Five years of USSM
Over five years ago, the current incarnation of USSM first published (April 11th, 2003). We’re now two years into running on the USSM server, purchased with the generosity of our users and running by the grace of Digital Forest, which donates rack space and bulk electrons. I’d like to thank, again, everyone who chipped in during that moment of crisis, and Digital Forest for their continuing tolerance of that black box in the stacks.
Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the state of things.
According to Google’s analytics, which are a little low for reasons I’ll skip discussing, we have about 6,000 regular visitors here who load up the home page every day, and we’ll see 10-12,000 visits on a weekday (that split surprises me, but again, that’s not important). We’ll serve 60-80,000 pages on particularly heavy traffic days, like a trade or a major signing. There were games last year where we had more unique visitors than the announced attendance at Safeco Field.
We’re doing this essentially for free. Over the history of USSM, between the tinkering with Google Adsense, the sidebar ads, and whatnot, we’ve made $0/post, and $0/hour. That’s not that hard to do, actually, given that we’ve put up nearly 5,000 posts since we started, and there’s more to where we are today, so —
Currently, we make a little money off the ads (I think a sawbuck is the minimum buy and only because I haven’t invested the time in working out a pricing scheme), in part because I’m not interested in slapping a banner up top and inside posts. The Amazon links off the recommended reading list throw us a buck now and then, and that’s cool. We tried selling swag, and that didn’t really work, though I’d admit we didn’t put a long-term effort into it.
We solicited donations for the server purchase about two years ago, and beyond that, I’ve tinkered with the “Buy us a beer” button at the end of posts, and since we first tried that, we’ve gotten about a hundred takers. Which is awesome, and thanks if you donated that way.
I’ve heard that I use USSM to promote my other writing, which makes me smile – I had that gig writing web content for the PI, if you remember, and if you don’t know what web freelancers get paid per piece, well, it’s not a lot. If my nefarious plan was to write free content to get a chance to write nearly-free content, I’m not much of an evil genius.
I’ve heard sometimes that I (we) pimped Cheater’s Guide too aggressively when it came out, and I’m not sure where that comes from. We mentioned the book 34 times in total and that’s if you count me giving away copies, two pointers to the Cheater’s Guide blog, and two passing, no-link mentions. There’s the sidebar ad for the book which comes and goes, but I’ve always felt that if anything, I didn’t do enough to push the book here — the number of regular readers who bought was a lot less than I’d hoped, while I was still reluctant to keep mentioning it. And I think my book’s great.
34 times, if you’re into the stats, means about 0.7% of all posts in USSM history have mentioned the baseball book I wrote. (You know what? Make it 35: Buy The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball. Now we’re up to 0.7%)
Anyway, whenever I run into these things I don’t know how to respond. It feels a lot like when I run into someone who’s convinced that we pushed some story we never wrote — I want to open the books and point, say “look here, there’s the Blogads rate, there’s how Google never paid us…” in the same way I want to say “search the site for Carl Everett stories, I think you’ll find we weren’t big fans” but I wonder if any level of disclosure would do good.
In mid-2005, I quit my day job at one point to finish the book and write full-time. I’d always hoped that USSM would eventually be a paying gig for Dave or me, but when I had a go at it, and spent more time than ever writing long posts here, tending game threads, and investing a ludicrous amount of effort in the site, and I think people did notice. But we ran a trial of Paypal donations, and no one pitched in. I lost a lot of money.
To which you might well say “well, that’s your risk,” and I entirely agree. That’s not my point, though — it’s that there was a period of time there where I looked at USSM as the majority of my full-time job writing, and we still didn’t ask for money, or plaster the site in ads, or run pledge drives. I just wrote and wrote until the well went dry and I went back to work. I’ve essentially given up hopes of making USSM a paying venture for now: I don’t see that there’s a path to making any kind of living at this without making compromises I’m unwilling to do.
There’s often an implied or explicit threat in complaint emails we get, which says “I’d donate if you weren’t such jerks about Bloomquist” or whatever their particular cause is, and I have three reactions:
– We’ve tried to be really clear that we think Bloomquist is a useful back-roster guy and offers something off the bench, while we take exception to how he’s used and the fawning press coverage he gets (or whatever the response is to the specific complaint)
– Really? You’re a regular reader and you appreciate everything else, you read the blog, you like our commentary, and you would give us money if we would compromise on that one thing?
– No deal.
The last of which is the kind of snippy response that endears us to 1% of our audience and alienates many more.
Which brings this all around to something I wrote back in October 2003, in discussing why we weren’t accepting blank donations:
None of this should be taken to imply we’re doing this for money, only that for as much time, effort, and $ we put into it, it’d be nice if we broke even, and even better if we could have a nice dinner next time David’s in town. That’s all — we didn’t start this to cash in, and if it’s that much of an issue, I’d rather just eat the money than have this be a hassle.
That’s where we still are, in many ways. There are paths to making more money: more ads, more donations, joining some random site network, trying to form a site network, and so on.
But as Dave’s said, we’ll do this until it stops being fun, and those things make this less fun pretty quickly. If we’re not in it for the money — and I don’t see how you can make an argument that we are — the warm fuzzies are the only compensation that makes this worth doing. Despite the most-commonly cited complaint about us, we have always done this because we’re nutty Mariners fans, and we want to do good for the Mariner fandom we’re part of.
Personally, though, the side effect of that (and you can feel free to call me thin-skinned or whatever, the line forms on the right) I’ve been finding this a lot harder to enjoy lately. The background noise of potshots and drive-by commenters makes me feel like I’m being ground down over time, and this off-season was particularly bad around the Bedard trade, which I don’t think we’ll rehash. If we didn’t have volunteer mods these days, I don’t know that I’d put up any posts with comments. Really. I understand part of that’s the popularity, and an inherent difficulty with having a thousand new visitors a day swing by, but it’s not an enjoyable part of the work. AOL/MSN/Hotmail all eat people’s invitation email, and they drop us a line to ask what happened — I spend a couple hours a month on stuff like that. Or trying to make the site run faster, or be able to serve more people during game threads — Dave once estimated that we spend 30 hours a week on USSM, and having tracked my time over the last few weeks, I don’t think that’s far off. That hasn’t been easy to do.
Which leaves us in many ways where we’ve been for years: somewhat popular, influential beyond our readership (I still remember driving into Seattle on I-90 one day hearing a sports talk radio caller read my post word for word and be complimented by the host for making a good point), making enough money to buy Dave dinner when he’s in town, stuck unwilling or unable to make a jump to money-printing enterprise.
That’s not so bad.
Here’s my questions to you then, after making you read all that: what do you want from USSM in the future? What can we give? How do we continue to make progress in our goal of helping build Mariner fandom, and of supporting it as one of the smartest and best in baseball?