Way back in April of 2007—which in internet terms is back when dinosaurs roamed the earth—we started the web site version of the Grantville Gazette with Volume 11. The Way-Back machine still has a snapshot of it.
Prior to that, we had published ten issues of the Gazette on an irregular schedule via Baen’s ebook sales site (which was back then called webscriptions.net, but is now baenebooks.com.) It was time to give our readers access to the “e-arc” version of the Gazette in progress that Jim Baen had made into such a success for Baen Books. It was also time for us to transition from a semi-pro magazine to a fully professional one paying SFWA pro rates and being an SFWA qualifying market and for us to transition to a regular semi-monthly schedule.
Since then, we’ve kept that up, publishing issues 11 through 52 with 53 in the works, with over one hundred twenty-six individual authors, over eighty of which are SFWA qualified through their sales here.
But in all that time, the Gazette continued on the same software platform. In 2007 “Press Publisher” was the only content management system available on the web which was “issue-oriented.” We were publishing a magazine not a blog. It was arranged into unique volumes and was sold the same as paper magazines or books, an issue was an entity. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was fully professional software for issue-based publications, and magazines like Wired and Popular Science and such were using it, but it cost many tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and required “real” designers and “real” artists on staff. If you couldn’t afford to buy everyone a copy of Pagemaker and Photoshop and essentially everything Adobe published, you weren’t a candidate.
Other software went the wrong way with a substantially wrong idea about e-publishing. They wanted the web to look JUST LIKE THE PAPER, so they either made you download PDFs, or they incorporated proprietary applications to do page flipping animations and such. Jim Baen was notoriously against PDFs for e-books because they didn’t allow the reader to re-flow the text to fit their eyes on their screens with their favorite fonts. We agreed. Then, we found our platform.
Press Publisher was a small husband-wife firm started by Jason and Angela Bailey in New Jersey that produced a software package that they had originally developed for weekly church newsletters. It wasn’t the Adobe publishing suite, but it was a CMS, it worked (mostly), it could be skinned to look good (for 2007) on the web, and we could afford it. We grabbed hold and pushed it to—and past—its limits. Originally, while it had “subscribers”, there wasn’t any restriction to who could read, and subscriptions weren’t paid. We spent a month grafting on the “Amember” membership system, and finally, at the beginning of April, we flipped the switch and the Gazette was on the web.
Flash forward to 2014. It’s hard to imagine just how much the web has changed in those seven years, but the short answer is “a lot.” In April of 2007, Twitter posted around a hundred thousand messages a day and Facebook had just under a million users. Today, Twitter has over 700 million tweets per day and Facebook has 1.3 billion users who post each month.
That whole time, the Gazette has been running on the same pasted-together church newsletter software with the same yellowed dirty paper background and the same black and white banner. We’ve suffered through the times the system crashed when we tried to add issues, through corrupt posts when trying to import European characters, through the system being attacked by—quite literally—Palestinian terrorists (don’t ask us why, we would have to lie about it,) but we never switched over to something new. Why not?
Nothing else was available. It’s not that we didn’t look, but with costs of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for licenses and implementation, it just wasn’t going to happen. Other on-line SF magazines started during the period took several other paths. Some used hand-coded html. Some bought and modified software originally designed for the pornography industry, and some just gave up on the idea of issues and sold subscriptions to what is essentially a blogging site.
We’re different that way, we didn’t like any of the options, but we didn’t stop looking. Finally a solution appeared. The folks at issuem.com introduced an issue-oriented magazine system originally developed for the Dartmouth Engineering magazine and the Dartmouth Alumni magazine. It was layered on top of WordPress, the best known and one of the most flexible content management systems in the world. We knew that once we moved, we wouldn’t be falling into a trap with no way out and no updates, no new features. We could make it work the way we wanted it to.
The desire to move became a little more urgent when, in mid-February 2014 the aging software interface to our credit card processing company died. The company had been sold three times and renamed twice more, and they finally pulled the plug on the old version which was, honestly, a security risk. Then, we discovered that the programming language we were on had developed several security holes of its own after years of people trying to hack it. The old site’s days were numbered, quite literally. We had until the end of April to switch.
Queue rapid piano music while teams of geeks run around like headless chickens. Well, no. But it was a bit of a slog. Still, early in the morning of Sunday April 6, 2014 we pulled the switch and Old Yeller died. You’re reading this either on, or as a result of, our new hosting software, WordPress with IssueM and Pippin Williamson’s brilliant Restrict Content Pro.
If you have problems with the cut-over let us know using the contact form at the Contact Us page, or post in Baen’s Bar. We’re really glad you have been along for this ride. Stay with us, there’s even more exciting things coming to Early Modern Europe and Cretaceous Missouri soon.
As the SCA people say: Forward into the past!
Rick Boatright and the Gazette Staff