Years from now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to adequately explain to someone that didn’t live through 2020 precisely what it was like. It’s been a year unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. Things I never thought I’d see are happening on such a regular basis that I feel myself fluctuating between numb anxiety and flashing white-hot anger. When the pandemic began in March, I reacted by tackling some projects I had on my list for a long time. I redesigned and rebuilt the entire main website and launched that in May; I then brought back hundreds of pieces of old AbsolutePunk content and got that part of the scene history back in our database. Over the past eighteen or so weeks, I’ve also been writing weekly articles that first re-ranked all of the “best of” lists from 2005 through 2015, and then deconstructed my entire musical journey starting in 1998 and tried to tell the story of how I fell in love with music and the history of beginning AbsolutePunk. These have been welcome distractions in these weird-ass times.
Usually, in August, I do some kind of “supporter pitch” on the website. I’ve done it the past three or four years to remind people about our membership program and talk about how it’s because of the supporting members that this website can exist. I try not to be too annoying about this because I’m not great at self-promotion, but if I don’t do it, I always feel like I’m not trying as hard as I could be. This year, with all of the racial injustice, pandemic, and so much more going on, I never could find the time that felt right to do it. After finishing my article project last week, I spent some time brainstorming what other kinds of articles I could write that I think would be fun to tackle, and I also did my annual deep dive on the state of the website and how I’m feeling about everything. The bottom line is the pandemic really fucked with my plans.
From the end of March through this month, on average, the website’s ad revenue was basically cut in half. We saw more traffic than usual, and virtually half the income from the ads. That’s not great. I don’t know if, or when, the ad revenue will return to something resembling what it looked like at the beginning of the year. So I realized before I can start thinking about my next article series, I have to write up some pitch about our membership program. So here I am.
The basic gist of the math is the website makes money two ways. About half of the revenue comes from the (I know, awful) ads that run on every page of the website. The website and forums combined do millions of page views, and therefore millions of ad impressions every single month. However, the online ad industry is such that those impressions are worth very little. That revenue being sliced basically in half makes my ability to do this independently for a living very difficult. The second way we can operate is through our supporting membership program. We have three tiers of membership, all with the exact same perks. At the entry tier, of $3 a month or $25 a year, it comes down to pennies per day. And, being a member, you no longer see the ads on the website. It’s such a better experience. The website is built to be very fast and responsive, and without the ads, it really is.1
The bottom line is if 1% of the people that visit the website every month were supporting members, we’d be wholly sustainable and far less susceptible to volatility in the ad market. I know that there’s a bunch of subscription services starting up; every app is a subscription, every podcast is launching new membership programs, and it can be overwhelming. I’ve tried to make ours as user friendly as possible and as simple to use as I can, but one of the reasons you see this from so many independent publishers is it’s one of the best ways to have predictable revenue. And if I’m going to be able to keep publishing content on the website every day, writing articles each week, doing the weekly newsletter, and maintaining and adding features to the community, that kind of predictable revenue is the only way forward. Without it, I have to find some way to make up the difference in the hefty ad decrease.
That’s the pitch. I know there’s a lot of people that read this website daily. I know thousands post in the forums every single day. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who reads anything I write and all the kind words over the past few weeks related to the “My Nostalgia” series. I’ve always tried to be completely upfront and transparent about how this website operates, and I know this latest update is a bit of a downer. We were on track for a great year until the pandemic, but now things feel in flux. I understand the self-employed and independent life; I’ve been doing it for a long time. There’s always ups and downs. But I didn’t see this year playing out the way it did. But we’re here now, and I’m trying to make the best of it and make decisions based on how things sort out next.2
Next week I plan to write about some of the most memorable “dramatic” moments in our music scene and the behind the scenes stories I can recall. I think that will be a whole lot more fun to write.
I know some people view the website with an ad blocker on, which I get, but please consider being a supporting member instead and having the ads removed in a way that also helps us be able to keep existing.↩
On that note, if you’re reading this and know of any job you think I’d be good at, please reach out. I can send you a resume if you’d like, but I’d be interested in talking about music, tech, marketing, content creating, or really anything you’d think my skill set could help with.↩