A few days ago, I wrote a piece talking about the revenue crunch affecting many websites, and talking about
the inevitability for independent sites to move towards some sort of paying model.
I think a lot of you may have thought we were going to do this Real Soon Now, so let me tell you that we’re not, and we haven’t given any serious thought to doing this any time soon.
When I spoke about this inevitably happening, I didn’t make clear that “inevitable” was over a timeframe of one or more years (probably the latter).
Again, for us, this is not a matter of survival. Our problem right now is that we’ve got more work than people (on the front-page side, we basically have two), and we can’t afford to hire and pay people to do the work that needs to be done.
What we’ve done is make new material the number one priority, and letting other things slide. That’s the reason why we haven’t updated and archived material, or answered some of your emails. We apologize for that,
but there’s just so much we can do each and every day without burning out.
There’s a lot of things we know we have to get to, but more back-end work means less front-page material, and vice versa. I hope to get to some of this once Joe gets back, but it’s rough.
Why Paying Doesn’t Work Yet
I’m going to use ourselves as an example, but you could plug in the name of any computer hardware website instead. Nobody in this field is so much bigger than us that the same lessons wouldn’t apply.
A certain proportion love visiting this website, and indicated they would be happy to pay a fairly reasonable yearly fee to keep the site going.
However, it would hardly seem fair to leave all the website content just as open to those who didn’t pay as those who did, so, outside of maybe some sample articles, we’d have to block access to most material.
This would mean we’d spend time, money and effort “protecting” the crown jewels from everyone else, a lot of unproductive effort, in our eyes.
More importantly, to protect those jewels, we’d be choking off future growth. Most of our fans wandered on over looking for something specific, took a long look at plenty of our past efforts, and liked what they saw. That would be very tough to recreate in a pay environment.
For every person who wants to read anything I write, there’s probably at least ten or twenty or a hundred who might want to read me only when I say something of interest to them. I’d hate to essentially tell those people “Pay for everything, or get nothing.”
If something like PC Magazine (or for that matter Consumer Reports) only costs around $25 a year, we could hardly charge a whole lot more than that, no matter how much we improved the website.
At least those magazines have economy of scale, they have millions of subscribers. We never would. Collecting a relatively small number of accounts for small amounts of money would be a tremendous headache for us, and hardly worth the effort of some collection agency. Any website would end up spending a sizable chunk of revenue collecting it.
At the very least, we’d have to spend time and effort monitoring who could get in and who couldn’t and update those lists constantly. No doubt access numbers would become public, and we’d have to track those cases of abnormal use and delete those accounts (and God help us if we ever got one of those wrong).
Limiting Access And Diversity
They don’t call it “surfing the Web” for nothing. A number of you pointed out that you wouldn’t much mind paying a few dollars a month to places that you visited all the time, but you could just do that for a certain number of places. If you had to pay that for each and every site that might have something that interested you, you would limit your scope pretty fast, and not be too happy about it.
I feel the same way. I end up going to an awful lot of websites looking at material and for information, and I sure wouldn’t want to pay full price for every or even most websites I’ve visited.
A huge advantage of the Internet is the freer flow of information. Subscription would severely restrict that flow. It would be a killer to new sites. What would eventually happen is you’d have a relative handful of full-service websites, and practically nothing else. That would kill diversity, and I think that would be a terrible idea.
For instance, this website is focused on two very different areas. It handles a specialty area (cooling), and it provides a lot of analysis of the personal computer industry. In all immodesty, we think we do those two things pretty well, and fill info-niches not generally well-covered by more full-service review sites.
But if you could only afford to go to five or fewer computer-hardware websites, we as we are currently would probably lose out most of the time. We’d either have to get big and full-service fast, or probably fade away.
What we would find the most viable payment scheme (and one we’d think fairest to both us and you) is a micro-cash scheme. You see an article with an abstract from dear old Ed and you want to read it, a few cents gets automatically deducted from your account and placed in ours. If someplace else compares eighty-seven motherboards with exhaustive testing, they’ll charge you more, but still not very much.
That way, you can go anyplace you like, and if you run into some duds, it just costs you pocket change.
Unfortunately, that isn’t here yet, and probably won’t be for some time. When I spoke about an inevitable payment scheme, that’s what I was thinking about.
However, that’s like being in favor of world peace. It just isn’t around.
A Leaner Ship
Since we’re not a high-budget place that has already tapped into all obvious revenue sources, we don’t have a desperate need for extra cash just to keep things afloat.
We don’t think a paying mechanism is a viable option for the foreseeable future, so we’ll gingerly look into some of the other possibilities we’ve mentioned previously, and talk more about them
should they come to pass.