The SDMB is switching to paid subscriptions

LAST MINUTE BULLETIN! Deadline for $4.95 charter rate subscription pushed back till Monday, April 26, 12 noon CDT!

Attention, Teeming Millions! Your five-year free-trial period is about to expire.

That’s right, folks - we launched the Web version of the Straight Dope Message Board in early 1999. After five years of raucous debates, scintillating repartee, and general good times, we figure we’ve got you pretty well hooked. It’s time to put the arm on you. The SDMB is switching to paid subscriptions.

We imagine you’ve got some questions. Here are some answers.

Why subscriptions? Why now?

Let’s put it this way. When we began this little experiment, we hoped to answer two questions:

(1) Will the SDMB draw a smart, lively crowd who will dedicate themselves to the struggle against ignorance and be a credit to The Master? ANSWER: With one or two exceptions, yes.

(2) Can we make any money at this, or at least cover our expenses? ANSWER: Uh, not yet.

It’s been five years, folks. We’ve had a blast, and our guess is you have too. We want to keep this thing going. But we gotta pay the rent.

How much?

If you sign up before Wednesday, April 21, 2004, your first year’s subscription costs an unbelievably low US $4.95. What’s more, we promise that as long as you remain a subscriber, you’ll be able to renew annually for 50% of whatever the regular rate is at the time. If you don’t sign up till after April 21, you’ll have to pay the regular rate of US $14.95, just like the newbies.

How do I subscribe?

Once we make the switch, click on “subscribe” in the menu bar at the top of any SDMB page. You’ll be shown a screen listing your subscription status and payment options. Just follow the directions. We accept payment by major credit card or PayPal.

What does a subscription get me?

[li]Posting privileges for one year.[/li][li]The title under your name says “charter member.”[/li][li]Post count (i.e., number of messages you’ve posted to date appears with your username)[/li][li]Ability to search the massive SDMB message database[/li][li]Ability to view member profiles[/li][li]Biographical info included with each post (optional)[/li][li]Other cool stuff that we throw in later, possibly including private messaging, SDMB calendar, custom signatures, and “who’s online” feature. *(This list edited by EZ 3/19/04.) * [/ul][/li]What if I don’t subscribe?

You can register as a guest. Guests get:

[li]Posting privileges for 30 days.[/li][li]The title “guest” under their usernames.[/li][li]No post count, and for that matter pretty much no anything.[/li][li]A nag screen every time they post asking them to subscribe.[/ul][/li]What happens when the 30 days are up?

The next time you try to log on or post, you’ll get a notice saying your guest membership has expired and that if you want to continue posting you need to become a paid subscriber. You’ll still be able to read the boards, though.

When does this go into effect?

On Monday, March 22, at 9 a.m., we’ll take the board down for an hour or so to load some new code. This will accomplish two things:

(1) All users who are currently “members” will become “guests.” The guest privileges described above will apply.

(2) We’ll start accepting subscriptions at the charter subscriber rate of $4.95 for the first year.

On April 21, two more things will happen:

(3) The annual subscription rate goes from $4.95 to $14.95.

(4) All guests who registered before March 22 and haven’t subscribed will have their accounts inactivated. They’ll be able to read the board but not post. To reactivate their accounts they have to subscribe.

I filled out that survey a couple years ago. Do I get a discount like you promised?

You’re already getting it - $4.95 instead of $14.95. Recent registrants didn’t get a chance to participate in the survey, so we’re offering the charter subscriber discount to everybody.

Do subscriptions mean the board will run faster?

We make no promises, but we’re hopeful. The board ran reasonably well after our server upgrade in November 2002, when we had 3,500 current members - that is, people who had posted within the last 30 days. We now have 7,000 current members and the board runs slowly - OK, it crawls - during peak times. The practical capacity of the board, i.e., the largest number to whom we can provide decent service, is somewhere between those two figures. It seems certain that the number of current users will decline after we switch to subscriptions, and that board response will improve as a result. But who knows? Maybe subscribers will start posting twice as much. We’ll just say this: If board performance improves, we won’t be surprised.

Will I be getting anything else for my money?

Well, you don’t get a tote bag, if that’s what you were hoping for. On the other hand, you’ll be helping to put the SDMB on a sound financial footing, thereby ensuring its continued existence and making this a better world.

What happens to my posts when my guest membership expires?

Nothing, except that the title under your username will change from “guest” to “inactive.”

Why do you have to charge? How much can it cost to run a message board?

Plenty. Jerry and his fellow tech geniuses get paid. Little Ed gets paid, believe it or not. Periodic server upgrades, the monthly data line fees, 3-in-1 oil for the hamster wheel - it all adds up.

I can’t afford $4.95!

Please. These days you pay more than that for a hamburger. An annual subscription even at the procrastinator’s rate of $14.95 works out to about four cents per day. You can raise that kind of money checking behind the couch cushions.

Wouldn’t it be better to solicit donations, get more advertising, or [insert your moneymaking suggestion here]?

We’ve considered and in many cases tried the obvious ideas. None provides a steady revenue stream. We’re not sure subscriptions will either, but they have the advantage of tying income to traffic.

If I subscribe, does that mean I can’t get banned?

No. All rules remain in effect. If you misbehave so badly that you get banned, you forfeit your subscription money. We like that part.

In the event of a board outage, will my subscription be extended?

Yes. If the board goes down for an appreciable length of time, we’ll extend everyone’s subscription by a corresponding amount.

What if not enough people subscribe? Won’t the board go into a death spiral?

We hope not, but let’s face it, this is the moment of truth. We think the SDMB is one of the best boards on the 'net. We’re charging what we think is a modest - scratch that, an absurdly small amount of money. The present system of no fees and lousy service isn’t cutting it. We think it’s time to give the mighty power of capitalism a try.

Wow, this is huge news! Let’s hope it changes the character of the board for the better.

Considering all the entertainment this board provides (and the high quality of the user base compared to other boards), $14.95 is a bargain.

Seems like the right price and the right solution to the “this board costs the Reader money” problem to me!

Now that I’d be a paying member, would I be allowed to fling mor feces, less feces or an equal amount of feces? also, will the Mods be stationary targets now? Those damn Zotti’s are a crafty bunch. :wink:

Well, how 'bout that.

It’s about time. Sounds like a well thought out plan to me. The only thing you didn’t address was bannings. How will that affect members compared to guests?

I’ll be subscribing, no question, but I’m a little sad over the loss of the people who won’t. Let’s hope we don’t see a significant drop in Q’s (and A’s to the Q’s) because of this scheduled attrition.

Question for the admins:

How are you going to prevent people from re-registering new names once a trial account has expired?


We’re paycheck-to-paycheck, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to scrape up for-cryin’-out-loud FIVE DOLLARS.

I think it’s a grand idea. Y’all might want to have something in place (if you don’t already) for gift subscriptions.

They did. Members who are banned will forfeit the subscription fee.


Hey, I’m all for it. As you say, it ain’t that much! If this means you can buy tha hamsters a better quality hamster chow, it’ll be worth it!


Travesty !

Why, in Canadian currency, that’s …

… er …


Well, I guess that’s okay.

What if I don’t have a credit card? Can I mail in a money order?
(I don’t know how Pay Pal works… )

Only $4.95 for the first year, if we subscribe before April 21st? I would have expected, and paid, that much per month. And I’m on a tight budget too! Talk about a bargain!

One question. If a fellow Doper we like is in need, or if we want to give a Doper friend a present, will there be the chance for gift subscriptions? I’m not talking about signing up someone unawares, I’m talking about someone already here who wants to subscribe but can’t, or someone we want to do a favor for.

Face it folks, it’s like PBS, if you really want it, it’s worth paying for.

He was probably too busy looking for mice in the bathroom to read that part…


Sounds grand to me! For what it’s worth, on an old BBS I was associated with that went to a pay model, we had a little group that “sponsored” some of the truly needier members. Seemed to work pretty well. One of the odd things about it was the relationships of the posters in question had nothing to do with the decision to sponsor. Our “December” sponsored our “Reeder” for almost a year…

Fine by me. Thanks for the well-written explanatory post.

Sounds good to me!

Sounds reasonable. I’m already paying ten bucks a month for an internet service that I use primarily to access the SDMB (that and e-mail is almost all I use it for), so I reckon I can manage an extra 41 cents per month.

The 30 days free plan ought to ensure we get enough new GQs to keep thngs interesting, and it’s bound to hook a few new subscribers as well.

Well, hell. At that price, we ought to be able to make up our own titles. (I’m only half-kidding. That’d be sweet!)

And I’ve had less than four years free, so I should get a whole 'nother year. And do you know what I could buy for five dollars?! Like 3 gallons of gas! Ten jars of baby food! Umm… I could almost get a pack of diapers! I could get five Powerball tickets and then I’d be a gajillionaire and how would you guys ever know?

:sigh: I won’t even pay Hotmail for more storage space. I won’t pay LJ for all those cool features you get. But you got me. I’ll pay to post, but only because you’re making me.


It was worth missing that part just to see this response from you. :smiley:

$4.95, for a whole year? I’m in.