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You know, we use ad-blockers as well. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. our upcoming SmashingConf Barcelona, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

Behind The Scenes: What It Takes To Publish A Smashing Article

It’s been quite a journey for this very sentence to wind up on this little website. Not many people know it, but every single Smashing article goes through a thorough editorial review, including multiple passes for editing and refinement, before being published.

Community Is The Center Of Everything Link

How do you build a community that trusts you and supports you over the years? That’s not usually an easy question, but in our case, the answer isn’t particularly difficult: It is by being humane and obsessed with quality. We have never had a grand master plan or a hidden agenda. Instead, it was important for us to be authentic and honest, and to stay true to the strict principles that were defining our work. Looking back at the last 10 years, I can’t stop thinking that these principles, along with the appreciation of our craft and boundless respect for our audience, are the reason why we’ve ended up here today. Those aren’t the only reasons though.

You see, Smashing Magazine has never been an ambitious financial enterprise with an extraordinary business plan. Doing what I love most while remaining independent has always been much more important to me than cashing out with a fancy exit strategy, which is probably why Smashing Magazine hasn’t become a money-making machine over the years.

Image caption1

Nothing can beat an empowering feeling you get once you meet readers in person, at a SmashingConf. (Images: (Mr. 2 Marc3 Thiele4 and Anki Delfmann5)

We publish articles because we love sharing what we learn and what others learn, too; we love discovering unique points of view and surprising design strategies, as well as just understanding how our colleagues out there solve difficult UX and front-end problems. We’re curious, and we love to surface those delightful niceties and clever techniques, and to ignite the entire community with the kind of passion and practical tips that everybody would benefit from. It’s not a particularly exciting proposition, but that’s the honest reason why we still exist today.

However, without reach, publishing isn’t particularly exciting or rewarding. Initially, we had no community around us, so we decided to do what seemed to be the right thing back then: to provide immense value through effort, to under-promise and over-deliver, to exceed expectations and never to compromise. We committed to publishing entirely, well, smashing articles three times a week, for at least six months. No excuses, no exceptions: just writing and publishing, day after day after day.

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The beginnings are always hard. Motivation and passion fueled us throughout our journey. Large view.7

Yes, we’ve striven to deliver the highest value through our effort, but that doesn’t mean we ever aimed for perfection. In fact, sometimes I actively encourage authors and editors to make mistakes, to add custom changes when they feel right, and never to delete tweets that contain grammatical errors

Some articles do have grammatical mistakes and can sound ridiculously German (oh yes, we are based in Germany, by the way); our tweets surely aren’t examples of eloquent English vocabulary; and commas, full stops and semicolons do find their way into odd places in our articles. But that’s perfectly fine, because we learned to let go of perfectionism early on. We’ve learned that being approachable and human is way better than appearing bulletproof and mechanical.

Instead, we chose to reveal our personalities and just be the way we are outside of the Smashing universe: a little quirky and informal at times, a bit playful and unpredictable at other times, and sometimes a little risky and unrealistic. In doing so, we’ve remained authentic and shown our personalities, our true motives and the values that have informed our work. Of course, we’ve changed over the years, too, and our editorial direction, among other things, has shifted, but our values and principles remain unchanged.

We think you noticed. That commitment to quality on our side has prompted respect on your side, and, as a result, our quirky little brand has gained remarkable trust, respect and loyalty. Maybe it’s what kept us from becoming generic and has gained us a stronger standing in the industry.

That brings us to this point today. You are reading this very article because you are a part of this community that has emerged over the last 10 years — this strong, intelligent and remarkably kind community, willing to share and learn and get better at whatever it is we are all trying to figure out in this complex industry. To build a community, one needs to provide something. In our case, it was the value we provided in our articles or, more specifically, the focus we put on high-quality content very early on.

High-Quality Content Is Expensive Link

We’ve been focusing on publishing high-quality content from the day one. That’s why we established our sacred editorial publishing guidelines98 back in 2007 — principles that remain the bedrock of our work. With them in mind, we have never compromised or crossed the line: advertising and sponsorship are always labeled as such; our advertisers have zero say about the editorial content on the site; and no articles are allowed to have a hidden agenda or to skew facts in any way.

No hidden advertisements
We don’t accept any hidden ads on Smashing Magazine — a compromise is out of question. And our publishing guidelines98 state it clearly.

As you can imagine, following these principles can be quite impractical and expensive. And we have had to say “no” to many things over the years — from lucrative offers to use our mailing list for third-party promotions (totally unacceptable to us) to perfectly polished and insightful but extremely biased articles (snuck through to our editors by seemingly independent freelancers). Saying “no” more often than “yes” has been critically important. It’s not a bit different today.

The (Obnoxious) Smashing Editorial Review Process Link

Establishing a rigorous review process, one that ensures that only high-quality articles get published on the website, also proved to be important. Our editorial team cannot possibly know everything about everything, yet that’s not an excuse for publishing mediocre articles. That’s why we devised a comprehensive lifecycle for every article — which, admittedly, most authors don’t like at all, and some find quite outrageous.

The Smashing experts panel10, introduced about six years ago, plays a crucial role in this process. It’s an editorial board with over 90 invited experts on topics ranging from accessibility to performance to JavaScript architecture to user experience design. These well-respected members of the community regularly provide technical review of articles, along with feedback and ratings, to ensure the high quality of published articles. We should note that feedback is usually shared anonymously, so that no bias is involved when giving feedback — very much like how it’s done with academic papers.

Here’s the hard part. In order for an article to get published, the editorial board has to approve it with flying colors: The article has to get an average rating of at least 3.5 out of 5 stars, including the editorial review (often done by yours truly). Otherwise, the article is rejected. Full stop. That’s why many authors feel quite disappointed and sometimes even tormented — given the months and months of work and effort they’ve put into the article (work that is, of course, compensated).

(That’s perfectly fine, though. Being editor in chief, my job is not to be liked by our authors, but to deliver high-quality content, which we’ve been doing tirelessly for the last 10 years.)

Editorial Workflow: From Start to Finish Link

In a nutshell, here’s what all of our poor authors have to suffer:

  1. We invite everybody to write an article11 but we never accept the so-called “guest authors”, who tend to earn money with writing. Every week we actively search for active designers and developers who published an article or contributed to an open source project, and invite them to contribute to Smashing Magazine.
  2. We never assign topics to authors. Instead, we’ll ask the author to write about the topic that they’re most excited and knowledgeable about, and they’ll start working on an outline.
  3. When the author has an outline, it’s shared with the editorial team for discussion and refinement. It sounds harmless, but it isn’t. We do our best to push the author out of the comfort zone to the very edge, to challenge and confront their point of view, even if we share the same view as well. We pay a lot of attention to the very first draft, spending hours reading and commenting on it, because, in our experience, a (really) good first draft prevents problems and confusion down the road.
  4. Eventually, the author writes the article and shares their draft with the editorial team for revisions and comments.
  5. At some point, the final draft is (hopefully) ready for a final review. That’s when the experts panel comes in. The article is sent to at least two independent reviewers, anonymously. Within a few days, we receive feedback, which we review, weigh against editorial concerns, adjust and summarize, and then forward to the author for them to make further adjustments to the article.
  6. At this point, there is potentially a lot of back and forth between editors, authors and experts until the article gets a high enough score to be published.
  7. If the score is too low, the article is rejected. Otherwise, the article is sent to an editor for final changes and then to a proofreader, who makes sure that it doesn’t contain any grammatical or spelling errors. At the same time, we collect high-resolution images and prepare the markup for responsive images.
  8. We might work with an illustrator to come up with custom illustrations for the article. And sometimes an article requires fancy technical integration and front-end trickery.
  9. Finally, the article is scheduled for publishing, which means that it has to be prepared. Editors will prepare and optimize the images, image captions, large image views, tables, excerpts, search engine description, thumbnails, related articles, and tags.
  10. Eventually, the article is published, and everybody is happy and excited, sharing it on social media and via email and on Snapchat and in blogs. We’ll monitor comments and respond to questions and requests. An article might require an update or CSS or JavaScript enhancements a while later.
  11. The next day, the entire process starts from scratch, giving us approximately 300 articles a year.
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Expert reviews play a crucial role in our editorial process. In fact, every sixth article sent for review doesn’t make it to the end… Oh, wait, our authors might not need to know that!

People Behind The Scenes Link

Now, the process is quite involved, and obviously there are people behind each of these tasks — dedicated, professional people whose work, of course, has to be respected and, consequently, remunerated. Whether an author gets paid the honorarium isn’t open for discussion. Even if they don’t want to get paid (for example, because their job description includes evangelizing for the topic they’re writing about), we pay them or at least donate their honorarium to a charity of their choice.

We follow up at the end of the month to ensure that every author has submitted an invoice. Paying is a matter of principle and respect — respect for their time, effort, work and dedication. These are to be appreciated and applauded.

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Over the years, we’ve worked with over 1,000 authors from 50 countries. We’ve been privileged to meet many of these authors in different parts of the world. Large view.14

Everybody involved in writing, editing, publishing or maintaining the articles gets paid. Here are the heros behind the scenes, involved in the publishing process:

  • Authors usually invest weeks and weeks of work to write just the perfect piece and to refine the article under editorial guidance. Over the years, we’ve worked with over 1,000 authors from 50 countries of the world.
  • Reviewers, being professionals with projects of their own, invest precious spare time in the evenings and on their lunch breaks to review articles and send questions, feedback and suggestions. In the board, we have around 90 people15 committed to review our articles.
  • In-house editors (including Iris16, our senior editor) our junior editor Yana, and me17 (editor in chief) coordinate on the progress on the article, making sure it’s properly revised, adjusted, edited and published.
  • eBook editor Cosima18 tirelessly prepares some of the articles for print and eBooks, including retaking screenshots in high resolution and adjusting links and references.
  • Remote editors work with authors and reviewers on articles for the various sections of the website, including Heydon Pickering19 (accessibility), Rey Bango20 (coding), Alma Hoffmann21 (design), Chui Chui Tan22 (UX), Michel Bozgounov23 (graphics), Marko Dugonjić24 (typography) and Derek Allard25 (mobile).
  • External proofreaders, Andrew Lobo26 and Owen Gregory27, take good care of the tone, voice and grammar of articles, polishing them but also protecting the author’s unique writing style.
  • Our illustrator Ricardo Gimenes28 has to reset his alarm clock every month to be able to finalize the illustrations and visuals on time (he lives in São Paulo, Brazil).
  • Our manager Markus29, who runs the business and coordinates articles and events (and makes sure all of our crazy projects run on schedule).
  • Our in-house front-end developer llya Pukhalski30 takes care of our lean and clean CSS and the performance and maintenance of the website.
  • Services such as MailChimp, Trello, GitHub, Shopify, Heroku, Slack and Spotify keep the entire team creative, focused, sane and in sync.
  • External development and servers, hosted with MediaTemple31, often raise the costs in a given month, too.

When you add up everything, it’s quite a sum. So, how expensive is it?

Editorial Costs: $17,300 Per Month Link

Every article published on the website requires work from a good number of people. When broken down into hard numbers, this is what it looks like:

  • New authors get $200 per article. Existing authors get $250 (way underpaid — if possible, we’d pay much more).
  • Our most active part-time section editors (coding, design, mobile, graphics, UX design and WordPress) work with the authors to give feedback on their outlines and on the technical accuracy and structure of their articles. Most of our articles are quite lengthy (the average word count is 4,000 words), which results in about 4 hours of work of reading, making notes and giving feedback, costing us another $200 per article.
  • Each article is reviewed by two people on our experts panel. That’s $120 per article on average.
  • Our two (freelance) proofreaders should get paid, too. Together, they receive $1,600 per month (or $80 per article).
  • Once an article is finished, our editors (Cosima, Iris, Melanie and Yana) prepare it for publishing, including image optimization and bulletproofing in WordPress. They get €7,700 per month altogether (not much, you see): Divided by 20 articles per month, that works out to €385 per article.

The editorial costs add up to a whopping $865 per article on average, or $17,300 (USD) per month. This still doesn’t include the expenses for server maintenance or the full-time in-house front-end developer, adding another €6,100 per month. So, in reality, it’s more like $23,400 per month, or $1,170 per article.

We need to cover our costs to keep the website running. And that should be our concern, not yours, which is why we’ve been coming up with all kinds of products, from printed books32 to eBooks33 to workshops34 to conferences35, backed up by the almighty advertising in the sidebar.

The Way Forward? The Smashing Membership Link

The spread of ad-blockers has prompted us to rethink our revenue strategies to keep this little website alive. We fully encourage the use of ad-blockers, and we actually use them ourselves. We’ve got to keep the servers running, though. And we can’t neglect the problem, because advertising revenue has dropped 50% compared to the previous year.

We would never consider introducing a paywall. Blocking content would clearly go against our editorial principles. As odd as it might sound, we strongly believe that the content we publish belongs not to us, but to the community, because it’s produced by the community.

Being squeezed into a corner, we had to look at our options. One of them was to introduce sponsored content, which you have probably noticed by now. Sponsored content still goes through editorial review and proofreading before getting published. We had many internal discussions, arguing for and against it, and I’ve always been firmly opposed to it36, but we decided to try it out on a small scale. Still, unless we’re willing to run a massive amount of sponsored content on the website, it won’t make up for the drop in revenue from banner advertisements.

Image caption37

It’s been a long journey already, but we’re looking forward to the next 10 years! Large view.38

What’s next then? The Smashing Membership. Starting from November of this year, marking our 10th anniversary, we’ve prepared a lil’ something special. No, nothing as simple as an ad-free experience. Rather, it’s a nice little package that (we hope) will give you tangible benefits and make you better in your day-to-day-work. It’s also a quite challenging new undertaking that we’ve been working on behind the curtains. Take our word for it, we’re putting a lot of effort into making the membership work well, and we’ve been driving ourselves crazy figuring out just the right mixture of features to include in it. We’re pretty sure that it won’t leave you feeling indifferent. But not everything at once!

In the next post, we’ll feature the people who keep the entire Smashing universe running — and we’ll talk about how we design and organize conferences, and the most popular animated GIFs and emojis floating around the office (and Slack) regularly. Curious? Well, stay tuned!

(ms, il, al)

Footnotes Link

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs front-end/UX workshops, webinars and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Deryck Oñate

    August 4, 2016 2:54 pm

    Thanks for this great exercise of transparency Vitaly. Valuable info which provide us guidelines to use in our own business.


    • 2

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 4, 2016 6:52 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Deryck — I’m glad to hear that you found some useful nuggets in there!

  2. 3

    First of all: thank you for your effort and the great articles you provide to us. The articles i read here nearly every day, improved my skills a lot. This is one of the reasons why my adblocker has a green thumbs up on SM.
    Keep up your great work! I am curious on how you will make use of the new “membership”. Maybe patreon would be a option as well?

    • 4

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 4, 2016 6:54 pm

      It’s my pleasure!

      Well, the membership will contain different options, and we are refining them at this very moment. Patron is an option as well, but for me personally it’s very important that every member gets a tangible value as a result of their investment. I don’t believe that donations alone could work long-term.

  3. 5

    Thanks for the honesty and transparency in everything you do. You are truly my favorite source for information on the web!

    • 6

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 4, 2016 6:54 pm

      Thanks for reading us, Sam — and please stay tuned. More articles like this are coming up shortly.

  4. 7

    Smashing published a few of my articles back in May. It couldn’t have been a more enjoyable experience. The editors challenged me along the way and definitely helped me produce better work. Keep up the great work!

    • 8

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 4, 2016 6:55 pm

      Well, not all authors share your enthusiasm, Jon ;-) But we do our best to challenge the author and consequently produce a stellar, valuable article. Thanks for investing the time to write with us!

  5. 9

    Trish Riedel

    August 4, 2016 6:00 pm

    If only every site was as transparent as this! I think it’s important that people are writing about what they’re excited about. Reading a piece by someone who is highly engaged is much more interesting than someone who is assigned to care.

    T. Riedel

  6. 10

    Batuhan dogan

    August 4, 2016 6:11 pm

    I am wondering if it’s possible to let users/readers read the articles and improve them based on what readers dont understand and what they find useful or not.

    • 11

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 4, 2016 6:56 pm

      An interesting point. Well, we’ll look into it. Let me see what we can do!

      • 12

        Batuhan dogan

        August 19, 2016 6:15 am

        Consider it as usability test of an article. And please let us know :)

    • 13

      As kind of a proofread before publishing, eg. with the “premium” membership? If not, maybe just highlight help done by commenters? Its certainly working most of the times .. ;)

      cu, w0lf.

    • 14

      BTW: Phoronix is doing something similar to that with its premium membership. Quote from their “feature” list:

      Find Out About Upcoming Content: For articles written in advance that will be published later in the date, the title and time-to-publishing is displayed so you will know in advance about exciting new content.

      A “lets have a real life test run” feature could be randomly deployed, ie. take random selected premium members, but also popup on the regular site for random regular visitors.

      cu, w0lf.

  7. 15

    Saptarshi Chakraborty

    August 4, 2016 8:04 pm

    I doubt I can put in words how indebted I am to Smashing Magazine. I started out in Mainframes as a young engineer, and the only reason I was able to switch to front-end development was the continuous inspiration from your publication. Every day before I start work, I open up Smashing Magazine to see what’s new. It is not just about keeping in touch with what is the latest, but about that familiarity that I have come to look forward to over many years. Keep up the brilliant work, and great idea with the subscription. Have a Smashing birthday!

    PS: Even an anniversary post that is like no other! Very, very well done.

  8. 16

    Great article Vitaly! I really enjoyed seeing how the editorial machine works at Smashing Magazine. We only see the tip of the iceberg…

    On a side note, it looks like there’s some sketchy grammar in the second last sentence in second last paragraph: “We’re pretty sure that it won’t leave you feel indifferent.” I believe the noun feeling would be more appropriate than the verb feel. Just a minor nitpick — I couldn’t resist looking for some little thing your excellent proofreaders had missed :)

    • 17

      Vitaly Friedman

      August 5, 2016 11:22 am

      Ahhhh, good catch! Fixed :-) Thank you so much for the heads up :-) And for your kind words, too!

  9. 18

    Shut up and take my money!

    You’ve been delivering quality content for free for far too long Vitaly, I for one can not wait for the opportunity to contribute back to Smashing.

    Keep up the wonderful work you and the whole team are doing.

  10. 19

    Jeremiah Shoaf

    August 5, 2016 12:17 am

    Congrats on the (almost) 10 years! As someone who has written for Smashing, I can attest to the rigorous editorial process. :) But it truly makes the articles much better.

    Looking forward to see what you do with the Smashing Membership. I also have no problem with sponsored content as long as it is done tastefully. You have bills to pay, so do what you need to do to keep the site running!

  11. 20

    Bravo. Transparency is a huge boon to quality and trust, especially nowadays. I wish more sites had the editorial integrity of SM.

  12. 21

    Great behind the scenes article Vitaly. We prefer quality over quantity, keep up the good job!

  13. 22

    Cortney Parece

    August 9, 2016 3:14 pm

    This is such a great article and very timely as I just reached out to share some of my blog articles with you! It’s really interesting what goes into the process of publishing an article!

  14. 23

    Hey Vitaly! :)

    I’ve been using SM since it’s inception 10 years ago and from the first moment I’ve always seen SM as a top-A1-quality community. Seriously.

    I’ve been so influenced and touched by SM that I was able to save issue #2 of the SM newsletter in March of 2010 (I don’t know what I did with issue #1 :/ lol):

    Then, 6 years later I was able to not only write an article for SM, but also to personally meet you (and many other great SM folks) at the Smashing Conference NY in July of this year, and that was awesome!:

    So yeah, ask me if I plan to get a Smashing Membership? 🙌

    Thank you and everyone at SM for everything you do 😃

  15. 25

    Michele Bugliaro Goggia

    August 10, 2016 7:16 am

    Hi guy, I’m a reader/designer/blogger from Switzerland. I appreciate your honesty in telling us how it works on your side. The process that goes into publishing an article is an example for me.

  16. 26

    Kate aka Cody look-a-like

    August 10, 2016 6:31 pm

    SUPER EXCITED to hear about the membership option. Maybe membership option round 2 could be a smashing magazine subscription box? It could be filled with virtual treats. I’d love to throw out ideas at you! It’s the least I could do to give back to the community and help a wonderful website that I have been growing with and learning from for all 10 years (quietly and behind the scenes until my very first SmashingConf this past summer in NYC…)

    Best wishes.

  17. 27

    Hey, Vitaly!
    Inprobably am ine of the earliest reader of SmashingMag. Followed the design changes and have seen the content categories grow. Can’t tell you, how much I apreciate yours and the team’s efforts. In fact, for last three years I have been thinking of submitting a post or two under the WP category. I am loving the new transparency series and looking forward to what yo guys have been cooking.

    Here’s to ten more years of success and quality content.


    • 28

      Hey, Vitaly!
      I am probably one of the earliest readers of SmashingMag. Followed the design changes closely and have seen the content categories grow. Can’t tell you, how much I appreciate yours and the team’s efforts. In fact, for last three years, I have been thinking of submitting a post or two. I am loving the new transparency series and looking forward to what you guys have been cooking.
      Here’s to ten more years of success and quality content.

  18. 29

    Thank you for telling us all this behind of scene. I really appreciate your efforts and transparency.
    After read it I decided to cancel my ad-block in this site.


  19. 30

    Moneerah Abdulaziz

    August 12, 2016 11:26 pm

    Thank you for your effort, we really appreciate your great work.

  20. 31

    Manuela Langella

    August 18, 2016 5:50 pm

    I think I have just an idea on what happens when I send you my articles! :)
    Great stuff! :)

  21. 32

    Nice read, always like to read the insights and behind the scenes stuff.
    Articles on Smashing are awesome and they help me grow my skills since my student years …
    Your newsletter is always a pleasure to open and read.
    Happy birthday and wish you many more to come!

    Once an intern ;)

  22. 33

    Alsalamo Alikom(may peace be upon you)

    let me thank you at the beginning for your amazing content that you provide on your awesome smashing magazine. I never ever ever in my life thought that it could be really hard to take some people to publish such a clean, beneficial content. I would like to say that I am sorry for not giving you the support that you deserve since I start reading from your magazine.
    from today the ad-blockers will never work on smashing magazine anymore. today I knew how unique you are. I will try to support you without hesitation if i can.

    Please keep going feeding us with these ultra-amazing articles.

  23. 34

    Good one! Thank you for sharing such an amazing content.
    Check out BetaPage it is a startup directory where you can discover, hunt and upvote on various innovative startups as per your choice.

    Thank you.

  24. 35

    Richa Gangwani

    November 11, 2016 9:31 am

    Nice tips.
    Thank you for sharing! This post reminds me of
    Check out for more details.

    Thank you.


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