A modest proposal for the Straight Dope

I stand corrected. Wikipedia’s article on The Straight Dope is going to need to be updated; that’s where I got my information from. Later, I’ll write a somewhat flippant post decrying relying on Wikipedia for even basic responses.

I’d like to think my general point stands, though, despite my inadequate sources.

To the best of my knowledge, yes. Both are still a package.

I think your point was otherwise solid. I was serious about the small correction part. Honestly 12 month ago I didn’t realize it was now the Sun Times that owned the SDMB & SD. It isn’t on any page I recall of the current SDMB and it used to be on the footer of every vB page that the Chicago Reader owned us.

I ask because it has been proposed in a thread that the phrase “The Straight Dope” might not connect with the younger set, but if The Sun Times owns the The Dope and the connected message board a possible name change might not be in the making.

Possible, but well above my pay grade. All the mods are just volunteers currently and not employees in any way. None of us can speak for the ownership in fact.

I don’t know about where you live, Indiana?,( ETA: don’t you work in a grocery store?) but the two states I split time between have loads if these papers at every grocery store or bodega. In grocery stores there may be 3 or 4 racks holding different freebies. They may have an online presence also, but the hard copies are readily available.

I know nothing about rights, but the converting to e-book can’t be that hard or expensive. There are all kinds of illegal sites that give away e-books that people converted at home that look professionally done. While I have never seen a Straight Dope book, I can’t imagine they are thousands of pages long. Plus, do everyone a favor and cut out Slug’s artwork and it’s simpler still. The fact is that the books weren’t selling even back when there was a column. And the last I saw, less than 10% of readers will only read e-books.

Since I believe Ed wasn’t the original Cecil apparently they can replace him. I doubt they put the column on hold for a year while they searched for a new Cecil. There are probably tens of thousands of young writers, man or woman, out there that would jump at the chance to write a column. How do you know the bolded part above? Journalism schools/majors are all over the place, I’m sure you can find one or two that don’t want to lay on their couch all day collecting unemployment. Maybe one of them is funny. Maybe even funny in a way that would attract younger readers, funny in a way that a retired older guy isn’t.

Oh, dear. Clearly, mordecaiB , you find this a vexatious proposition. I say to you: put your mind at ease. it’s voluntary . That means you don’t have do anything . Pay no further attention to these notions that trouble you so, and all will be as before.

Anything to avoid answering all the questions people are asking you about your supposed business plan, I guess. You said you wanted input from us, but apparently all you want to hear is applause from people. Just like you said there was no set plan, it was just in the talking stage, then said there was a plan in motion to get a certain number of members to pay up over a certain time period. Just tell us the cost of running the board for a year, that’s all we want. Just tell us the magic number to run the board, not to pay to supplement your retirement.

You know, I think I’ve outlined pretty well my concerns with your plan. I could do like your last post and talk all pretty and snarky and condescending to you, but I didn’t. This is ATMB, and if you had ever actually read the board, you would know that conversation in this forum is supposed to be civil.

Read what I’ve been posting. If people choose not to volunteer the board goes down. And if volunteer money goes to fund Ed’s comeback, rather than the board, that makes it much more likely the board will fall, and fall sooner.

Anything less than treating him as the savior of the board is just meanness and anger you know. It couldn’t possibly be honest questions about his plan, which is what he asked for.

I brought this up upthread because it’s literally cost free. You have to split sales, I think, but there is no initial cash layout which would seem to be ideal for a business that says it has no money. Plus, if we switch up the designs, which would be done by Dopers, every six months or a year that would keep up interest, unlike the one Straight Dope logo that just screamed 1970s. And we don’t need pros for this, although they would be welcome. Just make something funny or nice looking that is Dope related.

But all you tried was selling the same thing over and over again. All with the same crappy blue logo. Expand your horizons, this is a great way for the Dope to advertise. Hell, how many old timers here would buy a product with a pan fried semen t-shirt with an updated Dope logo. Or a penis ensues item. Maybe even the 18" ice blue double headed dildo. There’s all kinds of Dope related shit that people would buy that has nothing at all to do with Cecil, but is board related.

Yes, but he is refusing to tell us what this number is, he just keeps repeating his plan. And I know you weren’t throwing out real numbers for consideration, but we have always managed to get up whatever cash was needed. I can’t imagine the cost to upgrade to Discourse requires doubling the membership fees, but if it does, just tell us that. Trying to start a new business off the back of a business that we are told is close to shutting down for lack of income is not a business plan.

I agree with your logo idea for people who don’t want the word dope on their stuff but please pleas please retire this one. It hasn’t been updated in decades and looks it. This is what was all over the stuff that they couldn’t sell back when the Dope had a much larger audience. No reason to think it would sell now.

Let’s think about this, hajario. Your idea is we sell T-shirts through Cafe Press. Looking at your linked article, we find this:

You have to be careful when setting your markup and consider the base price. If CafePress is charging $18 base price for a shirt and you throw another $10 or $15 of your own on there, your item may not sell.

So, we add a $5 profit to an $18 shirt, making the total cost to the buyer $23. We promote this super deal on our site. We’re also trying to get people to spend $30 to subscribe, so we promote that too. A few high rollers may pop for both things, but most people will pick one or the other. So basically we’re siphoning off subscription revenue, of which we get to keep 100%, and diverting it to T-shirts, where we net five bucks. You think this makes business sense?

Dan has changed his column quite a bit over the years. He’s talked about it. A lot of his columns used to be “what does this word mean?” or “give me details about how I can do this sex act?” And Dan points out that wikipedia and urban dictionary and youtube answer a LOT of those questions. These days, he’s mostly using Ann Landers’ desk to write answers to the same questions Ann Landers used to answer – relationship questions. Yes, readers enjoy his sex-positive approach. But a lot of it is “my mom won’t let me have sex with my lover in her house, but wants me to visit. What should I do?”

Also, he does a podcast these days.

Yeah, the upfront costs of running a CafePress shop are mostly the time to design the logo. Then it maybe takes an hour or two to set everything up. And after that, any revenue is profit.

It’s true that if you want to sell a LOT of t-shirts, and have a sense up-front how many you will sell, you can do better by having them printed up yourself and then selling them. But you don’t have to do it that way these days. You can even start on CafePress, see how well stuff sells, and then go the other route if it seems worthwhile.

Our posts crossed, but I don’t think those are the same dollars. I think some people would like to support the Dope, and would buy a subscription. I think some would like merch, and don’t care that much about supporting anything, and won’t pay for a voluntary subscription (and will leave before paying a mandatory one.) And I think others would pay for both.

Order of the Stick and XKCD seem to support themselves primarily with merch, as best as I can tell. It’s certainly a viable business proposition. (The guy who does Order of the Stick has also set up a patreon account, which, similar to your idea, gives subscribers the right to ask him questions that he may or may not bother to answer. Along with the warm glow of increasing the odds that he can afford to finish writing the story.)

It makes perfect business sense if we disregard your flawed premise. I think that many people would pop for a t-shirt who have no interest in a membership. I think that a lot of people would do both. I highly doubt that there are a large number of people who have only $30 and will have to make the tough decision between a mug and helping you generate content in a special forum. I am sincerely baffled that you think that we shouldn’t get easy revenue with no upfront costs from Cafe Press because you’re afraid that it will cut into people paying for memberships.

Cheap merchandise? Yuk! No I would not buy nor could you freely give me a basic t shirt, coffee cups, key chains, pens, pencils, flash drives, or anything like that junk. Because imo that’s what it is junk. Maybe if the gimgrack was cleverly worded or designed it might interest me enough to buy it.

I’d pay a membership fee fwiw.

Right I mean a t-shirt is at least a t-shirt, versus $30 being spent for, as best I can tell, access to a forum where I can suggest ideas to a defunct Q&A column, most of which suggestions will be ignored.

I’d pay for merchandise, I’d pay the old membership fee for the forums. I don’t know that I’d pay for this ephemeral “nothing” that is being offered here. I’d pay for a Patreon specifically to support Ed if he was churning out articles and I found them interesting, but this is like a weird kickstarter except unlike most kickstarter projects there are no capital investments that are blocking the creator from making the thing. Ed could decide to start writing the articles again and see if people want to support them at that point.

Just a quick summary of information to date and my additional $.04 (marked up for inflation).

  1. The board appears in financial trouble.
  2. Cecil is considering coming back with a model involving @ $30 subs and with perks wherein those who sub would be entitled (encouraged?) to submit ideas for columns - while only members could participate, the rest of the board would remain open to all for posts.

Given this we’ve heard

  1. We are happy to contribute, but we really, REALLY want some numbers to work with.
  2. Some are happy with subs, some want to donate via other means, and this is at least vaguely acceptable to all parties as long as it doesn’t cannibalize other sources of revenue. So probable yes to subs, patron or other donations, likely no to merch.
  3. There is concern that such funds be used to support the board and brand, less so for individuals, which could likely be addressed by point 1 above.
  4. There is concern that our numbers are dropping and we’re aging out, but there is a separate thread for it already.

Given all this, the modest proposal of the OP has been stated, and there is substantial interest (and amazing enthusiasm from some, along with out-and-out love from @Beckdawrek who as always is charming in their enthusiasm.

If we want to address concerns and move forward, I think we need some general numbers as outlined above. Otherwise we’ll just be repeating the points I believe.

Yes, I work at a grocery chain with over 250 stores in 6 states. We do carry newspapers. We do not carry even one free paper. Granted, that’s just one grocery chain.

I lived in Chicago for 15 years. I have lived the past 20 literally 10 miles from the eastern Chicago city limit. While the Reader still has (last I heard) print copies available they are many fewer and much harder to find.

Other widely available free papers have also dwindled, entirely vanishing from some of the prior venues they inhabited.

More and more stuff is moving on line these days.

You don’t know anything about the subject but you won’t let that fact stop you from pontificating? OK…

I really don’t think anyone with any real say in such a potential endeavor is going to be promoting or selling illegal copies of anything. I don’t deny such things exist, but it’s not a long-term business model.

One of the advantages of e-books is that you don’t have the expense of producing a material object, transporting, and storing it. You just digitally copy as needed.’

Other than that, there are all the costs of writing, editing, proofing and so forth you’d get with any book.

I had a monthly column in a small aviation magazine for about two years during the 1990’s. I have actual experience in producing a column every month. It’s not as easy as people think it is, there is actual real work involved, and I gave it up when I came to a point in my life where I no longer felt I could reliably come up with an idea every month. It was fun while it lasted and helped pay for my private pilot license. It also gave me a greater appreciation for anyone doing this for decades.

Sure, the mechanics of writing - or typing - are not difficult. But there is much though, review, and revision that has to go into producing the final product, even if the idea you’re writing about is brilliant and the inspiration flowing. Can be do it? Sure. Do they? Outside of a small minority, no, they don’t. Most people don’t want it badly enough to put in the necessary work even one time around, much less over and over and over again, to do it well enough to get published.

And that’s fine - there are a lot of other things people can do rather than write a monthly column. Good for them. I hope they enjoy those other things.

While he is not answering all the questions he is answering some.

Really, it’s not that different than a ton of other people who have shown up in MPSIMS asking “what should I do?” or “can I get advice on X?” He’s certainly getting a range of advice and suggestions from this thread! Including some people saying “don’t bother” or “don’t do it”.

Read some of what other people have been posting: plenty of folks don’t just want to volunteer, they want to offer money to help fund it.

As for money going to Ed or Cecil or whomever: if they work, shouldn’t they get paid? That’s how artists and writers and such make a living. They do stuff. Other people pay them for their efforts.

Absolutely none of that would appeal to me. Zero. Just like I used to cover Slug’s cartoons when I read the print column so they wouldn’t distract me from the writing. Personally, I like the old logo that “screams 1970’s”, I’d buy that. I recognize that my tastes are not universal. I try not to disparage the things other people like even if I don’t agree with them. (Unless I’m in the Pit, but we’re not there at the moment).

I got the impression that this was NOT just about keeping the Discourse subscription up and running. This is about producing more content on an organized and (one hopes) professional level, which costs money and if you’re going to involve professionals, or want them involved, do not expect them to work for free.

Let’s say, hypothetically, the SD moves to YouTube. In addition to writing and editing the presenter would need a studio. You’d need someone on camera. You’d need at a least some post-shoot editing. You need graphics. You need someone to maintain the channel and it’s uploads and content. In which case this is basically someone asking for seed money to get the venture going.

I suspect we’re not getting all the details on this idea because all the details aren’t set. If they were, there would be no need to ask for advice and suggestions.

This is a great idea. On top of fighting ignorance, we could fight poverty, disease, homelessness, illiteracy etc., and organize relief efforts too. Let’s play to our strengths, which would have the added benefit of (indirectly) increasing commerce. We’re too old, too white, too liberal, too privileged blah blah blah. The upside of that is a more affluent crowd with a deeper reach into the disposable wealth of our peers. Instead of ‘dope fests’ we could have local fundraising events. Cecil could become an avatar of public service. We’re mostly a bunch of liberal do-gooders anyway. This could be an entirely (almost) volunteer effort, with Cecil’s first column decrying the professional charity industry that squanders most of it’s revenue on administration costs.

Honestly, this argument sounds like it was created because you are opposed to merch and needed to think of an argument, any argument, to say it’s a bad idea. At least ask SD members, whose advice you say you hope to rely on, whether it’s an either-or proposition.

Here, I’ll give you MY answer: It certainly isn’t either-or for me. I subscribe to the Washington Post; I also bought a “Democracy Dies in Darkness” t-shirt from them. One purchase gives me access to thoughtful journalism, the other gives me a cool shirt to wear. They aren’t interchangeable.

Surprise!

~Max, 24 years old

I don’t actually think we’re entitled to numbers, that isn’t a standard thing in a business/customer relationship. It’s up to the business to determine what its prices ought be to support its endeavors. I will explain my confusion at this proposal and maybe my understanding of where things were before this–note that as I mentioned earlier, I did less reading on the “business” of this board than most in the months and years prior.

  1. A few years back StraightDope.com stopped publishing new articles by Cecil Adams, my understanding is new articles quit being written for the Reader as well, i.e. the column had entered into retirement.

  2. TubaDiva takes over as formal admin, and to my knowledge Ed Zotti was no longer meaningfully involved in anything related to this, other than perhaps some personal ownership of copyrights or things of that nature. Tuba I believe said we needed to migrate to Discourse to get the board back on a footing where it was affordable, so we could basically be self sufficient on memberships. Assumption being the Sun Times has no reason to keep a message board active that is losing money and not tied into anything they really care much about.

  3. We move to Discourse, which has basically a hosting service for message boards, and membership fees stop being collected due to vague issues with processing payments. This continues for over 1 year.

  4. Tuba tragically passes away. Ed shows back up ostensibly to help administer the board, as he had been a board admin in the past this made sense.

  5. Ed comes in and says “here’s a new idea I have to charge a select group of people $30/mo in a weird not-quite-Patreon thing because for some reason I don’t like existing crowdfunding models and want to pursue weird and unlikely to succeed ones, and oh yeah I’m vaguely suggesting if we don’t do this the message board is in trouble.”

I don’t need to know what a privately held company’s finances are. But if someone is saying support a patronage system for a column writer because that column writer wants a patronage and in exchange he will write more articles and people want to do that, I think no one has any objections.

What bothers I think many of us is the vague assertion the board is imperil otherwise. There’s a lot of people who would be happy to resume paying for board memberships they had paid for for many years; but to do so in a weird scheme that is mostly a patronage for Ed, with vague allusions that it might save the forum, frankly kinda smells. These are two separate issues in my mind–Ed’s patronage venture (which is fine and people that want to support it should) and two the upkeep and maintenance of this message board.

I looked at Discourse’s hosting plans, and I see nothing to indicate this board couldn’t be run under the $300/mo “business” plan, because from what I can tell this board’s use would fall well under the caps for that plan (i.e. I don’t believe it’s being ran on a more expensive, custom quoted Enterprise Plan–if it is I suspect someone made a bad mistake in setting this up.) At the $300/mo plan this board costs $3600/yr to operate, since there’s no paid staff or other hosting relics with the Sun Times, I don’t think it costs much more than that, but let’s just mark it up to $6000 for any vague overhead. Under the old pricing system if we have 35 members at the old membership rate, the board is covered at $6000/mo. It seems like to me if the board is in trouble the payment processing for board memberships needs fixed and ASAP, because I think it will be trivially easy to get 35 paid members back up and running.

The Ed patronage, as far as I can tell, it isn’t even clear if any of the money from that is going to go to the board (I assume it isn’t.) As far as I can tell its only direct support for the board will be “it m ight generate more interest in the board and bring new members in.” I’m not opposed to that, but I think it ought be clearly stated.

Edit to add: I actually think I’d misremembered and board memberships were only $15/yr, not $15/mo. Which obviously means we need more paying members than in my early estimate–something like 400 to hit $6000/yr. Obviously that’s a lot more, but I still think it suggests getting membership payments back up online is important, if the board is in financial trouble. Especially since the $6000 number IMO was rounded up pretty heavily, at just the expected Discourse fees it only takes 240 members to cover that. And there should be at least SOME ad money coming in, even though impression advertising on sites like this are very low return these days.

Keep in mind that the on-demand swag shop does not have physical inventory of logo’ed merchandise. It just has JPGs of images. Browse the images to find one you like, browse the promotional items to find one you like, and then swag shop prints your favorite image on your chosen item. The SDMB swag shop could have dozens of logos and the customers can pick whichever ones they want. If no one picks the blue SD logo, no worries. If 1000’s of people do, great! If 1000’s of people pick one of the other logos, great! Everyone gets what they want.

Reread what I said. I said I knew nothing about rights and I made no comments on rights. I was talking about the ease and cost of converting a book to an e-book. Since many people do it at home and give away the product to anyone that wants it, the cost and ease must be fairly low. Not to mention people that self publish. Whatever the cost to get their e-books online cant be too cost prohibitive.

The Dope books suffer from the problem that they would need some serious editing for out of date or just now known wrong information. I’m sure we all saw the many times someone pointed out wrong info from the columns to TubaDiva that she had to correct. And that’s just the ones I saw on the board. Who knows if she got PMs or messages on the column page.

What as he answered that had any solid information? Saying you need x*y is not information. Saying they need $1000 a month to run the board is information.

How? He hasn’t said a single solid thing. He won’t even how he plans to advertise any of this.

And I suspect all the details are already known and this thread was just to break it to Dopers. He has shot down every piece of advice in this thread, except for the ones that go along with his plan.

Sorry, you made the same mistake I made, thinking that he actually wanted input and questions when he opened this thread asking what we thought.

Keep this up @Martin_Hyde and people are going to think we’re friends because we agree so much.

I have no problem with Ed trying for a comeback. Nothing but best wishes for a successful return. What I have a problem with is using board money to fund it. For the last year people have been asking to par and we were told, not set up for it, we are doing fine. Suddenly, the board is on it’s last breath, and needs money desperately, but instead of making sure the board can run for another year, we are supposed skip over the boards needs and help Ed launch his new column instead.

Just separate the two, let people pay for the board if they want, and if they want they can pay a separate fee for Cecil columns.