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It's been a year since we started The Auburn Observer. And we can't thank you enough.
This started as an experiment. It's turned into a full-time job and the most fun we've ever had covering Auburn football and Auburn basketball.
Today is September 1, 2021. That means The Auburn Observer is now a year old.
This started as an experiment. After getting laid off for the second time in three years, I wasn’t going to have a writing home for an Auburn football season. I had some money saved, which felt like the perfect runway to give something different a shot.
I say this a lot, and it’s not enough. But none of this would have happened without you — the readers, the listeners, the Twitter followers, the emailers. In the immediate aftermath of going from zero concerns about my job security to being laid off in less than 30 minutes, a huge number of you reached out. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me in one of the most bewildering moments of my life.
A good chunk of the Auburn fans who reached out on that first day after I got laid off had the same message. I still have some of them saved on my phone.
“We’ll read you wherever you end up next.”
“I hope you can still keep covering Auburn.”
“You should start your own thing.”
The pandemic threw a lot of talented sports media people into total uncertainty. Several of them started their own newsletters. Matt Brown at Extra Points might be the single-biggest influence in getting this off the ground, because he had made his independent venture work on Substack. Without Matt taking some of his valuable time to talk me through the setup process, this doesn’t happen.
You should subscribe to Extra Points, like, right now.
The other major influence is Dan Peck — the man with the best voice in Auburn sports radio, if not the entire planet, and one of The Observer’s biggest supporters. He told me on the day I got laid off that I should pull a Dave Meltzer and start my own newsletter.
And that, kids, is why it’s called The Auburn Observer. (Of course it’s a wrestling reference with me.)
At my last outlet, people got used to paying to read my stuff. But you got a bunch of other writing with the subscription — quite literally, an entire world of it. And so, even though I knew I had a lot of support from Auburn fans all over the Internet, I wasn’t sure that enough would pay for something totally new.
I was wrong. I was quickly wrong.
(Side note: I also didn’t know if Auburn would credential me for something I made up on the fly. So, for that, a gigantic, perpetual thank you to Kirk Sampson and Cody Voga for making sure I was still on all the emails and was able to get into the press boxes.)
Paid subscriptions started after that first free trial month of September. Before the end of football season, it was quite obvious that this was something that I could do, pay my bills, and live a good life here in Auburn. To this day, the response to this venture blows me away, every single time.
As of the time this post gets sent out, The Auburn Observer has 866 subscribers. When Painter and I first talked about this, hitting 1,000 was like a far-off, ultimate, biggest-dream-ever goal. If we continue at the current pace, we could hit it by the end of the calendar year.
And that’s a credit to y’all. A lot of really good subscription newsletters pour a lot of time in advertising and different growth strategies. For us, it’s been pure word-of-mouth — and not just our mouths.
It’s you guys telling your friends. It’s you guys buying gift subscriptions for your family members, which remains one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in this line of work. It’s you guys supporting us with your retweets, your quote-tweets, and your 5-star podcast reviews of Painter’s golden voice.
Our best marketing strategy is you. That’s the only one I want to keep using, too.
It shouldn’t have been this easy. I still don’t know why it’s been this easy. But a lot of you have been vocal supporters for a long time. You’ve been patient as we tried to learn some of the technical and billing stuff with Substack on the fly. You’ve adopted the email model. You’ve bought koozies and stickers. You’ve tweeted #EstablishIt and called Auburn’s kicker The Bookstore online. As Painter told me the other day, we’ve built a community here — and it’s one that I love.
Over the last year, I’ve had a few opportunities to go after other jobs. I could have walked away from The Observer and gone to situations that are more stable, places that would offer good money and benefits. A lot of people in my shoes probably would have taken those opportunities.
But, to be honest, the thought of leaving this hasn’t even crossed my mind for a moment. And it’s because all of you — the subscribers and the weekend podcast listeners — invested in Painter and me. You took a shot on something new. You supported independent sportswriting and podcasting. I really want to see how far this thing can go.
Even though the last year has brought on new problems and extended plenty of difficulties that we’ve all dealt with for almost two whole trips around the Sun, I can honestly say that this has been the most rewarding, fulfilling and healthy year of my life since I started writing about Auburn sports.
There are unique challenges to being independent, but I love this. I think we might be on the bleeding edge of what sports media will look like in the future. I do this solely for the fans who have invested in me — not to make money for the people above me.
I’m not trying to solve an algorithm for clicks. I’m not in it for the money. I’m not trying to take over the journalism world. (Please, continue to read and support everyone else on the Auburn beat as much as you can — they deserve it and more.) I want to write the stories and record the podcasts that I enjoy doing, and I want to make it all for the people who enjoy them.
And I’ve found out there are a lot more of you out there than I realized.
So, this is for you. If you’ve ever paid a dime for our work, listened to a single podcast episode, sent in any mailbag question, pointed out a typo or a dumb mistake in the comments, sent a single email of feedback — I can’t ever thank you enough. I like to think I’m decent at writing words, but whatever else I can say here just won’t measure up to the gratitude I have in my heart for all of y’all.
This is also, most importantly, for Painter Sharpless. He’s going to read this and edit it before it goes out, because that’s what he does for all of my writing. But I’m going to put it in here anyway and hope he doesn’t take it out. I couldn’t have made it through this past year without my co-host, producer, editor, customer service representative, hype man and dear friend. I wouldn’t have wanted to, anyway.
Keep saying nice things in the podcast reviews about him, because he deserves infinitely more credit for all of this than he’ll ever admit.
Auburn will be back on the football field in three days. The Tigers’ return to the basketball court in a couple of months has a good chance of being one of its best seasons yet. We’ll be pumping out newsletters and podcasts about all of it.
So, with our first birthday and the start of the season falling on the same week, we want to get more people onboard.
If you want to join The Inner Circle and become a full-paying member, we’re doing a deal from now until the end of the day Sunday — one year old, one dollar off each month of our usual annual rate. Any new subscriber can get their first year of The Auburn Observer for just $48. Just hit the button below.
Current subscribers, keep telling the Auburn-loving people in your life about it, because this is a perfect time to join. Again, we owe our growth and any success to you.
Today starts Year 2 of The Auburn Observer. And I’m not going anywhere.
I’s indie rock and roll for me.