The path to becoming a publisher

In light of Chris Coyier’s recent article about CSS-Tricks, I think it’s about time I shared some plans with you all.

In my 2023 wrap-up post I said the following:

I also see a gap in publications. CSS-Tricks is done now, and unfortunately, been abandoned. A List Apart has seemingly experienced the same too. At least Smashing is flourishing, but there’s a hole that’s been left by CSS-Tricks especially and I think I might know how to fill it. More on that as the year progresses.

I was very high-level hinting at some very early plans to evolve this place into a publisher. I just want to give you all a look behind the curtain at what that’s about.

It feels like a good time to be talking about this too, since the subject of CSS-Tricks is very much on our minds after Chris Coyier’s very honest and interesting post.

Where Piccalilli currently is and was permalink

At the moment, it’s just me — Andy — writing content and that has been the case since this site’s inception in 2018. Content was flying then and especially around the start of the pandemic in 2020. I published a course on Eleventy and even hosted the CUBE CSS documentation on here for a while. Things were going good!

In 2021 to late 2023 however, I went on a low-key hiatus from publishing content here. There was a combination of factors, such as founding an agency and battling with burnout. I was just too damn busy to write — especially at the level that I try to maintain.

This hiatus of sorts was a real shame. I’d run out of steam after publishing Learn CSS with Google’s We turned that course — which was multiple lessons and hundreds of demos — around really fast and that knocked me back somewhat. I couldn’t even bear to open iA Writer for months after it was done.

Last year, though, I got my sparkle back and this year, content is flying out of the traps again! But, I’m not happy that it’s just me and that’s certainly not the ceiling of this place. Let’s dig in.

The hole to be filled permalink

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, so let me break down where my brain’s at.

People are posting on their own websites a hell of a lot more than they were doing once upon a time. I think that is absolutely fantastic and let me tell ya, I am digging your writing, everyone.

The thing that CSS-Tricks (and the others) provide(d) though is an editorial process and top quality curation. The editorial process differs per publication, but generally the process is like this:

  1. You submit a draft
  2. An editor runs through it and picks up on areas that the writing can be improved
  3. A bit of back and forth with different drafts
  4. The editor does a final proof and in my case turns British English to American (lol)
  5. Post gets scheduled and the writer gets paid when it goes live

It’s sweet as hell because everyone wins. The publication makes money from ads, sponsorships/subscriptions and brand deals etc. The writer rightly makes good money for their hard work and expertise. The writer’s skills improve too because let me tell you, working with an editor is super beneficial.

The writer also gets a massive signal boost because the publication generally has super high traffic. That was certainly the case for me with CSS-Tricks. I can’t remember how Chris and I were linked up, but he very kindly published a post for me in 2018. At the time, I didn’t really have an audience but let me tell ya, I did after that and the subsequent posts I was lucky enough to publish on that site.

I want to do the same for other people. I want to give back what Chris so kindly gave me. I also want people to be paid for their talent and for people to be able to more easily discover other people’s talent.

I’m working out how to make this sustainable permalink

Money, right? It’s gotta be worked out to make this work. It needs to be worked out in an equitable fashion too. The content also has to live forever, safely. That’s really important to me.

I don’t think ads are the answer. Well, not a bunch of ads — served from an ad platform, anyway. I’m also not really into the idea of sponsored content either. What I mean by that is a publication writes favourable article about a company for money. I see that in the same light as a conference sponsor rolling out a speaker from their company to talk about that company for 40 mins…

We’re (at Set Studio) thinking about various ways partnerships could work in a sustainable manner that doesn’t negatively impact performance, privacy and importantly, the reading experience. I’m gonna be talking to a couple of companies that I have an established relationship with as that stuff evolves, but hit me up if your company wants to play around with some ideas too.

Another option is a paid membership of sorts. Again, I’m not sure people have the appetite for this, but we’re gonna research into that too. I think Piccalilli needs to earn the right to that again.

Lastly, courses. I’m publishing a course this year and it will be on this website. There is loads of behind the scenes happening on that as we speak, but I want to publish other people’s courses too and elevate their voice. Publishing other people’s courses is a long way off yet, but again, this stuff all adds up to a sustainable and equitable business model.

Changes to design and tech and maybe even the name permalink

I’m super lucky to have a ridiculously talented team at Set Studio who are actively working on stuff around Piccalilli. The project that’s currently running is we’re moving the platform from Eleventy to Astro.

We love Eleventy (I especially so), but Astro is going to simplify stuff like courses and highly interactive stuff. Also, user access and purchasing is easier on a hybrid setup like Astro/Next. I know only too well from Every Layout and the eleventy course I had on here that building on top of a static site is hard and fragile.

We’re also going to redesign this place and give it a well needed brand refresh! The current UI is [checks notes] over 4 years old. It looks decent enough, but we have the talent internally to make it really special.

Name-wise. I dunno what to do with it. I know people struggle to say and spell Piccalilli. The domain is very special to me though. We’re going to do some more research and think very carefully about it. If a rename happens, it needs to be done in a way that’s seamless. Essentially not like Twitter, but more like Vercel. Can you even remember what Vercel was called?

Wrapping up permalink

Look, the dream goal is Piccalilli fills a hole that’s been left by Digital Ocean and their mis-handling of CSS-Tricks. That publication was the G.O.A.T and still is, even though it’s in a static state — likely on its last legs.

I know people want a publication where they know every article on there will be of a really good standard and let me tell you, that is the most important part. I want to publish stuff that people really want to read. People also want a publication with focus and that focus has to be on front-end development and design. It also has to stay in its lane.

All this stuff is future stuff though. I’m starting to build on curation with the links setup and also I’m posting myself a lot more too. Once the re-platform stuff has moved further I’m going to reach out to some trusted friends who are really good writers. Sure, I’ll open up a submission process, but I want to get the editorial workflow and business model in a good place before that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Whether you’re a reader or a company: I want to hear your voice.

I want to wrap up by thanking Chris for everything too. I completely understand why you sold CSS-Tricks and I want to heavily underline that you did the right thing at the right time. I think everyone can agree that what you built with CSS-Tricks is truly legendary and a force for good on the web.