The Truth About This Website's Future
It’s been while since I’ve written about The Truth About Cars (TTAC). As you may recall, we were preparing to turn TTAC into a subscription site when we re-launched. When I discovered that our payment software wasn’t ready for prime time, and the site design needed tweaking, I put the move on hold. I’ve used the interregnum to ramp up our content, familiarize myself with the new site’s back end, commission a few improvements and… think. I’ve re-read all your emails, sent out a survey, talked to a bunch of financial folks and come up with a new plan. Here’s how I see it…
Imagine TTAC as a gated community. By closing the gates (making it members only), we can maintain the site’s high quality housing (our rants and reviews) while avoiding “outside” pollution and crime (advertiser influence). You can play (read and comment) with like-minded enthusiasts, safe from flame-throwers (flame throwers). After surveying our readers, I know a fair few of you believe that our mission is worthwhile, and that paying $5 a month for this little corner of cyberspace is a fair proposition. That said, timing is. Everything.
Before we changed the site design, TTAC had 22k unique visitors per day. When we made the jump, we lost 8k daily visitors, and our momentum. The drop happened for two main reasons. First, our New Content Notification system and RSS feeds went south. Some of the faithful lost touch. (Both systems are back on-line.) Second, our Google links evaporated, which accounted for about 20% of our previous traffic. (These too have been resurrected.) We’re recovering lost ground, one reader at a time. When we get back up to a large and healthy pool of potential subscribers, I can make the switch to subscription-only, confident that the take-up rate will make it worth our while. But–
Once the gates are closed, the chances of recruiting new members will diminish dramatically. Sure, automotive enthusiasts will still find their way to our door. But the vast majority will look at the fancy gates and click on down the road. And then I thought of a golf resort. The general public is free to hang out at the main hotel. If they choose, they can spend some time and money at the hotel’s restaurants and shops. But they’ve got to pay to play. And if they want to play golf on a regular basis, they have to become members. In other words, TTAC needs both an exclusive members-only section AND a less exclusive “free” section.
In practice, the new site’s member section would look and work much as it does now. I hesitate to call the free section “TTAC lite,” but one part of the non-members site would offer mini-reviews, much like the format I designed for Part Two of Jalopnik’s reviews (stars with a few descriptive sentences). Another, equally important aspect would be comparative data for car shoppers. At least initially, we’re talking price, options and reliability info. I’m currently negotiating with a gentleman who collects this kind of data. He's one with the TTAC brand: complete editorial integrity and total transparency.
So, TTAC would have a subscription-only “intellectual” side for passionate, witty and informed reviews and rants. And we’d have a free “practical” side for mini-reviews and useful buying information. The duality would allow BOTH sides of the site to grow and prosper, as the free side entices visitors into becoming paid subscribers while, at the same time, offering us new and exciting revenue streams (which I can’t discuss at the present time). Again, I can assure you that neither side would compromise our overarching commitment to honesty, ethics and public service. It is, after all, our brand. Without that, The Truth About Cars means nothing. Is nothing.
So, what do you think? Is there are a market for what I’ve described? Would a nuts-and-bolts aspect to TTAC cheapen our literary aspirations? Do you think we should hold off on turning into a subscription site until the practical side is in place? At the same time and in any case, how can we increase TTAC’s site traffic? I’m a writer/editor by nature, but now that I’ve got the posting down to a routine, I’ve got time to market this sucker. (NB: From now on, during the weekdays, I’ll be posting new material first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon and early evening.) Any help in this area would be most appreciated. Please leave your comments here.
Meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity to thank TTAC’s writers. I will be forever grateful for their time, talent, humor and integrity. Let no one say that the buff books’ have the best writers. The future of automotive journalism is right here, right now. Thanks guys, for telling the truth about cars. Working with you is an honor and a privilege.
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- Desertwanderer Across Australia, from Sydney to Perth, via the Nullarbor Highway. Desolate, very impressed to pass a bicycle tourist somewhere in the middle, I think he'd have a story to tell. Oh, and the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS, in my S4.
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Gentlemen, I will not pay for any website that does not provide nudity. That being said, I do not want to see RF naked. Something better will have to be devised. Please no comments about my momma. But I digress... I truly wish TTAC well with the new direction RF is taking. I do enjoy the website and have killed countless hours in airports and meetings, catching up on the GM Deathwatch and car reviews. It's good stuff. The only way to know if the endeavor will work, is to try. And for that, I give a hearty thumbs up. If the experiment doesn't work? So what. You come back and try something else. If a pay site is something that must be tried, than it must be tried. No apologies needed. And should you be forced to rethink, you'll no doubt be smarter from the experience. Godspeed.
I won't pay to view any website. If you charge, I won't visit. Which would be a shame, because this is one of the best car sites out there. If you want to raise money, then advertising is the way. Subscribe and you will loose many visitors.