A Year of Pen Economics

As hard as it is for me to believe, today marks a whole year since I started the Pen Economics site. And what an awesome and surprising year it’s been! In today’s post, I thought we’d look back at the last twelve months and look forward to the next twelve.

I had two goals in mind when starting the blog. First up, I wanted to get a better sense of how retail markets work. My background and training is energy and commodity markets, which is a completely different kettle of fish, but I was teaching retail markets to my students. And teaching it without as much knowledge or understanding as I needed. I had to get a better handle on actual markets so I could better understand the theory, not just how it worked but when the theory worked and when it did not work. Understanding my hobby market was perfect for that. 

The second goal was to help educate others in the community about how the market actually works. There’s a lot of claims made online — claims that seem to be generally accepted — which simply aren’t true, and the FP market is no exception to that. A lot of what I was reading, in forums and blogs, was deeply flawed. I set out to help people understand the market dynamics and to dispel some of the myths, by sharing what I had learned and taking them on the journey with me.

Looking back on those goals, I see a lot of success and progress. Having a deeper understanding of both the theory and reality of retail markets has helped me to become a better teacher, particularly in enabling me to move away from the textbook material and find ways of explaining concepts in a more interesting, real way. I also like to think that I’ve helped to improve the community’s depth of knowledge. Maybe I haven’t convinced many people to share my views, but I’m sure I’ve given people more to think about. At the very least, it’s another perspective that may differ from their own. There’s more a lot progress to be made on both counts, but I’m happy with how we’ve gone so far. 

My favourite post in that time is, undoubtedly, the monster five-part series I did on Fountain Pen Aesthetics last winter. It's certainly not for everyone -- it is long, dense, and philosophical -- but it was a real joy to write and has brought in the most engaged and interesting feedback of anything  on this site. I also enjoyed the debates that were sparked after posts like the analysis of Goulet Pens and Noodlers

I originally estimated that the potential audience for a niche blog like this was small, maybe 500 people in total. My aim for the first year was to try and get half of them reading the blog regularly. It wasn’t long before we got past that figure, then past 500, and for the last quarter of 2015 the monthly RSS subscriber number was around 4000. On top of that are those who visit the site directly, with around 3000-4000 unique visitors each month and around 10-15,000 pageviews. Those numbers boggle my mind. Since I started teaching, I’ve taught maybe 1000 students. The thought that I can reach multiples of that each month just does my head in. It also makes me feel humbled by the attention, and helps to reaffirm a sense of responsibility: to take the blog seriously, to do the analysis properly, and to write effectively. 

Apart from making progress toward my goals and building an audience, I’ve also found a lot of satisfaction through the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made in the community — relationships which might not have been possible without the blog. I won’t list everyone here but there are some really wonderful people in the community, some of whom have had a major role with this site, and I’m grateful to them all. 

Thinking about the year ahead, I’ve decided not to pursue hard goals like building my audience to a certain number or definitely posting on a regular, fortnightly schedule. Frankly, I’m not sure how my audience got so big and so I’ve no idea how to build it further: I’m just going to keep writing what is interesting to me, and hope that it’s interesting to others as well. Keeping a regular posting routine is hard for me, given how my schedule is shaped by the academic year — and, honestly, it made me feel pretty burned out towards the end of 2015. 

One major goal is to take more care in the posts that I put up. Partly, this is because I have a larger audience now, many of whom are professionals in the FP industry, and I want to do a better job. But also because I recognise there were mistakes last year — unnecessary ones — and I’m eager to avoid making them again in 2016. I may also tweak the structure of the posts: they’re long, and might be useful if I start adding in some sub-headings and breaking the text into sections. I’m already playing around with that, we’ll see how it goes. 

At some point, I’d also like to find a new way to organise content on the site and make it easier for folks to access the important parts of the back catalogue. (If anyone has ideas on that, I’d love to hear them.) And I need to set up an email subscription option, for those who don’t like or know RSS. 

Also, I can’t really share any details yet but there is a very special project in the works, one which should really appeal to most people who subscribe to this site (and hopefully many others). It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while and is unlike anything else I’ve done on the site or that I’ve seen any other FP bloggers do. It requires support from quite a few people so no promises that it will happen, but if everything pans out there will be a big announcement around Easter. 

Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone who has participated or engaged with the blog in any way: reader, commenter, emailer, anonymous online critic, whatever. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year as a pen economist and that satisfaction is all down to the people. So thank you for reading this, thank you for subscribing to the blog, and thank you for your feedback. Hopefully the second year will be even better than the first!