Mac Musings

About 20 Million Served

Daniel Knight - 2001.12.13

Five years ago I had a Centris 610 at home and was just getting started on the Internet. I was working as a book designer and doing computer support for Baker Book House, which meant I had to support models dating as far back as the Mac Plus.

In those days, good online resources were few and far between. I had a huge collection of magazines (MacUser, Macworld, and Byte) going back years, as well as several very good books about Macs, but nobody seemed to collect all of the helpful information about each model in a single place.

I started to create my own profiles, beginning with the Mac Plus, since it was the oldest model I had to support. Besides, a Mac with less than 1 MB of memory just wasn't practical, so it also made a logical lower end. I arbitrarily set the top end at the 68030 processor, so the profiles covered "speed demon" Macs such as the LC III+/Performa 460, Mac IIvx, and Mac IIfx.

I posted these profiles, along with a home page index, on my personal Web space somewhere around April 7, 1997, which I consider the birth date of Low End Mac. If you want to see how primitive the site was back then, here's an archived version of the New Low End User Site.

I didn't know about logs back then, so I don't know how much traffic these pages received those first few months, but we served over 20,000 pages in July 1997. We joined the MacTimes Network in November and passed the 100,000 page mark for the first time, broke the quarter-million mark in August 1998, and served nearly 400,000 pages in January 1999.

LEM site traffic

MacTimes fell on hard times and was unable to pay member sites, so we went our own way in early 1999, moving to our own domain, and watching traffic drop as all those old links and bookmarks failed. Our low point was June 1999, when we served only 245,000 pages.

It's been mostly uphill from there - we zoomed past the 400,000 page mark in January 2000, broke the 500,000 barrier in October 2000, passed 600,000 this past February, reached 700,000 pages in a month during July, and served over 800,000 pages last month.

What's interesting is to look at the cumulative traffic. It took us from April 1997 to July 1998 to serve our first million pages, but we broke the 2,000,000 mark just four months after that. By the end of August 1999 we had served over 5 million pages, broke the 10 million mark a year later, and have now served somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million pages since launching Low End Mac nearly five years ago.

We keep expecting growth to level off, but it's barely slowing down at all. Last month we nearly hit the 35,000 mark for a single day; this month we've passed that level four times already. (Our record for a single day is 37,601 pages on September 25, 2001.)

What began as a personal project I decided to share while teaching myself Web design has grown beyond any expectation. We have over a dozen regular contributors, both volunteers and paid staff. Low End Mac is a huge success.

Cobweb Publishing, Inc.

That's one side of Low End Mac. The other side is the business end, which has had a rough year. We incorporated the business as Cobweb Publishing, Inc., a Type S corporation, at the start of the year. Based on last year's ad income, we anticipated $4-6,000 a month coming in. We developed a budget that would be comfortably profitable at the $4,000 mark.

You've heard of the dot-com failure. Well, it really impacted online advertising. Where we sometimes had over $4,000 in ad income toward the end of 2000, at the end of 2001 we're fortunate to see $1,000 come in from display ads. We've trimmed our budget, but still need $3,000 a month to keep things going.

We are very grateful for affiliate programs such as CoolVCD, Amazon, Commission Junction, Linkshare, and others, bring in about $250 a month. Email list sponsors (special thanks to Small Dog Electronics and PowerON Computer Services for sponsoring several lists) bring in another $600 or so, some of which goes to the Macintosh Guy for his lists. But all of that only nets us about $1,600 a month - $1,400 short of what we need to meet payroll, pay staff, cover site hosting and Internet access, etc.

We've dabbled in online sales, selling mice and L2 caches that we can acquire cheaply and sell inexpensively, but that's brought in less than $1,000 so far.

That's where you have been more than generous. When we first shared our financial predicament, hundreds of you sent money. Some are making monthly donations. So far this year, your generosity has brought in over $4,000, enough to cover about six weeks of operations or cover our shortfall for three months. You have been lifesavers.

Accounts receivable is just under $4,500. We are owed over $3,400 by a well-known Mac vendor which has fallen on hard times - down from over $8,000 in April. I'm talking to them about taking merchandise and may be offering some older software titles and possible some hardware. (If you'd be interested in a nice refurbished Power Mac or PowerBook, let me know. I'll see what we can do.)

Looking Ahead

As we approach the end of the year, we are getting caught up on hosting fees, paying our writers, and cutting myself a paycheck after No Payday November. We're not out of the woods yet, but we can see it from here.

We are working to become less dependent on ad income. We're working with BackBeat Media, the guys who handle display ads for the site, to put together a subscription system that will provide ad-free pages in exchange for $2-3 a month. There are a lot of details to work out, but we're all hoping the system will be in place by the end of December. Keep your fingers crossed, because we need a more reliable income base than Web ads provide. (Also note that a percentage of subscription income will go to BackBeat for handling the subscription system.)

We're hoping at least 1,000 of you will become subscribers. Hundreds are already donating without the added benefit of ad-free content. As the subscription system kicks in, I'll look at removing some of the affiliate links and possibly killing the lower banner ad on each page. This will depend on the level of income subscriptions generate.

Best of all, the subscription system should eliminate the need to beg for funds in the future.

Once site income rises to the $3,000 a month level, I want to boost rates for our staff, all of whom have taken one or more cuts during the year.

But we're not out of the woods yet. Donations are gladly accepted. If your business would like to advertise on Low End Mac, contact Greg Snyder at BackBeat. If your business would like to sponsor one or more email lists, contact me.