Mac Musings

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Dan Knight - 2001.11.28

Reading, writing, and publishing are all about ownership. When you buy a book or read an article, you have the opportunity to own (or disown) the author's ideas. Writing is all about owning your ideas - and that's one reason we make sure our contributors retain copyright ownership of their articles.

Publishing and broadcasting are about ownership, too, but in a different sense. What we own isn't the ideas but the right to distribute them. The audience, the artists, and the means of distribution create a full circle for our ideas.

Advertising is about ownership, too. Coke, Ford, Apple, Dell, the Gap, Sears, Walmart, and a host of others want to present their ideas in a positive way in hopes that you'll buy their product. Publishers and broadcasters are avenues they use to communicate their message.

Like much of the Web, Low End Mac is for sale. No, not the site itself, but space on the site where Crucial Memory, PowerMac, Sonnet Technology, MacMall, and a host of others try to get your attention and your business. That's the only reason we can pay our writers.

We want to change that just a little bit - and that's nothing new. We began the site as a public service, had the opportunity to go commercial, reaped great profits for a short while, and watched ad income fade to a shadow of its former self.

We asked for donations - and got them. We've received over $3,000 in personal donations since the start of June, enough to cover Low End Mac's expenses for one month. And we're very grateful for it.

However, that hasn't been enough. We need roughly $3,000 each and every month to keep this operation going. We pay no utility bills or rent, simply using space and electricity at home. The bulk of our income goes to paying writers.

Looking at the incredible drops in ad rates, we've been thinking about other ways to keep afloat. We've discussed micropayments, penny-a-page viewing, subscriptions, and other ideas. I think we've finally found the right model, but it isn't ready yet.

We don't want to restrict access to Low End Mac. The original idea was providing a public service; requiring micropayments or subscriptions for any part of the site seems like a betrayal of that spirit.

We do want to remain true to our beliefs. We refuse to carry popup or popunder ads. (I especially detest the "pop up after you leave" ads some sites use.) We won't accepts ads for adult sites or online casinos, even though they offer much needed income. We want responsible advertisers and fast loading pages.

Some might consider ads a necessary evil; we just consider them necessary from a business perspective. But that could change.

Several people have been pushing us toward a donation model. Nice, but I'd like to have some way of rewarding those who support the site. I'm not opposed to soliciting donations as necessary (now, for instance), but would rather go to a subscription model.

Nothing is nailed down yet, but here's our current thinking. We're looking at $2-3 a month with discounts for longer terms. Subscribers would have a faster loading site. How much faster? Well, each banner takes about as long to load as the text on the page, so pages could load 50-75% faster without ads. I think that's a nice benefit to offer those who financially support Low End Mac.

We need about $3,000 a month to break even, and the subscription fees would be split with the firm that manages them. If we assume $2/month and half of that going to LEM, 1,000 subscribers would reduce our dependence on ad income by one-third, 2,000 would bring us to the break even mark with current ad income, and 3,000 would allow us to get by even if nobody bought ad space.

Subscriptions can totally change the dynamics. Instead of hoping for $3 CPM ($3 per thousand ads displayed), as the number of subscribers grows, the number of available ad slots would decline, and only sponsors willing to pay decent rates would be retained.

All the models and real world experience indicate that at most 10-12% of you are willing to pay for content when you have no choice. Since we will be giving everyone the choice of free vs. ad-free content, I suspect we'd see something on the order of 4-5% of our visitors becoming subscribers. Even using our weekly average of 50,000 unique visitors, 2,000-2,500 subscribers should put us on a very solid footing.

Alas, it's not ready to go yet. It should be ready by the end of the year, but until then, we are soliciting donations. Click here to find out how you can support Low End Mac and feel like you own a piece of the Web.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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