February 2023 update: I have published a more formal Editorial Independence Policy that supersedes this post. Please refer to that to understand the specific ways in which I ensure editorial independence of my space writings as well as the exact way I run sponsorships.
Dear readers and supporters,
Today I welcomed the first sponsors of Moon Monday. This is a huge step forward for me to start sustaining this one-of-a-kind newsletter that covers global lunar exploration, science and commercial developments taking place amid renewed plans to return humans to our cosmic neighbor this decade. To address any ethical concerns you may have regarding this development, I’m writing this post to detail the need and mechanics of Moon Monday sponsorships.
Some of the things in here maybe too raw or too open but I think for something as fundamental to modern civilization as Internet publishing and discourse, readers should be actively aware of the behind-the-scenes of professional writing and how consumption and creation are interlinked—in this case mine. Or maybe I’m simply overthinking this like everything else and by the time you finish reading the post, I’ll seem like a fool. Either way, grab a comfort beverage because this is a long one.
How has Moon Monday been doing?
Since its inception in November 2020, I’m happy that the newsletter has been received well by all of its intended communities, including lunar folks. Moon Monday recently crossed 1,700 email subscribers, many of which are planetary scientists and engineers, personnel at national space agencies, executives at space companies, and fellow writers and journalists. I’m even more glad and satisfied that several of these people decided to donate in individual capacities to support Moon Monday.
How has Moon Monday been doing financially?
This is where the good stuff ends. While reader donations via Patreon and other options were increasing steadily until the first half of last year, things have since been practically flat. I saw a decent spike in supporters last month but the overall equation hasn’t budged. The reader support for Moon Monday is simply far from enough for me to sustain the effort.
In order to accommodate publishing the newsletter along with my (nice) freelance “day job” of writing space exploration and science articles, I’ve been preparing notes and writing Moon Monday mostly over the weekends since the beginning. But Moon Monday is a job in itself, one I want to sustain simply because I love writing it. And yet I’ve felt many times that I’m either not doing a good job or that it’s the kind of newsletter that simply can’t sustain financially in this day and age.
To be honest, I’m also tired of having to explicitly ask for donations in every single issue, and I guess you may be tired of reading it too. As much as I abhor to admit it, the Web isn’t at a stage yet where niche writers like me can sustain independent creations purely from reader support. Apparently I need to be a social media or YouTube celebrity to pull that off. As someone who is also passionate about an open Web culture, I refuse to play the engagement game forced upon us by ad-tech.
What funding options did I consider to sustain Moon Monday?
I evaluated the following five pathways.
- Make the newsletter paid: I’m writing about the exploration of our Moon so that more people can get onboard the lunar bandwagon, not less! So I simply don’t want to make the newsletter paid or pursue some such freemium model.
- Display ads: Ugh. Ads are distracting, evil when in the form of tracking ads, and create wrong incentives for publishers. This results in publishers prioritizing ad-viewing and traffic over content, which not only affects content quality but also frustrates readers. It will never be worth slapping ads on my blog or newsletter, period.
- Publish every two weeks or a month: If I don’t change how I fund the newsletter, the only other option is to publish Moon Monday once every two weeks or a month. While it sounds like a reasonable solution from the perspective of my time and effort, I think even the former changes the essence of what Moon Monday is supposed to be—a newsletter that shows and lets you track the progress of all major pieces driving our global return to the Moon.
- Change nothing but sell lunar-themed merchandise: Yeah, I don’t want to add even more physical crap into the world. Even if I did, I doubt that the numbers would be substantially higher than current supporters to achieve the goal.
- Accept sponsorships: At first I thought, wait.. aren’t they just curated ads? And don’t many newsletter owners literally sell their subscribers’ data to ad-tech companies? And don’t creators frequently create paid-for content for sponsors? Well, yes to all of that. But also, as I soon learned from people in the knowhow, it doesn’t have to be the case. And that was the opening I needed.
Over the last few months, I’ve been talking to several experienced people in the space publishing and marketing industries about possible pros and cons of sponsorships, and how to avoid the latter. For example, I was concerned about inadvertently lending sponsors editorial leverage over the newsletter. I also wondered if organizations would even sponsor Moon Monday if they don’t get to promote their businesses like every sponsored segment on Youtube ever. Thankfully, these experienced professionals assured me that enough people run sponsorships without compromises. This allowed me to finalize how sponsorships would work on Moon Monday, and how I can be transparent to you, my readers.
What kind of sponsors will I accept?
I’ll accept sponsorships only from organizations that are pro-science, pro-space and pro-Moon, and are doing a legitimate business or activity. Their work and people must reciprocate my own thoughts on why we as a species should explore space and our Moon. For the same reason, I’ll not accept sponsorships from companies and organizations purely in the defense sector, or from their subsidiaries to that effect.
What sponsors get, and don’t
Moon Monday sponsors are more like super-supporters, that is, they help sustain the newsletter monetarily and get credited in return for their support. Specifically, they will be credited in Moon Monday issues and on my space blog’s About page. When a sponsor first onboards, they get to share a brief welcome message to introduce themselves to my readers. Even then, the message’s final wording will be decided by me to ensure transparency to you all.
I do have a provision to write an article for a sponsor on a theme of their choice but specifically not on their product in any way. Such an article will be a separate ask by the sponsor and will be written by me without their editorial input. For an example that best demonstrates such an article, check out my piece A brief history of space missions lost to human errors.
Sponsors don’t get any editorial control over the newsletter. They don’t get purely promotional perks. They, of course, don’t get access to any subscribers’ email addresses or any such related personal stats. At the same time, sponsors also don’t bear the weight of being seen as a supporter of any personal opinion I may express in the newsletter. Their support is for the newsletter’s existence as a whole, and not implicitly for any specific notes inside.
What I do and will share with potential sponsors are the bulk newsletter stats, such as the number of subscribers and overall open rate, which aren’t individually identifying in any way. Nevertheless, you don’t even need to trust me when you can simply subscribe to my blog via RSS instead.
I do think these policies will make it harder for me to find sponsors for Moon Monday but on the bright side only folks who really want to support what I do, like Epsilon3 and The Orbital Index, will be onboard Ship Luna.
Can someone sponsor anonymously?
I will disclose the name of every sponsor that donates at least $1000/year. In an unlikely event that a circumstance causes me to consider otherwise, I’ll say that someone or some organization has donated an amount X and share the reason for granting them anonymity.
Why donations from people still matter
I’m pursuing sponsorships for the Moon Monday newsletter only, not for the several other things I publish on my space blog. For example, sponsorships don’t apply to any of my articles on the Moon or ‘popular science’ articles on space exploration and the solar system. So when you as an individual donate to me, you’re supporting me as an independent science writer and a blogger. And thank you so much to all who have!
Moreover, even as I seek and have sponsors for Moon Monday, donations from people will remain crucial in reducing sponsor-dependence, filling any gaps in sponsorships, and theoretically keeping the path to achieving reader-support-only publishing alive.
How long do I see myself writing Moon Monday?
At least 10 years. Humans are returning to our Moon this decade, this time to stay! Just as importantly, it’s being done amid a renewed and truly global interest in exploring our lovely cosmic neighbor. As someone who endorses our Moon’s unique and fundamental role in space exploration and science, and who loves to write, I’m stoked to be living in this slice of time. Moon Monday is a newsletter that just makes sense to keep publishing for as long as I humanly can.
Help me find sponsors?
Starting sponsorships for Moon Monday is a huge step forward in seeing through these upcoming 10 years. It will help me sustain the newsletter, and hopefully also allow me to spare more time to keep creating lunar articles and resources. Thank you to every single person who has helped me pursue this path in an ethical manner. You know who you are. :)
If you or your organization would like to sponsor Moon Monday and support all my lunar writing, get in touch. I’m offering discounts to non-profits, academic institutes and research labs. If you know of organizations that would be a great fit for sponsoring Moon Monday, please let me know.
If you read all the way till here, thank you. You’re a reader and supporter who cares and is curious. If you’d like to let me know how you feel about this new direction, do share your thoughts with me. I’m only a human being at the end of the day, and so it’s possible I’m still thinking about some of these things wrongly. Based on feedback from readers, I’ll refine these formal Moon Monday sponsorship and Editorial Independence policies, and then codify them on a separate page.
So, am I a fool to pursue Moon Monday sponsorships semi-publicly? We’ll find out! If it works, it can set an example for other niche writers and creators. If not, it will help them know what not to do.
Here’s to going forward to the Moon! 🚀🌗