If you are a regular reader and appreciate what I do here, please support kottke.org by purchasing an annual membership. It only takes a minute (or about 20 seconds on iOS w/ Apple Pay) and your collective support will mean a lot to the future of kottke.org. This has been in the works for a while now and I have a lot to say about it, but go check it out first, subscribe, and then come back. I’ll wait.
All set? Ok. A couple of recent catalysts have set this into motion, but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few years. So here’s why I feel this is necessary now, in four interconnected main points.
Focus on dedicated readers. Anyone who relies on an audience of some kind — artists, writers, businesses, etc. — has to focus on serving regulars while keeping an eye on attracting new readers/customers/users. As much as I feel that everyone in the world would enjoy reading the world’s best blog — I mean, who wouldn’t? — it’s difficult for me to take time out from writing the site to reach out to potential new readers.1 I love being a regular myself and at this point in the site’s evolution, it makes sense to focus mostly on the people who read and love the site. Part of that focus is building up the financial link between us. In an ideal world: I write for you, you pay me, I write some more. No middlemen. I’m not sure that’s an entirely feasible arrangement at this point, but we can get part of the way there and work on the rest.
Revisiting an old idea. Some of you may remember that I’ve asked for support directly from readers before.2 A few months ago, I went out to lunch with Tim Urban from Wait But Why. We’d hardly said hello when he said something like “my goal for this lunch is by the end of the meal, you’ll agree to ask your readers to financially support kottke.org”. Tim was very clear that asking his readers for support on Patreon had been game-changing for his site. Project creators and potential backers have become comfortable with directly funding creative efforts online, particularly through Kickstarter & Patreon and I’m curious to see how it works for kottke.org in 2016.3
A changed media landscape. It’s been 11+ years since I quit my job to do kottke.org full-time. Online media has changed a lot since then. Hell, it’s changed a lot in the past few years. Blogs are dead — long live blogs! — and the open web is struggling. If you ask around to the creators of other established independent sites on the web (and I have talked to many of them), you’ll hear that traffic and display ad revenue have been falling for the last few years. Many factors have contributed — Facebook, readers switching to mobile, the rise of apps, social overtaking search for discovery, ad blockers, Google Reader’s shutdown, VC money flooding into online media — and smaller sites without dedicated content marketing and mobile/social development teams can’t keep up. Other strategies are necessary.
Diversification. The site currently has two main sources of revenue: advertising via The Deck & the We Work Remotely job board and affiliate income from Amazon & iTunes. In an effort to diversify revenue, I’ve tried several things — RSS sponsorships, sponsored posts for Kickstarter projects, consulting for startups, and speaking — and none of them have stuck. I’ve thought about writing a book, putting on a conference, or doing a podcast. But that all feels like it’s beside the point and not what I really want to do, which is just to write here, for you. A recent (hopefully temporary) hiccup in one of these revenue sources4 has driven home the need for not putting all my eggs in one basket. I would love for reader support to become a healthy third leg on the ol’ revenue stool.
I could go on — and in several previous drafts, boy, did I! — but here’s what it boils down to for me: I’m proud of what I’ve built here at kottke.org over the past 18 years and I’m committed to publishing here regularly and operating independently as long as I am able. Even though the site is primarily a one-person operation, I’ve never done it alone. You have always been an essential part of this site — providing me with feedback, counsel, encouragement, pushback, and many great links and ideas for posts — and I’d love your help in taking this next step. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for the support!
I’ll let you in on a little secret: kottke.org is a secret. Oh, not to you, of course. But approximately no one in the world has ever heard of or read this website before. kottke.org also has this weird little problem that much bigger sites like Buzzfeed or Vox don’t have where readers assume that everyone else is reading the site and so they don’t share links or posts on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll see tweets like “I don’t usually post links to @kottke because everyone reads it, but…” It makes me tear my hair out because I can assure you from looking at my stats that is absolutely not the case. You’re not big sharers, I get it, but tweet out some links, tell a friend, etc. ♫Tomorrow there’ll be more of us!♫↩
Back in 2005, when I first started working full-time on kottke.org, I launched a micropatron campaign that funded my activities on kottke.org for the first year and bootstrapped the site into a sustainable independent business.↩
I’m a big believer in supporting the things you love and the people who do them. I’ve backed quite a few projects on Kickstarter, am currently supporting some of my favorite creators on Patreon (Eric Holthaus, Wait But Why, Kurzgesagt, The Nerdwriter, and Every Frame a Painting), give monthly to Wikipedia, and have previously backed Daring Fireball, Mlkshk, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.↩
Guess which one! I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “bisplay madvertising”. Nothing gold can stay, folks.↩