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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

subscription drive update: I hope the pace picks up…

I’m looking for at least 5,000 readers to subscribe to FlickFilosopher.com for at least a buck per month by October 1.

GOAL: 5,000 4,830 (as of 08.18)

Subscription/donation links after the jump. Detailed explanation of what this is all about is here.

Did I mention I will start removing the obnoxious banner ads as we hit certain goals (as delineated on the progress bar up top)? I know not everyone is using ad blockers, because I can see the number of impressions the ads get, and it’s a lot. Not enough to actually bring in any real money, of course — in my best month ever for ad revenue, the top banner, middle rectangular, and left-side skyscraper brought in $281.12. That’s for a month, a month in which around 90,000 unique visitors came to the site, many of them over and over again, and looked at almost 500,000 pages. (Ironically, for my best traffic month ever, last month — 100,000 unique visitors/580,000 pageviews — ad revenue was 50 bucks less.)
So this is how little even a site with pretty good traffic makes. A hundred thousand readers a month would once have been a respectable circulation for a magazine or a newspaper. (If I were getting 100K readers and 500K pageviews per day, I’d be doing okay. But the site would have to be very different to draw that kind of traffic, I think. Please don’t make me have to start writing reviews like Harry Knowles’.) This is why you see so many sites, even very highly trafficked sites, resorting to annoying popup and popunder ads, and even more annoying takeover ads (the kind you have click on to make them go away), and interstitial ads (the kind that take up the whole screen as you click from page to page within a site). Oh, and those infuriatingly distracting in-text ads, the ones with the green double underlines that, if you accidentally mouse over them, bring up a popup full of shit you don’t need to know anything about.

I have deliberately avoiding implementing these kinds of obnoxious ads, even though I have been actively courted by advertisers to do so, because I think they degrade the experience of a Web site. And it’s clear now that advertising cannot support a site with “only” 100,000 readers per month. Which is why I must ask for your help.

I kept the subscription so low because I thought $1 per month would be barely noticeable to most readers on an individual basis. (Though I am very grateful, of course, to those who have chosen to go with a higher monthly amount.) But what is barely noticeable to you can, if enough people subscribe, make a genuine, signficant difference to me. I’m talking a lifesaving difference.

Please subscribe if you can. Thank you.

Subscribe via PayPal @ $1/month
(in almost any currency):





     Subscribe via Amazon Payments @ $1/month
(in almost any currency):















Subscriptions are set to run monthly until you cancel. I hope you’ll let it run for at least 12 months.

Or, make a one-time donation of at least $12/£10/whatever the equivalent is in your currency:

Donate via PayPal any amount (in almost any currency):





(Sorry, I can’t accept donations via Amazon Payments. That’s Amazon’s restriction, not mine.)

And since readers asked for more options, here are a few. If you want more options, just let me know and I shall oblige:

Subscribe via PayPal @ $5/month
(in almost any currency):





     Subscribe via Amazon Payments @ $5/month
(in almost any currency):

















Subscribe via PayPal @ $10/month
(in almost any currency):





     Subscribe via Amazon Payments @ $10/month
(in almost any currency):


















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  • amanohyo

    Can we all get a Papa John’s pizza party when it hits 1000?

    On a more serious note, I’m not saying this it would be fair or logical or a decision that can be made lightly, and I totally am not suggesting you throw in the towel, but have you ever considered maybe someday moving somewhere with a lower cost of living? You would miss out on a lot of smaller movies that don’t screen wide, ditto for critic’s screenings which would mean later reviews which would mean a big hit in traffic.

    And of course… your entire life would be totally changed for the worse and you would be leaving your friends, and you would be marooned in a cultural wasteland (sorry middle of the country…but it’s kinda true). You might even have to purchase motorized transportation of some kind.

    On the plus side, $2,000 pretax a month would be completely doable (I survive on $1000 quite well…but then again, I don’t have to pay server fees), and at $2500 a month, you’d be living like a queen (a frugal queen in a studio apartment with a super high deductable health care plan…but still, no need to work a second full-time job!) I know it’s a worst case scenario (I guess you’d sooner bite the bullet and take a commercial web content job in NY…if it’s still an option), but I just thought I’d toss it out there as a depressing alternative before someone else did.

    I honestly cannot believe that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are more stingy than me. It’s a real eye opener. Living off around $1000 a month, a subcription represents about a tenth of a one percent of my spending. Are you people actually all hurting that bad? Hey if you are, I understand, there’s a lot’s of people in debt these days. On the other hand, if it’s a “get the milk for free” thing, you need to understand that it may be free for now, but it won’t last forever at that price…

  • JoshDM

    I hear Austin, TX has a large film community.

  • Jurgan

    I’m pretty sure working in the entertainment industry all but requires you to live in NY or LA. I remember Greg Weisman’s advice to anyone who wanted to work in TV:

    “My first question is: Do you live in New York? If the answer is no, my second question is: When are you moving?”

    Theoretically, Maryann could see movies and write about them from anywhere, but her selection would be a lot smaller in Dayton, Ohio, and she wouldn’t be able to get them out when the movie opened. No doubt a large fraction of the traffic for movie review websites is trying to get information about a new movie on opening day. Giving up all that would really be the difference between a professional’s site and a hobbyist’s site.

    But hey, at least it’s the Bronx. I can’t imagine how much you’d need if you lived in Manhattan…

  • You might remember I referred you to ProjectWonderful.com last year, and you indicated to me that nobody was making any money using that, but I gotta tell you: people are getting paid way more than the numbers you quoted here. Give it another look. I mean, if someone like me can make $1.25 a day with around 50,000 pageviews a month (which pays for all my various websites) solely with PW, I bet you’d be surprised how much you can potentially pull in with just a skyscraper ad and a couple strategically placed banners.

  • MaryAnn

    have you ever considered maybe someday moving somewhere with a lower cost of living?

    You have no idea how much that stings. Not that you said it, because of course I’ve thought of it myself, too. What stings is that that sounds like a good idea, at least on the surface: that I could give up everything and everyone I know and love to go live somewhere where I’d be even more miserable than I am now.

    It’s isolating enough being a freelancer who works at home in New York City, but at least a modicum of a social life is possible here, even if you don’t have tons of money to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. And I live cheap for New York City. I don’t have to rely on a car (which I hope never to have to do, ever). There are many, many frustrations to living in New York, but the only other English-speaking city I can see myself living in is London. Which I would like to try, in fact, and may, if I can get this site on a self-supporting basis.

    As you say, what I’m doing here would not be possible without the press access I have in New York. London or Los Angeles are the only other two cities I could live in that would allow me to keep doing what I’m doing. (I also have some income from the alternative-weekly newspapers that run my reviews. It’s not much, but it’s something… but it wouldn’t be possible if I couldn’t go to press screenings.)

    If this site cannot get 5,000 subscribers on the basis of what it is now, it certainly won’t be able to do so when the content is diminished.

    The thing that will *really* sting is if it’s proven to me that so very many people can enjoy what I’m doing here, what I have been doing here for 13 years, and not support it in even the most token of ways. I hope I’m not gonna learn that that’s the case.

  • MaryAnn

    I mean, if someone like me can make $1.25 a day with around 50,000 pageviews a month (which pays for all my various websites) solely with PW,

    Ramp that up to my traffic — 500,000 pageviews — and that’s only slightly more than my current ad network is getting me.

    Or I could clutter up the site with even more ads — adding PW ads to those already here — and it still wouldn’t make much of a dent in the amount of work to amount of income ratio. Assuming that the extra ads didn’t drive some visitors away.

    Giving up all that would really be the difference between a professional’s site and a hobbyist’s site.

    Exactly. I am a professional film critic. Granted, not many people are making a living from that these days. But the ones who are have an audience. *I* have an audience. There must be some way to make that intersect. Clearly, advertising isn’t it. So I’m trying something else. I hope it works.

  • amanohyo

    JoshDM, my coolest, most artistic, most culturally hip cousin and his awesome, independent film festival-organizing wife live in Austin. That cultural wasteland jab was meant to be a joke. Sorry if I offended anyone in Austin or Chicago, or uh…Kansas City…and New Orleans (San Antonio?).

    I apologize for making the suggestion; just brainstorming, I didn’t mean to be a downer. I used to live in DC, but to get a job I had to move out to the Dakotas for a while. The people here are super nice, but culturally it can feel a bit… bland and homogenous. Someone with MA’s interests and career skills would probably go completely nuts if they were cut off from the writing and entertainment hub that is NY.

  • misterb

    MaryAnn,
    Sincere suggestions:
    Giving up ads will cost you around $200 a month, but if it doesn’t get you at least 250 incremental subscribers, it’s not a good move. I know that I will subscribe because I like your writing, but I don’t care about the ads at all.
    I think you would get more subscriptions if you gave 50$ a month (a quarter of the money you are giving up with ads) for a year to the 5000th subscriber than with your current inducements.
    You can also auction off some access to your viewer base. If an offer of a weekly post got picked up by some of the conservative bloggers, you could be overrun by subscriptions.

    Don’t get discouraged, it might take some experimentation to hit on the right formula to get people to open their pocketbooks. You are by no means unique in having many, many “freeloading” viewers.

  • MaryAnn

    Giving up ads will cost you around $200 a month, but if it doesn’t get you at least 250 incremental subscribers, it’s not a good move.

    Obviously. Which is why I won’t even begin to give up the ads until I hit 2000 subscribers.

    I think you would get more subscriptions if you gave 50$ a month (a quarter of the money you are giving up with ads) for a year to the 5000th subscriber than with your current inducements.

    Giving away the fruits of my labor and expertise isn’t enough? :->

  • MaryAnn

    I apologize for making the suggestion; just brainstorming, I didn’t mean to be a downer.

    No need to apologize. I can get myself plenty down all on my own these days.

    my coolest, most artistic, most culturally hip cousin and his awesome, independent film festival-organizing wife live in Austin.

    But even Austin does not have the same level of access to film that New York or Los Angeles or London do. Harry Knowles gets flown to movie sets from Austin. I would not be. And I wouldn’t want that, anyway.

    And the heat would kill me. :->

  • amanohyo

    @misterb, but then everyone will just wait for us to get close to 5000, which won’t come because they’re all waiting. How about random prizes? (Like Fandango Bucks or DVDs or autographed copies of your book). Or you could go the PBS route and have a tiered system.

    Oooh, we could sponsor reviews like organizations sponsor sections of highways. And at the end of the review, it could say, “this review sponsored by the generous donation of ________.” I’m not talking review requests, just reviews that are already written or ones MA would write anyway.

    Here’s an irregular suggestion: We could all take the Activia challenge and then write them a letter stating that the quality of our pooping has not noticeably improved. And when they send the refund check, boom, we donate the money we saved to MA. (It takes a couple months for the check to arrive, but it’s easy, I’ve already done it twice – the letters are fun to write *don’t tell the Yogurt cops though, I hear those guys are surprisingly rough*).

    That works with any coupon really. Just pretend you didn’t clip the coupon and send the buck you saved to MA. CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid all have stuff every month that you can get cash rebates (or in-store credit coupons) for. Saving that extra dollar a month should be a piece of cake here in the States at least.

  • Victor Plenty

    Giving away the fruits of my labor and expertise isn’t enough?

    Look, I really hate to say this, but haven’t we all learned that it isn’t enough? You want to earn a decent living for all the work you put into this place. Hell, *I* think you deserve more than that. In a just world, you’d be unambiguously filthy stinking rich for building this site.

    But, in the absence of a just world, building a viable business model takes more than such wishful thinking. You’ve got to think in terms of what motivates potential buyers, which is not always exactly the same as what feels right and fair to you.

    If giving away a $50 prize to a randomly selected subscriber gets you at least 51 extra subscribers, it will get you more compensation for your labor and expertise, not less. Business organizations that master those psychological factors are always rolling in money, while organizations that rely on guilt and moral appeals (like, say, Public Broadcasting) seem to always be on the edge of financial oblivion.

    I’m not saying you should completely sell out to the cutthroat culture of the American business world, because that would destroy too much of the intangible value of what you do. But I think you deserve to make a decently comfortable living doing this, and to achieve that, I hope you will be willing to adjust your thinking, and if necessary, adjust it again, until you find something that motivates people to spend their money here.

    Wishing you every success. This is entirely from a place of admiration.

  • Jolly

    I wonder what the donor rate is for PBS?

    (Subscribed, even though Avatar is the only movie I’ve seen in the theater this year.)

  • MaryAnn

    Look, I really hate to say this, but haven’t we all learned that it isn’t enough?

    Yes, I’m aware of this. Hence the smiley.

    If giving away a $50 prize to a randomly selected subscriber gets you at least 51 extra subscribers, it will get you more compensation for your labor and expertise, not less.

    No, it works out to less, actually. If I bring in $51 but have to give away $50, I’ve earned a dollar (actually much less after Paypal/Amazon and the IRS takes its cut). But I’ve given myself more administrative work for that buck.

    I hope you will be willing to adjust your thinking, and if necessary, adjust it again, until you find something that motivates people to spend their money here.

    I’m not sure what makes you think I haven’t been doing that continuously for the 13 years this site has been in existence.

    For one thing, the fewer people demonstrate any willingness to chuck in a couple bucks, the more humiliating it is to actually have to ask. It took a huge adjustment in thinking to even try this.

    The fewer people donate, the more convinced I will be that this site could go away and no one would notice or care.

    I’m open to suggestions. I really am.

    What it really comes down to, though, is: Either this site is valuable to even just a small number of the people who regularly visit it, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, it’s time I learned it now, so I can stop banging my head against the wall.

  • Dokeo

    @MAJ “No, it works out to less, actually. If I bring in $51 but have to give away $50, I’ve earned a dollar (actually much less after Paypal/Amazon and the IRS takes its cut). But I’ve given myself more administrative work for that buck.”

    But that’s only for the first month – if it’s 50 additional subscribers for a year at $1/month, then then the other 11 months are free and clear.

  • Victor Plenty

    The point I’m trying to make (in what I’ll freely admit is not the most skilled manner) is that most people act very differently when asked to donate – no matter how worthy the cause – than they do when offered a chance to buy something they value.

    A few people respond eagerly to a chance to donate. I’m glad you’ve already adjusted your thinking enough to tap into that loyalty in your most devoted readers. I’d like to see you reach a point where you can relax enough to appreciate what a great achievement that is, even if it doesn’t bring in enough revenue (all by itself) to fully support your work.

    I get why you don’t like asking for donations. It’s no picnic to feel humiliated when it seems too few people are willing or able to donate. I’d much prefer to see you enjoy having people eagerly rush to donate, sending you so much money you need help deciding how to spend it all.

    But a flood of donations like that is very rare. I’d hate to see you pin all your hopes on such a rare occurrence, and end up disappointed. It’s much more likely to find crowds of people who will eagerly rush to buy things of perceived value. Even something small, like a chance to win 50 bucks.

    The details of the math are beside the point. Yes, I admit, you’d probably need more than 51 subscribers at $1 each before you’d make money on a $50 prize. What’s important is, if subscribers feel they are buying something more than what they can already get without paying, you will get far more subscribers.

    And that might generate the income you need to survive, and maybe even something close to the much larger amount that you really deserve for your work here.

  • This is why you see so many sites, even very highly trafficked sites, resorting to annoying popup and popunder ads, and even more annoying takeover ads […] and interstitial ads […] Oh, and those infuriatingly distracting in-text ads […]

    I have deliberately avoiding implementing these kinds of obnoxious ads, even though I have been actively courted by advertisers to do so, because I think they degrade the experience of a Web site.

    Just curious, MaryAnn, but if you were hypothetically to implement all these kinds of ads, would it help your financial situation substantially? Because I do visit sites that have them, and while they’re irritating, I still consider them minor annoyances and will stick around if I’m interested in the content (and if it’s content I can’t get anywhere else, like your perspective and the discussions on this site). I haven’t been personally driven away from a site just because of an overabundance of ads; I just kind of mentally swat them away.

    Of course I hope enough viewers subscribe for you to avoid this. But if having lots more ads is a significant help, maybe no one will hold it against you, and maybe few (if any) will be driven away. I don’t have any numbers or studies to back this up; just speculating.

  • It’s much more likely to find crowds of people who will eagerly rush to buy things of perceived value. Even something small, like a chance to win 50 bucks.

    I think this is a good point. NPR asks for donations, but also offers various incentives during the pledge drive: the CD, the cookbook, the tote bag, etc. Maybe book and DVD prizes to randomly picked subscribers who sign up in a given time frame?

    And: any chance some generous viewers might be willing to participate in a dollar-for-dollar match? :-)

    Just throwing out ideas.

  • MaryAnn

    Just curious, MaryAnn, but if you were hypothetically to implement all these kinds of ads, would it help your financial situation substantially?

    Nowhere near as much as this subscription drive will, if it works.

    Of course, I might have to end up running more ads anyway, if the drive doesn’t work. Which will really suck.

    NPR asks for donations, but also offers various incentives during the pledge drive: the CD, the cookbook, the tote bag, etc. Maybe book and DVD prizes to randomly picked subscribers who sign up in a given time frame?

    NPR and PBS give something to *everyone* who donates. I can’t do that. It would entirely defeat the purpose. Maybe a random giveaway will work. I might have to try that too.

    I honestly don’t think it’s unreasonable, though, to expect that a tiny percentage of the readers here will donate. It would be unreasonable that expect all, or half, or even a quarter would. But I’m not hoping for anywhere near that.

  • Victor Plenty

    I honestly don’t think it’s unreasonable, though, to expect that a tiny percentage of the readers here will donate.

    Just to be clear, I’m not calling you unreasonable, MaryAnn. If anything, it’s quite the opposite. You are being eminently reasonable. Your trouble, I fear, arises from living in what is too often an unreasonable social and economic world.

    I’m also not advising you to give up on asking readers to donate. Many will leap at the chance, as you have already seen. This easily gained support will bring you closer to your goal, even if it isn’t enough to get you all the way.

    NPR and PBS give something to *everyone* who donates.

    Many will actually turn down any giveaways or other donation incentives. Many NPR donors are known to do this, wanting their full donation to support the work, which I can verify because I’ve been one of them myself (although it probably cost them a few cents to send me their program guides). So I’d advise you to make this an option, if it doesn’t create too much administrative overhead.

    That way you can focus your giveaway offers on the people who are willing to donate, but just need that little extra nudge to do the right thing.

    To boost the incentive to donate, you could make it like a raffle – the minimum $1/month subscriber level gets one chance to win the drawing, while a $5/month level gets them 5 entries in the drawing, and so on.

    A separate prize drawing for each major milestone in the subscription drive might be a good idea, too. Then donors don’t have to wait until you reach the 5,000 goal. The sooner you hit 2,000 subscribers, the sooner we all get to see the results of the drawing for that milestone. You could also create minor drawings for intermediate milestones. Give away something kinda cool but very inexpensive when you reach 500 or 1,000 subscribers, perhaps.

    Maybe a random giveaway will work. I might have to try that too.

    There are also potential incentives that have no monetary cost to you. The one thing public broadcasting gives to every donor is the good feeling from supporting something worthwhile. You are already giving that to all of your donors right now. Yet you could find ways to boost and magnify that feeling. For example, public radio does that by handing out titles for various levels of support.

    A minimal annual donation makes you a “Basic Member.”
    A modest monthly donation makes you a “Sustaining Member.”
    (In Chicago, apparently, you get to be a “High Fidelity Member” for this.)

    Larger donations receive more impressive titles, such as:
    Leadership Circle
    Producers’ Circle
    Cornerstone Society
    President’s Council

    … and so on.

    All this might sound faintly ridiculous to you, or even distasteful or deceitful. But there’s no reason you can’t make a fun and whimsical game out of it that feels right to you. (NPR has to make donating into Serious Business so the corporate sponsors can satisfy their accountants. You have much more freedom to do things like award quirky and subversive titles to donors who want them, for example. “Grand High Inquisitor” might command a premium price, for example.)

    Offering people a chance to be part of something fun and interesting like that will also greatly boost your chances of success, because of basic human psychology.

    Much like in romantic relationships – where someone who appears confident and successful will more easily attract partners than someone who acts lonely and desperate – in our fiscal decisions we find it much easier to support confidently successful enterprises. Far fewer of us are naturally inclined to throw our resources into the forlorn hope of rescuing a desperate and struggling endeavor.

    I firmly believe that your enterprise here deserves to be presented as a confident and successful one, even now when its financial footing is not as firm as you would like. I sincerely hope you might find some of these suggestions helpful.

    Please accept my apologies for the length of this post. I lack the time to write a shorter one. :)

  • MaryAnn

    You do, know, Victor Plenty, that I’m just one person, right? :->

  • markyd

    Personally, I find it pathetic that someone can’t donate a single freaking dollar a month to help MaryAnn out. No one reading this site is THAT poor.
    I knew you would get a rush of people at first, and then it would slow down. Like I said in a previous post, your “regulars” have no problem helping you out because we’ve been coming here forever and love your site. I think we have a different definition of “regulars”, though. I’m talking about those of us who participate in the conversations going on around here. Who love your viewpoint and get joy and satisfaction out of discussing things with like-minded individuals. I think this is a drastically lower # than the “regular” visitors to the site MaryAnn refers to.
    I just think it’s going to be tougher to accomplish what you are hoping for than you may have thought. People are just too used to not paying for things on the internet.

  • Another idea:

    The prize or giveaway doesn’t have to be something concrete. It can be exclusive access to some content.

    Maybe you could look at whatever regular features on the site get the most views, and decide if it makes sense to charge for them. (In many cases it won’t, of course, but perhaps not in all cases?)

    Maybe a monthly email about stuff that doesn’t make it onto the site (the leftover links?) or stuff you want to talk about that you don’t think is appropriate to the site (e.g. more in-depth views on politics, books, music, personal adventures you’d care to disclose, etc).

    Or exclusive access to your fan fiction.

    Or restrict access to the “love fest” discussions to paying subscribers. Maybe people who feel passionately about a particular show will gladly pay $1/month for a safe space to have intelligent discussions about it with like minds.

    Of course this could involve more cyber-tinkering than it’s worth. Just brainstorming. Disregard what’s not useful… :-)

  • Victor Plenty

    You do, know, Victor Plenty, that I’m just one person, right? :->

    Yes! That’s one of many amazing things about what you’ve accomplished!

    Your site looks and runs better than many others with a large support staff to back up their creative efforts. I’d LOVE to see what you would do with more time to focus on writing, discussion, and community-building. Time which you would get after you can afford to hire someone else, even part time, to manage the technical side of things here.

    Meanwhile I certainly don’t expect you to implement ALL the suggestions I’ve tossed into the ring for your consideration! I’m just trying to add to the variety of ideas at your disposal, hoping that one or two of my suggestions (or of those from anyone else, really) will strike you as acceptable ways to boost your revenue.

    Or even better, that together we may uncover some ideas you’ll find worthwhile on their own merits – things that you would enjoy as enhancements to your work while also boosting revenue. Those always have a better chance of success than dreary burdens that you shoulder only out of grim necessity.

    And you certainly deserve better.

  • Sean Riley

    First of all, totally subscribed. Donationed!

    That said, here’s my depressing thought: I think you’re basically just being a critic when… well, critics aren’t appreciated in general. Age of the social network, death of the expert, etc. etc. In all, I’m unsure that this is a line of work generally viable. I don’t think it’s anything to do with you personally, and I think anyone in roughly the same scenario would have the same problems.

  • Wow. I subscribed yesterday and that red line didn’t budge at all? That’s depressing…

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