By on March 10, 2009

It’s do or die time. Although TTAC’s site traffic continues it slow, organic growth—knocking on 1 mil uniques per month—the web-wide advertising downturn has taken its toll. Revenues have fallen by two-thirds. TTAC’s owners have looked at the books and read us the riot act. Either we replace the lost ad bucks with subscription income or that’s it: lights out. Our goal: 5000 subs at $12 per year ($1 per month) by June 1. I know: been here, didn’t do that. Before NameMedia bought TTAC, I asked our then-nascent Best and Brightest about going sub. The overwhelming response: fuhgeddaboutit [paraphrasing]. Surfers are not going to pay for something they can get for free (and don’t tell me you’re special). So what’s changed? Choice. We don’t have any. To keep the site alive, we have to make this work. How?

How can we get five thousand people to pay us $12 a year? Obviously, I’ll make the case for TTAC, in that PBS meets A Few Good Men kinda way. You WANT us on that web. You NEED us on that web. For the price of a good pair of Birkenstocks we can BE on that web. We generate literally ten times the original content of our monthly paper competition (apples to oreos I know). But is it enough?

Our newly-assigned programming guru Mark Cahill reckons we should add a forum. Members of our writing team—who have all agreed to provide material without financial compensation—suggest we develop a killer app. I think we can break on through with some TTAC-appropriate merchandise. What’s your take? What more do we need to earn our readers’ hard-earned cash? Or are we doing enough already?

One way or another, we’re going to find out. But I’d prefer to make this leap into the unknown with your help. TTAC’s readers have been a constant source of clarity and enlightenment in my times of need– especially when it comes to matters of marketing and finance. I eagerly await your feedback. Meanwhile…

TTAC is a strong brand. Some 330K readers come straight to the site each month. (Again, just under 1m total uniques per month.) Over 11K readers have signed-up for our New Content Notifications. We know who we are, and what we have to do. And we’ve been doing it day in, day out since 2002. Our industry coverage has never once wavered in its senseless pursuit of veracity. Our reviews have held no bars. Right or wrong, we have never compromised our commitment to telling the truth about cars.

So is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Either way, it’s been my honor and privilege to work with such an informed and passionate group of writers, editors and readers. Come what may, I am proud of us all. We have made our mark.

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209 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest: How Can TTAC Become a Subscription Site?...”


  • avatar
    Rastus

    Create your own website…work for yourself, not “the owners”.

    People will be more than happy to support you. You had me fooled, as I thought you were the owner of this site- you should not have mentioned “the owners”.

    Shall we do a side-kick to the “Who owns Chrysler, LLC?”?

    (PS, you also pissed it away when you mentioned your $1100 Clover coffee maker…no sympathy from me, dude!! (Just joking :).

  • avatar
    gusplus

    Try 10,000 subs @ $6/yr.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    What you serve is worth $12 per year easily.
    How you collect? Paypal? Honor System? That all will have to be worked out.
    Whatever I’m in as this site has the best writing and best features of anything out there and shows every sign of getting better.
    Double the price and look for fewer subscribers?
    Lots of ways to skin the cat.

  • avatar

    I don’t have a home Clover machine. I use Starbucks’.

    I sold the website to NameMedia when I needed the medical benefits for my family’s health. In exchange, I received a salary (no bonus) and a guarantee of editorial independence (which NM has honored without fail).

    To keep the site alive, today, I accepted a 1/3 haircut on my salary. Poof! Gone. TTAC was, is and always will be a labor of love.

    And we either half the sub price or double it. Hmmm.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    Sign me up.

  • avatar
    minion444

    If you can give me 5 podcasts a week 30 minutes each, you got my $24 bucks a year.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    Have I got the PERFECT idea(!!):

    Move to Finland where you will be supported in all your grandeur. You won’t HAVE to work!! The Finnish govt. will even pay for a new $1100 coffee maker, due to the differences in household current, etc.

    It’s all for the best! You can report on the latest developments in the Finnish auto industry.

    I’d love to see another repeat of Jeremy Clarkson’s trip to the North Pole…only this time, instead of a diesel Toyota Hi Lux, I want to see a Maserati “race” across the frozen ocean.

    All the while sipping hot (Clover) coffee :)

  • avatar
    rcory

    Aw, sorry, RF. Looks like “TTAC Death Watch Number 1” to me. Unless you can take bets on who lasts longer, GM or TTAC…. It’s been fun, but there are too many places to read and comment for free.

  • avatar
    star_gazer

    Robert:

    I’m in. Where do I send the check?

  • avatar
    bleach

    I get a lot out of this site and have been visiting it more than once a day for many moons.

    I would donate more than your asking price rather than paying for a subscription. It’s not the price because I think TTAC is worth $12 a year. Something about having to subscribe or register even always rubs me the wrong way. They seem insular like a club of some sort.

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    Count me in; twelve bucks is a bargain for what I get here. Two caveats for “the owners”, however:

    1. No auto-renew feature. This is not negotiable.
    2. RF stays, I pay. He goes, I go. This is also not negotiable.

  • avatar
    bmmr

    You mean, I have to give up 3 Cafe Latte’s to support this site?

    Where do I sign up?

    Still a bargoon at a buck a month (and I have to pay $1.32 for a Yankee Buck)

  • avatar

    It might work, but I can’t say I’m too optimistic, sorry to say. Many sites have tried subscription models and it hasn’t often worked. That’s the problem with democratization – in the publishing arena, this means that many online endeavors are a labor of love, not profit.

    In this regard, it’s unfortunate that you have to appease a corporate mothership. The more people you have grabbing handfuls of dough, the less there is, and bigwigs generally have a way of trying to squeeze blood from a stone and then leaving unemployed, talented people in their wake when they abandon a project.

    One thing you could do, and I’ve always thought this, is take advantage of your expertise and web presence and do expert appearances/interviews with various groups, from cable news networks to guest columns in other publications. TTAC is dependent on the strength of the Robert Farago brand, and if you can find ways to promote yourself, people might be more willing to turn to you as a content expert.

    I don’t know, though, this is a rough time; there’s just no money anymore, nobody’s spending. You’ll find people largely unwilling to donate money for content they can mostly get free elsewhere, so if the ad $ is drying up it’ll be tough to get it from your readers.

  • avatar
    jimlongx

    I’ll subscribe, I like reading this site.

  • avatar
    MBella

    This is interesting. I don’t know if you can pull it off. I am a fan of this site, and would probably be willing to spend the $1 a month. I don’t know if others will though. It’s a bad predicament to be in. As the economy goes down, it’s only going to get worse, and people will be willing to pay less and less. You are definitely going to have to step it up with the podcasts, and unique content. You should keep the news free, since people can get that anywhere, and it will help keep people coming to this site. It sucks that it has come to this.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    It’s been fun, but there are too many places to read and comment for free.

    At this level? The B+B? Color me doubtful.

    TotalFark costs me $60. And I’m here a hell of a lot more often.

    Count me in….TTAC well earns it.

  • avatar
    dover

    Sorry RF, but I don’t see this working. Those of us that regularly visit the site are probably willing to hand over the cash, but it will make it near impossible to attract new readers. Anytime I visit a site and they require a subscription so I can view something, I move on to the next site.

    It might put a little cash in the pocket short term, but long term……….

  • avatar
    Rastus

    How long did the blackmail of the BMW heiress last?

    It may buy you a year or two…which will give you ample time to plot your getaway.

  • avatar
    Dr. No

    Robert,

    Do you have a non-compete?

    Seems like the owners are peeling off enough income to make it viable for a new site. The costs of this site surely can’t be that much. I think subscription models are very, very tough.

    My idea: Start a poll here (you don’t have to publish the results either) to get a read on how those above who are willing to pay are likely in the minority.

    If I pay, I want video!

  • avatar

    Keep the news free … until the jump. From the jump onwards, it costs. Double the price, at least …

  • avatar

    So… free news, and premium content? Premium being… editorial, REGULAR podcasts and full reviews? Anything else? Killer app anyone?

  • avatar
    gusplus

    How about two levels of readership: free and premium content. Free stuff keeps new traffic coming in. Premium stuff is for the diehards like us.

  • avatar
    Schm

    I’m sorry, but I will not continue reading TTAC if it becomes subscription. I love the editorials and unique content, but I just don’t think I would pay for it when I can get other somewhat similar Auto-related content free on the internet.

    Damn, bad times in the Blogosphere. Jalopnik content kinda blows, TTAC says subscription, Autoblog is, well, ok, forget about Autoblog.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    I’d pay. I’m hooked.

    I’m worried that it will severely limit growth. How are people going to get hooked? Some of the site free / some subscription? Add more content for the subscribers? Must subscribe in order to comment?

    Then we’d be the Best, Brightest, and Fleeced-est.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Some ideas:

    1. Podcasts for subscribers.

    2. Non-subscribers only get access to the news blog, and can only make two comments per day on it.

    3. Only subscribers can nominate for the Ten Best/Worst voting.

    4. Anything more than 48 hours old becomes subscriber-only content.

    IMO, I don’t think a forum would work any better than the current comments section.

  • avatar

    You are not alone. This just in from the Nikkei:

    Nikkei Net Interactive will be reborn as Nikkei.com on March 23, 2009. Our news content and services will be substantially enhanced with:

    > More News from Nikkei
    > Expanded Market Coverage
    > A Stronger Focus on Asia
    > Enhanced Personalization Features

    These service additions have been developed in response toyour feedback to our reader survey and we hope that you enjoy the new site and services.

    We must also inform you that as a result of the increases in content we will be raising our subscription fees. We hope that you take the time to evaluate the new site and services after March 23 to see if Nikkei.com is for you.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Adding a forum makes sense, I have always thought TTAC could do with a forum, but only to bring in additional ad revenue.

    If you must go subscription, I recommend taking the approach that one of my favorite tech sites, ars technica, uses. Basically, all content is available to free users, but subscriptors get access to well formatted PDF versions of most articles and whitepapers, access to special forums within the main forums, tags next to their names in posts, and a few other things. Also, ars was recently bought by Conde Nast, so, I suppose similar to your situation with NameMedia.

    Basically, don’t shut out the general populous from reading and commenting here, but come up with some value added content for those who wish to pay for it.

    I like TTAC, even though the opinions of many run to the extreme, it is a nice counterbalance to a lot of the other automotive press. However, I refuse to pay for internet access beyond my ISP bill, if a website can’t support itself via donations, merchandise sales, and ads, I can always find my information somewhere else.

    Pseudo-Ninja Edit (after reading some posts written while I was typing): If you go the added content for a charge route, do not make the current version a crippled version of what we have now. All news, reviews, etc, must remain free, as well as the ability to comment. If you want to charge, find some new things to add that you can charge for.

  • avatar
    minion444

    No Killer Apps! BUILD THE BRAND ROBERT!

    Well, Maybe just Twitter updates on breaking stories

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Are you forgetting something? You’re on the periphery of the automotive industry. I’m thinking your good for six-, seven hundred million in government bailout money at least.

    But anyway, for 12 bucks a year I’d probably do it. Meanwhile, use Blurb.com to put together your GM deathwatch series from Day 1 as a book. You might make a bundle. Are you available on the Kindle? Buy some Powerball tickets.

  • avatar
    p00ch

    How about: keeping the content free, but allowing only paying subscribers to post comments?

    Many of the current B&B will happily pay and new readers will eventually pay too, as this site grows on them (like it did on me).

  • avatar
    MBella

    I like Dr. No’s idea of video. How about video reviews to subscribers?

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Was reading some of the responses and I think I got the plan. The B & B will pay and offer a 3month free subscription for newbies. Hook em and then land em.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    You had quite a bit of positive feedback re. the cheerleaders. This you know to be true.

    Now you need a Page 3-type section…where a kind of girls of Hooters meets TTAC takes place.

    It can even be “Open Source”…where people willingly submit their own photos.

    Of course, this would be a global thing…where we can see girls of Sweden in, or on top, of their Volvos next to the girls of Zimbabwe in, or on top, of their Toyotas Hi Lux’s.

    Now, a chick sitting on the hood of a Porsche, wearing a camo g-string and sporting a Kalishnikov…boy, you can even attract the NRA-types :)

    Times are tough…what we need is information and entertainment which appeals to the base human instinct.

    But of course, you don’t have to worry about that in Finland…it’s all taken care of for you already.

  • avatar
    Balanced

    I would pay the $12 a year, it seems totally worth it for the hours of entertainment that you provide.

    Also you might want to consider developing some sort of application for the iPhone / iPod Touch. You could charge a nominal .99 cents. Even if you only sell to a quarter of the owners of said devices that would raise around $5 million dollars, which would mean $3.5 million dollars for the site after Apple’s cut.

    I regularly view your site on my iPhone, and would love some app that would take advantage of the iPhone’s UI.

  • avatar
    punkviper

    Would a pledge-drive bear more fiscal fruit than a subscription service? That way the devotees can ante up as much as they see fit (possibly more than a subscription, i know i would gladly go over $12) and nobody gets too teed off about constant log-ins and nag screens. Or am i too far off the reservation? There’s a cosmic injustice when the gub’mint has billions for Chrysler but $0 for TTAC.

  • avatar
    shabatski

    Keep the honest reviews.
    Keep the interesting variation (used car reviews, product reviews, etc.)
    Increase the new car reviews and comparisons.
    I visit this site like 20x/day – it can’t go down!

    So I’m in – set up the merchant site to sell the goods and subscriptions.

    The timing works too – I just let my Motor Trend subscription lapse:)

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Damn. I sensed something like this coming. I don’t really know how to skin this cat. Sure, I’ll pony up the $12 per year.

    But how to make TTAC work for those who won’t pay? And is 5K subscribers @ $12 per year enough? Probably not.

    You’d think they’d be a business model – a paid portal with one login. It would cover a slew of sites – newspapers, blogs, certain video – and pay sites based on their hits within the portal.

    But if the boffins at Google haven’t been able to do that, it may not be possible. At least not possible until some of the current major media players crater into bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    multi tier content. Keep all the current stuff for free, add a layer for subs. Organize official ttac travel group/parties to major car shows. Oh and i’d pay. Toss up a tip jar and beg a lot.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Ask us all for $5 – you would raise at least 250k.

    Just for the hell of it – add a link like Wikipedia did and see how much you can raise.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    If the site was in the black before the recession then you just need to get through the trough. This looks like a prime candidate for a government bailout. :-)

    Maybe a PBS-style beg-a-thon would help gauge real interest in subscribing.

    You could give something away, like a T-shirt, for a subscription.

    I tend to think that the comments will be decimated. That is what happened to the Motley Fool when they went to a subscription based model.

  • avatar
    TEW

    I like reading this site but I hope you don’t charge for it. I do understand that your family’s health is very important but I feel that by charging for use of the site is a bad idea. I have no problem with ads when the site is free but if I am paying for something I want it to be pure. Also the whole free/ premium memberships are very annoying when trying to view a website.
    Why don’t you sell merchandise or take up donations to keep the site alive. I would buy a coffee table book with all of the GM death watch postings. Also I will be happy to buy a book with all of the car reviews.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Seriously – just for sh*ts and giggles – put up a post with a paypal link and ask for donations.

    What can it hurt?

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Instead of $12 from 1/60th your readership, how about asking $1.20 a head from 1/6th of us? I’d pay that instantly, but I’d have to think hard about the other offer. I’m not in the industry, and fewer of us are in the market for a car nowadays. So we don’t NEED to read about this, do we?

  • avatar
    wjo

    Hmmm – I recently read an article about how premium/pay sites are able to survive. Slate/Wired/Economist maybe?

    Key points:
    1) have a public portal to continue to keep new people coming to the site. Keep good content free — yes, there will be freeloaders, but also advertising revenue.

    1b) note I don’t agree with the previous post — keep the comments free as well. Keeps the community alive — and frankly, comments are one of the reasons I read this blog daily.

    2) keep some truly unique premium content behind a password. Make sure it is really good stuff. One thing I would say — I am starting to find the editorials here somewhat repetitive. I’d rather have less frequent, more in depth pieces. Do I really need a GM deathwatch that keeps reiterating the same things?

    3) move some of the reviews to premium — or post reviews to premium first and then after a waiting period move to public.

    4) renew the relationship with Karesh’s site — license the reliability data (for premium subscribers only). Maybe a merger might work under a subscription model.

    5) in the premium site, add some learning articles — some of the most useful things I have read here have been articles and comments on technical topics (value of swaybars, etc.) Help those of us who have have pistonhead ambitions become better educated.

    6) $12 is too cheap — the “you get what you pay for mindset will destroy you.” $20-$25 would be more reasonable and in-line with, say, many mag subscriptions. Its also easier to keep 2500 than 5000 subscribers if that is the minimum.

    7) collect demographic data on your pay subscribers — sell the aggregated data to drive ad revenue.

    8) sell TTAC branded stuff.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    Add tip jars next to editorials. Add live/video editorials with Farago, Niedermeyer, Mehta etc. for yearly $12. Expand coverage to more older cars, especially weird, wacky, one-off, or cars with important engineering attributes.

    $12 is reasonable, but it helps having movement and sound engaging readers, in addition to text.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Some kind of two-tier model like several people have suggested makes sense. There has to be some amount of free, open content to keep attracting new users. If everything is locked behind a subscription wall it will be very hard to get new people to jump that wall.

    Free until the jump is being done by quite a few sites now. Multiple levels of membership with higher levels earning more access is also a model some people are making work successfully. Limiting posting rights to paid members makes a lot of sense. Anyone who cares enough about what we talk about here to post is probably also willing to put up a latte per month worth of payment for it.

    I certainly get more out of this site than I can from any traditional automotive publication. Heck, I paid $1 for a USA Today earlier so I would have something to read with my lunch sandwich. That dollar was a waste, TTAC isn’t.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I would rather see a subscription model of some kind than risk having the content watered down by advertiser complaints. I may not always agree with the editorials, but I value knowing the content is unbowed by $$ concerns.

    10 million people pay $15/month for World of Warcraft….

  • avatar
    dgduris

    I am in.

    TTAC has – I suspect – been helped significantly by the looming doom of the American industry and the near complete lack of objective thoughts on the matter by the “slick” sites. TTAC IS where the B&B debate the topics, not drink (and wee) the industry cool-ade.

    The market place will change. Detroit will go bust or the Community Organizer-in-Chief will have Nancy and the boyz write that check to infinity. Either way, the turmoils driving the industry to daily front-page, above the fold and top-of-mind status will go away.

    So strike right now. Don’t pussy-foot around here. Take $1.75/ month via PayPal or $15 in one shot.

    Don’t worry about levels or premium content. That TTAC is where the B & B congregate to converse about cars provides enough differentiation from the “retail” sites right now.

    Secure the site’s immediate and mid-term future and build from there.

    RD

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    My knee jerk reaction to this announcement was along the lines of “wtf? no.” But, y’know, TTAC is like a car magazine, only far superior. My second reaction, then, tells me that $12 a year is easily worth it, if not a bargain.

    Keep up the good work guys, and if you do go the subscription route, I’ll see you on the other side.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    $12/yr, I don’t see that as a problem. I think I’ve been reading for a couple of years now and I see the value.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    It some how seems wrong for this site to become insular. The site is a no holds-barred slap in the face of all the usual reporting surrounding the auto industry and cheerleading of brands. It should be shared and available to as large an audience as possible.

    HOWEVER,
    I think that the podcasts with you, Justin and Lieberman are amazing and I would gladly pay a subscription fee for biweekly podcasts. I think that it would be a huge mistake for you to cut your growth off at the kneecaps by making the entire site subscription. Get people hooked with the reviews, editorials, and news. I think once people are hooked they would gladly pay for the privilege to hear you and another editor get personal on the events unfolding in the auto industry.

  • avatar
    amcadoo

    One word … Bailout! I jest!

    Others have mentioned they can get their content elsewhere for free. Maybe you know of sites that I don’t, but there is no other website that addresses intelligent car freaks with the TTACs unique take. Most dedicated web sites offer “reviews” that read a lot like a brochure, designed not to offend anyone who bought the car.

    I’d subscribe for 12.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Well worth 12 bucks a year. Suggestions? Have manufacturer/car type specific site portals. I have an Audi, I love my Audi, I read all things Audi and switch back and forth between TTAC and my preferred Audi forums site. The death watch of the big three was amusing but, at this point, I could care less about the latest news quotes from “buy American” politicians or “gimme gimme” union brats. If I could log in, and get a page with nothing but German/Audi car news/reviews (more reviews!) I would be in heaven. And I would pay for sure. Maybe adding open forums for people to discuss their car in preference…

  • avatar
    mattb

    t-shirts at $20/ea — I’d buy two.
    I won’t plunk down for words, but I’ll plunk down for merch.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    I sent Car and Driver $29 for a three years subscription, and it’s just a hollow shell of its formal self. I keep hoping it will be like it was back in the 1990’s but it never is.

    TTAC is part of my daily life, The podcasts have made me feel like I know the gang and I would gladly pay to keep TTAC a “going concern”

    Would like more podcasts though.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    So… free news, and premium content? Premium being… editorial, REGULAR podcasts and full reviews? Anything else? Killer app anyone?

    Monetizing content is very, very hard without alienating readership. Of all the sites out there, I can think of very few that have managed to make the subscription model work (Consumer Reports, Slashdot, The Onion, to a lesser degree Slate). Learn from their successes:

    * Make it easy to pay, and make it easy to camouflage your name on credit card statements. The porn industry learned that it’s a lot easier to garner membership fees if you’re billing under “Creative Net Media Services” than “Bob’s Bang-O-Rama”.***

    * Don’t neuter the site for non-subscribers. It’s a good way to kill any chance you have at new readership. As such, keep the news and analysis content free, but only keep a 24 to 48 hours “gratis”. Any older and you need to pay.

    * Similarly, “hook” content should be free. This means your RSS feed and perhaps stunted versions (or a limited selection) of the podcasts from the Apple Store.

    * A complement to the free “hooks” would be “teaser” for-pay features: subscribers get early access to content (say,a four-hour delay), or can moderate stories/comments or crosspost (Digg/Twitter). A big for-pay would be the ability to comment on stories, or at least comment on them under one’s own name/pseudonym.

    * Non-core premium features should be pay, but should also be “teased”. Podcasts, the detail of reviews, features and guest editorials, licensed content. Show only a slice of these to non-paying customers.

    * Tier your services, or offer a “buffet” that breaks out features into packs (premium content, posting access, early access, podcasts; $4 each, two for $6 or all for $12). A nice offer might be ad-free TTAC’ing for $15 or so.

    * Offer a sliding scale for precommitment. Say, $12 monthly, or a full year for $100. Or something. Plus a T-Shirt. Cash in hand and all.

    * Partner and cross-license. Perhaps licensing your insight and analysis to an aggregator or stats collector who is more factually deep but thinner in content.

    * Facilitate your premium users. Forums are a good step, but an eBay store-like brokerage service would be interesting, too. You’ve got an deep audience, and I’m sure you’d find some margin dollars bringing sellers and buyers together.

    *** How do I know this? I used to be a systems admin for a porn hosting company. The business manager mentioned that a large percentage of their registrations came through Amex: far more than you’d expect for retail, but about right if you take into account Amex’s greater share of the corporate card market. It’s a lot easier to sneak generic names past the accounts payable department. Or one’s spouse.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    I dunno. People don’t even pay for porn these days. The only non-corporate pay websites I can think of that work are Fark and Something Awful, and both are more general-purpose, with Fark having very large amounts of free content. I am a frequent poster at Fark and once was given a one month free Totalfark subscription and did not feel the need to continue it once it lapsed, but lots of others do pony up five bucks a month.

    In any case, adding pay content is ok, but if you also cut back on the free content, it’s not going to work. A pay-only forum might work. Making your archive (beyond a week or so) pay-only might work (with an option to pay a minor amount per article as well as full access for the subscription holders-although if the cost is really a dollar a month said minor amount could just be a month’s subscription).

    If you do go pay-only with little or no free content, your ad revenue will disappear because page hits will drop by a whole bunch. If five thousand subscribe for twelve dollars a year, that’s only sixty grand a year. If you are inferring that’s two thirds of what ad revenue used to be, I guess you are saying that TTAC only made ninety grand a year until recently and now only makes thirty grand a year. Even if you are the only full-time employee, even the higher figure doesn’t sound like much.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    If I ever met you in person, I’d happily give you a $20 for all the entertainment you’ve provided me

    That said, I doubt I’d be willing to go through the ordeal of submitting credit card info, dealing with the monthly bill (even if it’s $1/month), etc. It may not be a huge hassle, but with all the other stuff I deal with on a daily basis, I can’t see myself wanting to go through with it.

    It’s the same reason I pay $5/issue at the newstand for C&D instead of filling out the subscription form. Convenience is HUGE.

    Maybe I’m just lazy, but I’m sure a lot of others feel the same way

  • avatar

    Car & Driver, Autoblog and a bunch of other car sites are free.

    IT WON’T WORK

    If you wanna make money fast, do what I did…

    BECOME A MORTGAGE BROKER !

  • avatar

    Only way it would work is to have a read for free and you have to be a paid member to post comments. Maybe just maybe it might work but I have my doubts. I would pay but how many others would pay? We all got to do what we gotta do.

  • avatar
    jayparry

    1. start by setting up paypal donations “pay what you think is fair’… you will be surprised probably how much people are willing to give given how much they feel you deserve.

    2. Move on to some cool witty merch. Not just the TTAC logo (whenever that is finalized?) but a cool pull-quote from the writing on cafe-press type stuff.

    3. as a ‘last-resort’ move to a best-and-brightest subscription whereby your name is tagged with best-and-brightest and you can comment and your comments go on top. All ads removed for those who pay.

    4. as others have said.. video/podcasts would be great but you would have to set up a production company… i truly feel you could be america’s Top Gear.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    I’m not sure how you’d do it, but make the fee a part of being able to comment. (perhaps along with the forum)

  • avatar
    DanM

    For some reason, my initial response didn’t get posted.

    Second Try: given your current market position, number of (free/virtual) subscribers, and current macro-economy, as a (somewhat knowledgeable person in this area) and B&B, I would reccomend:

    Become more mainstream, ditch the negativity / pessimism, focus more on exclusive/editorial content (e.g. “who owns Cerberus), and create a multi-tier subscription service. This may alienate some/many of your faithful, but if your desire is to be self-sustaining, you cannot succeed in today’s economy as a nitch-product.

    The service should be 1/2 the price, targeting 2x the subscribers ($6 at 10k people). Premium content should go to subscribers first, then to the public 1 day later, then (1 week later) the first paragraph should be public with the rest (*not including* coments) subscription only — You need to stay on the search engines and inspire people to become subscribers.

    I doubt there’s a killer app to be had within your general genre. . . . but take what advice you can and try to create one. The best thing you have going right now is the volume of comments per post. You need to find some way to both trade on this and maintain the quality/quantity when moving to a subscription model.

    Best of luck,
    Dan.

  • avatar

    +1 for a TTAC bailout. Either that or a telethon.
    The merch idea isn’t a bad one.. do what PBS does and give out token limited edition t-shirts/bumper stickers/mugs etc based on donation amount.

  • avatar
    jfsvo

    How about a $1 fine on using any of the words or phrases that are tediously overused by the authors and commenters of this site. At the top of my list would be Big 2.342342424343 and ‘Merican. At the end of the month you could send out a bill… kind of like iTunes.

    Or how about a Platinum membership that would allow subscribers to circumvent the TTAC editorial policy?

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Reading the forums and comments should be free. No one in his right mind would pay to read any of my drivel.

    On the other hand, paying to post… Heck, yes, I think my drivel is solid gold and I’ll pay to make sure the world has a chance to read it.

    More seriously, this isn’t going to be fun. With all due respect, if the NYT couldn’t sell on the web, TTAC is going to have a hell of a time.

    I’d give some thought to the Public Television model. Begging! Then, some kind of perk for donors. Not gear… recognition? A scrolling field on one side of the page with randomly drawn names from the donor list with a caption, “These people think you should know The Truth About Cars…” Or some such.

  • avatar

    Robert,

    How about a sale so that the existing B&B can benefit?

    Have the standard subscription be $1 a month, but between now and June 1, people can subscribe for a reduced price.

    Hell, make it a dollar a year. Like Wheatridger said above, as long as the gross is $60K the corporate overlords at NameMedia probably won’t care. The cheaper you make it, the larger percentage of the 300K regular readers will be willing to pony up.

    How about all content is free but commenting costs $1 a year? Actually, I think that is a nice marketing stroke. Newbies will read the threads, want to join in the comments, and with the price of admission just a $1 Paypal button away, I think most new readers will pay to join in the arguments. Certainly a high percentage of folks already commenting here think TTAC is worth $1 a year. You already have to register to comment, just charge a buck for the process. Also, that way people who don’t want to pay to subscribe will keep coming back for the free editorial/news/review content and traffic will continue to grow.

    Apple was brilliant to price songs @ 99¢. Price things cheaply enough that people don’t care about the cost.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    People don’t even pay for porn these days.

    Not true. For one: people never really paid for porn on a large scale.

    Or to be clearer: what people don’t pay for is commodity porn. There are a few, ah, specialized sites that do quite well by producing content that isn’t otherwise available, or is lost in the signal-to-noise ratio of the mainstream. **

    Anything TTAC would do would be up against a similar challenge. People don’t pay for news aggregation, and they don’t pay for dead-tree content shovelled on line. This is why, in the automotive sphere, only Consumer Reports actually meets expenses: they provide a targeted, specialized, high-class product.

    ** God, I wish I didn’t know so much about this stuff. There’s this whole embarrassing section of my CV that it pains me to acknowledge.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    I would pay $12 a year. Easily. Probably contribute more in donation. However, personally speaking, this is probably the only site out there that i would do it for, simply because i’ve gotten hooked in the past 2-3 years. And unfortunately, like many others here, paying for a site makes me uneasy. Will TTAC remain true to itself a year from now, when it comes time to plunk down another payment?

    Nonetheless, I sympathize with your situation. I do hope that the article comments remain free, as the site’s open nature of discussion tend to draw me in (with a semblance of intelligence seemingly the only requirement for entry). insulating that part of the site would be detrimental, in my opinion.

    Anyway, looking forward to purchasing some novel merchandise in the near future. Also, whatever happened to making a book out of Mr. P. Niedermeyer’s excellent excellent auto-biography series? I hadn’t looked forward to Saturday mornings so much since I was a kid. That is definitely something i would pay a premium for..

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    With all due respect, if the NYT couldn’t sell on the web, TTAC is going to have a hell of a time.

    The NYT has the same problem all the newspapers ands magazines that go on-line do: they assume their content is so shit-hot that people will pay regardless of the transport. And it’s just not true: those people who would pay are going to buy the dead-tree version anyway; web users weren’t going to buy the paper version, and having it free is a nice bonus that they’re probably willing to do without.

    To make this work, if you’re a newspaper, you must come up with a web presence that is a compelling complement to your dead-tree product. TTAC has a different problem: with no dead-tree hook, it needs something else to pull people in.

    That’s why a tiered content model, but one that teases, is a must.

  • avatar
    Theodore

    Lots of good ideas here. How about a voluntary subscription setup? Some of the forums – eg miata.net – have this. Not sure how well it works for them, or if it would work on this scale. But maybe something like:

    $20/year – no in-text ads.
    $50/year – and a t-shirt.
    $100/year – and some other TTAC swag.
    $200/year – and a podcast with RF or other TTAC luminary.
    $500/year – and a test drive of something suitably exotic with RF or other TTAC luminary.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    I think a subscription model is really bad for growth for a site like this. Free content is essential for building links (you won’t get links if there’s nothing good to link to.. and you won’t get many subscribers if the good stuff is free), and for search engine traffic (same idea).

    That said, you gotta do what you gotta do. If I were in your shoes, my goal would be to keep the thing alive with some subscription revenue and figure out a new way to grow. The subscription model should be two-tiered, but the decision on how to slice things up should hinge on a very thorough of your web analytics (with a focus on which content brings new traffic, which content is favored by loyal visitors, etc).

    Long term, I’d focus on selling to more targeted, higher paying advertisers. Google Adsense has its place, but at the end of the day selling $39.99 AT&T cell phone service is not the highest and best use of advertising space on this site. I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but I’d go through the back of Car and Driver, call every specialty automotive advertiser and tell them that online is the place in 2009 and you’ve got just the opportunity for them.

    Best of luck and thanks for everything you’ve done for TTAC. It has been a pleasure to read… and I will even pay $12/yr for the privilege. (although I must say it was a hard decision, when I did the mental math and realized how much time I would save by not reading TTAC 3 times a day!…:)

  • avatar
    DearS

    Of course I’d pay the $12 bucks. I really want TTAC to be open to everyone though, even if I pay $12 or not too much more. .

  • avatar
    Philip Lane

    As a journalist, I’m torn.

    I understand the current state of the writing industry–as a whole, not just in automotive journalism–and I know that the advertising situation could not get much worse.

    However, I have never liked the idea of a subscription model. Your content may be good–and TTAC’s is very good–but it’s tough to get people to buy in if they can’t taste what you have to offer. As the stereotypical drug dealer says, “The first one is always free.

    So I understand where you’re coming from. Figuring out how many people will actually pay for your content is an inexact science. 5,000 is actually a pretty significant number.

    Although you may have 330k (unique?) readers in a month, how much does each one actually read? How much time does each reader spend on the site each month? On each page? How many active commenters–we can even set the bar low, say those with 5+ comments in the last month–do you have? I know that there will be regular commenters who refuse to pay and non-commenters who gladly open their pocketbooks, but these statistics will likely tell you more about how many people are willing to pay for your content at all.

    Of course, you’re a professional, and this is more than a hobby, it’s your meal ticket. Of course you’ve thought of these things.

    So you recognize that something has to remain free, or no one will see what to sign up for. This may mean trial subscriptions. I may mean some content remains free. It may mean that content before the jump remains free. I would not recommend setting the break at commenting, because I think it would reduce the value of the subscription. I don’t care where you start charging people, but they won’t pay for content unless you can illustrate its value.

    With that said, let me get on to my opinion. I like both the tone and content of TTAC. I would pay to keep it online. There’s stuff here that simply can’t be found anywhere else. In my mind, the information and community of this site is worth at least double that much. Of course, when something goes from “free” to “paid”, switches go off in my head, and I expect different things out of the site.

    I would immediately expect grammar, spelling, and punctuation to be perfect–which certainly does not mean that your current standards are lacking. I’m just saying that the first time you don’t meet your current standards, I’d sigh and mutter something about having to pay for this.

    I would expect a daily podcast. Thirty minutes was suggested earlier, but the current 10-12 would suffice for me. I just like to hear you talk, in the least creepy way you can interpret that.

    I would expect payment to be simple. I make my payment, I sign into the website, and I am recognized as a paid user. Make me jump through too many hoops, and even good content isn’t worth reading anymore.

    Merchandise is fine. I’d buy it. I’d wear/use/display it. I don’t think it’s going to solve any financial issues.

    I do not want to see a TTAC forum. While the B&B are certainly the best and brightest, I do not want to see the community directing conversation on this website in any form. I like it the way it is. You don’t tell the commentariat what to think, but you do tell us what to think about. It’s a semi-classical model. Don’t change it.

    Also, avoid tiered subscriptions. That’s a level of hurt you don’t want to even approach.

    So to wrap up, I’d gladly pay for TTAC if the payment process was simple, the quality remained high, and podcasts returned on a daily basis. I wouldn’t touch a forum with a ten-foot pole. I believe TTAC could exist as a partial subscription site, but something has to be free tp lure people in. No more than two levels of access: paid and unpaid.

    That’s how I see the issue.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    If it’s about revenue, it seems like Cahill’s plot of a forum would be a good idea.

    The signal:noise ratio would get dramatically worse, but it seems like the benefits far outweigh the costs in this case.

    And btw, 12 bucks a month is a bargain for this site. Sign me up.

  • avatar
    Mekira

    Honestly, if you could get rid of your owners, you could move the site to one that is hosted by blogger.com or blogspot.com. I know that may seem too easy to do, but TTAC is such a great website–it would be incredibly sad to watch it dwindle down the tube of cyberspace history just because of some silly subscription fees that people didn’t want to pay. Believe me, the work of every single author on this site is appreciated like crazy. I hope that everything will work out.

  • avatar
    krokus15

    $12 is cheap for the real “unvarnished truth” that I get here.

  • avatar
    doch

    I love your site – but if you’re going to charge me for it, take care & good luck – it was nice while it lasted. I hope you make a lot of money.

  • avatar
    golf4me

    Ummm, yeah, good luck with that. There are 10 sites I visit every day, and all of them are free. At least 6 of them are less biased and more factual than yours. Maybe you should call in some favors from your beloved island-nation friends and get your money from them. I’m always surprised when I get on here not to see Toyota banners plastered all over the page…

  • avatar

    I’m saddened by the news… I stumbled across the site through the 10 worst cars linked from some website I can’t remember and was hooked from the start.

    I know I would pay $12 a year for the high quality of work I get here, but it’s going to be difficult to get new subscribers without something tangible. A cheap shirt or some such thing is a nice idea and might work… heck, people opened credit cards just to get crappy merchandise.

    Additionally, the PayPal/dontation method might work, especially for those people who are currently addicted to the site. I know I would give a donation readily. Perhaps the donations will be enough to keep you afloat until things improve, or the donations become a regular occurrence.

    The idea of a book might not be bad… I know that Amazon has BookSurge where you can self publish books.

    Overall though, I fear that the subscription route will not work Slate.com tried it in March 1998, it failed, and they are free again as of February 1999.

    Whatever the outcome I want to thank you and everyone involved with TTAC for all the hard work and entertaining reads.

  • avatar
    Jonathan I. Locker

    You should look at the airliners.net model of subscriptions. They have features available to everyone, and then first class features.

    For instance you need to be a member to post on a forum. And if you want watermark free photos, then you need to be a member also, in addition to editorials on the daily news headlines.

    I think you should check the site out, and I say that anyone else on ttac should give it a look. To this day, I still love a hi-res full screen photo of a Boeing 777 cockpit.

  • avatar
    oldguy

    I’ve been hanging around these parts for a while now, and like others, I’m hooked. Perhaps I’m just slow, but I’ve yet to find another site that comes close to TTAC. I have not and will not pay for another site, but I will gladly pay to keep this site operating, unchanged. As long as Robert remains in charge and the focus doesn’t shift, I’ll pay my $1.30 CAD.

  • avatar
    snabster

    Subscription is a dead end.

    two ideas on the way to a dead end:

    1. Have subscribers get full Google Reader/RSS versions of your posts…right now I get the first paragraph. I realize the idea is I then click the link, load the full page for the ads, but if you can password protect them for subs if might be worth something.

    2. Restrict posting for subs: there is probably only 100 people would pay for that.

    Good luck. It is going to worse for all of us before it gets better. Whenever I search for a car review TTAC is usually in the top 5. You should be able to monetize that better.

  • avatar
    memor21

    Hello Mr. Farago:

    I know that Wikipedia had a similar issue a few months back, and they had a very determined donations effort. In the header it showed how much money they absolutely needed, and how much had been donated. This header then linked to a donations page that offered a detailed explanation of why donations were necessary. Furthermore, on their article pages, they had a “did you like Wikipedia, please donate now” button, or something to that effect. They met their goal quickly.

    I personally think that this would be a better route than attempting to implement subscriptions if you can manage to keep going for the time that it would take to drum up donations. It would be a compromise between getting money directly from your readers, and continuing to be able to effectively attract new readers (and keep the ones you have).

    Best of luck to you and the rest of the TTAC team,

    Tim

  • avatar
    monaco

    I agree with some ideas above- keep the main content free, and the devoted readers will still pay you $12 for something extra.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Apologies in advance for the long post.

    I’ve thought a bit about this general problem re: Web2.0 (how I hate that term). The winners so far in Web2.0 are websites for teenagers and young adults based on the natural investment they have in dating and group culture. They are willing to invest enormous time and energy into maintaining their social networks. Adults have no time for this — other things are more pressing.

    Adults need to solve problems and are willing to become involved in projects that scratch some itch. So one way to create real value adults will pay for is to address these needs.

    TTAC has reached an adult community. The question is:
    What problems do the people in the community have that intersect with TTAC’s niche re: the automotive industry?
    What projects would scratch a community itch?

    Answers to either of these questions might point the way to something people would be willing to pay for. I agree with other posters that paying to read editorials and blog comment is not a viable business model in the long term. (See the end of this post for my take on why this won’t work.)

    Here is a direction that might be worth considering. Have the community build something that is valuable to the community and perhaps others.

    Thinking out loud here — What can a group of semi-obsessed car people construct that is of interest to the entire group (and perhaps industry-insiders as well)?

    You (and Ken) have already built things that would be interesting (to me anyhow) to see. You must have run spreadsheets on the Sad 3’s economic condition to make conclusions about the viability of these organizations. Nerds and geeks would pay (some) to be part of a community that created and maintained that sort of detailed data on the health of the companies, the numbers of particular brands being sold each month, etc. To ease maintenance of such data, a Wikipedia-like effort would be open to those paying a small membership fee (you know, to keep out the riff raff). The (rather unique) data produced in such an effort would be available for summaries and comment in free editorials etc, but only members get access to the stuff in the raw (with pithy comments from the insiders).

    There are many gaps in the data/insights available to outsiders in the industry. For example, I’d be interested to have access to representative data about the state of the used car market — perhaps some ongoing summary of auction data for specific brands etc. that goes beyond the Mannheim summaries by category (without violating proprietary rights).

    Predicting the success of new car launches in a virtual stock market (VSM) is something else that might appeal to people enough to pay a buck a month for access. Over/unders on dates of companyDeath/birth/new car introductions/MSRP of new launches/mergerPartnerProbabilities etc. etc. You guys are great at identifying possibilities because you have so much practice with … deadlines, so I’m certain a rich and interesting VSM sourcing the crowd wisdom of the B&B would emerge.

    Other thoughts: Track the real state of manufacturer inventories by identifying the car holding sites. Google map the places where manufacturers are holding cars they can’t sell to dealers. Readers in the area can give an estimate of how many are there.

    These ideas are off the top of the head and I’m sure other readers can suggest more interesting projects. The theme is to have a self-identified community construct and share _persistent_ data and analysis about aspects of the industry that otherwise is not available to people. Enquiring minds gotta know and I’d bet they would be willing to pay a buck or two a month to play.

    FWIW, I agree with many above about the viability of a standard subscription model. I’d be willing to subscribe but doubt you could attract enough people over the long-term. That type of publishing business model, even in the low-cost web environment, is in crisis. Micro-payments aren’t happening anytime soon. Worse, I believe the advertising model will be dicey even after the current depression ends because web-based customer targeting will become so much more precise due to behavior tracking and implicit modeling. The lion’s share of the value will be produced in the ad placement process and Google owns the data and talent needed to do that. Rates will fall for general placement. A news and comment site in a blog-like format has quite limited space to sell, so the advertising model for standard web sites may be increasingly difficult.

    Sorry for the long post. TTAC is a worthy stop in cyberspace and I’d like to see it survive and prosper.

  • avatar
    ConstructionContractor

    I’m good for $200. How do I contribute?

  • avatar
    PG

    I work for the dinosaur print news media. A year ago, I’d have found your suggestion ridiculous. But where I work, putting up our content for free online is destroying our business and slowly killing the industry.

    So yeah, I’d be willing to pay for TTAC. $12 a year sounds extremely reasonable for all I get. I read this site three times a day or more, so why not?

    People need to realize that not everything on the Internet can be free.

  • avatar

    There are a lot of things I could say about EpicFu or guys named Bob, etc.

    But honestly, if 1M uniques/month isn’t bringing in the $, I don’t know what will.

    If Management (all 8 of them) isn’t doing their job with their 500 sites, which is everything except Writing+Editorial, and now asking you to do (Ad) Sales etc, I really don’t see much difference btw. this and a solo install.

    I’d let TTAC go bankrupt and restructure.

  • avatar
    mmartel

    Long time lurker. Here’s my $0.02 (or, $12.02).

    There’s no other auto site/community on the web quite like this one. The editorial is unique and the B+B commentary adds tremendous value.

    So:

    1. I’d be in for a reasonable subscription fee (< $25/yr)
    2. I’d prefer to donate to help cover costs (a la member-supported public radio), and keep as much content and comments to remain free and open as possible to keep the community vibrant.

    Since I think other auto publishers are likely to be curious about the focus group on monetization models that RF has kicked off, I’ll go ahead and add a few words for them, too.

    Edmunds.com: If you’re reading this, I’d kick down the same subscription fee for your site as well (editorial, blogs, forums, etc.). TMV and TCO estimators may have their issues, but I found the site *utterly indispensable* when shopping for my last car. I’d also have added at least $10 in a tip jar after the help I got shopping for my last car.

    TheCarConnection.com: Also found you helpful when shopping for my last car. I would have gladly kicked $10 into a tip jar for your last help.

    ConsumerReports: I am not in your target market. Your perspective may be useful to a less educated buyer and the non-enthusiast, but as a “car guy”, I place no value on your content and will never pay for it.

    Autoblog, C+D, R+T, Motor Trend, etc.: I occasionally visit but there’s not enough truly unique/valuable perspective/content beyond what I can find here at TTAC and Edmunds.com to make it worth my while.

    TrueDelta: Michael, your reliability ratings data, reviews, comments, and other editorial contributions were great. Very valuable in my last auto purchase. Please also put a tip jar on your site.

  • avatar
    BoringName

    First of all, Bummer. I completely understand as I am also trying to make a buck off the web- not so easy.

    I registered so I can post this. My opinion: I see a lot of good feeling in the comments. Try for a “donate now” type link and make it as easy as possible. Have an occasional “ad” which links to the page explaining how the site is funded.

    I suggest not splitting into premium/free, or having to renew every year, or having content disappear after 48 hours for non-subscribers. I think that way you’ll lose readers. I know the moment I hit a pay wall, I’m outta there.

    Also, if you reduce your posting community to subscribers only, I think you’ll see a slow site die-off. Somebody who posts and thinks of himself/herself as part of the community may eventually donate, even if it does not happen right away.

    Here’s another data point for you. I’m the type of guy who uses multiple computers and web browsers. I delete cookies a lot because I develop for the web. If I have to remember the “premium” passwords to the 200 sites I look at once in a while, I just won’t look at those sites anymore. Sorry.

  • avatar
    Diewaldo

    TTAC doesn’t need subscriptions, it needs a bailout.

    Please contact a government near you.

    Thanks!

    Fun aside, I won’t pay. So its time to say goodbye.

  • avatar

    So I can read things like “Used Review: Ford Econoline Conversion” ?

    Get real who cares about this kind of stuff?

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    I’m not paying. Sorry, there are too many other free car sites I can head to. Their info is also more factual, and their opinions are more balanced.

    Plus, other sites don’t mysteriously delete my posts on a whim. Furthermore, they don’t have ridiculous rules about not “flaming” the website admins. I’m not going to pay to have my posts disappear just because my opinions don’t square with those of the moderators.

  • avatar
    shman92

    I’ve got to wonder, how will you attract new members to a subscription based site.

    I mean, there’s a plethora of car sites out there for the average surfer that are completely free, and the jump from free to paying, even if its a tiny amount, is HUGE.

    What you guys should do is attempt to crack deal with other sites. Make them source their auto news from you. Convince their editors that this site is incredible. By doing this, your readership should go up.

    Maybe (and just giving suggestion here) what you could do is create a new and innovative program on the iphone, maybe something that lets people who are interested in buying a new/used car and are in the dealership open up the program and find a ton of information about that vehicle right at their fingertips, from blue book rates to reliability ratings.

    But then again, this is really a stream of thought post, so…

    OR send out a newsletter. with ads. that’ll hit millions of people (hopefully). Maybe a winding road style thing (have you seen that online magazine?). But less… stupid.

    Guys, good luck. This is my favourite auto website. Don’t let me and a ton of other fans down by closing shop.

  • avatar
    ktm

    To those that only stay (and enjoy the site) because it is free but scatter like roaches when the lights are turned on, you are no better than welfare recipients and are the disdain of society.

    I would much rather have a year donation drive than a subscription. I currently donate at two technically oriented sites because they are an incredible resource of free knowledge that would costs thousands of dollars should one try to buy the all of the technical librams.

    The Piston Slap articles, Paul Niedermeyers chronicles, and other editorials are what sets this site apart from the dregs.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Hell, I’d pay 12 bucks to keep TTAC around.

    However, thoughts for those who don’t want to:

    1. Pay to make comments, vote, etc. But keep the articles free to read

    2. Offer premium services to paying members. Longer podcasts, perhaps audio commentary by article authors beyond the 800 word limit

    3. TTAC swag? I’d do 10-15 bucks for a B&B t-shirt

  • avatar
    carsRock

    pledge drive please..

    subscriptions are bad business models.

    public radio has pledge drives..

    wikipedia has donations..

    just be kind to the readers that love your excellent content.

    treat us with respect, we will pay accordingly.

    most login subscription sites suck.. ttac doesn’t suck

    keep it that way, i will give ttac cash

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    “To those that only stay (and enjoy the site) because it is free but scatter like roaches when the lights are turned on, you are no better than welfare recipients and are the disdain of society.”

    You remind me of the folks on PBS who are always trying to hit “viewers like you” up for money. Get a grip – this site is hardly some sort of “service to the public” or something similar.

  • avatar
    Prado

    rcory : Aw, sorry, RF. Looks like “TTAC Death Watch Number 1″ to me. Unless you can take bets on who lasts longer, GM or TTAC…. It’s been fun, but there are too many places to read and comment for free.

    Couldn’t have put it better myself!

  • avatar
    carsRock

    franchise ttac.

    anyone can open a website called ‘the truth about ___”

    they pay you royalties to use your slogan …

    there could be thousands of smart sites that open, that have equally sharp wit with constant content.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    One thing that has come up again and again in my recent musing about the car industry, the banking industry, the energy industry, etc. is too much dependence on a single model.

    Detroit became too dependent upon trucks/SUVS…and look where it got them

    The banking industry got too concentrated and too dependent upon AIG…and look where it got them.

    The world economy is utterly dependent upon (cheap) oil…and look where it’s getting us.

    If TTAC is to survive, I think you need a multi-faceted approach. Take ALL of the best ideas from these comments. Put them up on the Big Board, pick the best and brightest from The Best and Brightest.

    Have some subscription content. Have a donation button. Sell merchandise. Flog the readership base to more advertisers. Put a “tip” jar (cf. Open Salon) at the end of articles, or just a rating button to see what content gets people most worked up.

    I hope TTAC makes it. It’s far more deserving than many web sites out there.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I pay $12 a year for Car and Driver, and I spend considerably more time reading this site than I do that magazine. I’d pay to keep this site alive.

  • avatar

    mmartel: participate in the surveys and refer your friends, and I’m happy. My wife, on the other hand…

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    RF,

    I love TTAC and would gladly pay for the ability to read it, but I agree with the others that a subscription model could easily become the death knell.

    I’ve paid for exactly one subscription to a vehicle website, and that was motorcycle.com. I believe I paid $15 or $20 for a year’s access (they’ve since gone free).

    The reason I paid was because they hooked me with a paragraph available to any schmoe reading the site, then when I went to expand it I had to join up.

    That first paragraph was grammatically correct (I know you announced a punctuation Nazi recently, but there’s still some cobwebs here and there that make me cringe). In addition to the hook, there were some gorgeous photographs accompanying the piece. These were not manufacturer stock photos, and when you read about a wobbly rear fender there was a hi-res, properly cropped photo of one of their editors jiggling the damn thing.

    These told me that it was a serious site with knowledgeable editors creating the content. It clearly wasn’t a weekend canyon carver taking a new Gixxer around a parking lot at a dealer; the piece was a proper review, properly photographed. They spent time with the vehicle, learning its subtleties. And while I really enjoy many of the reviews here, it sometimes becomes apparent that no more than an hour was spent with the car in question.

    If you take this site down the subscription road I think you need to step things up a notch, otherwise TTAC will be gone for good. Genuine reviews with photos that you want as wallpaper are a must. Fewer errors and a proper page layout are essential as well. Proper reviews will need a proper length too. For $15, I want a lot of details, not a writer omitting their feelings to fit into an 800 word limit.

    Most importantly, whatever snippet you give the looky-loos has to be engaging and provocative enough to get them to fork over some dough during a recession (depression?). It’s gotta be car crack, with pictures to match.

    -Drew

    P.S. Killer app? How about a $0.99 iPhone app that gives fast, condensed access to TTAC with iPhone-sized wallpapers of unique, stunning TTAC photos?

  • avatar
    erics4

    I’m with buzzliteyear. While I’d be happy to pay a $12/yr sub for additional content, I’d be just as content to give at least that, if not more to a simple “donation” button. I’ve been visiting this site daily for nearly 3 years now, I figure it’s about time I contribute more than my benign comments once in a while, if it means y’all can stick around.

    I’d also consider some swag if y’all chose a kickin’ new logo, and said swag was made available.

    However, the last thing I want is for this site to kick the bucket. It really would be too bad. I’m willing to do whatever is in my power to keep that from happening.

  • avatar
    robert_h

    I love the site and have been a (nearly) daily reader for over a year. I’d happily kick in a few bucks to keep the site running. But dealing with subscriptions/credit cards is a pain. Most- nearly all?- people won’t pony up, and if you close the majority of the content to non subscribers, I think it’d be the death of the site. I’d say: ask for contributions. Keep the suggested amount small, no more than $10. People who contribute get a few spiffs (maybe access to the podcasts, a star by their name when they post), but keep most of the content accessible to everyone.

    As an aside, the quality of the reader contributed comments on this site is about 10 times better than any other site I frequent. I don’t know what accounts for that, but be careful not to kill it.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I don’t think anybody here can advise you with any accuracy as to whether to “go sub”, vs. “premium features”, etc.

    Best and Brightest, yes! But such a decision cannot be made without some sort of a demographic study, with real numbers. It doesn’t matter how bright the respondents to this thread are; a poll here will be nothing more than an anecdote. You CANNOT and SHOULD NOT make such an important financial decision without doing some independent research!

    As for me, I don’t know what I would do. I think management has to make the decision, tell us what it’s gonna cost, and I (like many others) will have to decide AT THAT TIME whether or not I can/will pay for a boarding pass. If it fits into the budget, I’ll stay on. Yeah, I know you’re only talking about $12, but I’ll explain that in a moment.

    As a side note, my company is in the middle of layoffs, as many others are. Luckily for me (I think), I may be safe for the time being. If I get laid off this week, or next month, I’d have to virtually cease my disposable income spending (because when you’re laid off, there’s no income to dispose).

    Even though I may still be employed, I’ve personally been in a “spend less” mentality for the last few quarters. I don’t go to movies or concerts. Not much of a big deal, a lot of film and music content is crap put out by bloviating self-important elites who don’t deserve my time, attention, or money these days anyhow.

    But because of my own observations of the current economic climate, the new political climate that’s unlikely to change things for the better, my own employment situation, and my understanding of history (this has all happened before, from cause to effect), I’ve consciously decided to stop shopping. Consequently, I’m not looking at as many ads online because I can’t justify spending any money! Yeah…sorry about that. I wish I could help out.

    Yes, this is something that I need to consider carefully even if it’s only $12 annually. But this is what happens when a national economic downturn threatens to become a (very) personal economic downturn.

    So do the study, make the decision, and let the chips fall where they may. I hope that I can continue to be a part of this site.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    carsRock :

    pledge drive please..
    subscriptions are bad business models.
    public radio has pledge drives..

    Pledge drives are less effective than you may think. A huge percentage of pledges are no-pays, even in good economic times. And PBS stations have been having layoffs since last year. Everybody has had to downsize.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    See what you can raise with voluntary contributions. If I was not unemployed right now I’d gladly chip in $20.

    Perhaps the B&B who donate can get a gold star when they post or something similar.

    Setting up a Cafe Press site or company store with logo schwag could also raise some $. I’d love to have a TTAC coffee mug.

  • avatar
    black turbo

    I would pay $12/year for access to what is available to me now. I agree with previous posters that say that news ought to be free in order to attract new readers, and the editorials and reviews are what the $12 buys.

  • avatar
    HoldenC

    Robert,

    I signed up to post for the first time. Sorry to hear about the bad news. Looks like the economic slowdown isn’t leaving anyone unscathed.

    I work in a product marketing capacity (totally unrelated industry) and we’re also coping with how to grow (or just maintain) our revenue base in times like this when our customer base is hurting.

    Anyways, love the site and the passion that you and others pour into it. I would hate to see TTAC go the way of the dodo and would like to add my 2 cents.

    Like a few others have suggested, I would recommend that you keep the “base” site free. You need to keep the TTAC brand and experience “accessible” to new prospective customers/readers, as well as make it easy for us automotive junkies who like to check your site a few times a day (in between or even during the really boring work meetings) for a quick “fix” to get the latest and greatest news, rumors, new car concepts, mergers / acquisitions / bankruptcies, reviews, etc…. Content of this type is readily available (though not as good of course) via other web sites for free. It’s a “commodity” if you will. Charging for it would just alienate a great portion of the customer base that you’ve painstakingly built up over time.

    To pay for this site you need to find a way to capture value (slimy marketing terminology for extracting greenbacks from customer wallets) for “differentiated” content, i.e. what makes TTAC unique, cool, different, valuable to your target market (aka car nuts and motorheads).

    Again, like what others have suggested, there should be premium content on the site for a small price ($12 per year sounds right, though advertising it as $1 per month is better). The trick will be how you structure this premium content (ratio of free vs. premium, how premium content is access/located, what the premium content is, etc…..). You may have to play around a little to find the right formula. A few things to consider

    – I’ve seen some sites that have an entire “subsite” for premium members. I never really liked this. You would get some “hardcore” customers to sign up but it’s too hard to “upsell” your larger base of free customers.

    – I would rather see you strategically insert premium content throughout the site, including in the main, free section. That way your free content serves as a advertisement and “foot in the door” to upsell opportunities to premium content. Your audience is already in a given mindset, and would be more willing to pay money to get more out of the experience. After a few experiences like this I would just go ahead and pay my $1 per month.

    – Example: A free site entry reporting on the new Lambo Murcielago replacement for example complete with pictures, expected launch date, etc…. could have a link to premium content that would include an in-depth analysis of the new design from the standpoint of a “professional” who can provide his/her subjective thoughts as well as inform the reader about actual “design” cues, practices, tricks, innovations, copy-cat features, etc…..

    – Example: Again, a free review of the Audi S4, similar to what is provided today. A premium link would provide an exhaustive review, analysis and pictures of the vehicle inside and out. Something that would interest a prospective buyer who’s cross-shopping the vehicle for instance. Lots of pics (glamour shots in different colors, plus details of rest of car), detailed comparison versus previous model, exterior videos at speed, interior videos of real-time driver impressions, etc…

    – Other examples of premium content:

    – podcasts
    – comments
    – moderated discussions or liveblogs
    – interviews with industry stalwarts/movers
    – experiences from owners of various vehicles to understand their longer-term ownership experience (could leverage reader base)
    – stereo system reviews
    – reviews of after-market software/ECU/exhausts etc…. (easy to difficult, cheap to expensive)
    – comparison tests
    – fun “what if” pieces like “what could you buy if you’re a family man with $30K and wanted some practicality with your auto thrills, used/new, etc…”
    – more off-the-wall comparisons like “best exhaust notes for under $30K” complete with audio files, best stock stereo in a 4-door sedan, etc……
    – top 10 lists
    – .PDF downloads of TTAC Prospective Buyer reviews which includes your standard review but is greatly expanded to include information that buyers might be concerned with…..

    You can play with the type and amount of premium content and do some data mining to see which ones have higher “premium” attach and signup rates, etc…..

    Best of luck and count me in as a prospective premium subscriber.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    While, I would be happy to pay $1 a month for TTAC, there’s one thing which worries me.

    The owners of TTAC have said (effectively) that because of falling ad revenue, reccession etc, the site has to become subscription based to survive. Fair enough, I buy that (literally).

    But what happens when the recession is over and ad revenues pick up? Is the site STILL going to be subscription based?

    I can’t shake the feeling that this is no temporary measure, recession or not recession…..

  • avatar
    Lynchenstein

    @galaxygreymx5: I pretty much came here to say what you just said but I’ll ramble on a bit anyway.

    I was a subscriber to Motorcycle.com, but I’m a freeloader on Fark. Motorcycle.com had an edge to it back when they were a subscription site, kinda like TTAC now, but the MC folks seemed less cynical and negative (though they didn’t have nearly the writing chops as the current TTAC bullpen). Since the new owners took over a couple years ago it has become watered down and pretty staid but still has some good articles and great “shootout” comparisons.

    Perhaps TTAC could go Fark itself up a little; allow user-submitted links to articles, a vigorous and mostly uncencored yammering section, but keep the core “TTAC” reviews, editorials and whatnot intact. A photoshop contest or two would be great as well. Oh, and don’t forget Foobies :-)

    I may pay for hi-res photos from the car reviews, or access to high-res press photos as least. Perhaps the subscribers get a little “B&B” logo beside their usernames when they comment and a more robust paid user profile section (not talking Facebook here, but more than what we have).

    A great Canadian motorcycle site (CMGOnline.com) has some deals for subscribers on bike insurance. They organize regular pub nights (Fark has spontaneous meetings around the country where “the Drew” occasionally staggers by) and have a good set of content. Though I think generally motorcyclists have a little more of a sense of cameraderie than cagers, getting the B&B together for booze sounds good as long as there’s a taxi home.

    Anyway, I’d be happy to fire some $ into the TTAC pot if there was more on offer than the status quo. Not knocking the status quo, but I get that now for free!

  • avatar
    jkross22

    +1 for premium content – premium content being the B&B’s own reviews of the whips we drive or have loved. So, $6 per year for access to premium content – reviews of used cars we’ve all driven – and a commitment to write at least one review to add to the content library.

    In a sense, we all do this anyway in many of the comments and posts placed in TTAC.

  • avatar
    tom

    I certainly won’t become a subscriber. Not because I wouldn’t want to (12$ is a fair price IMHO), but because I’m sure that I won’t be able to.

    I’m a non-US citizen who refuses to own a credit card or to sign onto some obscure internet pay services.

    So unless you’ll offer some sort of international bank collection (and I’ve never seen that before), I’ll be out.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    Robert, if you allow me to post my car designs on your site, you have my 12 bucks a year. Would it really hurt if you posted my Cadillac cts-x concept? And people will leave the site, if subscription is mandatory. Simply those who subscribe should get some advantages. like they could have their avatar posted or have their own corner for `chilling out`. Create a Pic library, where people can post pitures of themselves, so we have a chance to see who we are talking and commenting to.Otherwise I might stick to autoblog.com ;)By the way add a country flag to each poster, it would be really nice to see from how many countries are there people here.

  • avatar
    Robert Frankfurter

    Please listen to me Robert!
    I’m from the good one :-)

    I’d go for a mixture of:

    – (quick fix – immediate return) A nice styled donation button (with clarification why its here in first place)- where the name of the donator can be entered (and public seen with the amount given) in a public viewable list.

    You will be astonished to learn how many folks are willing to spend 1 $ to see their name on the net and be prominent for a second.
    Never discount the human selfishness – Siegmund Freud.
    For a idea have a look how http://grist.org/ is styling the button and executing the donation.

    – (medium term fix – takes for a professional to code, given you know what you want not more then a week) a clever .99 iPhone application

    and

    – (long term benefit- that development takes time if done professionally) HoldenC :
    March 11th, 2009 at 1:21 am proposal – first part of his post. Not to have different, split areas but make certain, high profile content a paid visitor accessible area only. That way you fish for cash with a solid tight net.

    finally:
    – get in touch with some producers, vendors, online shop-pros, hammer out a deal to set up a TTAC branded online-shop with mugs, TTAC T-shirts, stickers, kippah, condoms, car perfume – you.
    General line: You provide the TTAC name and oversight – and they are responsible for the executing / trading. If you do it yourself you would have to employ a few knowledgeable and very trustworthy folks you can trust- not easy nowadays.

    PS: Qwerty :
    March 11th, 2009 at 2:57 am
    had a pretty bright idea…

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    I guess it’s time to see if the market values TTAC as the premium brand we all believe it is.

    $12 to upgrade to First Class? Absolutely.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Nice to see the expected dancing with glee comments by the domestic fan boys who “can’t handle the truth.”

    Being an engineer with no marketing experience, my first advice would be not to listen to my advice. ;-) The big thing that worries me is what would happen to the comments section if this site went the subscription route. For this reason alone, I am leary of paying even $12/year. What I receive now from a free TTAC is worth more than $12 per year to me, but if the content and comments do not maintain the generally high level that they have now, I would stop visiting the site, and it would be $12 wasted.

    If you can get it up and running quickly, I recommend a donation button for starters. I agree that people who donate to the site should be set apart in some manner. A couple of car sites that I visited in the past did this, and I think those that value this site enough to plunk down their cold hard virtual dollars should be recognized. You could even have silver, gold, and platinum members for donating $25, $50, or $100. I would also be interested in supporting the site through the purchase of a t-shirt or coffee mug. I’m sitting here typing this post in a “Varsity” t-shirt from Atlanta, Georgia, and I have a few “In-N-Out” t-shirts in the closet that I purchased locally. Of course this type of support would be based on the content of the shirt (sorry, but a picture of Robert Farago on the shirt probably wouldn’t get me to buy it). If that doesn’t work then go to a two tier subscription approach and donations (you might still get a few bucks through donations). You need free content to get people interested in the first place; it certainly got me hooked.

    And, despite what some have said, there is no other site-free or otherwise-that I have found with the variety and quality of information that can be found on TTAC. If you go the way of Studebaker, you will be missed.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    A tough row to hoe, Robert. Honestly, it might be easier to find 600 people who will give you $100 each just to be on the masthead as Associate Publishers or Charter Members. Can you get us press passes to auto shows? Put up a Paypal link and I’ll shoot you $200 right now. C’mon guys; there have to be another 598 people who can ante up for keeping the site free and open, as it is and more still who can pony up, say, $20.

    There is much I disagree with here, in both native content and commentary, but you’ve demonstrated you won’t filter out dissenters. And because of the role of personal transportation in modern economies, TTAC is about much more than cars.

    You have a publication and your audience buys stuff. Look into The Rubicon Project for ad optimization. Recessions always kill publications in droves, and online, subscription fees tend to alienate. You have an audience and they buy stuff, even today. Consider compiling more info about registrants, but not by asking people to fill in long forms. Ask us one or two questions about buying intent, demo or psycho or preferences upon login, with option to decline. Market your audience to survey brokers. Some marketers are paying $30 – $70 per head for completed surveys. Look into SurveyHead.com, both for marketing your audience for this purpose, and for finding additional audience for survey programs you can sell to marketers in the automotive or related sectors. But accumulate your survey data incrementally. Make it painless.

    Sure, merchandise. It probably won’t save you but every contributor helps. However, unlike most print publications, you actually have a community here. Let us bridge you through a truncated economy. You can let us off the hook on the rebound when your ad monetization starts working again. Give Charter Members/Assoc. Publishers who bridge you some inside perks. I’m sure you can muster some.

    Phil

  • avatar
    928sport

    Just point me to where I have to pay and I am in, this is a better investment then giving some auto maker my money.

  • avatar
    kamikaze2b

    I’m disappointed to learn that a corporation now owns this site. As much as I love the site I’d have a hard time giving “them” money for a subscription. However, if you were to move to another site and start fresh I would pay there.

    I’ve been on teh webz for over a decade and everytime one of my favorite websites gets bought out, it goes right down the shitter, both in content and number of ads.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    Donations with an icon next to the names of people who have donated. Then it will be easy to identify the freeloaders. :-)

    When the Motley Fool went to subscriptions, they were afraid they would lose their most valuable posters, so they gave out a bunch of complimentry subscriptions.

  • avatar
    meefer

    I’m gladly in for $12 a year. 2 things:

    1. Don’t steadily increase the charge by tiny amounts. It’s annoying – don’t be the post office.
    2. Do it through paypal and have it tied into the current commenting logins.

    And one suggestion – maybe give away a part of the site, say the news/frontpage for free, then the reviews/podcasts cost the dough? TTAC premium!

  • avatar
    Ronman

    I see your Point RF, and when Subs are up and running i will most probably subscribe, cause this TTAC is like an addiction really.

  • avatar
    Thinx

    1. For _your_ work, I would not mind paying – but if I have to pay a cover charge to satisfy some corporate bean-counting reptile in a suit, that is a different matter. What exactly is NameMedia doing as a value add for the readership of this site? What else will they try to squeeze next?

    2. If NameMedia pulls the plug on this, are you in a position to take this independent? I understand this means some issues w.r.t. health-insurance and benefits, etc. but it may give you more freedom to try different revenue models.

    3. If subscriptions are the only feasible way, I would echo the comments of others earlier – a significant portion of the site will need to remain free to maintain growth. Premium content will have to address _value_, not just “pay more to get better reviews”.

    4. Keep in mind that this is a _particularly_ terrible time to go from a free model to subscription model, for a site whose content is generally a non-essential for survival. The recession is likely to be deep and long – it is unlikely that people will be in a position to pay.

    5. You could try doing a merchandise play, in partnership with someone like Zazzle or Cafepress. If that succeeds, you can cut them out and work out a deal directly with a screen-printing shop.

    I have a few other thoughts that I would be happy to share via email.

  • avatar
    Cynder70

    This is overly complicated in the way Chevy is creating the Volt all the while Toyota had the Prius.

    Post a pay button and see how many fans would be willing to pay to keep the site free for the rest of us. I’d certainly chip in $15 to keep this kind of content and commentary.

    Then lock those people in to any emerging strategy for that year or so.

  • avatar
    Spitfire

    I’ll put this as frank as I can.

    RF, what the hell man? DO you really think that all of your faithful readers are gonna let this die? Hell No!

    Dont do subscriptions…just dont

    I swear that I’ll buy more then 12 dollars worth of take home profit mechandise a year for this site…a beach towel was already in the works RIGHT?

    Do your own high quality stuff too, cafe isnt TTAC level.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    +1 for the WTF!

    Donations, yes. Subscriptions, no.

    I do not pay for content on the internet. I repeat, I DO NOT pay for content on the internet. Never have, never will.

    However, donations work better with the TTAC spirit, than subscriptions. I think that the money needed will be there if you ask for it. Though it is outright commercial suicide to make it mandatory. It is as simple as that.

  • avatar
    FishTank

    Ummm… that awesome “Yo Mamma” t-shirt would be a start ;-)

    Thoughts… Subscriptions are an OK idea. $1 a month is NOTHING people. It’s a few extra drips of gas a month. I think it’s the idea of having money taken out each month that makes people leary.

    I like the idea of a “Pay what you think it’s worth” idea. A Miata forum I was on got more than $100 of my money I had sitting in my Paypal account in one shot because the $ was just sitting there… waiting for an excuse to be spent. This then got you a “Contributing Member” icon beside your login name.

    You _could_ leave the main page as-is, and then have second-stage info available to only members. These new members then see the value of being part of the B&B discussions, and are more likely to join/donate something. You’ll still get front-end hits, but ask a teeny bit more to get more dirt.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Doesn’t matter how you see it, mandatory payment will see half the customer base go away. Show me a graph that says subscriptions increase trafic? You will get your money, yes, but TTAC will die a slow death that none will hear about, just because noone knew it was there anymore…

  • avatar
    mikey

    My income dropped 46% when I retired The Firebird
    and the occasinal beer are the extent of my personal indulgences.Sorry dude.

    Good Luck

  • avatar
    mpresley

    ktm : “To those that only stay (and enjoy the site) because it is free but scatter like roaches when the lights are turned on, you are no better than welfare recipients and are the disdain of society.”

    For crying out loud, gain some perspective. This is a Web site, and when one chooses to visit, it is not a moral issue. In case you haven’t looked, the Web is simply an accumulation of information. If the information here has value greater than what one can obtain free, then one will pay if they are interested. If not, the site will fold. I wish the good folks here well, but will be surprise me if they are successful with the transition.

  • avatar
    PaulieWalnut

    For every person in the comments section telling you they’d pay the $12 there are probably 30 unregistered users of the site who are turned off by the idea. Every dollar you earn through subscriptions could be wiped out by less traffic and therefore less ad revenue. Pornography aside, I can’t think of any truly successful subscription website.

    I have a few ideas (some of which have probably been mentioned already):

    Compromise the ‘Zen’ look of the website and put some more ad-space in.
    Forums (keep the number of sub-forums to a minimum)
    Try to sell some of the content to traditional media. You know, local newspapers, college newspapers etc. Severely undercut the established competition by offering, say, 50 bucks per review. Some editing of the reviews might be required in order to protect the publications from irritated advertisers. If you’re concerned that the ‘truth’ in the review is being compromised, then keep the TTAC brand off them.
    Some of the editorials, like the more generalised Deathwatches, would look quite at home on the bigger blogs like the Huffington Post. This could possibly attract new visitors to this site too.

    Basically what I’m saying is that your reviews and editorials are unique content. Instead of making them subscriber only, pimp them out to wherever you can.

  • avatar
    degrouch

    I will gladly contribute, to help keep TTAC alive! I’m not smart enough to know the answer to the subscription vs. donation issue. But if there is a button I can push to give money, I will push it!
    Good luck, Robert!

  • avatar
    dulcamara

    I visit the site daily and like it, but it’s not essential.

    Bottom line for me:

    No.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    I might be willing to pay…because I love the site, but eventually I would feel cheated, become disulsioned and leave (much like I’ve done with Sony Online – Hey, I have to cancel that subscription!).

    If it were me, I would keep the news and editorials free. Charge for video and podcasts (useless for my behind a corporate firewall). You might even have subscription for leaving comments (reading would still be free). That would cut down on some of the quacks that would bring up Sony Online on an auto site.

  • avatar
    prthug

    Call this flaming if you like (anything short of adoring praise seems to be flaming here), but it’s not intended as such…I implore the editors to stick with it.

    The total number of the devotees of this site, who titillate over the anti-Detroit venom it spews, wouldn’t amount to the low hundreds, let alone thousands. Even then, the idea that they’d all pay, and more importantly would keep paying, is likely small. And while there may be 300K unique views a month, I would bet the majority of those are people such as myself, who glance by to witness the body-count and once in awhile get a perspective that actually amounts to good information.

    This site has lived off of other people’s work (90 percent is simply commentary on the reporting of others) and a smattering of car reviews of various levels of competence and interest. Along the way, Robert has provided commentary that at times has been almost inspired in its depth of understanding of the real issues, but it then unfortunately falls victim to his own inferiority complex and axe grinding of not having been fully accepted as a journalist of the industry he obviously loves. With one hand he makes a brilliant observation on the true mechanics of what’s going on in the industry, and then he summarily blows his foot off with the other as he riffs with oft repeated chants of dissent and overstatements of the obvious.

    If the website had actually managed to balance the hyperbolic bashing of everything that moves and simply tried to at least pretend to have some balance, it might have been different. But the reality is that the format gets very familiar, very predictable and frankly people lose interest. To wit, when you’re now in the several hundreds for “death watches” it’s kind of like watching sitcom reruns…different episodes, same old basic plot. And perhaps the true Achilles heel of the whole thing is that this is supposed to be a community of the interested who can share their views…as long as they align with Robert’s. Put bluntly, the anti-flaming policy here is so radically beyond any other standard you see in similar forums, that all credibility is lost. It’s a pity. Perhaps the most ironic part of it all is that the website dedicated to following the demise of an industry is itself falling victim to the same economic ills. Somehow I don’t think the editors will have the same critical view of how it failed as they have on the industry in question.

  • avatar
    MagMax

    I’ve just read all of the preceding comments and find a lot to agree with, and some to disagree with as well. Some years ago when car sites were relatively few and very new, Ride & Drive was one of the Internet’s best. But they ended up in a financial crisis and eventually had to ask for donations and set up a subscription system with subscribers having access to the inner sanctum of full posts and archives. I gladly paid but it wasn’t long before the new content stopped and the entire endeavour came to an end. I still miss the site years later.

    I fear the same thing will happen to TTAC. I’d be glad to pay an annual fee but not through PayPal (just a personal thing). I’m also not interested in podcasts. I like the print content best. You might include photos or a gallery collection accessible only to those who paid though. I agree with a couple of the B&B who commented on the need for more attention to correct spelling, grammar and usage in your content, but not in the comments necessarily. At the moment, frankly, I continue to see lots of errors that are not corrected and it bothers me. Maybe if you let me pay you for the privilege you’ll let me do the proofreading of your content? (There’s no such thing as less cars, only fewer cars, for example.)

    Try the donations route and see how much you collect before you start a regular subscription service. (I still think that making it subscription based will kill TTAC, but that’s your decision.) It would be nice to add the country flag for comments from those who paid (I’d even pay you a dollar/year extra for the bonus of being able to display the Canadian flag next to my name when I comment); offer a slight reduction to your donors when they buy your merchandise (I might buy a pen or two but not clothing); publish a list of donors in categories by amount donated ($20, $50, $100, $250), a bit like Consumers Reports does with its sustaining member, supporting member, and so on).

    I really liked the suggestion of franchising The Truth About X concept. There must be fans of all sorts of other areas of interest who would be delighted to buy the right to use the TTA-X tag. You could even design a more general logo into which each franchise holder would insert his own last word (The Truth About Chocolate, The Truth About Fast Food, The Truth About Speedboats, The Truth About Flying, and so on.

    But if you do accept donations or decide to go to a subscription model, you can’t really continue your policy of deleting posts as you wish. If someone pays, he’s paid for the right to comment as he sees fit, don’t you think? So where does your control stop?

    I wish you luck, Robert; just let me know when and where to send the first annual contribution, ideally by credit card so I don’t have to worry about currency exchange. $1/month is more than reasonable; $25/year would probably be my upper limit though.

    Max

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    You want my money? I’m out….

  • avatar
    dgduris

    You “non-payers” are a funny lot. Some of you are torn between a concept that the press should be free and wanting the site to continue.

    One rule of life: got no scratch, can’t do much.

    Nothing is free and some things are worth paying for. Equivocating over $1 (ONE!) per month is pure insanity in a time where a billion is the new million.

    Really! $1 a month! You all ought to be embarrassed! Of course, maybe you don’t believe your opinions are worth that much. Or, perhaps, you’d rather let Uncle Sam spend that $12 on figuring out why pig shit stinks.

    Sorry, RF. Guess I have flamed here a bit.

  • avatar
    timd38

    Ask Obama to add it to one of the earmarks in one of his spending sprees that congress keeps approving.

  • avatar
    sutski

    $20/$25 a year if you want to post any comments or see any of the photos posted. Would be good if you could upload a picture on your comment as well if you want…tip jar after an editorial not a bad idea, to highten awareness of the need for funds, but a bit too much like busking at a train station perhaps…

    Forum not needed IMO as the comments below each article are directly related to the article (usually!)and save you trolling through a sea of forum posts.

    I found this site a month ago and visit daily so would be happy to contribute.

    http://www.mg-rover.org went $20 subscription and is still alive, they use the comments/picture view model I think.

  • avatar
    zoneofdanger

    Create a subscription for “premium” content. Since premium content is expensive to develop yourself, make a deal with third parties to license their content (perhaps selected content from paid trade publications such as Automotive News, limited number of free CarFaxes or Blackbook quotes, etc… – something valuable so that $12/year is a good value). “Pay” for the licensed content by delivering traffic and/or earn rebates for clickthroughs on the partners’ sites. Over time, if you get enough paid subscribers, you can afford to develop your own premium content.

    Do not charge for basic access to your site (including any forums you might start) because that will drive your traffic WAY down which will destroy your business very quickly.

  • avatar
    sutski

    This is what mg-rover.org gave out when they started charging:

    Why have started a donations system? Sadly it was due to the collapse of MG Rover. The website was funded by the dealers by the way of the Dealer Network. However, with the lack of new cars to sell and many dealers switching brands, this revenue disappeared with the dealers.

    The website costs money to run due to the server its hosted on and the huge amount of data sent to people who browse the website. Running a small site can be cheap however when a site gets large and has a large bandwidth usage, the costs start to mount up.

    To secure the future of the website the decision was reluctantly taken to start a donations service.

    The basic functionality of the site will always be free, but to get access to the additional features, such as more PM slots, space in the gallery to upload photos to and discounts from our online shop and other suppliers, you will have to become a ‘supporter’.

    When?
    The system became self aware on 1st July 2005 ;)

    How?
    Thanks to the built-in subscriptions features in VBulletin, you can easily pay your supporter’s fee via PayPal and instantly get the benefits of becoming a supporter. When you’ve paid the fee for 12 months you get access to the exclusive supporters forums.

    To become a supporter, you need to log in to the forums. When you’re logged in, click on this link – Forum Subscriptions page

    When you’ve clicked that link and you’ll be provided with a few levels of subscription, you’ll want the standard level. Note, if you intend to sell for a commercial business on the website, you will require a trader subscription.

    Click on the order button next to the one you want and you’ll be taken to PayPal to enter your payment details. You can change the currency in the drop down box before you go to PayPal. – Indeed, if you are in the UK, please select £ from the drop down menu before continuing!

    What do we get for becoming a supporter?
    The website has a single level approach to donations as detailed below. (as long as you’re not a commercial business – if you are, see below.)

    Basic Member (i.e. not a supporter)
    – 5 PMs
    – Cannot upload pics into gallery
    – Cannot start polls
    – Cannot attach files
    – Cannot post in forsale section
    – Cannot upload an avatar
    – Cannot use a signature
    – Can upload up to 15 photos to their Albums (in total, not per Album)
    – Can write their own blog
    – Can join social groups
    – Other than that, you can post & reply as you wish (within the rules, naturally!).

    Forum Supporter
    – Can start polls
    – Can post in the for sale section*
    – Can use a signature
    – Access to Subscribers Forum
    – Access to the 18+ Forum (need to PM an admin and request access)
    – mg-rover.org email address with webmail access
    – 256 PMs
    – 5mb Attachment limit
    – Limit on photos is raised to 100,000
    – Can personalise the appearance of their blogs and profile pages
    – Can start social groups
    – Can post attachments to blog entries.
    – Discounts off Car & other Insurance
    – 10% off orders from the XPart Online Shop, on mg-rover.org
    – 10% off Parts & Labour from Swan Coachworks
    – Discounted trackdays through MGs On Track
    – Discounted postage from Car Audio Direct
    – 5% Discount on small cars, up to 40% on Mondeo size cars, people carriers and vans from Europcar UK
    – 10% Discount off all Pre-booked BCP Airport Carparking
    – 15% Discount from AA Membership
    – 5% & for orders over £65, free PnP on orders from CleanYourCar.co.uk
    – 10% off orders by cheque and 6.5% off orders by paypal from Serious Performance
    – 10% Off bookings with Sea France
    – 5% discount off any purchase from the Classic Car World Tool Shop.
    – 40% off a subscription to Top Gear Magazine
    – 20% off of HPI checks
    – £10 off of IAM courses (Institute of Advanced Motorists)
    – Up to 25% at Kwik Fit Mobile
    – 15% off rates with Meteor Meet and Greet Parking
    – 15% off at Janspeed +free delivery – Access to comprehensive datasheets on both up to date MG and Rover models, and models of a bygone era.
    – And More coming online all the time !

    Trader Supporter
    – As Forum Supporter
    – Ability to post trade adverts in for sale forum

    Trader Supporter+
    – As Trader
    – Banner advert

    * – As a supporter, only non-trade adverts are allowed in the for sale section. Trade advertisers MUST take out a trade subscription.

  • avatar
    allythom

    OK. If the content stays as is, it’s worth 12bucks a year, easily. One condition: RF stays.

    I’m not sure it’s going to work though. Aside from Consumer Reports, this would be my only web subscription, I’m sure many others are in the same boat. Also, the subscription mechanism will lend a certain insularity to the site. Essentially, by making the site its own little private bubble, it will make it harder for other blogs/sites to see and comment on what is going on here. For better or worse, I think that outside scrutiny has kept the site honest on occasion. Is there a viable way to publish the previous day / week / arbitrary timeframe’s content without subcription (and the ability to comment) ?

    Reading Mikey’s comment above underscores that there are some of the B&B whose commentry makes the site (I do NOT count myself among them), losing that will be to it’s detriment. You should consider taking steps to ensure their continued participation.

    Good Luck

  • avatar
    Blastman

    However, I have never liked the idea of a subscription model. Your content may be good–and TTAC’s is very good–but it’s tough to get people to buy in if they can’t taste what you have to offer. As the stereotypical drug dealer says, “The first one is always free.

    This is the dilemma and problem with online content.

    I think there may be a solution. Arstechnica is a hugely popular computer forum that has some subscription based forums. Anyone can read the subscription based forums, but only subscribers can post comments in those forums (subscribers pay an annual fee for that privilege).

    For TTAC, this could be done 2 possible ways.

    #1 Only subscribers can post comments, for maybe a $10/year fee. All articles and comments are available to the public.

    #2 All articles are available for public viewing. A small fee ($5) will be required to view comments. The idea here is that the article is the “hook”, but the meat is the commentary. A slightly higher fee (like maybe $8 or $10) will be required if one wants to post comments on the articles and engage in discussion. SO there would be 2 levels of subscription to the commentary content.

    I prefer #2.

  • avatar
    ireallylovemangoes

    $12 a year, tell me where to sign up. I’d even do $24 if you were talking CAD ;-)

    I have always thought a forum would be a great place to ask the B&B questions that weren’t relevant to any current threads.

    I laugh everytime I see someone write “sh*ts and giggles”…I love that expression. Seriously, put up a PayPal link and see how many are serious.

  • avatar
    minion444

    Get Jason Calcanis to buy you?

  • avatar
    diaf

    I think going to a subscription model is the same concept as raising taxes during a recession – it’ll lead to less revenue.

    Your goal is 5000 subscribers, and you state that you have 330,000 readers. If you are successful in getting your 5,000 subscribers to fork over their money directly, what becomes of the other 325,000 readers? What impact do you think driving 97% of your readers away will have on your existing revenue?

    You have too many competitors in your space to justify a membership.

  • avatar

    I too don’t like subscription models, sorry.

    I would be willing to donate the $12 or more, to keep TTAC alive. As well as buying TTAC branded stuff as my finances allow.

    If you want to maybe give a poll that we have to sign in to take (or just make an announcement thread and have everyone post in the comments how much they are willing to donate). Add it up, it might just cover the total you’re looking for.

    Of course you should close the donations once the goal is met, and recognizing the contributors might be nice too, but if you have to change to a subscription method, make sure the already tendered donations pay for the first year of the member’s access.

    I don’t belong to any subscription sites, but I have donated to a video site, bought the $5 or whatever MetaFilter membership (I think that one is good forever), and have bought a few shirts and posters from my favorite webcomic artists/authors. It can’t hurt to try the donation model first, can it?

  • avatar
    LennyZ

    No I will not pay a cent. There are too many car sites out there to pay for content here. The internets is a smorgasbord of content and I am not going to pay any site any money when I can gorge myself on free content. Your parent company is looking to cash in and if you fail they will dump you and all of you will be looking for new jobs. Is that a revelation? The writing is on the wall and you should consider how to start your next car site from the ashes of this one. You will get some diehard subscribers but the casual reader will just delete your blog from their favorites and move on. If you really are serious about pay sites look to porno since they are the only sites able to make money from charging. Hello Autoblog!

  • avatar
    agenthex

    The situation seems pretty dire for the site given the past performances of subscription transitions.

    If I were you, I’d hope for the best, but prep for the worse, meaning start the job search pronto.

    The only real hope for subs is to drastically improve the scope of the reviews, because people won’t pay for editorializing, especially on the web.

    One alternate option you may consider is direct auto purchase referrals. Of 330k views, I bet if you beg hard enough, you can get at least a few hundred people to buy cars through the site. Your killer app may be to more fully involve the buyers by linking their impressions (honorary reviews) and evals to the existing reviews (which become portals for each model) and creating a quality enthusiast wiki, which I haven’t seen on the web yet. The essence is that it should create an “experience”. A more symbiotic relationship with Karesh’s site would be helpful to that end.

    Of course, killer apps are no easy task.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    An annual fee of $12 seems fair, especially when compared to the amount that I’ll pay for my portion of the auto industry bailout.

    And better yet, there are two key differences: First, I get something in return for my hard-earned money, and second, I have a choice in the little matter of whether or not I want to pay.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    I will be letting my membership to the Plymouth Owner’s Club Bulletin & membership lapse. I long ago gave up on Motor Trend and more recently Car & Driver. Collectible Automobile and Cars & Parts I no longer buy [I have the 1st 25 years of CA, that’s enough].

    “Automobile” magazine has never even charted with it’s pompous crew of scribes who seem to write to impress each other rather than inform their readers.

    But truthfully RF, TTAC is a lifestyle choice not just Internet “content”.

    I check it every morning and afternoon and sometimes in between. Friday nights I am up late perusing what I might have missed during the week and it’s on 24 Hrs a day during the weekend. No one does it like TTAC. Period.

    Would hate to lose some of your B&B because of the cost of a subscription, but that’s the price of changing.$12.00 is less than I have tossed into an ash tray [what I use them for now that I no longer smoke].

    I will donate to Allpar and subscribe to TTAC and Hemmings Classic Car. The rest of the internet sites xcontent seems to consist of press release dumps and their followers/fanatic/fanboi/my brand right or wrong types or corporate whore sites.

    Where do I sign up and I hope you take PayPal.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Front page free, subscription to “jump” and interact, discounted long-term memberships, and one “free” topic per day in which looky-loos can see the commenting but can’t contribute. Also, and most importantly, your best, say, 100 commenters each year should receive free memberships for the following year (or better yet, for life).

  • avatar
    dpeppers

    TTAC Deathwatch #1: Does your business model work?

    Don’t let Shelby or Corker get wind of this. They will tell you to BK or merge with Autoblog!

  • avatar
    darkwing

    I say this with respect — in web community terms, I think TTAC is too small to support a recurring subscription model right now. (Think Metafilter rather than Ars Technica; both mentioned above and both sites I love.) If you can get the new owners to negotiate the subscription term (from personal experience, this will be a tough sell, but the recurrence rate will be below expectations), I think a one-time, upfront payment is the way to go. Only paying members can comment, or have access to the forums (imagine if “Ask the B&B” were its own forum, tied into the site, with occasional “Best Of” mentions in the main feed) — I think that’s much easier to pull off with a one-time fee than a subscription.

    An unobtrusive tip jar — great idea. Pledge drive — these can be tricky, but if there’s a subtle way to work it in (maybe a one-line “Help TTAC! Click here” box between every article and its comments), another great idea.

    Merchandise is another good, but tricky, angle. It’s clear your standards are high enough that you won’t sign off on the usual CafePress junk, which eliminates most of the sellers out there, but occasional, high-quality stuff could be a nice, high-margin source of revenue. (As much as I love Ars Technica, I’ve never paid for a subscription — but I did buy a signed copy of my favorite contributor’s book, even though I already knew 95% of what was in there.) I’d be more than happy to pony up for an overpriced, high-quality TTAC keychain or something.

    I wonder if you can run guest columns, etc. on other blogs, and maybe even traditional press, with an audience that overlaps yours, to drum up publicity and maybe even affiliate revenue.

    And I don’t suppose you could ask the Maliozzi brothers for a favor…

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    It’s a challenge to make the switch, for sure, but I think given the response here, it seems most support what initially came to my mind: Two levels of content. Free, to intice the new reader, sub’d for us B&B.

    TTAC is consistent in its editorial position, but not consistent in its content. If I am paying (which I would, even at double the $12 proposed) then the content needs to be beefed up. A free site can get away with an “Intermittent Daily Podcast” and standard PR photos in the reviews. A “Coming Soon” area to give insight into what editorials and reviews are on their way could help create anticipation as well. just a thought.

    I think the premium, subscription service would work, if the content was beefed up to follow.

  • avatar
    JLD2k3

    I’d pay the subscription, but you would need to have some content available free to attract new subscribers. Also, how about Amazon links that give you a cut of the sale? Last I’d put a PayPal link on each page so that readers can contribute donations as they feel appropriate. I’d give a $5 here and there on top of the subscription and I’m sure many more would, as well.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    An unobtrusive tip jar — great idea.

    If this is tried, then a tip of a certain amount (say, $50) also gets you a membership for life. For such donors TTAC becomes like PBS. There may be more begging for money to keep the lights on down the road and a subsciption model may be implemented, but as long as TTAC is “on”, its content will never be denied to its tipping charter members (who will be readily identified as such on the site).

  • avatar
    thalter

    This site cannot be allowed to go away: We need your voice to counter all the FUD and garbage being put out by the D3 that the MSM just largely repeats unquestioned.

    Similarly, everything (editorials, comments) needs to be visible for all to see and find. It cannot be locked away behind a gated community.

    Simple solution, already proffered by others above – read the articles for free, only paid members can post comments. How many registered users are there right now? I bet at least 20% would up for a paid model (myself).

  • avatar
    The Sinjinzen

    Sorry, I have no time to read all 162 comments, so I don’t know whether my point’s already mentioned, but first of all – 12 bucks a year is nothing, but I can see there might be a problem getting new readers to the site (a solution to that might be a to months trial, or similar..)

    BUT: why not try asking for donations to start with. I’d gladly put in a donation, and several more with me, and them some might not, but you’d maybe get enough dough to survive.

  • avatar
    kericf

    $1/month is good and I would gladly pay it, but I really am not sure how many people would.
    When someone comes to the site and reads half an article and clicks the “read more” button only to find they have to pay to read it there is something infuriating in that which puts a lot of people off. So I amnot sure how well it will actually work.

  • avatar
    DPerkins

    A subscription only model would kill drop in traffic and potential ad revenues. Free basic content and enhanced content for subsribers would be the way to go.

    I think that you are sitting on a revenue source – the TTAC archive. Access to the archive would be a draw for subscribers.

    Killer app? Good, compelling writing and analysis free of manufacturer PR fluff. “The Truth”.

  • avatar
    eastaboga

    I’ll subscribe, can’t read all the other 163 opinions (as I have a life), but TTAC does generate content worth many times a buck a month. The killer app idea is interesting, benchracers cheat sheet? car buying voodoo app, Deathwatch dartboards, but even with such killer schwag, subs guarantee income

  • avatar
    like.a.kite

    Go see forums.somethingawful.com, and note how the main site is free but registering on the forum is not.

  • avatar
    wannabe

    A subscription site will shut the door on new readers. The idea of a donation link is interesting. Can you put a bug in front of the names of a poster who has contributed? Peer pressure.

  • avatar
    Jared

    A subscription would kill the site, plain and simple.

  • avatar
    Orian

    I’d kick in $12 to $24 yearly – I’ve enjoyed this site quite a bit and that is about right in my eyes…hell, I donated $15 to a forum site to help pay the costs of keeping it up just because I frequent it often.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I have to say this again: hidden content and subcription will kill this site. It can not be stated any clearer.

  • avatar

    I’m in. But then I’m not one of the everything-should-be-free generation (even though I ‘subscribe’ to the proposition that once you pay for your ISP access, electrons going to Ulan Bator or the neighborhood Deli should be the same price).
    A suggestion: everything after the fold/”more” should be by subscription. You won’t prevent the tire-kickers from grazing the site, but a lot of them will eventually subscribe for a piddlin’ $12.
    And locally generated video should be by subscription.
    So you’ve lost ad revenue: tsk-tsk, telling the truth with the bark on it when the past auto industry is in its death throes is going to piss off the advertisers, for sure.
    But without the fierce honesty and intolerance for BS that characterizes TTAC (even if sometimes biased) and others like it, the future of personal transport will be less real, less interesting and its birth will be more prolonged and ugly.
    Subscribing to TTAC means a better car future sooner. $12. Puleeze.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Robert, you’re a good man. I’d be more than willing to lend financial support if you were actually “you” and not some company. Break the shackles, reclaim what’s yours, and I’d be delighted to join in helping to pay for your family’s health insurance (possibly via a Pay Pal link). Is that the only impediment?

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I’d gladly dump a magazine subscription to keep TTAC afloat. For the cheap bastards that can’t pony up a dollar a month, who gives a shit if they stick around or not? I get more info from this site than any of the 5 magazine subs, Auto News, or any other website that I can think of. On top of that, there’s no pandering to sponsors (well, the CarMax write up sounded an awful lot like pandering, but I’ll let that go)or automakers, and I don’t have to fight through Weather Tech, Tire Rack, and “male enhancement” ads to get the news I want to read. Send me a bill, I’ll send you a check. I AM IN.

  • avatar
    mart_o_rama

    I’ve red all of the post up to the previous one, phew!

    I think this comment thread represent well one of the values of TTAC, the B&B.

    I think the case has been made that TTAC as it is today cannot survive a generic subscription-based model conversion.

    However, the money lies in the value you bring to the table, which as stated above one of them is the B&B, which inevitably will change over time as people come and go and create a different synergy. So this is tricky and not reliable for a long-term strategy.

    The other aspect I believe adds tremendous value is what made the site popular in the first place, the truthful reviews. The writing style (and quality) of the reviewers is one of the things that sets TTAC apart from the rest of the auto journalism crowd.

    This is what I believe people will be willing to pay for, the reviews (not just the car, but also the other stuff) and the insightful comments.

    In addition, getting to know the reviewers and the commenters over time brings more value as we can better assess their personal point of view and interpret their text, so editorial articles are a bonus, along with being entertaining and/or informative.

    Before taking a decision, I would recommend making a poll to find out, or at least confirm, what is being recognized as valuable in TTAC, and then implement some form of retribution for it. 12$/year is cheap, however uncertain for the total amount you’ll raise. Donation will give you a good idea of how much people are willing to pay for what they perceive as valuable in TTAC. The donation+poll process could bring you valuable information to base your decision on.

    And for those who thinks everything on the internet should be free, let them eat a truckload of ads and biased reviews on those other “free” sites, if that is what they consider valuable.

    Keep up the good work.

    Martin

  • avatar
    Robstar

    My suggestions:

    * Get some other method than paypal. I deal with them ONLY when I buy ebay stuff and that is getting rarer & rarer.

    * Offer 1-time donations. Subscription is ok as long as it is not auto-renew.

    * $12/year is pocket change. I pay that in taking the train to work 3 days a year.

    * How to get free subscribers to then pay? I have no idea :) I know i’d do a donation (paypal for the time being but not in the future) as well as a subscription if both are offered.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Perhaps I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid here or something, but with the recent editorial slant (without getting into this specifically) I’m barely hanging in here as a free site. The first day I’m asked to pay is the last day I come here. There are plenty of other venues from which for me to get my bemusement without a cover charge.

    This reminds of the attempt not too long ago to turn this into a social networking site. It seems to me that this site gets enough hits to be of value to advertisers (CarMax and Liberty Mutual seem to think so). If the model can’t be supported by paid advertising, perhaps the model isn’t as great as some people think.

  • avatar
    Mark45

    Things get tough and you come to us looking for a bailout. The reason I would not pay is because of the bias. If the site were more fair and balanced I would consider paying. There are a lot of you praising the site, if it becomes a pay site then all the the post will have the same bias and when everyone that has the same opinion the site will become boring. Another thing to look at, this article has been up almost 12 hours and has 175 posts (not all positive), that is a long way from the 5000 you want to sign up.

  • avatar
    TaurusGT500

    …TTAC’s owners have looked at the books and read us the riot act.

    Confused in Motown.

    Maybe this isn’t relevant info for public consumption (e.g. it’s none of our business) but RF, are you not the owner or is the statement above just creative wordplay? I thought this site was you, your wife, and a couple of others on the payroll.

  • avatar

    TaurusGT500

    We’re owned by NameMedia.

  • avatar
    Sedona79

    First time poster – long time reader.

    Lots of great suggestions here. And most of them revolve around the level of service – providing clients with more content for a fee (subscription). Another option (and I don’t know if it was stated elsewhere on this page) would be to change the way you collect the subscription. Instead of placing a dollar figure on your worth, why not offer the service to everyone and make a suggestion for donations. You can suggest $12/year, $50/year… whatever. But let the readers decide what the value of content and your work are worth. This pricing model seems to work really well in the music industry where new albums are free and the fans donate whatever they want for purchasing the music. In fact the bands who are currently doing this are making more money than they would if they charged a certain fee for the music. Since this is a first class establishment… your readers should donate appropriately. Let the readers dictate the value generated. It might surprise you.

    In addition, you could provide readers who donate / subscribe with additional value-add; access to info or services or discounts not available to the readers who don’t contribute.

    Just some suggestions for what they’re worth. I have truly enjoyed scanning through this site for the last 2 years. Best of luck!

  • avatar
    EricTheOracle

    Sell yourself to somebody else who can value add this site to an existing subscription. As it is, I’m not interested in forking out a subscription for this site alone.

  • avatar
    law stud

    fuhgeddaboutit

    news is on other sites for free. I only come back to see the editorials, the true only original material, and that is lacking a lot lately.

    Cut the staff and repeat what you’ve been doing cut and pasting headlines.

    Look at how many people actually post per piece, something between 15 to 150. Just because a lot of people see the site doesn’t equate with paying membership. This is a top search result in google for cars, so naturally people see it a lot. repeat visitors vs. members who post is probably a lot lower too. how many people are always posting is the potential pool of members, the return posters to say one way, then of them you’ll get 10% max.

  • avatar
    TaurusGT500

    Robert Farago :
    We’re owned by NameMedia.

    Ooops. Sorry … I have a short attention span…obviously didn’t make it to the 6th line of the story.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    It’s been fun kids, but I think it’s time to hang it up.

    Over the past few months, TTAC unfortunately has been moving towards “The Truthiness About Cars”. The move to a subscription model seals the deal for me.

    I appreciate all the hard work you put into TTAC, and I wish you all the best!

    Later!

    Mr. Sparky

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    I can’t help but chuckle at this predicament as I predicted it in a post last year sometime. Only it wasn’t a Detroit bankruptcy causing the recession as I predicted, it was a recession causing the de facto Detroit bankruptcy, and the drying up of ad dollars available to sites such as this. TTAC Deathwatch……makes me think of an Alanis Morrisette song……

    Anyway, if you charge me to view the site I will simply get my auto news elsewhere. Spare change is going to the emergency fund; no soup for you.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    This is a bad idea Robert. There just aren’t enough examples of sites making this work, I have a feeling you are headed down the wrong road. Their might be a few who say they are willing to pay up but the proof will be in the pudding when you start charging, I have a feeling you will see maybe 25% of those who said they would actually pay up. My self I don’t like the idea of paying for content, the internet is free everywhere and as much as I LOVE your site I don’t like the idea of paying to get into what I already get for free. I would gladly donate, maybe even more than you are asking but being forced doesn’t make me happy.

    Here is a novel idea why don’t you just start accepting donations to keep the site going, like PBS except without the annoying beg-fest every month. The subscrition dollars you are trying to get aren’t much and I would bet anything that all of us that visit this site on a regular basis and even the new readers would gladly donate a few bucks to see the site move forward rather than have to pay for the content.

    Let’s see you need 5000 people to pay $12 for a year, that is only $60,000. There are 330,000 regular readers of the site each month and almost a million unique readers a month. If just a small percentage of the regulars donated a single dollar that would get you well over the $60,000 you need. I have a lot of ideas on how you could make this work and work good and it wouldn’t feel like we were paying for some buff book, rather all owners of a site we all love.

    And if people want to donate more give them a little something for it: donate $15 get a TTAC hat, $50 T-shirt, $100 key chain or something. You need to get some TTAC get togethers where we can start buying into the TTAC brand, something fun with a small charge at the door. I emailed you a while back the idea of having a bailout bash-a-thon where everyone pays for some time to smash the sh*t out of my Cadillac. There are tons of ways to make money while not relying on advertisers, just think outside the box. And charging people isn’t going to work or get your more readership.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I don’t know how to make the internet money thing work. I do know that many of your ads just don’t interest me. I hit one yesterday for the first time in a week (the one for the 3 wheeler).

    I am not in the habit of hitting ads that don’t interest me because I have been too lazy to put proper anti-spyware on my machine (the ones I have tried killed performance).

    I also will not do paypal, if you want my money, it’s visa or mc or nothing.

    If you are going to charge, then you might want to look into getting some more content that adds easily percieved monetary value like keeping a running chart on the best deals and incentives available in the industry for buyers to use. Or, more resources for wrenches and collectors. I am afraid I am one of the few folks willing to pay for the present content. I also know that when I stumble on a pay for content site I automatically ignore their pleas to sign up for a free trial because I can almost always find the info I want free elsewhere within minutes and not add another relentless spammer to my collection.

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    There are a LOT of comments, and I didn’t get to read each one, but hopefully this adds a little to the conversation.

    The content of this website is what drew me in. That’s what will draw in future users/potential subscribers, so that needs to be free. Also, one of the best things about this site is the comments, so maybe that could be limited in some way to unsubscribers, but I definitely think they need to be able to participate in that, maybe to a limited extent, though. I really like the idea of giving subscriber extra features like some have mentioned. That should help bring in new subscribers. Maybe select editorials could be for subscribers only, just a thought.

    Add a donate button. Have it take you to a page that explains why the donations are helpful and see what happens. I suspect you’ll receive some generous contributions every once in a while.

    Finally, count me in!

  • avatar
    tedward

    Agree with landcrusher, paypal is a no go, direct VISA donations/payments are a must.

    I’d gladly pay around $20 a year (I also subscribe to basically every car magazine) for TTAC but you’d need to step up the car reviews a bit. Test drives are how I test cars no one I know owns, but I think that this just isn’t sufficient for paid media. Buy a few mountable cameras, go check out some Chris Harris videos, and arrange for loaners to do some in-depth tests. Video will allow us to evaluate the way the cars are driven as compared to the criticisms posted (both by authors and B&B) and will provide a real carrot for subscribers if they’re done well. A few free (very well done) videos will provide you with the links you need to attract new readers.

    You are directly competing with the car magazines the minute you go pay-access. They still do some things better than you (and seem to have better industry access), so watch out.

  • avatar
    97escort

    So who reads TTAC? People interested in cars obviously. What do they buy? What do they sell?

    Cars and trucks and related items of course. Why not start something like Ebay’s car and truck trading section and charge fees for listing stuff there just as Ebay does?

    The other day when people were asked to tell about what cars they have owned the response was tremendous. Why not build on that? At lot of people here own a lot of cars and trucks. I own 5 myself. Make part of the site a kind of auction where fees for posting can be collected.

    In my opinion, the advertising model will not work for this site. It takes too many pot shots at the powers that be. I am a corn farmer. Do you think I am going to subscribe to a site that regularly attacks ethanol for example. No way.

    I love this site but I am not a fool.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    Maybe a couple of additional questions? What is the timeframe, i.e. by when do you need to increase the revenue stream? If it’s not an issue of weeks, I’d most definitely agree with the posters saying a voluntary contribution collection should be a start and only if that, merchandise etc. does not work, start thinking of a subscription.

    I’d much rather make a voluntary contribution and probably a larger one for the benefit of enjoying the site (I would pay for a subscription, too), while the money is the same, the dynamics of it are very different.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    Another possible idea, a closed, subscriber only forum, where people working in the industry could exchange views and experiences, without necessarily making those public or making themselves liable could also be an interesting opportunity.

  • avatar
    dragoniv

    This is a good idea. Too many news organizations are finding out that giving away information for ad revenue alone is a sorry prospect that simply cannot survive when the ad revenue dries up. It must be a combination of both, and the subscriptions must be enough to at least survive on.

    I do think you’ll need to expose some of the site to the general public, say the news items and perhaps one editorial and one car review per month. This will fill the need to sate new subscriber’s appetites. Beyond that, it should be all subscription based. I think $12 a year is reasonable–much as I feel $10 a year for Motor Trend is far too much (which is why I no longer get it). Yes, your readership will take a big initial hit–but I think there are enough of us out here that would pay for this content and make this model work for TTAC.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    take a look at another auto site I frequent — saabnet.com

    here are the member bennies — nice list!

    http://www.saabnet.com/tsn/members/

    and here’s what it costs — $45/yr, $55/2 yrs — includes T shirt etc, renewals after that cheaper

    http://www.saabnet.com/tsn/members/signup.html

    members get a special “flag” after their name when they post — if you look at the site — there are a fair number of members.

    Good luck with the decision!

    Pete

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I’ve been a daily reader here since I found it quite a while ago. (I’m not a podcast listener so far though.) Without question, I’d contribute money to keep the site going.

    One thing I’m seeing: A lot of the suggestions people are making are things that will cost time/money to implement. That will take away resources from what we are really here to read, and I think that’s an important consideration that most commenters aren’t thinking about.

    Mainly for this reason, I’ll plump for a donation button – at least to begin with. If it turns out that doesn’t bring in enough bucks, then something else will need to be done.

  • avatar
    davids

    NASA sponsors a website, Spaceflight Now. Initially it was a free site. Now a “plus” pay membership section is offered for videos and exclusive coverage not available on other free sites. TTAC could be organized along similar lines. Offer teaser news, reviews, and withhold the good stuff for subscription members.

  • avatar

    the moment you charge me to access your content is the moment I slip on over to autoblog or jalopnik (which I know of but don’t bother to read, thanks to you guys).

    A forum is relatively cheap and easy. Just set up a vBulletin forum. My friends in college would do it all the time, and they were idiots.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    This is like deciding to build SUVs when gas is going up to $4/gal. Times are bad. People aren’t looking to part with $12 for much of anything. Forgetaboutit!

    Your mission, should you dedide to accept it, is not to get $12 bucks out of 5000 current B&B, your mission is to move from 1M unique visitiors per month, to 5M. You won’t do that by charging for access.

    Consider the possibility of competition. I couldn’t come up with something to substitute for the “real” TTAC, because I lack sufficient knowledge of the industry, cars, and writing/editing. But there are are plenty of people out there who can. Like any good journo, you’ve cited your sources, and many people have book marked them. We all know where you get your info from. Also there might be someone out there satisfied with the current level of revenue TTAC generates. So, go subscription, and you’ll watch 99% of your readers move to the free substitute.

    Consider also that for every post that goes -“Gee RF, TTAC is the most wonderfulest blog in the blogesphere and well worth several times your low low subscription price of only $12 a year!” only about one out of 100 (probably a high estimate) will actually come accross with the 12 bucks.

    Consider that TTAC is becoming increasingly political in tone. We can all live with it when it’s free. When you want people to pay, the tone better be in line with their politics. This will make TTAC increasingly of a single political perspective.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Almost forgot –

    See if you can get Phil Reesler to write more editorials. He’s the only one who can generate 1000 responses.

  • avatar
    dragoniv

    “the moment you charge me to access your content is the moment I slip on over to autoblog or jalopnik”

    This is exactly the kind of reader you’ll lose. Like I said before–you will lose plenty of readers, but since you’re trying to support the site with subscriptions, it’s the number of subs and not the number of hits that matter.

    Meanwhile, as Gawker struggles to make ends meet, we’ll see what happens to Jalopnik–especially, free Jalopnik. However, there is far less valuable content over there as opposed to here, and I’d pay for that difference in any economy.

  • avatar
    Accords

    Mr. Farago…

    I have been coming to this site for quite a while but often times through my Blackjack, (often having problems posting (some 404 error))

    I have figured out that its not possible to find the commentary, the good solid writers, and the unbias information anywhere else.

    This is the Truth About Cars.

    This is where I find out about the inner workings of GM, and how bad the culture is.
    This is where I find out and discuss indepth the values of bankruptcy of Chrapsler and GM.
    This is where I can sit and debate the horrible structural issues of that damn Exploder.
    This is where I can feed my brain with information that I cant get anywhere else.

    Mr Fargo,
    This site is unlike many on the big wide internet.

    Its one thing if it was like Automotive News, and that site is always getting PILCHED for info from Autoblog.

    This site isnt like jalopnik, where everyone knows your name, but cares more about what you drive.

    This site is social commentary, heavy discussions about automotive politics are abound.

    Id also like you to know..
    Ive been a subscriber of R&T for going on 20yrs.. and its slowly just draining me. The subscription price has gone down (buy a yr sub, get a yr and C/D for free). I hate C/D and I love R/T but its slowly not becoming worth it anymore to even get the mag.

    The photos are fantastic, but theyve let SUVS into the pages. The crew are getting older, and arent testing interesting cars that I might have a chance of owning. I love R/T cause I used to really get so much out of it. Now its a pain in the ass, cuase its all online somewhere. Oh yeah, that and its owned by a frickin comglomerate. DO I want to throw $15 bucks into that frickin hole.. and have to look at competitors mags at stores.. with ALMOST THE SAME COVER STORY?! NO!

    Mr. Farago.
    Im nobody online, just a voice of a guy who loves, lives and breathes cars.

    And your commentary and your site is a unique place to go and be interested in the most indepth politics there is.

    I dont know how the pricing would work, but $12 a month.. isnt a bad fee. Throw in a big 22oz ceramic MUG or a DISC brake and Caliper from a Ferrari 355 or Testarossa and you got my subscription!

    I value your site

    I value your insight and I thank you always for such a great site.

  • avatar
    law stud

    look at other paying website online. eHarmony and match.com for example are losing lots of members to free websites. In a recession people want a deal more than ever, paying for some premium material on this website is not a priority.

  • avatar
    Accords

    I look at TTAC like I look at my Accord. Shes 9yrs old with 181k. I put 81 k on the car in about 3yrs.

    Very little problems. No squeaks, no rattles, no b.s.

    I look at TTAC like I look at my Accord. Its a fantastic site, with good information and fantastic commentary.

    Ya want value, go check out KIA.
    Ya want rebates and PLUS P L U S deals of the month.. check out Chrapsler.

    Ya want a car that wont be made again or a company thats going out of business. Ya want a company that has to take down the clocks in the offices, cause they cant afford to pay for the batteries?

    Ya want Value..
    Buy domestic. Buy the biggest POS ya can and have it last 2yrs with a resale in the toilet.

    TTAC.. is a good site. Its a Honda Accord of sites.

  • avatar
    walksatnight

    I dunno….. It would be a tough sell. Not sure I would pay money just to monitor and sometimes join in on the brow beating of the Big 3. It’s kind of like watching a Baby Seal being clubbed.

    Now if you start Nissan Death Watch #1 then we are talking….

  • avatar
    KeithF

    What I liked best about your post was your frank and blunt explanation of what you need. $60K by June 1st, period. If I hit a subscription wall, like many other people I’ll just surf somewhere else, but if it is a site I care about (like this one) and you need the money or you die, then fine I’ll donate. I like the web-counter as well where you show us how much you’ve collected and how you are getting closer to your goal. I also like the idea of showing the last 10 people who donated and how much on your sidebar. I think people would like that recognition, even if it is only for a day or so.

    I think the only real way to survive long term is to get more popular, more pageviews, more ad revenue, which obviously you and your owners have been racking your brains about for years. How can you go from 1 million to 5 million? Here’s a crazy idea:

    What if you exploited the fact that everyone hates going to dealers and always feels ripped off? Could you become the Go To site for figuring out what someone should pay for a car? Obviously lots of sites will give you a rule of thumb like “100 under invoice” or whatever, but that isn’t very Web 2.0-ish. You need a better alternative.

    What if you had people scan in and email their actual car purchase receipts to you? You have a lot of auto industry knowledge, so you can verify their accuracy just by looking at them. Get them to email their driver’s license as well and match it up against the receipt. Once validated, key their info into a searchable database on the site, complete with all the options and details. Make it searchable by price range, model, and/or locale.

    It would take time to build up your database, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. With actual paperwork to back up your data, people would be able to arm themselves with info before they buy, or get to learn the real truth everyone wants to know after they buy–Did I just get NSFWed on this or not?

    Community built on reader contributions is the new web. Subscriptions online are a failed shadow of the rapidly failing print business. Build your traffic by building the database of the down and dirty, real Truth about Cars.

    p.s. If I donate and you don’t make $60K, what happens to my $12?

  • avatar
    zcommando

    Nope sorry, if it was your website would gladly give you money. No to paying a corp for web content. Kill it email us where you go start a new one and put up a tip jar.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    Hmmm….ad sales are down everywhere – even at Google.

    The economy is terrible.

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