Two weeks ago CCE asked for your support, a humble request for help keeping this site on the air and accessible. Since then 0ver 30 of you have responded, generously purchasing books and ordering copies of my upcoming calendar. To those people I offer my sincere thanks – such generosity is greatly appreciated. In just two weeks such generosity has provided enough funds to support CCE for about four months. This is a great start, but keeping CCE on the air for an entire year will require the generosity of a few more readers.
Most of those that have contributed so far are long time readers, people who have been reading this site for years and know me and the work I do much more intimately then most of CCE’s readers. While I’m sure many more of you would love to help support this site, I know that contributing money towards something and someone you know little about – especially online – is a rather daunting hurdle to overcome. That’s why I’d thought I’d take a moment to help you get to know me and CCE a little better. Today I thought I’d let you take a look at the man behind curtain, with a short interview with the man responsible for it all. Me.
Who are you ?
My name is Mike Forgrave and I am a Copper Country explorer. I haven’t always been, however, as my beginnings occurred two hundred miles to the east in Michigan’s oldest community – Sault Ste. Marie. The year was 1977 at by that time the Copper Empire had collapsed a decade before. By the time I finally arrived to the scene – for my first year of college at Michigan Tech – most of the empire’s structures and infrastructure had been removed. Yet there was still plenty to explore. I still remember the first time I gazed upon the haunting remains of the Quincy Smelter, the first time I discovered the concrete walls of the railroad cuts above the Quincy Mill, and the first time I stumbled across the crumbling ruins of the Cliff Mine buried in the woods. It wasn’t long until I fell in love with my new adopted home.
While it took me only five years to earn my degree, I ended up staying in the Copper Country for a dozen more. I got married on the eroding shore of McLain Park, I pulled my oldest son in a wagon up and down the old Copper Range right-of-way, I bought a century-old miner’s house in Calumet.
What’s your connection to CCE?
While I loved living in and exploring the Copper Country, my degree in Scientific and Technical Communication did me very little good there. To support my family I had to do the jobs that were available, mostly low pay jobs stocking shelves and delivering pizzas. Unfortunately, my passion was multimedia and in hopes to someday land a job in that field I began honing and improving my skills on a variety of side projects. I taught students videography, created videos for local non-profits, and built websites for a few clients. In 2006 I embarked on yet another skill building exercise, one I hoped I could use as a evolving portfolio showcasing my writing and media skills. The site was an on-line exploration journal I called Keweenaw Explorer. A few months later the name was changed to Copper Country Explorer and CCE was born. That was ten years ago.
Wait, CCE is the work of just one person?
This is perhaps the biggest misconception about this site. Most people look at the sheer amount of material found here – over 1200 posts, 12,000 photos, and hundreds of maps and illustrations – and assume a team of people are responsible. Truth is everything seen here unless otherwise noted is the work of just one person – me. Over the last ten years I have written nearly 3 million words, taken nearly 30,000 photos, drawn nearly 500 maps and illustrations, responded to thousands of comments and emails, and have written hundreds of lines of code. I am also solely responsible for responding to all CCE’s emails, fulfilling all its book orders, updating its Facebook page, and designing several iterations of the site.
CCE sounds like a full time job. How much work does it take?
Quite a bit. Though each post is different the average is about 1500 words in length, illustrated with roughly ten photos, maps, or drawings. The first step is research, which can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours per post. The second step is illustration, where I prepare the photos and create the maps and drawings. Normally I take about 300 images at any given location, a number I must dwindle down to about a dozen good shots. Each of those shots needs to be enhanced, cropped, and digitally manipulated. That takes about another hour. If there’s a map or drawing to be made that can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours. Finally I sit down to actually writing the post. The time to do this varies widely as well, as anyone whose written anything can attest to. On average this takes about two hours. Thus from start to finish, an individual post on CCE takes about four hours to complete.
Yet thats just the posts. Each day I receive anywhere from two to six emails, correspondence I try to respond to as quickly as I can. A good deal of these emails ask me for information, which requires more research on my part. There’s also orders to fulfill and mail. There’s daily maintenance tasks, like moderating comments, filtering spam, and altering code. If I ever change the site design that’s another several days of work at minimum. All of this can easily add another six hours in work each week. If I’m writing a field guide that can quickly double that number.
In today’s abbreviated posting schedule all this work adds up to about 20+ hours of work each and every week.
That doesn’t sound too bad.
Its not, at least not by itself. Unfortunately I don’t make a living off of CCE, so I still have a full time job to contend with . I also have a precocious two year old that I watch during the day – so I’m always juggling my post writing with diaper changes, lunch making, play time, and crisis management. Sometimes it can be quite a bit to handle all at once, and usually CCE suffers because of it. You can always tell when that happens because posts began to dwindle. Things have gone pretty well when I can get a good three posts out during a week.
But CCE makes money, doesn’t it?
CCE does make some money, thanks to generous readers who have purchased my books and maps over the years. I make about $5 for each book sold, depending on the title and format. On average readers buy about ten books a month, for a take home revenue of about $50 dollars. Google Ads provide another $20 on average for a total monthly revenue of about $70. Unfortunately that’s not nearly enough to cover the site’s monthly operating costs, which are about twice as much.
How much are CCE’s operating costs?
After ten years of content and a weekly readership of several thousand, CCE has grown to become quite the resource hog when it comes to hosting in terms of both size and bandwidth it uses – substantially increasing hosting costs. There’s also a monthly cost associated with owning the domain name and various derivatives, along with subscription fees for my e-store and my spam blocking service (CCE gets on average about 5,000 spam comments each and every day). These costs run about $140 dollars a month, which translates to a yearly cost of about $1600. Since CCE’s inception those costs have exceeded $15,000.