B-Star Briefing – The basis of our subscription model
If you’ve followed my work over the years, but have been taken aback by my launch of a subscription site, I’m hoping you’ll read this essay because it’s really directed at you.
After writing for other various hockey sites and publications for 14 years, I knew it was time to bring something of my own to Buffalo.
But I also knew, from research and previous experience, that cluttering up a page with ads not only makes a site look ugly, it doesn’t produce anywhere near enough money to make it worth the time.
That is, unless you don’t need to pay your bills or your writers.
So I made the decision to join the growing tree of subscription sites. As the founders of those other enterprises are well aware, it’s really the only way to make this kind of venture work.
As I suspected would happen, many of my long-time readers are taking an emotional stand one way or the other. You can’t blame them, really, because they’re being forced to choose sides. I get that. Either you’re willing to pay a few dollars a month for good content or you aren’t.
The folks who are on board understand the time and effort it takes for a writer to research, construct and edit a good piece. Many who sign up declare themselves as proud subscribers, happy to support a venture that aims to offer them something a little different.
Great piece again, Dave. Lots to ponder. Proud to be a subscriber from Illinois.
— Jimmy Two Times (@boilerbah) October 20, 2017
Good stuff. Happy subscriber here
— Andrew (@finsfan8605) October 22, 2017
These articles got me to subscribe. Good stuff
— Vince (@vsw226) October 13, 2017
The ones who aren’t on board? Well, most of them have been respectful in explaining why they don’t feel they should pay *anything*, not even a penny, for professional sportswriting. I understand why they feel this way, but their reasoning behind it is off. I’ll explain why in a moment.
There have also been a few angry, in some cases vulgar critiques of my decision to ask my readers to become subscribers. Apparently, some aren’t too keen on the nerve of me to attempt bringing in some revenue as I spend thousands of dollars of my own money per month to keep this thing afloat.
The most common lecture from naysayers is that advertisers should be the revenue source instead of readers. Believe me when I say that I wish that could work, but in this day and age it just can’t.
Let me give you some simple math on this. Ad rates in 2017, for the content being created by team-centric sports sites, are approximately $3 per 1000 views.
The most popular article since The Buffalo Star’s launch has been Matthew Coller’s brilliant analytics piece on Rasmus Ristolainen. It wasn’t behind a paywall, was read by around 7,000 people and brought in a wave of subscribers for us.
If we had relied on ads instead, that piece would have produced around $21. Again, that’s for the most widely read article in the 56-day history of The Buffalo Star.
When you factor in not only paying writers, but also the upfront cost of what people have told me is a clean and polished site, plus advertising, hosting, and much more, what you have is a setup for complete failure if you rely on ad dollars to cover it all. That is, unless you can convince someone like 35-year sportswriting veteran and Rochester Americans Hall of Fame member Kevin Oklobzija to write for about 10 dollars per day.
So what’s happening now is that the site is gaining subscribers, but my twitter follower count is staying level. This is due to the combination of new readers coming in and some turned-off long-time followers leaving. Considering that my twitter feed has been a vehicle to promote our work, most of which is for subscribers only to read, and that some folks will accept nothing less than free content, that’s to be expected.
To be honest, it’s been a feeling out process trying to find the right balance between sharing articles from the site and not annoying followers who like to see my hockey opinions in their twitter feeds.
But what I’ve decided is that my first priority is the site. Every day is centered around keeping our subscribers happy, and adding new ones.
I said on the very first day that there are a large number of Buffalo sports fans dissatisfied with what’s out there in written coverage. Part of it is the narratives and agendas, but a lot of it is simply the fact that they’re all doing the same thing. We’re striving to offer an alternative with some different types of content.
But this will only work with support from our readers. This isn’t backed by a gigantic out-of-town corporation or funded by seed money from a couple of rich boys from Silicon Valley. This is a home-grown venture focused squarely on serving the sports fans of Buffalo.
So, to that end, in my twitter feed you’ll continue to see links to articles in The Buffalo Star. For many of you who have my Sabres insights in your timeline, this leaves you three options: become a subscriber and support what I’m doing, ignore the article links or get mad and unfollow. This mission won’t succeed without you, so I sincerely hope that you’ll join the club.