Esprix (esprix) wrote,
Esprix
esprix

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My thoughts on the SDMB going pay

Yesterday I ponied up my $4.95 for a year subscription to The Straight Dope Message Boards, an online bulletin board I've been heavily involved in since January 2000, wherein I made a name for myself by starting a series of threads called "Ask The Gay Guy."

I haven't been posting or reading a lot since I got home after my dad died. His death certainly put the slowdown on my hecticness in general, and G'con ate up the rest of my life - hell, I've been having a hard enough time keeping up with my own journal. Still, I love love love the Dope, love the people I've met in person and interact with online, and even went to the latest San Diego dopefest a couple of weeks ago. I have no intention of leaving, and I'm sure my participation will pick up after G'con.

As of yesterday, however, the Dope went pay - $4.95 per year if you sign up before April 21 (with half price renewals for the rest of time), or $14.95 per year after April 21. This had been discussed several times over the past few years as the Chicago Reader, the folks who own and run the board, bandied about ways to make the Dope sustain itself financially (and I have no doubt it costs way too much money to run something that I'm sure gives them little to no return; in fact, probably takes away quite a bit). They announced that after considering many other suggested options (voluntary donations, members buying banner ads, being able to pay for some software perks that are otherwise not available, etc.) they decided to go pay-to-post. Anyone can continue to read the boards, but you will now only get a one-month free trial subscription and then you have to pay (and you do get some perks for it other than posting privileges as well).

Needless to say there has been a huge uproar over this - some saying it's about time, some saying $5 is the best bargain ever, some grousing but paying anyway, some people saying they do not have any money to spare, some people stating they won't fork over (or don't have) a credit card or sign up for PayPal, and quite a few who refuse to subscribe on principle.

My opinion? In the end, going subscription will kill the spirit of the boards.

I understand the principle camp. There are precious few things I would ever consider paying for online, since there is so much out there that's available for free. Pay to get into the New York Times archives? Bah. Pay to subscribe to an e-mail list? No way. Pony up the buckage to see Brandon Lee's porn website? Oh, well, in that case... ;) Knowing that, and knowing that is not a unique attitude, I seriously doubt new people will follow through, even if they enjoy the boards. It's those of us who have been around for a while that know what a value that $5 is, but someone who is only around for a month won't get that (although if they lurk for a while I hope they do get to see that even if they can't directly participate).

But therein lies the problem. If, like I suspect, most folks either won't stick around past that first month, or won't on principle pay the $15 fee, then even if they're reading, they're not participating, and that, IMHO, is what's going to kill the boards. We thrive on new input, new ideas, new points of view, new blood, and without it, I fear the worst. Paying to post will curtail participation just enough that things will turn stale, which of course will turn into a nasty spiral - stale content means people won't want to subscribe which means there will be even more stale content.

It also seems to me that if people are only there free for a month we may be innundated with fly-by-night posters who come in, contribute, and then disappear when their time is up. Also not great for stimulating, long-term quality.

Now some people will say we're already there, that people post drive-by threads in General Questions all the time and never return, or people who come and only stay for a short time before disappearing. I'll say that's true. But out of the ones that end up staying and contributing, I fear that that small percentage of people will be cut even smaller because they won't subscribe.

I'll also say that I think the Reader was extremely shortsighted in not pursuing other avenues of income that were suggested by members and were perfectly viable. On top of that, Ed has flat-out said that they will not promise that at least some of the money they make from subscriptions won't be used to upgrade the hardware to make the boards run faster (although with less people posting on a long-term basis, no doubt overall speed and efficiency will improve), although they're "hopeful." That's ridiculous. What a slap in the face to those of us who not only contribute to the board to make it worth subscribing to in the first place, but are actually willing to pay for the honor of doing so. It's a scam in that aspect and I don't care for it.

I feel very strongly that they should have gone the route of LiveJournal - you pay for some extra perks, including faster servers and access to more features, but the very basics are available to everyone, and not just for a limited time.

I smell bullshit all over the place, but I still love the Dope and the people on it, so I paid up and I'll give it a try and do my part and hope for the best, even though I think this was such a huge, huge mistake.
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