The decision to allow reader contributions and what percentage of readers become supporters

Updated Oct 12 2015 (Posted Oct 1 2013)

I can't speak for y'all, but I know all of us on staff are still reeling a little bit from the Offbeat Families announcement yesterday. Basically, this sums it up for me. In the interesting of moving forward, I wanted to take a minute to talk a bit more about my decision to explore allowing Offbeat Home & Life readers to support the site financially.

I've always been very clear about why I'm not comfortable accepting donations, and I wrestled a bit with the idea.

The issue for me is more with the idea of a formalized way to accept money from blog readers. How does it change the dynamic of the site? How does it change reader expectations? Does it come off as a "gift grab"? And perhaps most importantly, how many readers are ACTUALLY willing to support the site?

In the outpouring of emotion over the closure of Offbeat Families, there were many cries of "why didn't you do a fundraiser to save Offbeat Families?" and "Take my money so that Offbeat Home & Life doesn't meet the same demise!"

What's fascinating to me is watching to see how many readers actually translate the emotional attachment to a website into financially supporting that website. The initial answer? Out of Offbeat Home's 200,000 monthly readers, 13 chose to support the site.

That means that initially, the conversion rate from reader to supporter is about 0.000065%. This is actually better than what I expected — and is totally fine with me because Offbeat Home & Life's business model is still primarily based around sponsored posts, third-party banner ads, and affiliate sales.

As a supplemental income, I'm beyond warm and fuzzy over the support of those 13 people. I love that we finally have an easy link to share when readers ask how they can support the site. I also think Tugboat Yards is pretty, and I like using the tool.

However, when people ask why Offbeat Families wasn't sustainable, or ask why I would choose to shut down the site rather than do a fundraiser, they need to remember that 0.000065%. Ultimately, even among an awesome, emotionally invested, committed readership like the Offbeat Empire's, it seems that at this point very few of us are in a place to financially contribute toward the online publications we read.

I totally respect that reality. For those of us who make our living in online media, this isn't news. I'm not at all surprised or disappointed (the results yesterday were actually more than I was expecting! I'm stoked!), but I do think that it's important for readers to understand the financial realities when they suggest making sites reader-supported. It's just not how most of us are used to thinking about the online media we consume.

  1. Keep in mind also that while some of us may not be in a position to donate spur-of-the-moment when it comes up, once we have time to examine our budgets and build contributions in, they may also be forthcoming. I know I, for one, don't do impulse-spending. I need to take some time, look at my budget, and figure out whether a contribution is in the cards. Some people budget monthly. Others budget yearly. Contributions from those of us who really like to plan may take a little longer to trickle in…

    I don't really think it comes across as begging for you to give those who really want to contribute financially a way to do so. I really like the explanation that YouTuber C.G.P. Grey gives for why he joined Subbable (a new site much like Tugboat): — basically that the Advertising Fairy preferences number of views over engaged viewers. I think crowdfunding is a great thing when it works, and a really interesting business-model that seems to be emerging.

    Best of luck with the change-over, and Tugboat, and all of that. I'll be examining my budget and talking to my husband over the next bit, 'cause I'd love to support the sites that have supported me, and given me food for thought, so much!

    • Absolutely. It's already in my budget for my paycheck next week. I believe in saying it with my wallet!

    • Yeah, I've already sent an email to my partner to discuss budget, and certainly couldn't make a spur of the moment decision. Also, because the merger is so new I wonder…will I feel completely comfy at home in Home & Life enough to support it vs. if I had had the option to support Offbeat Families. Kinda treading carefully and seeing if in the next few weeks I like the feel before dipping my toes into the sponsorship realm. Does that make sense?

  2. I'm all for using Tugboat – I think it's awesome and I think it gives readers the opportunity to give you guys money, which I know people have been asking for for a while now. It also gives you guys the opportunity to set limits to the amount, which I think probably makes you feel more comfortable.

    I'm personally really glad to have a way to give you guys money. I know in one post the author mentioned that people could buy personal banner ads if they want to contribute. I was totally going to do that, but I don't have a business to promote or anything and just couldn't figure out what I would have you guys put up on the site that wouldn't make the site look weird. No one wants to see (more) pictures of my cats.

    However, I will say that I'm not sure how fair it is to use just the first day's response to make any sort of conclusions about the contribution of your readers, especially when the first day falls at the end of the month, when so many people are strapped for cash. And any readers who don't read the site *every* day may have missed the posts entirely yesterday, so I don't think it's really fair to take one *day* of supporters as a percentage of your *monthly* readers.

    I totally get that these numbers aren't being used to make any major decisions, so it's not a big deal, but I felt a little weird reading this post. I was like, "Geez I didn't know I had to do it yesterday in order to count for something!" I know that's totally silly and as soon as I get finished writing this comment I'm going to go donate, but I don't know…it just felt weird. Hopefully that sort of kind of makes sense.

    I <3 you guys huge and as I've said before (see: the warm fuzzies post from a couple months ago) the Empire sites have made a huge impact on my life and opened my mind to a lot of diversity I don't get to experience in my daily life. So srsly, thank you.

    Also, I'm going to keep bugging you guys until it happens…t-shirts. 😉

    • I *totally* get that initial results are just initial results, but in my experience with memberships on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, initial results are often pretty indicative.

      Also, we DO have tshirts! We just haven't had time to design non-Bride ones. Drowning over here! 😛

      • Yeah, I know about the bride ones. I wish I had known about them when I was getting married, but 3 years later it feels a little weird to be wearing a "bridal" shirt.

        Whenever you guys do get non-OBB t-shirts, a maternity option would be awesome. 🙂

        Also, I would totally rock some Offbeat Empire panties. Just sayin'.

    • I know that's totally silly and as soon as I get finished writing this comment I'm going to go donate, but I don't know…it just felt weird.

      I just want to take a second to validate that "weird feeling"…That's exactly what I'm talking about when I say that accepting money from readers can shift the dynamic. How do readers feel when they're asked to contribute? How do they feel when they can't contribute? What if they CAN contribute, but simply don't want to?

      There are shifty dynamics at play, that simply aren't a part of the equation when websites are ad-supported. (Granted, ad-supported comes with its own shifty dynamics, but I've had more time to learn how to deal with those. )

    • I want to see more photos of your cats! 😛

      Also, seeing as the Empire is way too busy to design shirts, perhaps Homies could take that into their (our) own hands? What's the process like for getting a shirt up on Spreadshirt once you have a design done? I don't want to make a ton more work for you in the name of doing a good deed (look, Ma, I'm helping!), but if other readers wanted to come up with some good OBH&L phrases, I'd be happy to work on shirt designs as a way to contribute! I'm a beginning freelance graphic designer, and especially in November it's looking like I'll have more time than money, so contributing time that would get you money sounds like a great way to support the sites I love!

  3. I have been one of the major pushers for this and I am totally going to sign up for the monthly $5 deal. That's what my husband donates to NPR each month and the rational is the same. I consume this product daily. I want it to stick around. I owe it money. I'm just … probably not going to do it today. Today is my massive cleaning and packing day as I get ready to go out of the country. When I sit down its because I'm exhausted. And I open the donate tab, realize my purse is on the other side of the room and think "later, when I get up." Of course, when I get up, its so I can finish the dozen things on my to do list and I don't make it back to the computer until its collapse time again and the cycle repeats. OH! My water is boiling. Gotta go!

  4. I'm single, never married, no children and read all of the sites daily… have for more than 3 years. I am not even OB-lite but get a lot of valuable brain-stretching here!!! I'm more than hooked!

    I agree with Anie –

    "I have been one of the major pushers for this and I am totally going to sign up for the monthly $5 deal. That's what my husband donates to NPR each month and the rational is the same. I consume this product daily. I want it to stick around. I owe it money."

  5. I missed the post yesterday!

    But I'm totally on board. I don't buy a newspaper, or magazines because they don't have stuff that interests me. OBH&L does have stuff that interests me. I was Devo'd when Ms Rocketship left and have been worried ever since that the whole site would go the same way.

    Also, I second the vote for OBE knickers! (I don't say panties, it sounds icky to me….)

  6. I think it'd be totally cool if you'd base one of the momma, home, life or empire characters off of a supporter! If I could afford it, i'd so pay for that privelage!!

    • Holy fucking shit…. that's an AMAZING idea. It'd be expensive (we have to pay the illustrator) but wow. Cool idea!

  7. Frankly I "feel weird" not paying for what I use. I support NPR why wouldn't I support you? Taking donations is work the same way advertising is. The difference is my donation gives you screen space as opposed to taking it up. I do my donations to most places once a year- Now I'm working out how I would like to support this content that I like enormously. Just checked out tugboat, i wish I could use paypal- I wish I could give you $100 (or any other amount really) without having to type in my credit card info twice to a service I don't know.

    • If you wanna paypal, we can do that. Just email:

      I like and trust Tugboat, but I use paypal daily for advertising clients, so it's cool too!

  8. I'd like to support the Offbeat Empire, but I can't really afford it right now until I find a new job.

    I am a lifetime member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe, and would become a paying member of an Offbeat Home & Life forum if it existed. (Though I imagine it is now even less likley to happen now that Families content is combined with Home; there are all of the problems inherent in running a family related forum that you have mentioned as reasons there would never be a Mama/Families forum. I completely understand your reasoning, and it makes sense to me.)

    Anyway, yeah, I think the Tugboat thing is a great idea, and I hope you get lots of funding! I'll hope to be able to help out with funding in the future.

      • Yeah, I read and commented on that post. When I first read it and commented on it I was hoping it was a way of saying "here's why it's not happening right now" but I can see that it is a post about why it will not be happening ever. I wish it were otherwise, but if it would hurt the main blogs then it makes complete sense that it can not happen.

  9. I'm still struggling with this and I don't want to be one of the difficult bitchy people. I don't read Home&Life, I did read Families and the one time they did a fundraising request – I contributed. So, now I'm left hanging – I want to support you guys, but I'm not ready to put money into tugboat to support the one of the four sites that I almost never visit.

    Still wallowing in the feels

  10. Offbeat Families was the only one I read with any regularity so I am super super sad to see it go. With a toddler/little person, working full-time, and having a side business I didn't even know it was gone until today. I wasn't a Bride (single mom) and live out in the woods when most of the Offbeat home seems more city/suburbs so I hardly ever check them out. There are so many house blogs or website and Offbeat Family was one of kind. If there was one I was going to support that would be the one. I see people every day that need support and I don't have alot of money, but when it is something that I really believe in I will find the money eventually.

  11. It's really interesting to have an option that doesn't put content behind a paywall but allows users of that content to pay for that content anyway, especially in the context of a for-profit business. I will be tuning in for updates on how this goes!

  12. This post came up on the list of old posts, and I thought I'd try and crystallise some of my thoughts on supporting online creations.
    When I noticed that this was available, I visited the site and made a one time donation, and made a vague note in my head that I should do the same in a year or so (although I don't remember quite when that was now). This was a different reaction than the one I had when I was informed/found out that some of the webcomics I read had Patreon accounts, where I signed up to make (much smaller) monthly donations. I was trying to work out why the two sites elicited different reactions from me – because I don't value the OBE more or less than the webcomics – and I came up with the following:
    1) Tugboat yards required me to pay with my debit card. I lose/damage my debit card about once every six months, and have to update the details on EVERYTHING I have attached to it directly. It is a pain, so I only tolerate this for life essentials (like kindle purchases and spotify). Patreon lets me pay with Paypal. This is better as a long term solution. (Aside: in general, if I'm on my laptop I can make a payment through Paypal without getting up to find my purse/card reader. Paypal is better if you want me to make an impulse purchase).
    2) Patreon completely lets me chose my level of support per month – and although there are various 'reward' levels, I can chose any option that is cheaper than the option I'm paying for (so if I'm not that interested in the monthly newsletter, I can pay $5 but get the $1 'warm fuzzies' reward).
    3) The way that Patreon is set up seems to lend itself to having a vibe of paying for content – even if it's content I could get for free. Tugboat yards seems skewed towards saying thank you to the team. I think I'm more likely to pay a subscription if it's sold to me as paying for content I value than giving a thank you present (even if, in both cases, it's both that's actually happening). Similarly, I react better to 'paying for content/saying thank you' than I do to 'we can remove ads if you give us money'. Yo, if the ads bothered me, I'd get an ad blocker. Don't waste my hard earned beans.
    4) Patreon gives me more of a sense of being part of a community supporting an artist by measuring the overall support given to the artist in terms of dollars per month. Tugboat yards gives the number of people who have ever supported. One gives an idea of the overall impact of the group support on the artist's ability to create, the other doesn't as much.
    Patreon obviously isn't some magic solution (one of the webcomics I support has donations of $9,500+ per month, another has about $110, and although I've a few thoughts on that I couldn't really say why the difference), but I found it interesting at least to explore what was going on in my head to work out why I'd responded differently.

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