Mac Musings

Tight Times at Low End Mac

Daniel Knight - 2002.04.25 -

We seem to fall a little further behind almost every month.

Low End Mac began as a hobby. I used, supported, and loved older Macs, and the Web didn't seem to have the kind of resource I was looking for in early 1997, so I created my own. LEM has grown into a business, but except for maybe four months at the end of 2000, it hasn't been a profitable one.

In all other respects, the site has been a resounding success. We serve up nearly a million pages every month to about a quarter-million visitors. That also means we display nearly 4-5 million ads each month, which should be enough to keep things going.

It isn't, and since I try to run Low End Mac for a living, I find that very frustrating. Even factoring in a cut for the folks at BackBeat Media who handle the ads for our site, you'd think all those millions of ad impressions could pull in the $3,000/month we need to keep things afloat.

You'd be wrong. While the majority of our budget usually come from online ads, we also take in money from ads in our email lists, affiliate fees, selling LEM merchandise, donations, and subscriptions.

Add it all together, and most months that still doesn't reach the $3,000 break even mark.

We've trimmed. About half our writers receive a modest fee for their work; that's been adjusted downward twice over the past year - and they're receiving their checks a month later than they used to. That saves $200-300 per month and lets us hold onto money a bit longer. (It also cost us some writers, which saves even more money but also reduces traffic levels.)

Likewise, I've had two pay cuts over the past year and still remain 4-6 weeks behind on payroll. Payroll cuts save us $400-500 per month. I'm also working 2-3 days a week at a local camera store, which helps the family budget. (I was a camera geek long before there were Macs.) And I've started to do some Web design work on the side, which will also help things a bit.

We're no longer paying for insurance - another $300/month trimmed from the budget. I dropped my Iserv and Earthlink dialup accounts, saving another $30 or so each month. Every little bit helps.

In the end, we trimmed our $3,600/month budget to $3,000, and there just doesn't seem to be any fat left to trim.


We hoped that introducing a subscription system at the end of January would help. During the first weeks we averaged three subscribers per day. At that rate, we'd expected that subscriptions would net us about $700 per month.

That hasn't happened yet, although we should be receiving our first check that includes subscription fees any day now. Still, it won't be for as much as we'd hoped.

Speaking of subscriptions, the charter subscriber period is coming to an end. April 30 is the last day to save on our three subscription options:

Those rates will increase to $2.50, $7.00, and $24.00 in May. Charter subscribers not only save now, they will also receive a discount from the full subscription rates as long as they don't let their subscriptions lapse.

Subscription benefits include reading Low End Mac without ads (currently 4-5 per page), discounts on items from the Low End Mac Store, and access to both our Mobile Edition (optimized for Palms and other handhelds) and printer friendly versions of our editorial content. Once we finish automating the site, subscribers may also be able to select which links are and are not displayed on our home page.

Our goal is to have 2,000 subscribers by the end of the year. This is less than 1% of our viewer base and would make us far less dependent on the vagaries of ad income.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Every time we thing we've put the worst of the dot-com fallout behind us, things get worse. We fell behind budget in January, broke even in February, managed to get ahead of budget in March and did some catching up on overdue payments, and should just break even in April.

We have no idea how many of you are subscribing or how much ad income we'll see in May. I'm still hoping against hope that we have finally turned the corner, but we seem to still be stuck a month behind on our financial obligations.

We'd like to put that behind us and at least be dealing with current payments, not ones from last month. If you find Low End Mac a worthwhile part of your Internet experience, please subscribe or send a donation to help us make it through the tight months ahead and get on an even footing.