“Good Morning Lovelies! My webmistress and I have been hard at work on the new version of TFB! The website now operates on a Subscription model with exclusive content for registered users only AND gives you Members-Only access to the New & Improved Community Forums. Come check out the details (and find out if you’re eligible for a FREE membership.)”
The reaction was swift and quite a bit negative at first, including the rather odd argument that Gina was denying access to information about midwifery and homebirths to poor women by charging for her site. There were a few die-hard fans, though, that embraced the idea because as a controversial figure, Gina has attracted a fair number of detractors and haters, and by requiring real names to participate in forums and comment on posts the detractors would no longer participate.
But as time as passed, her readers are actually becoming more supportive, and many are gifting memberships to readers that cannot afford the $35 a year subscription rate.
Personally, what I find the most interesting is the idea that she’s placing a monetary value on her work as a blogger, something that’s only been done in a few rare cases (beyond traditional monetization such as ads and sponsored content).
I reached out to Gina to ask about her decision. Here’s what she had to say.
What prompted you to this decision?
Many things. First and foremost, I felt the need to give my readers an identity. My blog is like my home – it’s a very intimate, personal space. As my readership grew, I attracted a wonderful group of whip-smart, intelligent, and thoughtful people who challenged me and made me a better writer. But I also attracted that all-too-common brand of relentless, sociopathic, stalker trolls who went beyond human decency to invade my real life. I felt that moving behind a subscription wall would make both me and my rational readers feel safer about engaging in the community I built. By moving to a subscription model, my readers are required to subscribe using a debit/credit card or PayPal account and a real name, which will deter those who thrive on malicious anonymity.
Secondly, blogging for free is simply unsustainable for me. To continue to create the content and community forums that my readers are interested in engaging with, I had to start charging visitors for entry. For three years, I monetized my blog through banner advertising like many other blogs. But unlike most blogs, I have extremely strict standards for the type of brands I will allow to advertise in my space, which drastically limited my revenue potential. My readers don’t want to see ads that violate the WHO Codes, that shame women’s bodies, or promote cleaning products that cause cancer. So I worked with small brands on small budgets who took a chance on me. Full disclosure: I made $2500 in banner advertising last year, which works out to just pennies an hour crafting content that pulled in 1,700,000 page views that year alone. No person can, or should, be expected to work for so little financial return. I felt moving to a paid model could help me justify the time spent writing and researching all the posts my readers have enjoyed and would allow me create better content than ever before.
Has your community been supportive?
At first? People went ballistic. At last check, my first post on Facebook about the subscription model has racked up over 800 comments and counting. I was called really hateful names and accused of being greedy. My favorite reactions were those who accused me of denying my privilege because I asked for payment for my work. They insisted I was denying poor people my wisdom (even though I’ve given out several dozen free memberships already and will continue to do so.) I was accused of setting feminism back because a woman asking to be paid for her hard work is, somehow, anti-feminist. I was accused of “scamming” people. I was told blogging wasn’t a real job so I shouldn’t expect people to pay me for it. I was told I’d never get subscribers and that I was flushing my blogging career down the toilet.
But some people got it right away, and then more people, and then even more. After a day or two, several people came back and said, “At first, I was really angry that you would do this. But the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense, and now I’m really excited to buy a membership and follow you on this journey.” I think, for many, there was a knee-jerk reaction. But when it comes down to it, if you value something and you’ve got the spare change, you’ll probably buy it. Thankfully, many people value me and didn’t mind paying me to keep pumping out the stuff they like reading. I’m honestly not hurt by those who don’t want to pay for it. There are lots of things I don’t want to pay for, so I don’t. It’s that simple.
I’m absolutely thrilled with the number of subscriptions I’ve gotten so far and – full disclosure – after 5 days of my new site being live, I’m pretty close to surpassing what I made in advertising in ALL of last year (but remember, that’s not saying much.) I have no goals for my membership numbers. I’m operating on a Quality vs Quantity model. I’d rather have less readers who engage positively with my site versus a huge number that don’t engage at all, or who spoil the atmosphere with trolling. Either way, this will be a learning process and I’m not ready to say I’ve got my whole business model worked out yet. I’m figuring this out as I go, but I’m already feeling great about the change. Many of my readers have commented that my blog is a nicer place to be now, too. It feels like a win/win for me as a blogger and for those who enjoy the site I work so hard on.
What do you think? Is this a new model for blogging? Is it sustainable? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.