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Kottke 25: It's Membership Time!

posted by Jason Kottke Mar 13, 2023

neon sign that reads 'kottke.org memberships available inquire within'

Good morning! Tomorrow marks 25 years of blogging here at kottke.org and it's been more than three months since I returned from my sabbatical, so I thought it would be a good time to:

a) Once again express my heartfelt thanks to those of you who have supported the site over the years by purchasing a membership. Kottke.org has been my full-time job since 2005, and I've said this many times before but: this membership support is essential in keeping the site running so smoothly, with few membership solicitations like this one, very minimal advertising, no popup newsletter sign-up forms, a full-text RSS feed w/ no ads, etc. etc. etc.

And perhaps nearest and dearest to my heart, member support keeps the site free, open, and available to everyone on an internet that is increasingly paywalled. It's not difficult to imagine an alt-universe kottke.org with ads crammed into every bit of whitespace, email collection forms popping up on every visit, and half the site behind a members-only paywall. No shade to those who have gone that route to keep things running -- I'd probably make more money with members-only content on Substack or whatever and that pull is tempting. But seriously, I love you folks so much for collectively keeping all of kottke.org on the open web. Thank you.

b) Cajole those of you who aren't currently members to sign up for a membership today or, in the case of former members, to restart your memberships.1 I'm not going to give you the hard sell here -- I listed some reasons to join in the preceding paragraphs and if you're a regular reader, I don't have to tell you the value you get from the site; you already know that for yourself. What I'm asking is: if you appreciate what I do here and you can manage it, please support the site by purchasing a membership.

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I also wanted to give you a brief update & behind-the-scenes about what happened with memberships during my sabbatical and in the months since I've returned. One of my biggest hesitations about taking time off from the site was losing revenue from both memberships and advertising. I was unsure how my announcement would be received and was worried I was somehow idiotically crashing this tiny, fragile business of mine onto the shoals. After probably too much thinking/anxiety about it, I decided I needed the break more than the revenue and that I could build memberships back up again after I returned. It was a risk, but one I decided I needed to take.

When I announced the sabbatical back in May 2022, something completely unexpected happened: memberships went up. People signed up or increased their membership levels specifically to support me taking time off, and very few people cancelled. I actually burst into tears when I checked my member dashboard and saw this happening in the hours after the announcement. That display of support -- and the hundreds of emails2 I received -- allowed me the space and peace of mind I needed to fully disengage and disconnect from my work here to reflect and recharge (and, like, get some chores done around the house for a change).

Fast forward to the end of October. I wasn't quite ready to return to work yet. Because I'd launched the membership program back in November of 2016, I'd say about 60-70% of all annual memberships still renew in early November.3 You may be able to guess what happened: despite a brief update on my plans to return soon, many people cancelled their memberships. That decline has continued in the following months, even after I returned to work. In fact, there are about 10% fewer members now than there were right before I logged off in May. So, the drop-off in revenue I expected when I took a break was just delayed by a few months.

When I returned at the beginning of December, I wanted to knuckle down and focus on the site and not bug you about memberships. Ship first, worry about revenue later. Now that I've been back at it full-time for three-and-a-half months, I'd like to build membership levels back up again, ideally to pre-sabbatical levels. Once again, you can check out your membership options here if you'd like to help me reach that goal.

  1. Fun fact: right now, there are more former members of kottke.org than there are current members. Would like to change that!

  2. I read every single email and responded to as many as I could. My apologies if I didn't reply to yours...there were just too many!

  1. Just as a sidebar, this creates an interesting cashflow situation -- I get like 60% of my total revenue for the whole year delivered to my bank account in a space of 2 weeks. But I obviously have expenses and estimated tax payments that occur throughout the year, so I need to budget and manage that carefully. I've gotten used to it, but it's taken awhile to acclimate.