Dev.SN ♥ developers

Title    Back To The Drawing Board Rethinking Subscription + Explaing Expenses
Date    Thursday June 26 2014, @08:09AM
Author    NCommander
from the my-ears-are-still-ringing dept.

First off, before we get into this, I do want to apologize for a delayed response. I had to sit, and think long and hard about the on subscriptions feedback before responding. The largest points I got out of this is that too broad, too complex, and too expensive. There was some choice comments that I'm going to highlight below and address below. It quickly became apparent it was to the point I need to scrap it and go back to the drawing board. So let's try this again:
SN Subscription - $20 USD per year

Subscription can either be bought, or gifted to anyone. From the feedback we got, $20 USD per year (approximately $1.66 USD per month) would roughly be the right "sweet spot" for people.

Compared to the Other Site, the primary difference in subscriptions between us and them, is ours are time-based vs. usage based, and we're not offering early access to stories, or the +1 subscription pseudo-moderation. I thought fairly hard about this, and given the community feedback, simply because you do (or don't) pay for subscription does not make you a better or worse user. I also saw many people concerned that we were going to implement a "pay to post"-like system. Let me lay this down; we are NOT going to do this; this site exists for the community, and the principles I laid out in the manifesto clearly state "We will be the best site for independent, not-for-profit journalism on the internet, where ideas can be presented and free discussion can take place without external needs overshadowing the community." To require a user to go through a paywall, or have to financially contribute to this site to be an active proponent would fly in the face of that.

Why We Want Money

On a basic level, any website needs some form of income to run, if only to pay for hosting/domain fees. At the moment, we pay approximately $300 USD per month (~$3600 per year) for 10 servers, 6 which are used in the operation of the main page and secondary services like the wiki and email, with the other four being used for either staff needs, backup, or other miscellaneous services. We could, if necessary, consolidate services down to fewer nodes, with the cost of creating more single-points of failure within our infrastructure, but for right now, we have a fair bit of excess capability. If two-hundred people buy subscriptions, that would give us enough revenue to cover the hosting costs, with a bit left over in case of emergency. I'm fairly confident given the feedback I've seen from the community that subscriptions would be sufficient to cover our basic operating expenses. However, it would not be enough to forge ahead with my master plan for SN.

It has been no secret that I've wanted to build SN into something more that just a news aggregator, and engage in independent journalism; in my perfect world, I'd love to have SoylentNews have a few full-time paid staff for site development and management, and some full time/part time authors who research topics, and post articles here based on findings; for example, creating a continuation of Groklaw by hiring a paralegal to research, and summarize various tech-related court cases. Or alternatively, have the ability to pay a staff member to travel to various conferences like and provide real-time reporting of the event. In my perfect world, any user could come to us with a proposal for an article, write it up, have it reviewed by the editorial team, and get some contribution for their efforts; the main page would slowly migrate from pure aggregation to a mixture of original content, and aggregated content, with the ability to filter either out.

I realize we are a long way from that point, even at my most optimistic predictions, I only expected to be able to hire, at best, one person full time in the near future. I also have come to the realization that while I believe subscriptions could cover the "core expenses" of SN such as hosting, by itself, would be insufficient to reach the goals I want to see SN reach.

Why We Haven't Discussed Pure Donations

A comment that was repeated a couple dozen times is why we just don't have a "tip jar" or such on the site. The problem has been a matter of legal restrictions on accepting donations. On Monday, I met with an accountant to help us setup our books, and determine what tax liabilities we will have, as well as a matter of discussing various methods of raising income. In our earlier research, and with previous discussions with a lawyer, we learned that to raise donations, we need to be licensed to do so. Unfortunately, such licensing has to be done in the state in which the money is coming from; that is to say, to accept money from US citizens, we'd have to be licensed in all 50 states, and now had this re-confirmed by my CPA. In more simple terms, we can offer goods and services without issue, however, merely accepting money is difficult, and time-consuming.

Furthermore, most donation services such PayPal and Amazon appear to limit their offerings to non-for-profit/501(c)(3) organizations. While it is not illegal for a properly licensed for-profit to fundraise, it doesn't appear there is a quick, out of the box solution we could use for doing so. That being said, there appears to be a partial out; third party organizations can fundraise on your behalf; this is how crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are able to function.

Given feedback, I'm beginning to look at the possibility of trying to crowdfund SN to try and raise money by putting together a solid presentation on the future of the site, and then have annual crowdfunding events to keep expanding and building out the site. This would be in-line with the philosophy that "SoylentNews is People", as we'd literally be funded by people, for people. We're still a fair bit out from doing this, and I want to make sure that this is a direction the community is conformable heading in, so a more in-depth discussion of crowdfunding is out of place. Once we've finished incorporation (hopefully next week), and have the subscription infrastructure fully setup, I will open the floor to discussing more longer term goals.

On The Topic Of Advertising

Besides donations, the second most common topic was on advertising. From your comments, it appears the vast majority of you would be more-or-less OK if we ran it, as long as the ads themselves were not obnoxious, and avoided heavy tracking/JS/etc. We are holding this option in reserve for now, but I'm hesitant to enact it for a couple of reasons. First, I'm almost certain the vast majority of our community uses things like AdBlock Pro and such to filter out adversing, which would drastically limit any revenue we could receive. In addition, to run advertising would require us keep our sponsors happy, and many of the ad networks I looked at may have issues due to comments posted on the site. TVTropes, for instance, ended up self-censoring themselves due to issues with their ad partners. We can get around this problem by self-managing, and self-hosting ads, but this leads into my next issue.

Furthermore, I find that running ads would make the site look "less professional". While in general, we're a rather informal bunch, having large ad banners on top and on the sides would detract from the usability of the site. Ads, to be blunt, are tacky, gum up site performance, and often times look very out of place. Most of the reason that our site is quick and responsive is that aside from the piWik javascript code, we've got no third-party scripts embedded in the site, and have removed almost all non-essential JS from the site layout.

That is not to say the problem is insurmountable, Reddit, for instance, has a small box with "interesting links", at the top of most pages, with the default content being a sponsored link which anyone could buy. I could see a similar sort of box here, which has a collection of interesting content from the previous week, and sponsored links (to journal posts/articles/etc) which would either sit on the main index, or in the corner were the current parade of icons sits.

Right now though, I'd prefer to simply avoid the issue for now, and return to it at a later date if we need to.

Addressing Specific Comments

There were a fair number of comments that I think needed a broader answer, so I've collected a subset (reposted inline here) to respond to:
Sponsored Content by VLM

How about for $10 you'll post an article of my choice clearly brightly identified as being sponsored by me and linked to my profile and comments are completely uncensored although any/all editors have full veto approval. $10 isn't high enough to push your moral/ethical boundaries (I hope) yet its high enough that "one" per day does add up to a couple grand per year, or the equivalent of thousands of subs. Would not want to see "ten" per day. "two" on a slow news day, eh maybe OK.

Sponsored content is something that has come up a few times in the past in discussing various revenue models. I'm not inherently against such a thing, but the other site fiddled with trying this, and essentially created a new form of slashverisment. Now, obviously with editorial and veto authority, we could limit such things, but I'm struggling to see what may get posted that we wouldn't already run. We could perhaps change the QA/Ask Soylent topic into "paid questions", and run those on occasion. I think the question to the broader community is, what forms of sponsored content would you like to be able to 1. purchase for yourself 2. be willing to tolerate.

My 2/100 of $1.00 USD by martyb

Separately, I like swag (especially coffee mugs). Make it limited edition by including the year or something in/on it. Maybe combine the two ideas? Pick your choice of swag and offer whatever donation you think it's worth.

Even better, offer a swag item that is unique to SN: a DVD or USB-stick which would boot up with a copy of the site as it now stands. For an extra 20%, it could even be autographed by the NCommander, himself. Soon to be a collector's item!

Swag is another good way we can raise money. I'd definitely be willing to create some sort of SN-on-a-stick w/ sanitized database which someone could purchase, stick in their computer, and pull up a local copy of SoylentNews in all its glory, as well as perhaps create some unique items (i.e., coffee cups, etc) available for sale. If its someone reasonable, I think we could look at selling it; ideas welcome below.

What About a Custom Slash Instance? by prospectacle

Who better to offer custom-slash-instance hosting?

While all users get a journal, paid users could get a virtualised slash instance, to run their own complete forum (a "super journal")

Bottom tier could have your own slash forum at A control panel could offer various simple customisations, such as colours, fonts, sidebar links, logos, etc.

More advanced (expensive) tiers could have more customisation options (use your own domain, control karma and mod-point settings, etc)

The most expensive tier would give the user a complete virtual machine with a full slash install, the ability to modify the slash source code (as well as use the simpler control-panel configurations), maybe a domain name is thrown in (chosen by the user, but organised and maintained by SN) or you can bring your own. Plus your own email/irc/wiki servers. Your "subscriber site" or whatever you would call it, could be linked to next to your name or sig, when posting to SN proper.

We've actually looked at doing something like this; there is partial support for this kind of functionality in slashcode already (the nexus feature, which is live on dev, and is pending a wildcard SSL cert before going live here. The intent is that once the feature was built out more, we could have a "sub-slash" system (conceptually similar to sub-reddits), in which users could follow various nexuses on any topic, and users could create their own (possibly paying a one-time cost to do so), either existing as, or perhaps with their own custom domain name.

Functionality wise, we're still quite a ways out from implementing this (most of the admin code would require re-factoring to make it fly), but it would allow users to create their own communities within SN, i.e., a community dedicated to DIY, or one dedicated to minecraft or gaming), each with its own staff overseeing it, and the ability to submit any article to the main page.


  1. "in the manifesto" -
  2. "Groklaw" -
  3. "" -
  4. "PayPal" -
  5. "Amazon" -
  6. "Kickstarter" -
  7. "Indiegogo" -
  8. "TVTropes" -
  9. "Reddit" -
  10. "Sponsored Content" -
  11. "My 2/100 of $1.00 USD" -
  12. "What About a Custom Slash Instance?" -
  13. "dev" -

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printed from Dev.SN, Back To The Drawing Board Rethinking Subscription + Explaing Expenses on 2017-06-22 20:51:52