A modest proposal for the Straight Dope

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.

Looking at the board traffic, we’ve been running around 800K visits/month this year, with an average of 7 pages/visit. So that’s well over the 500K views/month allowed under the Business plan.

I also suspect our migration from the old site fell under the Custom Migration available only in Enterprise.

I disagree with most of your post, but I want to highlight this for emphasis. Nobody is insisting that you toss in $30 a year to restart the column. You can continue to be a charter member to support the board for $7.50 $15 per year (or free, as it is now). If you don’t like Cecil’s column, don’t become a boardroom member. Simple. So the part about milking money is ludicrously wrong.

As far as TBTB are concerned, this message board is rounding error, until it isn’t. It’s a placeholder for the Cecil Adams trademark, which might be worth something someday, but very well may not. There’s no milking here, no draining, no bleeding, just providing members with an option to pony up some funds. No skin off any one else’s wrist.

My take is that it’s worth a shot. YMMV. Freedom!

Based on codinghorror’s revelation that we are not on an enterprise plan, the Discourse pricing page, and the assumption that moderators are volunteers, the cost to run the message board should not exceed $3,600/yr ($300/mo).

That would be 120 subscriptions at the new price of $30/yr, or 180 subscriptions at the old price of $20/yr (I don’t know how many charter members we have but apparently the discount was 50%).

I believe Google AdSense pays about $0.15 or so per pageview on average. So if there was an ad on screen at all times for every person, an average of 2,000 pageviews per month would cover operating costs for the message board. Assuming your average site visitor visits eight pages per month, that calls for 250 active site visitors each generating $1.20/mo in ad revenue. That would be with all users seeing ads.

A more realistic scenario, with $20/$10 member/charter subscriptions and total revenue of $304.83/mo:

  • 400 monthly pageviews from lurkers or signed-out users ($60/mo),
  • 800 monthly pageviews from registered guests, or about 100 guests with 8 pageviews per month each ($120/mo),
  • 50 member subscriptions ($83.33)
  • 50 charter subscriptions ($41.50)

In this scenario increasing the base subscription price to $30/yr, assuming the same number of subscribers, nets an extra $62.67/mo in revenue.

I have reason to believe the message board is or could become sustainable. Unless my numbers are off, I’ve never been too good with numbers…

None of the above applies to funding a columnist.


This isn’t a standard business-customer relationship, tho. We’ve been asked to come up with ideas on how to better monetize this board, which is not something that happens to me @ McD’s. And this isn’t the first time one of these OP’s have been penned, and, each time, the question comes up: ‘well, how much money are we talking about?’, with the answer never forthcoming.

But it’s critical to know this $ amount as to shape the ideas - suggesting a bake sale when the capital requirements are $10k/month just makes the suggestor look stupid.

I mean, they look right but since we have no idea about the capital requirements of the Board, who knows?

Well it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because I suspect the allusions are accurate. This board is rounding error and probably a net liability for corporate (whether or not the boardroom is installed). The only justification for this place for corporate is the possibility that the SD asset might be worth something somehow someday. IMHO this has always been the case.

That said, I’m glad Discourse isn’t too expensive. If things go sour, the mods can always pick up their stakes and move somewhere else.

I first caught wind of the Straight Dope around 2000, back when I was a very young IT person new in his career. I was looking for stuff to read on the Web during idle times and the WWW was still quite a raw place back then, quality stuff wasn’t easy to find. The Straight Dope and Snopes were my go-to places to read regularly, and I read every article from every site, and regularly checked for updates.

Eventually I ended up on the SDMB because I commented on a couple of the articles on the web site. And I also lurked around GQ because there were interesting discussions there, and I learned some interesting facts while being entertained much like the articles themselves did. I was just a lurker for the most part until around 2010, then I began participating regularly. I would read the articles still, but most of my time was spent on the forums and that became my main draw. I also subscribed at some point because I felt that I spent so much time here that it was only fair to contribute. (I didn’t need the ad-blocking since my browser plugins took care of that for you, I only did it because it felt right.)

When the new articles stopped, it was disappointing because I really enjoyed them. But at least I still had the board and that was the main thing that I cared about.

So now we’re being shown a way for articles to come back in some form, and an opportunity to contribute financially again. I am equally excited about both. I am also very interested in being able to somehow contribute to the new articles. Sign me up for all of that.

And then there’s me, who learned about the message board from Cecil’s goodbye note. :cry:


Reminded of the following thread, where I clicked on the ‘Advertise on the Straight Dope’ link and never received a response.

Nevermind, my numbers for ad revenue were off by a factor of twelve, and then some. Using Google’s ad revenue calculator set to North America and Online Communities, it seems to be about $0.13 per year for each monthly pageview.

That would be 28,000 monthly impressions if ads are enabled for everyone.

With 50 chartered subscriptions and 50 member subscriptions, it would take approximately 16,200 monthly ad impressions from guests or lurkers to generate $300/mo to host the site. If we had maybe 1,500 active guests…

But I don’t know. We might have a lot more subscriptions than that.


Interesting. I wonder how that squares with the site traffic numbers I found.

Unless there is a big misunderstanding here, membership is being raised and then you pay even more to do Ed’s research for him. So all he has to do is comes on here and openly state that membership money only goes to board expenses, and none trickles into his side project. I still think his plan seems to be a poorly thought out , but as long as his money comes from the people that pay extra to do research for him, and not membership fees, I would be absolutely fine with that.

I think the more room between the column and the board, the better.

Does the site get any revenue from people actually clicking on ads? If so, we could have a click day once a month and really run up some revenue

On other hand, the ad rates seem so low that we could just jettison the whole idea of ads, like we are with coffee mugs and t-shirts. Not worth the effort.

And some people seem to read a lot. @Guinastasia tops the chart, having apparently read 7.7 thousand posts this week. If an ad were to show every twenty posts, generating $0.01083 per ad, she alone would generate $16 per month for the board.

Take a look at the top 35 guests, you will see they read a combined total of ~527,910 posts in the last month.

Table A, '35 most well read guest dopers'
Username Posts read since May 14 (in thousands)
The_Other_Waldo_Pepper 31
BippityBoppityBoo 28.2
Guinastasia 24.8
Mikkel 23.5
MrAtoz 19.6
carrps 18.17
Folly 17.2
Chingon 16.8
scudsucker 16.2
Cassie_Beth 15.84
BigT 14.2
gnoitall 14.2
hogarth 13.9
Senegoid 13.6
bernardch 13.6
keeganst94 13.5
Vimp 13.4
thorny_locust 13.1
Cesium 13
digs 12.8
ZonexandScout 12.7
MrDibble 12.7
beandog 12.6
slash2k 12.6
TriPolar 12.5
emu2swan 12.3
Stanislaus 12.3
Folacin 12.2
TokyoBayer 12.1
MrStrangeloop 11.9
nightshadea 11.6
Riemann 11.5
Reindeer_Flotilla 11.5
D_Anaconia 11.4
k9bfriender 11.4
Total: 527.91

Even if everybody more well read than BigT were to get a subscription, just going from BigT to k9bfriender you still have 332,440 posts read per month. Assuming an ad is shown every twenty posts, and the board generates $0.01083 per ad shown, that’s worth $180/mo. Add $33.33 for the twenty guests who we assumed would buy subscriptions, then add $83.33 for an estimated 50 charter members. We’re already at $296.66, with a goal of $300, before counting people who are already members.

TL:DR, the message board should be able to get by on the old business model of subscriptions at $20/yr, charter subscriptions at $10/yr, and ads for everyone else.


Nobody has mentioned it yet, but there used to be an option called “Friend of Cecil” where one could give any amount to the SDMB for no reward whatsoever. I think the return of such an option would be infinitely better than ‘click the ads’ day.


I think fake clicks can get you in trouble with the ad services. They have metrics which detect that and the site can be penalized. Click if something interests you, but clicking on everything just for the ad revenue can be counter productive.

It may be a custom addendum that covers increased usage, but if the 800k/mo is unusually high traffic (eg: JohnT’s nahemployment topic, which he managed to get placed on Alexa rankings), Discourse has this FAQ:

What happens if I go over the plan limits?

Your site will never stop working! We understand your site can get a lot of visitors quickly for any number of reasons, and success is something to celebrate! If your site exceeds plan limits for several months in a row, we will contact you to discuss flexible upgrade options.