Support Your Not-so-Local Film Critic

June 11, 2017
A thought by James Berardinelli

The world was very different when I first walked through the doors of Bellcore (Bell Communications Research) in June 1988 to begin a summer internship. When you’re 20 years old, the world is full of possibilities and the future seems to stretch forever. 10 weeks later, I began my senior year at the University of Pennsylvania with a permanent job offer (complete with a to-be-funded Master’s Degree) in my back pocket. I hadn’t started the summer searching for a career; it found me instead. Strange how that sometimes happens.

What was the world like in 1988?  Hard to explain to a post-Internet generation. Yet I remember it vividly. If you wanted to communicate with someone distant, you wrote a letter or picked up the phone. We got our news from the nightly network shows or the newspaper. “Entertainment” meant watching TV, reading a book, going to a movie, or playing a board game. Sometimes, you’d get together with friends and shoot the breeze. I guess that hasn’t changed. (Or has it?) It wasn’t the dark ages but it was, for lack of a better term, a simpler time.

Ronald Reagan was president. The Cold War was very much still on. E-mail was a rarely used form of communication, primarily available at universities and tech companies. (I got my first e-mail account, jamesberardinelli@seas.upenn.edu, in 1985. I don’t think I used it until 1987.) Computers were stand-alone and 10 MB hard disks were standard. CDs were ascending; cassette tapes were in their heyday; LPs were on their way out. Landlines were corded and televisions were bulky. Some TVs, especially smaller ones, were black and white. VCRs were relatively new to the consumer market (they had been around for years but dropping prices were making them affordable to “average” families) and video rental stores were popping up everywhere. Donald Trump was a rich fortysomething New York businessman with a socialite wife. They were beloved by the tabloids. I had never written a movie review nor had I thought about doing so. Johnny Carson was still King of Late Night TV. “Roll with It” was on the radio. Star Trek: The Next Generation had just finished its first season. Two movies I remember seeing that summer: Die Hard and A Fish Called Wanda. (There were others, of course, but those two stick out.)

29 years later almost to the day, I will walk out the door and step into the world of early retirement. Bellcore is long dead. It morphed into “Telcordia” around 1997. Telcordia is also dead, sold to Ericsson several years ago. Such is life in the tech world. I had a front-row seat to one of the most stunning collapses in recent corporate history: the disintegration of Nortel (Northern Telecom), once thought to be an indestructible giant. To be clear, this isn’t a voluntary move. In the parlance of the day, I have been “force adjusted.” As Tom Baker said at the end of his tenure as The Doctor, “It’s the end but the moment has been prepared for” and the long lead-time has allowed me to contemplate where to go from here. Of course, money is a concern, although not a crippling one, and serious consideration has to be given as to whether continuing to write movie reviews is the way to go. There are essentially two possibilities: find a new position in corporate America or step away and commit to writing and reviewing. Either way, that status quo can’t be maintained. For the moment, at least, I have chosen Door #2 because I find it hard to stomach staying in/returning to the salaried workforce.

What does an extra 40 hours a week buy me? More time to write my fiction, leading to shorter wait times between books. More time to watch new releases, so I should be able to increase the average number of weekly reviews (and see some of the obscure, potentially interesting titles available on the art house circuit). More ReelThoughts and perhaps a return to video reviews. (I have an idea for a series.) These things sound good but the cost to me comes in the form of reduced income. With a family to support, I can’t gamble on a losing hand. If I can’t boost revenue to justify the additional time and effort, then it’s back to Door #1. And the implications of starting a new job are stark when it comes to review productivity.

So how to do this? Some things will hopefully be accomplished “under the hood”, like working with better advertisers to enhance my current revenue stream without requiring major changes. That’s not enough, though. The bottom has fallen out of web advertising and ad blockers limit the cpm rates. There are other options but they involve crawls and videos that must play for 15 seconds before the site can be accessed, etc. These are lucrative but intrusive. They will drive away readers in large numbers. I don’t want to go there and hopefully I won’t have to. Doing so would likely signal the beginning of the end of Reelviews.

This isn’t the first time I have pondered the financial viability of this website. The last time I broached the subject, it was suggested that I add a “donate” button that would allow readers, on a voluntary basis, to send a little money my way as a gesture of appreciation. The time for that has come. But, instead of a blank donation, how about buying a copy of one of my books? Yes, 30% of the proceeds go to amazon.com, but I’d rather get 2/3 of the money and have the satisfaction of a book sale than 100% of the money as a pure donation. I think it works better for all parties.

Buying an ebook copy of Lingering Haze can be done by clicking one of the banners placed around the site. (Or by clicking here.) For every purchase, I get $2 (of the $2.99 price) and you get a book. My other books (The Last Whisper trilogy) are also available but since Lingering Haze is new and the start of a project I’ll be working on for the next 18 months, that’s where my focus currently is. Because of amazon.com’s algorithms, additional sales will boost the book’s overall visibility which in turn will lead to additional sales – it’s a feedback loop. Also, I hope that anyone who enjoys fantasy will at least give the book a try. It’s the product of several hundred hours of work. (As a side note, if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can borrow the book for free and, as long as you read it, I’ll get money – to the tune of about a half-penny per page read. So, a full book read will net me a little more than $2.00.)

The concept of donating money to keep websites alive is nothing new. Some have been more successful than others but I’m aware that a 1% response is considered tremendous. It comes down to whether you value the website and would mind if it went dark. In terms of hard numbers – 50 book sales per month would enable me to keep Reelviews alive and well without adding intrusive ads or scaling back content. Sales exceeding 50 would allow me to throw myself full-time into writing and the results would quickly be evident. I hope it’s not too much to ask for one book purchase from every Reelviews reader who cares about the site. Am I plugging the book? Of course, but my fiction writing and Reelviews have always been entwined.

Given a choice, I’d like to spend 2 hours a day writing my books, an hour or two writing ReelThoughts, and another few hours watching and reviewing new & old movies. It’s a better option than going into an office five days per week. I’ve said my peace. Reader response will determine the next step.




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