The Last-Minute Push

Today is the last day of the Daring Fireball membership/T-shirt drive.

With regard to the shirts, I’m cutting off orders after the deadline so as to get an accurate count of the quantities I need to order in each size. If on the fence about buying a shirt, today really is the day.

[Update: Due to popular demand (some of you really know how to procrastinate), I’m extending the deadline through Monday. As pointed out by my wife, it made no sense to end the drive at the beginning of a holiday weekend, since I can’t place the order for the shirts until the print shop opens on Tuesday. So, Monday 11:59 PM, EDT — that’s the deadline. Tuesday morning, orders get placed and prize winners will be notified.]

Memberships, on the other hand, will continue to be accepted on an ongoing basis. But the price for a full-privilege membership will be going up, from $20.48 to $25. Act today and you can save a few bucks.

As of today, members are rewarded in two ways. (Three if you count the warm fuzzy feeling one gets by supporting independent journalism.) Those being the members-only RSS feeds; one with full-content articles, the other with up-to-the-minute blurbs from the new Linked List.

Of course, as popular and useful as RSS is, many people still aren’t using it. I’ve received a sizable amount of email from readers along the lines of, I don’t use RSS, so I don’t see what’s in it for me. Fair enough.

My hope is that with additional revenue, I’ll have time to add all sorts of fun members-only features to the site. But there’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation here: I can’t promise to add features without the revenue, but you — the reader sitting on the fence with regard to coughing up the money to join — are unlikely to be motivated by these as-yet-unimplemented features until they’re actually available.

E.g., I’ve received several emails suggesting I add a members-only comments/discussion-forum type thing. And, indeed, that would be the ultimate in members-only luxury. I have a lot of ideas along this line, to establish Daring Fireball as both a publication and as a community. But it would take time up front to implement, and time on an ongoing basis to moderate/supervise/shephard. I’d love to see this happen, but on the policy of under-promising and over-delivering, this is not a promise that it’ll happen. It’d take a large last-day jump in membership to let me commit to this now.

In terms of what I can offer besides the RSS feeds — over $1,600 in prizes will be awarded to members who join by the end of today. That’s pretty cool.

Why Not Advertising?

The good news is that the response to this membership drive has been very encouraging. I’ve generated significantly more revenue in just a few weeks than I had all year via AdSense. But — and this is not surprising — it’s fallen well short of a reasonable full-time income.

The truth is that nearly all professional journalism is supported by advertising revenue. This is true both of small independent publishers and large corporate media conglomerates. If you want to make a living as a writer, there are only two established models: selling books and selling ads.

And there are far more writers making a living via advertising-supported media than there are authors making a living selling books. Especially in the tech publishing industry — most computer books are written on the side, not as a full-time gig.

The reason I’m trying something different here — asking for direct support from you, my readers — is that I don’t think that what I’m doing here at Daring Fireball would work with an advertising revenue model. If I’m going to write for a living — if I’m going to try to support my family with this — it’s inevitable that I’m going to end up catering what I write to please those who are footing the bill.

What’s most appealing to advertisers is quantity. More readers, more hits. More traffic. More page views.

What most appealing to you, the regular readers of this site, is quality. Attention to detail. Appreciation of nuance. Depth.

An advertising revenue model leads to trying to appeal a little bit to very many people.

What I’m trying to do is appeal very much to fewer people — in particular, people who aren’t satisfied with typical tech media journalism. People who appreciate that some ideas are subtle, and take more than a few paragraphs to express.

A flattering number of people have written to say that they joined because they felt my coverage of last month’s security vulnerabilities was alone worth the price of admission. A few people wrote yesterday to say the same thing regarding Wednesday’s debunking of the Dashboard-vs.-Konfabulator controversy.

One of the reasons I waited so long to launch this membership drive is that I felt like I needed to pour full-time effort into this site for a couple of months beforehand. The idea being that I could say, Look at the difference in the last few months; that’s what your contribution can support. But that was an unrealistic plan — it was simply never going to be the case that I could pour full-time effort into this site for a few months without having the funding in place beforehand.

Last month’s security coverage was about as close as I could get. In fact, if you skim through the archives for 2004, you’ll notice a decided burst in output in the last few months. February, March, and April were pretty thin; May and June were pretty active. That’s a result of my trying as best I could, alongside paying work, to show you the potential for this site.

It’s also the case that an ad-based revenue model is in some ways much less appropriate for an independent self-publisher than for a larger media company. Most publications maintain at least some semblence of a wall between the advertising and editorial departments; such a wall obviously isn’t plausible for a one-man show.

All that said, I have not ruled out advertising or sponsorships as an additional means of funding this site. But I’d like to push the idea of direct reader support as far as I can first.

I can’t express how appreciative I am for the support I’ve already received. If you’re still on the fence — if you’re reading this thinking, Maybe I should… — the last best thing I can offer is that I’ll be trying my best to make it worthwhile.