Mac Musings

Low End Mac at Five

Dan Knight - 2002.04.08 - Tip Jar

Five years ago (1997.04.07), while working as Information Systems Manager at Baker Book House and supporting a lot of Macs from the late 80s and beyond, I decided to collect what information I could on the pre-Quadra machines and post it on my personal Web space as a resource for myself and others.

Little did I know that those few pages would grow into something so big that it's nearly a full-time job. In January we served over a million pages, and we're consistently rated as one of the best Mac resources on the Web.

1997

Our first design was pretty primitive and very straightforward. We had three small graphics and just one table, an index to the Mac models covered. It was also about this time that I began accumulating vintage Macs with the purchase of a Mac II, LC, and LC II from my employer.

By July we'd expanded our coverage to include pre-SCSI models as well as all the pre-PPC portables and the Centris/Quadra line. Our site design was very basic, in some ways even more primitive than in April. We had a lot of good outside links and used the Mac Cognoscenti Webring to help build site traffic.

July 1997 was also the first month we has traffic statistics for. According to our logs, we served 20,297 pages - an average of 655 pages per day.

I believe it was also in July that we were first contacted by Jason Pierce about joining his fledgling MacTimes Network. MTN promised free hosting and the possibility of some ad income, something I hadn't even considered. We moved LEM to MTN in November 1997, serving up over 33,000 pages that month.

That was just the beginning of our growth. We processed over 59,000 page requests in December - almost 2,000 per day.

We also launched our first email list, Quadlist, in November 1997. This list covered Quadra, Centris, and 68040-based Performas and PowerBooks. Today we run over 30 email lists.

1998

Site growth continued through August 1998, when we served almost 300,000 pages. A lot of the August traffic was due to the launch of the iMac that month, and we saw our first decrease in traffic in September - to about a quarter-million pages. October held steady, and growth resumed in November. We broke the 300,000 mark in December with 344,567 pages, an average of over 11,000 per day.

I started an advice column for Mac users, Mac Daniel, in October. It remains one of the most popular parts of our site, although I let others do most of the writing these days.

Courtesy of the Wayback Machine at web.archive.org, here's what LEM looked like on Dec. 5, 1998. (All the graphics are missing.)

1999

Evan Kleiman came onboard as our first regular columnist in January 1999 and wrote his Mac Happens column through June 2000. Today he's a regular contributor on Mac Daniel.

MacTimes had registered the lowendmac.com domain for us, and we began using that during February 1999. We severed our relationship with MacTimes at the end of March and were an independent ad-free site from April through August 1999. Here's what we looked like in April (sans graphics).

Traffic took a downturn after leaving MacTimes, decreasing from 347,000 pages in March to 245,000 in June. We rebuilt, attaining the 395,000 page mark in December - the same level we'd had in January and February.

Since we had problems establishing ownership of our domain, we registered lowendmac.net, joined the infiniMedia Network in September, and site income resumed by the end of the year. Here's what LEM looked like on Oct. 1 - and after a redesign with colored stripes between our columns, here's how we looked in late November (less graphics).

2000

We blew past the 400,000 mark in January 2000, serving roughly 475,000 pages. Things scaled back a bit, dropping as low as 399,000 in April, then slowly climbed. By March we had achieved a look not very dissimilar from today (again, no graphics), and we switched to a green color scheme and a vertical site banner by May. We'd switched back to dark blue by November 2000 (some graphics, but most are missing).

We teamed up with BackBeat Media in June 2000, and they are still handling online ads and hosting for Low End Mac. In October we broke the half-million page mark, then slid back a bit.

Average Daily Site Traffic
site traffic graph

Site income was at record levels. I'd attended my first Macworld Expo in July. And everything looked promising.

Then came the dot-com collapse.

2001

Not knowing how negatively that collapse would impact our income, I attended Macworld Expo in January and gave notice at work upon my return. By the end of January, I was publishing Low End Mac full-time. The timing couldn't have been worse.

In my years on the Web, ad rates had dropped more slowly than site traffic had increased, so my budget assumed the same for 2001. According to all my projections, I would be able to completely replace my IS income just by keeping LEM going. That projection was off by over 40%. I've been working part-time at a local camera store since August to help make ends meet.

Site traffic grew substantially during 2001, but site income took a nose dive. We kept making cuts, losing some good writers in the process. But we hung in there - and we'll always be grateful to those who made site donations during our hour of need.

We made some adjustments to the site design over the course of the year. Here's how LEM appeared in April 2001 (less most graphics) and in June, when we eliminate the vertical logo stripe and went to the current two-column site design.

2002

In late 1999, I'd built a model and projected site traffic for the next two years. That model predicted that we'd break the million page mark in January 2002 - and we did. We almost did it again in March, falling just 1.5% short, but now we're entering the Mac doldrums. Site traffic probably won't reach the million page mark again until August.

Site income seems to be improving thanks to very substantial traffic levels. The terrible decline in ad rates we saw from late 2000 through much of 2001 seems to have bottomed out. And we'll soon be receiving income from subscriptions.

We've come a long ways from a little hobby site with an occasional editorial to a site with new content every weekday, a dozen regular contributors, and a readership of possibly as high as a quarter million (based on unique hosts served).

Thank you for helping us come this far in helping users get the most out of their Macs.

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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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