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Slashdot introduces paid subscriptions.
October 23, 2001 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Slashdot introduces paid subscriptions. - "I hope you can understand the expensive reality associated with making this site happen every day" We've talked about paid memberships for Metafilter before, and I'd happily pay, but if all of the sites I go to everyday start doing this I'll have to make some hard choices.

Is there any talk about some sort of membership "package"? Sort of like the cable model? I pay one fee and get member access to several websites? How could something like this be organized?
posted by y6y6y6 (22 comments total)

 
I've long thought that would be the only realistic way to get a subscriber-supported web.

I think collection needs to happen at the ISP level. You get the basic web, or you get the basic web plus a premium menu of offerings.

AOL is probably the best bet to drive something like that forward. They already sort of do that within their walled garden.

If they could strike some deals with some primary content providers, then sites could leverage that subscription model into other large ISPs and finally down to the Mom and Pop services out there.
posted by willnot at 7:41 AM on October 23, 2001


One other thought - it's possible Microsoft may be able to do it with their passport system as well. I think they'll have a harder time selling that than an ISP would though.
posted by willnot at 7:43 AM on October 23, 2001


....and both of these suggestions (accurate as they are) indicate why the web may be well and truly screwed.
posted by aramaic at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2001


y6y6y6:

Is there any talk about some sort of membership "package"? Sort of like the cable model? I pay one fee and get member access to several websites? How could something like this be organized?

A colleague of mine who's the publisher of a NY alternative weekly thought of this a while ago, and I always thought it was too good an idea to take hold until internet content has actually breathed its last breath.

You could argue that plastic.com did something similar, from the ground up, by taking a dozen or so established names and linking them together. But then trying to graft a donation, let alone pay model on to it never really worked.

I agree, though, that just this sort of consortium is needed. But then again for a site like MeFi or Slashdot, just how much money is needed?

Salon's Premium service has signed up about 20,000 subscribers at $30/year. That's ~ $600k. I figure MeFi, for example, could live on $60-100k. I think it's actually feasible to get 2000 people on MeFi to pay $30/year, although I think the open-source, knowledge-is-free /.ers might be a harder sell, and that site would probably need more money anyway. Anyone have a real estimate on what the math would be - if there's a decent, semi-arbitrary estimate of required dollars per 1000 users?
posted by Sinner at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2001


I can't get through. Has slashdot been ... er ... uhm ... slashdotted?
posted by RavinDave at 7:52 AM on October 23, 2001


willnot: I think collection needs to happen at the ISP level. You get the basic web, or you get the basic web plus a premium menu of offerings.

Man, that sounds like the 80s and early 90s all over again. I think about GEnie's pricing model: $4.95/month for basic services, and $6/hour for Premium. If the subscription model comes back big time, I'd expect AOL and MSN to come out as the winners - with something like Passport, as you mention.

While I don't expect hourly rates to return to favor, I could see a multi-site subscription model happening. It's good because it enables homegrown sites to make some money off of this; it's bad because users have been reluctant to spend money on something as intangible as a website.

In addition, aramaic is the nailhead-hitter.
posted by hijinx at 7:53 AM on October 23, 2001


Woo-hoo... we've MetaFiltered Slashdot!
posted by costas at 7:55 AM on October 23, 2001


Salon's Premium service has signed up about 20,000 subscribers at $30/year. That's ~ $600k.

I find it hard to consider that 600k as anything but a last ditch cash grab. By instituting the Premium Service, Salon was able to squeeze some cash out of a certain percentage of people who were already dedicated, regular readers who wanted to support the site. But that pool of people can only get smaller, because now when you go to Salon 9 out of 10 articles are just one-paragraph teasers... that sort of thing will never bring in any new readers. And if they are doing any traditional off-line marketing to boost readership, I certainly am not seeing any evidence of it. All that happens when you follow the Salon model is you get a one-time infusion of cash, and then when the early adopter subscriptions expire, only a handful will renew, and the spiral continues downhill.
posted by spilon at 8:01 AM on October 23, 2001


This will be fascinating to watch, and /. is just one of many sites that will go through this. People are so used to free, not cheap, but free on the web. Making the jump up from free to cheap is amazingly tough. I see a big backlash looming, services disappearing, a different web and so on. In 10, 20 years the past few years will prove fascinating to historians, economists, sociologists.
posted by mmarcos at 8:05 AM on October 23, 2001


Some clarification -- the subscriptions will be for an ad-free service, and general access will remain free, it seems:

The change will be a different ad size on the article page. Currently we have the standard banner size on top of all pages, but soon the article pages will instead have those huge square things that you see on CNet or ZD. I know this will be unpopular with many people, myself included, but when we make the switch, we will also have some sort of subscription system where you can pay a fee to disable them honestly. (No I don't know how much yet!)
posted by mattpfeff at 8:15 AM on October 23, 2001


"I think collection needs to happen at the ISP level."

Actually I was thinking that the member database could be hosted just about anywhere. Right now Matt is checking his own database to handle log in, but there's no reason he couldn't be checking someone else's.

So.... I set up a subscription site and tell you that if you pay me $10 a month you'll have member access to Metafilter, Slashdot, Salon, etc.

Then when you log in here at Metafilter, Matt is actually going to my database to confirm your password.

"it's possible Microsoft may be able to do it with their passport system as well."

Dear God no......... Please no. No no no. Just the idea that this wonderful place could become a cog in Gates' world domination scheme makes me feel nauseous. Ick.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:16 AM on October 23, 2001


Atlas F1 went to a 10-cents-a-day subscription model earlier this year. I used to read the site for Mitch McCann's F1 Insider column (that had stopped being funny about two years ago). They also tried to restrict their then UBB based message boards to subscribers only. Now they have a vBulletin based message board, that is free to anyone.
posted by tamim at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2001


I find it hard to consider that 600k as anything but a last ditch cash grab.

Well, sure. It's essentially useless for a site with 50 or 60 people on the payroll, even with the addition of what I'm sure is a near-insignificant amount of advertising revenue. But Metafilter is just Matt, and while I'm not sure how many people produce /., it's certainly a lot less than produce Salon.

Eventually, we're all going to have to come to grips with paying some amount for web content, though, so to say ...

All that happens when you follow the Salon model is you get a one-time infusion of cash, and then when the early adopter subscriptions expire, only a handful will renew, and the spiral continues downhill

... may not be exactly correct, since a time will come when you can't just go somewhere else and get free content. Like others, Salon is just trying to hold on until that time comes.
posted by Sinner at 8:24 AM on October 23, 2001


Don't start paying: downsize your expectations temporarily.

There will always be free stuff on the web (even if it's just my stuff). The "next" slashdot is slumbering away somewhere with a fifth of the posts that slashdot gets. This will change slowly with slashdot subscription.

Point here is that slashdot has zero value without regulars. People that think they can't live without it should wonder what they were doing before.

Nothing is forever.
posted by walrus at 8:42 AM on October 23, 2001


Well, a workable model would be something like AdultCheck or something like that...(X-rated verification)
posted by pooldemon at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2001


I personally hate slashdot. I hope this burns them hard. Second of all, I think the pay for model has some merit (I mean, we pay for papers and magazines), however I run a news site and I won't do it, not without some payfor perks like perhaps loads of mp3s, or software or something of value.

I would think that a more socialist approach would work. That is, those that write, and are given high marks by the majority would get a certain share of the profits above operating costs. That is, everyone is a collective owner so that those that work hard to contribute would be rewarded if their content brought in people.

But that's just an idea. I hate banners and I cringe at the idea of a pay-for web, but I'm hard up for other options.
posted by Zebulun at 9:11 AM on October 23, 2001


we pay for papers and magazines

The cover price rarely pays for printing and distribution. Content is paid for by advertising.
posted by walrus at 10:04 AM on October 23, 2001


Read the article, folks. It's a subscription model only if you don't want ads. It's a choice: ads or subscription. No content will be barred from viewing for non-paying visitors.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2001


Mo, that's how Salon's subscription started, too.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:07 AM on October 23, 2001


slightly offtopic, perhaps... but i can't help but wonder if imposing a subscription model at slashdot, particularly in its discusson threads, would improve the quality of its discussions. then again, they already have the convenient filter-thread-by-rating feature.
posted by zerolucid at 11:11 AM on October 23, 2001


maybe if mefi starts getting desperate for money matt can start having pledge breaks.

"No more posts until we reach our goal!"

"Let's take a look at the tote board"
posted by cheesebot at 12:08 PM on October 23, 2001


There's a fundamental problem with this. Advertisers want to advertise to the smartest, most dedicated readers. Because, by having their brand associated with a site that the reader loves, they're hoping that cool factor will rub off on their advertised brand. That is what they're paying for.

So when you introduce a subscription model that allows the most dedicated, most affluent readers to turn off the ads, you're removing the audience the advertisers care most about. Essentially, you're saying: "Hey advertisers! Come talk to our cheapest readers! The ones who don't spend money!"

That's why this kind of thing can never last. Eventually, the advertisers split, and very few people will actually be willing to pay for content that's already free.

Not to mention, of course, how horribly antagonistic those horrible giant godforsaken flash ads are. In a community site? Please.

Slashdot would be wiser to do something similar to what we've done here: allow community members to buy cheap ads themselves, so they can support the community and advertise their homepage/business/whatever at the same time.
posted by fraying at 12:35 PM on October 23, 2001


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