Making Money on the Web: Ads versus Paywall

As most readers know, I made the switch from an advertising supported site in July 2012 to a paywalled site. I have plenty of reasons for the switch, but more interesting to most of you is: “how’s it going?”

Well. Kinda.

I’ve thought quite a bit on how to approach this and I think all of you (members or not) deserve the entire set of facts in order to actually understand what “how’s it going” means. So here goes.

Ads

Before the paywall, there were ads, and I had four revenue streams for the site:

  • Fusion ad
  • RSS sponsors
  • Donations
  • Amazon Affiliate links

Initially, when the site was young, Fusion paid me $450 a month to run ads on the site. I don’t know if that was a good deal, or a shit deal — I still don’t because bloggers hold this data near and dear, I’m tired of that bullshit — so there you go, that’s what I was paid at the start.

Near the end, when the site was getting roughly 50,000 unique visits a month, I had upped the Fusion payments to $600 a month. And honestly I still have no clue if that was a fair rate or not — I always felt $1000 a month was the true value of an ad slot on this site. If I were to sell the ad myself I’d charge $1,500 a month to one advertiser and I bet I would be booked solid.

With the RSS sponsors things were trickier. I can say filling those slots myself sucked and was disheartening all the time. The Syndicate helped a lot, but the money wasn’t as good.

Near the end I was charging almost $500 per week for the 8,200 RSS subscribers I had. I think the true value and sustainable rate for this size was closer to $450 a week. If I were to start back up again today I would charge $500 a week and risk not filling every week.

In total I only ever received $200 in donations. (Thank you to those that donated.)

Amazon affiliates are actually a good deal, netting me between $150-600 a month. That’s why I kept those around, because they are mostly transparent for readers and items I would still recommend even if I didn’t get a kickback. Either way, it is silly not to do Amazon affiliate links — that’s coming from someone who hates ads.

That’s where I was with ads. I made on average $2,100 a month. My stats were 50,000 uniques and 150,000 page views a month with 8,200 subscribers. Maybe that’s good, maybe it’s bad, I have no clue because no one ever shares this info.

Now you have one data point to go off. So before you look to blogging as a career, take a look at those numbers again because they are gross and not the net profit.

The Paywall

So how many members do I have? Roughly 255 right now. Again, I don’t know if that is good or horrible. It amounts to a little less than $1,000 a month after fees and such. So less than half of what I was making before.

What I’ve learned is that the member base is very stable. That I barely gain new members each month, and likely if I want to up the membership I will need to talk about the membership more.

That, in a nutshell, is where things stand right now. The membership is great because it’s no extra work, but it is growing really slowly — yet very stable. I’d recommend it to anyone out there, but temper your expectations. 1 I had hoped to have closer to 500 members by now — oops.

Now

A lot of people want to know where this leads now. Which is a clever way (or not so clever actually) of asking: will you keep the paywall?

Yes.

Since putting up the paywall I’ve been able to stop caring about stats and money. All I focus on is writing and that’s way better.

Yes there is a little bit of support, but far less than the work it took to fill RSS slots, or mentally think about keeping up page views to try and get better ad rates.

Full Time

Since I am answering questions that I am often asked, the question of whether I am going full time or not should be addressed. It’s one of the top five questions I get asked.

The short answer to whether I am going full time: nope.

The longer answer is that I would like to eventually, but the site revenue just wouldn’t come close to supporting me. If and when the site can support me full time, that’s great, if it never does I am fine with that too.

  1. A better idea is to submit an article to The Magazine as the payments are top notch and any one with a good article can get paid a great rate.
Originally posted for members on: December 12, 2012
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