Kottke 25: It’s membership time!
Good morning! Tomorrow we’re celebrating 25 years of blogging here at kottke.org and it’s been over three months since I’ve returned from my sabbatical so I thought it would be a good time to:
a) Thanks again 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, but: This membership support is essential to keep the site running so smoothly, with few membership requests like this, very minimal ads, no pop-up newsletter signup forms, a full-text RSS feed with no ads, etc. etc. etc.
And perhaps what matters most to me is that member support keeps the site free, open, and available to all on an increasingly paywalled internet. It’s not hard to imagine an alternative universe to kottke.org, with ads stuffed into every bit of white space, email digest forms popping up on every visit, and half the site behind a members-only paywall. No shade for those who went down this route to keep things going – I’d probably make more money off members-only content on Substack or whatever, and that move is tempting. But seriously, I love you guys so much for keeping kottke.org collectively on the open web. Thank you very much.
b) Encourage those of you who are not currently members to sign up for membership today or, in the case of ex-members, to restart your memberships.1 I’m not going to give you the hard sell here – I’ve listed a few reasons to join in the previous paragraphs and if you’re a regular reader I don’t need to tell you the value you get from the site; you already know that yourself. My request is if you appreciate what I do here and can manage it, please support the site by purchasing a membership.
I also wanted to give you a quick update and a behind-the-scenes look at what happened to memberships during my sabbatical and in the months since I’ve returned. One of my biggest concerns about taking time off from the site was the loss of membership and advertising revenue. I wasn’t sure how my announcement would be received and worried that I was somehow foolishly dumping this small, fragile business onto the shoals. After probably thinking/worrying about it too much, I decided that I needed the break more than the income and that I could start building memberships again when I got back. It was a risk, but I decided I had to take it.
When I announced the sabbatical in May 2022, something totally unexpected happened: memberships worked out. People have specifically signed up or upgraded their membership level to help me take time off, and very few people have canceled. I actually burst into tears when I checked my member dashboard and saw this happening in the hours following the announcement. That support – and the hundreds of emails2 I received – gave myself the space and quiet I needed to completely detach and disconnect from my work here, to reflect and re-energize (and do some chores for a change).
Fast forward to the end of October. I wasn’t quite ready to return to work. Having started the membership program back in November 2016, I would say that around 60-70% of all annual memberships are still being renewed in early November.3 You can probably imagine what happened: Despite a brief update on my plans to return soon, many people canceled their membership. This decline continued in the months that followed, even after I returned to work. In fact, there are now about 10% fewer members than just before I unsubscribed in May. So the sales slump I anticipated when I took a break was only delayed by a few months.
Coming back in early December I wanted to focus on the site and not bug you with memberships. Ship first, worry about sales later. Now that I’ve been back full-time for three and a half months, I’d like to raise membership levels again, ideally to pre-sabbatical levels. Again, you can review your membership options if you’d like to help me achieve this goal.