredible, haunting cover, and Conor, for finding a way to fit the word "wheelbarrow" onto an iPhone screen without sacrificing our beautiful titles. 

We embraced a darker tone this month, reflecting the relentless, encroaching depths of winter and an unmistakable societal sensation of something gone amiss. Security, safety and trust seem to be crumbling. Otherwise innocent symbols, objects and people — from snow drifts to doctors, from computers to authority figures with the power to regulate traffic lanes — now belong on the same list of terrifying things that go "bump" in the dark. As we wrap ourselves tighter and tighter against the cold and the fear, will we run from these monsters? Question them? Welcome them? Challenge them? Be consumed by them? Become them?

This, and more, in Issue #2. Enjoy.

Quinn

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Chris Starr on "Same Oak"

Chris Starr, author of Issue #1's story, "Same Oak", sent this along. I thought it'd make a perfect "behind the scenes" post. We'll try to do more of these as we can. Enjoy.

- Quinn


  Chris Starr

Chris Starr

I went through one of my notebooks the other day and came across this: the first page of notes on what would become the story "Same Oak". I'd been working on a collection of stories (still am) based on my time in the Basque Country and the people I've met there. Prior to "Same Oak", the stories all focused in very closely on the one or two characters at their centers, without reaching too far out into the wider world. 

With "Same Oak", I still wanted to tell a very personal story about the restaurant owner Joseba, about his roles as father and as son. But I also wanted to frame this story in the greater world, specifically that aspect of the Basque Country which has regrettably become its best known: the terrorist and extortionist activities of the radical pro-independence group ETA. So it is that Joseba is a reluctant contributor of the "revolutionary tax": protection money that ETA charged businesses in the Basque Country — including her internationally recognized restaurants — to ensure that those businesses would remain standing.

With "Same Oak", I wanted to explore how the social and political are inextricably tied to the private and the personal, and ultimately how — large or small — violence can only lead to a more violent world.

Dave Eggers on 15 Years

McSweeney's is a huge inspiration for what we're trying to do today, and I think founder Dave Eggers does a tremendous job in this piece summarizing exactly why we want to be publishers, in an age where everyone else is running away from publishing as fast as possible.

One doesn't really "publish" a screenplay. You spend months writing and rewriting, usually alone, and then you finally press send and let it electronically slide into the hands of friends, trusted advisers, agents, producers, executives, and so on. Pretty much the same, up to this point, as any other type of writing. The break becomes when, if your script has juice and you're incredibly lucky, someone decides to make it into a movie. At which point your screenplay is just a vehicle to get the movie made, and nobody ever really reads it again. Sure, within the industry it becomes a calling card to either get you more work, or, if it's terrible or the movie fails, make getting work that much more difficult. But outside of Hollywood, nobody has any idea what it says, aside from what they finally see on screen.

Anyways -- pressing "send" is terrifying. Up to that point, everything feels great. Confidence is running high. Then you press send and you instantly regret EVERY.SINGLE.WORD., and smash your computer against and through the drywall in hopes that the message and attachment won't escape via the goddamn digital throughway, because it if does it'll be ridiculed and we'll be shamed because OF COURSE it's terrible and the worst thing anyone's ever written and God, maybe they won't read it and/or we can steal their computer and make sure they'll never see it in the first place...

I say all this because publishing someone else's work -- like we did in Issue #1 -- is the opposite feeling. It's the most tremendous honor and rush to expose new writers to millions of potential readers, or even feature something new from someone more notable, who's trusting us to not fuck up their good name.

If we succeed in nothing else, I hope we break a few new voices who go on to do big things, and who manage to retain the voice that got them there in an otherwise vanilla publishing industry.

We can't wait to take a chance on you, so take a chance on us and send us a pitch for your best short story. If we love your work, we'll get it out there. We hope you like what we've published so far, and can't wait for Issue #2.

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Kurt Vonnegut on the Writer's Responsibility

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It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand that writers are not marginal to our society, that they, in fact, do all our thinking for us, that we are writing myths and our myths are believed, and that old myths are believed until someone writes a new one.

Love this 1974 interview with Kurt Vonnegut on writers and writing. It's so important to remember that your fiction can make a difference -- it can predict the future like Dick and Bradbury, or it can simply lift a day, across continents. And it can do so instantaneously, with all of the beautiful new technology in our hands, and at our fingertips.

Think of the new myths -- and for you purists, new takes on ancient myths -- that have sprung to life since 1974. Star Wars and The Force, anyone?

Also: if you aren't subscribed to Brain Pickings...you're really missing out.

 

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Announcing The Fog Horn

Today, we're very excited to launch The Fog Horn, our digital short fiction magazine. 

We publish curated short stories from Hollywood writers and new voices. It's available right now for your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch for $3.99 a month and holy shit, now I'm kind of overwhelmed with excitement and does anybody have a paper bag or something I can breathe into?

For the past four months, we've been working our asses off to bring you an inviting new reading experience -- a streamlined, beautiful app filled with original content for today's on-the-go reader.

Issue #1 features stories by Corinne Stikeman, Molly Schoemann, Chris Starr and Jacob Sager Weinstein. They've written for HBO and FX, and previously been published by McSweeney's, The New Yorker, PRISM and more.

I want to thank (read: "bow before") our developer Conor Britain and art director Bryan Flynn for their awesome work getting us to launch. Conor worked diligently with our friends at TypeEngine to build a quick, intuitive app that puts the words on the page first. Bryan drew our masthead from scratch, as well as designing our icon and covers by hand with only a small, WWI-era pistol to his head. There's so much more incredible work to come from these two.

We hope you'll check out The Fog Horn. We offer a one week free trial for new subscribers. If you hate us after that, you can walk away forever. But I can't guarantee Conor won't come to your house with his potato gun or something. I seriously can't control that guy anymore.

Anyways.

Thanks for reading. Hope you like it!

Quinn

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826LA & The Fog Horn

We're very excited to announce our partnership with 826LA, the Los Angeles-chapter of 826 National, dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

The Fog Horn will donate 5% of net revenue from every issue to 826LA, helping to drive their stellar programs, which include vital one-on-one instruction and tutoring.

Reading and writing skills are essential to a successful, happy life (and, for that matter, a flourishing, healthy society). We wouldn't be publishing a magazine, or have jobs at all, without the nourishing support given to our own skills early in life.

We love to write because we love to read, and having the ability to successfully do both can change lives. Sadly, many children aren't getting that instruction, no matter their interest. We want to help make a small dent in that statistic, in one of the world's largest cities.

Thanks in advance for subscribing to The Fog Horn. You're helping to support indie publishing, great writing and a future generation of readers and writers.

Quinn