As we sit on the precipice between years, it’s easy to peer into 2021 with hope and optimism while relegating 2020 to the dustbin of history without a second thought.

But just because 2020 was a horrible year doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look back and reflect on what happened, about both our successes and our failures, and find lessons to help us improve in 2021. Reflecting and goal-setting is an important way to improve, either as an individual as a company, and is something we have done here at Hipsters almost every year.

One of our goals for 2021 is to improve how we communicate, so I’d like to pull back the curtain and do some reflecting out in the open. Here’s a look into the kinds of goals we here at Hipsters have set and what our goals are heading into 2021.

Reflecting on 2020

A lot happened in 2020, even if you scope it down to things related to Magic. There was a lot of bad, yes, but there was plenty of good things, too. These are some of the both kinds of things I’ve been reflecting about in regard to Hipsters and 2020.

Another Year of Growth

Hipsters was founded way back in 2012 and has grown every single year. There are a ton of metrics for a content site, and none of them are perfect, but unique page views and sessions do a good job of helping us measure our audience. The first major milestone (by those measurements) that we set our eyes on was one million unique page views, which we came close to breaking in 2017 and which blew past in 2018.

We then set a stretch goal for two million uniques in 2019. I have a distinct memory of a moment when I was visiting Cleveland in  June 2019 (remember traveling?) and sitting in Voinovich Bicentennial Park, enjoying the beautiful weather and the view of Lake Erie. Rich and I were chatting about something that made me check our analytics for the year when I realized that we were on track to meet—or even beat—what had originally seemed like an outlandish goal.

Voinovich Bicentennial Park

When it became clear in March that COVID-19 was going to have a dramatic impact on 2020, I had no idea how that would impact Hipsters. The cancellation of the partial 2020 Season, constructed formats upended by absurdly powerful new cards, and a sense of general negativity in Magic all combined with the pandemic to form a profound sense of uncertainty that I’m sure a lot of you shared.

I’m not confident that we finalized our goals for 2020 before everything went to shit, but I had another vague stretch goal to break three million uniques this year, since the human brain loves round numbers. We didn’t quite reach that this year, but we were close, and I’m proud that we managed to continue growing our audience through it all.

Hiring Amazing People to Create Amazing Content

Annual unique page views isn’t the be-all and end-all, of course, it’s just the easiest top line number to calculate and track from year to year to help us evaluate how the company is doing.

But the heart and soul behind any of the numbers we track are the writers and the content they produce for us. Zach Barash, Katie Bates, Zenaide Beckham, Rob Bockman, Donny Caltrider, Urchin Colley, Scott Cullen, Derek Gallen, Hobbes and Alex Newman from Goblin Lore, Kristen Gregory, Zack Kanner, Pat Euglow and Jerry Mee from Leaving a Legacy, Travis Norman, Daniel Roberts, Ryan Sainio, and Jacob Torbek—Hipsters would be nothing without each and every one of those content creators.

We created a lot of great content together over the last year. Our best-performing non-news article does a good job of telling the story of what kind of year 2020 was—Kristen wrote about how to set up to play paper Magic via webcam in March that continues to help people to this day.

I also want to take a moment to call out one of our best decisions in 2020 (well, technically the end of 2019): handing over the content management reigns to Kristen. She was a huge factor behind many of our successes this year and it was bittersweet to see her move on.

We’ll be bringing more writers on board in the next few months and are actively looking to add diverse and underrepresented voices to our team.

Mental Agony by Greg Staples

A Bad Year for Mental Health

2020 was a bad year for mental health. There was global pandemic sickening millions that forced us to stay home in quarantine, isolated from friends and loved ones, and acted as a constant baseline of stress and anxiety that negatively impacted everything throughout the year.

The impact on Hipsters was different for each and every one of us. Some of us were able to process through writing, like this beautiful piece by Urchin about how the beginning of the pandemic changed her relationship with Magic. A few found that making content wasn’t a tenable proposition during a pandemic, while others (myself included) chose to continue creating content in order to generate some sense of normalcy.

I found myself questioning my motivations for creating content and running a content site more often this year than any time previously. I would often ask my fellow Hipsters, “Why are we even doing this? What’s the point?”

I used to have some good answers to those questions. You should always know why you’re committing yourself to a project and I’ve definitely lost a lot of the certainty I had even just last year.

A Bad Year for Communication

Some of the worst parts of 2020 in the Magic community were at least in part due to poor communication. I don’t want to re-hash any of the hundreds of various community controversies but, suffice it to say, I think we should all spend time thinking about how we can improve the way we communicate with each other in 2021. This post is part of our effort to improve our communication as a part of the Magic community—but more on that below.

Future Sight by Dan Scott

Looking Forward to 2021

Build a Sustainable Business

Running a Magic content site that sells ads, but doesn’t sell cards, isn’t a business.

Well, it is technically a business in that we’re registered with the State of New York, generate revenue, and pay people for their work. So I guess what I mean is that it isn’t a sustainable business. Think about all of the big content sites in the Magic community—Star City Games, Channel Fireball, MTGGoldfish—they all either sell cards directly or generate referral revenue from card sales. This basic incentive underlies the vast majority of Magic content and distorts it in a lot of invisible ways.

Hipsters isn’t immune to that pressure by any means—we run ads for Card Kingdom, after all. But ad-supported media is withering as we speak and card sale-supported media might be on the same trajectory. Hipsters continues to survive thanks to two major factors that control costs: 1) the three of us that manage the company do everything for free and 2) a lot of highly skilled people are passionate enough about this game and its community to write about it in their spare time at rates that can’t compete with their day jobs.

We’ll still be searching for a sustainable business model for a Magic content site in 2021. Subscriptions are all the rage these days, and both SCG and CFB have successful subscription services, but those cater to the competitive part of the community. Hipsters focuses much more on the casual community and Magic culture, though, so any model we come up with will have to make sense to that type of audience.

Stay tuned, I guess.

Improve Our Communication and Build Better Relationships

For of our first four years as a site, Jess Stirba served as the main communicator for what Hipsters was and what we stood for. But she stepped back from content creation in 2016 and, though she remains a part of the ownership group, none of the other owners stepped up to take her place as chief communicator.

I think it’s time for that to change. One of our goals in 2021 is to be more transparent and accessible by communicating more about the company and the people behind it. This post is an experiment along those lines and we’re planning on writing more over the next year, as well, so let us know what you’d like to hear about.

Building better relationships is a holdover goal from 2020. I moved back to the US at the end of 2019 and Rich and I had planned to begin attending large Magic events again in order to network and connect with the broader Magic community. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and it might not even happen in 2021. (Will Grand Prix ever return?) I’m not sure that any of us on the management team are particularly good at connecting with people solely over the internet but that will be the only way to build relationships for the foreseeable future so we’ll just have to adapt.

Turn the Page on 2020, But Don’t Forget It

We all hope that 2021 is a better year than 2020 was. But the line that separates successive years doesn’t have any inherent power on its own—a lot of the things that made 2020 horrible won’t magically disappear just because we incremented the year in our dates.

Many of us contributed in our own way to making 2020 so horrible. Others put in a lot of effort to try and make a miserable year slightly less miserable, and 2021 will only be a better year if each and every one of us decides to emulate them and be better. Better people, better community members—just better.

Happy New Year! Let’s make 2021 better than 2020.


Featured image: Pause for Reflection by Alayna Danner.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.