No more banner ads for subscribers

OK, we hear you. We’ve decided to quit displaying banner ads to SDMB subscribers.

In light of all the uproar, let me give you some background on how this came about and where we think the SDMB is headed.

Unlike the old regime, the new owners of the Reader and the Straight Dope, Creative Loafing (hereinafter CL), consider the SD website and in particular the SDMB to be one of the company’s most important assets - but also one of its most underutilized. The site generates roughly 8 million page views per month, by far the most of any of CL’s online ventures. But that huge volume hasn’t translated into huge revenue. Depending on what costs you include, we’re either making a little money or we’re losing a little money. I take the rosy view, but we’re certainly not making a LOT. The grim fact is, we need to start taking in some serious cash soon. It’s not just a question of keeping the SDMB running. The newspaper industry, including alternative papers like the Chicago Reader, has taken a massive hit in ad revenue due to competition from things like craigslist - many papers have seen classified ad income drop by millions of dollars. Unless we want to gut the company - and we’ve already had layoffs - we need to replace that income. We’re not going to do it all through the online SD, but we have to pull in more cash than we are.

That brings me to banner ads. If you look at our ad rate card, you’ll see we charge an average of $10 per thousand “impressions.” (If you view one page with two ads on it, that’s two impressions.) We get an occasional buy on that basis but not many. A few companies out there deal in what are called “remnant ads.” If you have unused advertising inventory, they’ll fill it with banners and what have you. The amount they’ll pay for these ads is modest - typically $1 per thousand impressions - but if you have a lot of potential inventory like we do it adds up.

Of our 8 million monthly page views, 4.5 million are served up to people who pay no money for the privilege, including SDMB guests. These people have been seeing banners since September. The other 3.5 million are SDMB pages served up to subscribers. A couple weeks ago the CL guy in charge of online ventures, Pat, asked me what I thought about showing banners to subscribers. Thinking of the relatively unobtrusive banners that have appeared for years on the SD home page, I said it was worth a try. But we discussed no specifics. A couple days ago, with no warning to me, Pat told Jerry to switch on ads. As it happened, one of the first banners to appear was a Ford ad that flashes to giant size on mouseover and apparently emits loud sounds. (I don’t hear this on my system for some reason, so I’m just going by what I’m told.) It was pretty obnoxious and we’ve now had multiple threads with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of page views from complaining subscribers. After lengthy discussion yesterday we’ve decided whatever money we make on banners isn’t worth driving off the paying customers. I’m not the boss of CL, but it’s pretty safe to say we won’t be showing banners to subscribers again.

The underlying financial situation remains urgent, however, and we’re starting to reconsider our business model. The change to P2P was a risky step for us but it worked out OK - we take in a slowly increasing amount of subscription revenue every year. At a time when you couldn’t give online ad space away, that money enabled us to keep the lights on and the hamsters fed. But subscriptions are never going to be a big moneymaker, and more important they limit our page view growth. Before P2P we saw enormous increases in traffic every year. Since then traffic growth has been more or less flat.

So we’re starting to think maybe we should start offering unlimited free posting again. I emphasize that no decision has been made. It’s too soon to say if remnant ads are going to be a dependable revenue source. For all we know the banner ad market could tank. If, however, it becomes apparent that more page views = more income, we may well decide to go to a two-track model. If you register, you can post for free but you have to put up with ads. If you subscribe, your SDMB experience remains bannerless.

As I say, we’re still thinking about it, but this sounds like a win-win approach to us. Subscription revenue and potential banner-ad income for 3.5 million PVs are close to being a wash. SDMB subscribers have made it clear that in return for their money they expect no banners. If we go to two tracks, they’ll have that choice - our revenue is the same either way.

I, Pat, Jerry and other CL folks will be meeting next week to discuss the above. If we go to two tracks, we’ll need to ramp up our server capacity in a major way, upgrade the software, and deal with the search lockup issue and other problems that have been too long postponed. This is not, repeat NOT, a promise. But I think you’ll agree this could work out to everyone’s advantage.

Thank you for this calm and informative explanation.

I’m behind you 100% in whatever you choose to do, but reopening the boards to free posting and the two tier system is a beautiful idea.

Thanks for the insightful and meaningful post. Some of us have been a little scared the last few days, but it’s nice to hear that CL thinks that we’re a valuable asset.

You the man Ed.

Thank you, Ed. For everything.

Personally, I think the two-track method sounds very reasonable.

Ed, have I told you lately that I love you?

God bless you, Ed, and whatever other people were involved and agreed with you and made this decision. Thanks. Incidentally, in all the uproar, many of us indicated a willingness to pay more for our subscriptions. I mean, not $100 or anything, but still — for what they may be worth. Especially if it would help with the finances.


Sounds like a logical solution that would solve a variety of issues. I imagine that the “free” track would have other current “subscriber” perks like search function etc? That is- your membership fee buys you ad-free viewing?

I think that would be great.

The two-tier approach, in my opinion, is the best of both worlds.

People like choices.


Good plan, man.

While I’ve refrained from posting in the many threads and discussions on banner ads (well, mostly), I have been following them.

Ed, I must first thank you for the reasonable and rational explanation. I also want to express thanks to such folks as Tuba Diva, and the other admins and mods who have likely been putting up with a lot lately, in addition to their regular Board duties. It couldn’t have been easy, but it’s nice to know that there are people at all levels of the corporate structure who are capable of listening to their customers. Thanks again, folks!


A couple comments:

  1. I really think getting more members, not upping subscription rates, is the only way to make this board into something that makes money. Ed’s two-tiered idea seems the way to go.

  2. However, Lib is right: a lot of people would be willing to pay more. But that would be more palatable if it was voluntary, and some perk went along with it. Even something simple: an extra $10 a year gets you a custom title, for example. No extra cost to the Reader, a small infusion of cash, no real downside.

(I’m not arguing with you, Lib, just using your post as a jumping-off point for some musing.)

What a great idea, especially with what Lib and zut said.

Of course, now my suspicious mind is behaving as it did during the New Coke debacle - “they must have meant this all along, and they just implemented the ads so this would sound good by comparison”.
I blame Bush. On the grassy knoll.


15 posts to Bush. Not bad. :wink:

Thanks, Ed. Personally I think this was all much ado about nothing, but ultimately whatever keeps you guys paid and this community together gets 100% of my support. If this place closed, there’d be a big, gaping hole in the Internet to a lot of us.

Ed, thank you, this is awesome on every aspect.

I greatly appreciate the detailed information and explanation. I appreciate any efforts to grow the SDMB.

I personally think the plan to go free and let us members pay to avoid the ads is great. I will gladly pay and I think it would draw in a lot of new members.

You might know that over the years, many other optional pay for perks ideas have been suggested. I am sure **TubaDiva ** at least has seen many of them.

There are many of us that will pay extra gladly to keep the board going. There are many that would enjoy a small fee to customize their title.

The server, software & database upgrade would put many us in a state of great joy.

You know better than anyone you have a crazy crowd of very loyal (some are addicted) members that will help in anyway the board needs it. This is our community and for many of us our local on-line tavern.

Thank you again,

Thanks Ed! Give our best to C.A.

Crazy idea - have you thought about making it easy for SDMB members to buy adspace?

My person belief is people would find the ads less objectionable if they were more relevant to SDMB members. Folks who come here hate loud obnoxious ads for car companies and rock stars, but would probably be interested in ads for Thinkgeek and Scientific American subscriptions.