100 Issues: Musing in Retrospect
Editor’s note: I wrote this and posted to the Traveller Mailing List shortly after issue 100 was released.
When I started Freelance Traveller as a badly-designed (actually, in retrospect, that initial design wasn’t merely bad, it was outright dreadful) website in the mid-1990s, I envisioned it as a place where fans could get their stuff out in public. Over time, I learned a bit more about website design, and in about 1996 and again in 1998, I redesigned the site. The 1998 redesign was essentially today’s design, modulo the occasional tweaking.
I don’t know whether there was a cause-and-effect relationship, or whether I changed my attitude to the site and presenting it as a community resource at the time, or whether it was simply right around then that I started owning and using the domain name ‘freelancetraveller.com’ (prior to that, it had been bouncing around the various free hosts, with URLs like ‘neotown.net/freetrav’) but the 1996 redesign also really was when it “took off” and gained the notice of the Community. I was able to post updates on a more-or-less regular schedule, and people started offering material, rather than my just getting stuff off the TML or other websites and asking for reprint permission. That also gave me the opportunity to learn a little bit about what an editor (not just a copy-editor) and curator does, and that let me work with the community to (hopefully) improve the quality of what they would find when they visited Freelance Traveller.
Over time, I adopted a goal: To emulate, as much as my small efforts could, the quality of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. Honestly, that was probably always in the back of my mind, from the get-go, in the very name of the site—“Freelance Traveller” does sound like the kind of thing you might see on the masthead of a magazine.
The 1996 redesign was also when I adopted the ‘slogan’ The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource. I had always envisioned it this way, but now I felt it was important to emphasize the Fan Support component of it, because to me, that was the most important thing about Freelance Traveller. Too many fansites out there are about egoboo for the fan that created them; I felt that it was more important to recognize and “talk up” the people that were actually taking the time to put their ideas down on ‘paper’ and share. You talk about authors and their books, or movies and their directors, not bookstores and theaters. Well, to me, it was the same idea—you talk about Scott Diamond and Benedikt Schwarz and their animals, or Michael Brown and his adventures, or Timothy Collinson and his reports from TravCon in the UK, or … It’s just incidental that you can find them all at that web site—what’s it called? Oh, right, Freelance Traveller.
I still feel that way. Freelance Traveller is not about me, or about itself, it’s about the community, and those who take the time to share their work.
I was (and still am!) still learning, even if it was (is!) in a more-or-less disorganized and piecemeal way, about editing, curating, and publishing. In late 2009, something gelled, or the pieces came together in just the right way, and I decided to try an experiment. Instead of just putting up the articles as I had been doing, I put together eight pages of material, slapped an Andrew Boulton picture on the front, added some design elements, and… asked the community what they thought about the idea of Freelance Traveller as a magazine, not just a regularly-updated website.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. I have no idea whether it was because there were no Traveller magazines at the time, because people liked the idea of getting a variety of new stuff in one convenient package rather than searching around the site, because it looked good, or what—but there it was. In my first “From the Editor” in that issue, it was pretty clear that I had already mentally committed to continuing to publish as a magazine; even so, I never thought it would last even five years—not even the “pro” Traveller magazines made it that long, for the most part. More, I was coming out monthly, when even the pros were only quarterly.
Nevertheless… There. It. Was. I was getting the support from the community, and I was generally meeting that monthly deadline. And you were downloading it and reading it. And it lasted twenty-five issues, more than two years. And then it lasted fifty issues. And then it lasted five years. Twenty-eight pages of content each month. Occasionally, I’d have to miss a month for Reasons, but I’d always give you a double issue the next.
And then I had to admit that I was really trying to do a little too much—not really because of the amount of work, but because of the time it was taking. So, I switched to bimonthly publication in 2016. But I didn’t want to disappoint you, so I kept to the same amount of material—the size of each issue went from twenty-eight pages to sixty. But with the additional time between issues I Could Do This. And you supported the change, and continued to support the magazine. And then, before I quite realized it, it was the end of 2019, and I had just completed ten years of publication, barring one issue—and that was under extreme circumstances, and I got more support from the Community at that time than I could have imagined.
Now issue 100 has come out—another milestone I never quite consciously thought about. It’s definitely significant, and a good time for a retrospective like this. But there’s a more important number that you need to be aware of: As of right now, before I’ve added issue 100’s articles to the website, there are still just shy of 2,000 articles on the website, dating back all the way to that first dreadful design. This issue (#100) will put it over that milestone. Many—most—of those articles are, if printed, over a page of text (or the equivalent in pictures). That, more than anything else, tells you what the Traveller community has done, and that’s just to make Freelance Traveller the success that you keep telling me it is. When you add in all the fan sites and forums and file folders and boxes of index cards and … with Traveller material that’s not in Freelance Traveller, … well, let’s just say that reports of Traveller’s demise are premature.
You’ve been thanking me for Freelance Traveller, every issue. I thank you for the support that has made it possible to produce those issues. I ask only that you keep it up, so that together we can keep Freelance Traveller going into the future.