How Dread Central's "Hail Mary" Campaign to Stay Open Could Change Genre Journalism

Dread-Central_publicity - H 2016
<p>Dread-Central_publicity - H 2016</p>   |   Courtesy of Steve Barton?
The popular horror site has turned to crowdfunding to save it from closing its doors.

Dread Central is hoping for a Christmas miracle.

The popular horror site has launched a crowdfunding campaign to save it from closing its doors in a move it is describing as a "Hail Mary."

The site is asking readers to donate $1 a month via the crowdfunding platform Patreon, and it needs about $7,000 total a month to cover operating costs. So far, the horror community has rallied behind the site, with John Carpenter, The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd and dozens of others lending support.

Dread Central once could depend on advertising dollars from movie studios, but those dollars have dried up, as studios instead are spending their digital budgets on social media campaigns.

"Smaller websites like ours, we're all feeling this. Everyone is looking for a new way survive. I'll be the guinea pig," editor-in-chief and co-founder Steve Barton tells Heat Vision. "It's really terrifying. I don’t know what I’m doing two months or now."

The idea of the public funding journalism is nothing new; PBS and NPR date back to 1970, while crowdfunded support for journalism has been on the rise in recent years. However, Dread Central could be a game changer, as it's believed to be the first genre news site to change its business model from ad-based to crowdfunded support.

"It's a really rough business now," says Brad Miska, co-founder of horror website Bloody Disgusting. "Studios have cut back and don't give the support they used to. You have to find ways to chase traffic in order to survive, but also find a way to stay true to yourself at the same time."

As the media landscape has changed, a number of sites catering to horror audiences have shuttered or been bought by larger media organizations. Dread Central has remained independent since its inception in 2006.  

“If it works, it could be epic for websites to be remain independent and keep their voices,” says Miska of the Patreon campaign.

To keep the site afloat for now, Barton has turned to credit cards. So far, the Patreon campaign has raised about a third of what they need and he estimates if they don't reach their goal, the site will fold by the end of February.

"We’ve never taken a day off. I work on Christmas. I haven’t been on a vacation in 10 years," says Barton, who estimates he's made less than minimum wage for his work on the site, when accounting for the long hours. "My typical day starts at 7:30 in the morning. I work all day. My girlfriend comes around 6. I watch TV with her for three hours. She goes to bed and I work until 3 a.m."

That workaholic attitude has paid off with a dedicated readership and respect within the horror industry. Barton says the site averages around 1 million impressions a month and 500,000 unique visitors. As for revenue, the $7,000 monthly goal represents the rock-bottom number for the site to stay open. Anything above that, he plans on using to pay his writers more and to expand into other areas of content.

Part of what makes Dread Central so beloved in the horror community is it has become a hub for fledging filmmakers to get their first taste of media support. Those filmmakers in turn have developed strong emotional ties to the site, using it to connect with other talent and continuing a relationship with Dread as they come up in the industry.  

"They really champion indie films, and it really helps indie filmmakers," says director and producer James Cullen Bressack, who fondly remembers the site being the first to run press on his debut film, 2011's My Pure Joy. "It would leave a big hole, and it would be really heartbreaking to see it disappear."

Barton has been working to get the word out, organizing giveaways for those who contribute to the campaign.

"It’s been heartwarming. It's been frightening. It's been a roller coaster," he says. "If it goes away, because the fans don’t want it, I'm okay with that. If they do want it, I am super okay with that."

If you would like to contribute, check out Dread Central's Patreon page