The New TBR Business Model

I started writing this long before anyone knew about this change — in fact only a handful of people know about this change as I write this sentence. The change I am making today, has a huge potential to fail and this, I accept.

Simply put: I hate the business model of this blog, well actually I hated the business model of this blog. It was simple, well known, and commonplace. It’s the standard blog business model:

  1. Build a readership.
  2. Sell ads those readers must see.

In my case, here, I sold two ad spots: one to Fusion and one to RSS Sponsors. Both are very different types of advertisements.

Before we go any further I want to be clear about something: I have no problem with ad supported websites — they play an important role and both Fusion and the Syndicate were nothing but great to me. Ad supported sites will always be around — and truthfully that is fine.

But an ad supported site is, ultimately, not the site I want to run — so before I go any further I thought it prudent to craft the kind of site that I actually want to run, or as is actually the case: a site much closer to the one I want to run.

I want a direct relationship with you, my readers.

So starting today the business model becomes even more clear 1 :

  1. You pay me.
  2. I write.

Of course this model isn’t new either, we typically just call it a “paywall”. But a paywall in its basic form is ineffectual for what I want, because then it becomes a massive hurdle to gain new readers (since all my content would be hidden out of the public eye) — I don’t want that.

The Challenge

What I needed to solve was a few issues with a pure paywall model:

  1. How to continue to attract new readers and thus expose my writing to new people.
  2. How to keep my writing quotable and linkable by other sites.
  3. How to keep the current readers I have.
  4. Provide a firm reason why a membership model is better than the ad supported model, for those reading the site. (This was something I personally had to answer before I felt good about moving forward.)

New Readers

The first problem I hit with a paywall model was how I attract new readers. Word of mouth is just too slow, so I needed some way to offer potential new readers a taste of my writing. What I was strongly against doing was:

  • Truncated posts on my site.
  • Trial periods of any kind, or length.
  • Sample writing posts.

All three of those methods seemed way too crappy for me to put up with and would personally piss me off. I needed something better. In looking at how other sites worked I honed in on The New York Times. They have a modified paywall that allows readers to view a certain amount of articles every month. That, I thought, was closer to what I needed, but I could do my readers one better.

What I have going for me that The New York Times doesn’t have, is that I am not a news site. And since my opinions should stand the test of time, I do not need to move at the speed of light, therefore: time itself should really not be a big deal to me or the readers of this site.

All non-members of the site will have access to every post that members have access too, with one caveat: non-members won’t see those posts until seven days after I posted them.

Therefore, you can still enjoy this site, in full, without paying a dime or seeing a single ad — you just have to be OK with enjoying it seven days after members enjoy it.

I realize this isn’t ideal, but being as what I write is not time relevant, I feel that this is a decent tradeoff. If you aren’t a member you won’t be able to see what you are, in fact, missing — thus the content is indeed new to you when it does become “unlocked”. (This is the plan at least.)

I arrived at seven days because I think that is the minimum point of pain. Meaning I think that anything shorter would be too easy for a reader to decide it’s not worth becoming a member. Anything longer than seven days and I felt that I was being too punitive against readers who simply cannot afford to pay for a membership.

Incoming Links

This model brought about one other snag that really dumbfounded me: what happens to the readers of my site that want to link to one of my posts on their own site when my post is still behind the paywall? I could have easily forced those members to make their readers wait seven days, but that didn’t seem right to me and it didn’t seem like a site that I would want to link to.

Again I turned to The New York Times.

I have decided that if you are linking to my site, then a reader that comes here from your site can also view the article you link to, without having to become a member. 2

So if member Jim wants to link to a TBR article from his site, and his reader Bob wants to read my article — he can do so if he follows the link from Jim’s site to my site — even if Bob isn’t a member here.

It’s not a perfect system, but the very last thing I wanted to do was close my content off from being commented on by other sites and shared around. 3

Current Readers

I wanted to make sure that what ever changes I made to the site, I made them in such a way that all current readers could continue to enjoy the site without having to pay. That’s why there is the “free after 7 days” mechanism built in.

No matter if you pay for membership, or not, you can still read everything I write. The only difference now is that it isn’t the very latest thing I wrote, but you get the added benefit of never having to see an ad.

The Benefit

Why go this route? Why not stick with tried and true advertising? Why change? Why is this better for readers?

Lots of good questions, and truthfully this is one big guess, but I do want to share my reasoning.

No matter if I am the one booking advertising slots, or someone else is booking them: the companies I write about are the ones that must decide to book the spot and pay me (indirectly). Therefore if I write something negative (gasp!) about a company, that company may decide not to sponsor the ad network that is powering my site in the future. Likewise if a company is sponsoring the RSS feed in a given week and they do something stupid, I may feel that I need to refrain from making fun of said stupid move — that notion never sat well with me.

I have always tried to never let this play a role in my writing, but it weighed on me. Even though the issue rarely came up, it always made me feel less genuine. It was upon that realization that I knew something had to change — I couldn’t and shouldn’t be held to worry about advertiser’s feelings when my first (self-imposed) duty is to write with complete honesty.

That’s part one.

Part two is that advertising is ugly and distracting on a page. I wanted a pure reading experience, one that is, from the outset, unbiased and direct. Removing all ads and designing a site that need only give room to the pixels I choose 4 : that’s the ultimate goal.

And that, my friend, is the way it should work. It is a simple plan.

Pricing

The pricing is pretty simple: $4 a month. That gets you everything, ad free, without delay.

It’s automatically billed through Stripe. Yep, no need to have to deal with PayPal for either of us. You sign up on my site, you get processed by Stripe, and you can cancel your account right here on my site. So you need only to come here if you want to cancel — it’s one click — no trying to figure how to cancel.

Once you sign up you immediately get login credentials, a unique (to you) RSS feed for all the posts, and you are on your way.

Changes to My Writing

Before I wrap this up: the writing here is going to change.

I can’t buy new things to review unless I have the money to do so — so that may taper off for a bit until the membership base (hopefully) grows. Also, since I am not worried about the timeliness of my linked items and articles, I am going to try and write all of them with a lasting and value added motivation (keen readers may have noticed that my commentary has slowly been getting longer on linked list posts — this is what I am talking about).

Linking to a post and commenting “cool” is now against my own rules. If I can’t add value to a link with thoughtful analysis and opinion, then that post isn’t getting a link on this site.

If my article or review won’t be as helpful in seven days as it is today, then it’s not worth posting at any point.

I am going to hold myself to a higher standard. 5

That’s a Wrap

Enjoy the tweaked design. Enjoy the lack of ads. Become a member if you can and want to.

A big thanks to JR Tashjian for the coding.

And a huge thank you to all of you — regardless of whether you become a member or not.

To join up, go here.

Programming Note

Just a heads up on a couple of things:

  1. Because of the new 7-day rule, this site would be a wasteland for the next 7 days if you aren’t a member. Of course that wouldn’t be OK with me, so I will be passing one post a day through the paywall for all to read. It will just be one of the linked list posts that I normally post — no articles. Now, this causes another problem to anyone that reads the site by visiting just the homepage: new posts will be appearing intermixed with the posts I pass through the paywall for a week, meaning the chronology of things will be messed up on the homepage for non-members. Sorry about that, but this is the best, albeit hacky, solution I could think of.
  2. If you use Twitter as your RSS reader, and Twitter is how you look to get updates on new posts, well things are going to be a bit different now. Non-members will still see tweets on the @brooksreview account, but they will show up (hopefully) when the actual posts are available for non-members to read. For members, the best solution I could come up with is a protected Twitter account @TBRmembers — request to follow that and if you are a member I will grant access.
  1. There are still Amazon Affiliate links, but those are still you directly deciding to pay me by using them.
  2. Thus opening up a loophole for less than quality individuals to exploit, but I have provisions in place for this — don’t worry.
  3. If you notice a bug in this at all, or feel I have unfairly blacklisted your site — just get in touch.
  4. Because I didn’t get a say in what the square Fusion ads look like.
  5. Additionally I will not be accepting promo codes for apps any longer either. Again, I want nothing influencing me. I will still be accepting beta invitations, but will always say so when writing about an app. The reason for accepting beta invites is simple: I feel I pay for a beta invite in the form of my direct feedback to the developer.
Originally posted for members on: July 11, 2012
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