The LWN subscription experiment is now three years old. One might well
conclude that it is no longer an "experiment"; it is simply the way LWN
works. This anniversary is as good a time as any to look at how well it is
working, and where we think things might go from here.
LWN currently just over 3100 active subscribers; approximately 1000 more
read LWN by way of group subscriptions. We are pleased that Red Hat
Inc. has recently signed up as a corporate subscriber, as have a few other,
smaller groups. This subscription level is nice to have, but it is very
similar to what we had last year - especially on the individual side. For
the time being, at least, our subscriber level is essentially flat.
Money from subscriptions goes to pay three full-time editors, one very
part-time bookkeeper, health insurance, travel costs, bandwidth, computers,
lawyers (not too often, fortunately), credit card processing fees, and all
the other incidental costs of running a business. LWN currently pays for
no office space, and plans for the procurement of a corporate yacht remain
stalled (which is just as well, considering that a yacht is of limited use
in Colorado). We are pleased that Rackspace.com continues to donate
bandwidth for the main server, that TrustCommerce covers their part of our
credit card fees, and that various sponsors have made it possible for LWN
staff to attend conferences and meetings in distant parts of the world.
The end result, however, is that the current subscription level is not
sufficient for sustainable operation even with the current staff. And LWN
in its current form will not be truly sustainable without at least one
additional staff member. So we must find a way to bring in more revenue to
fund that staff member, raise our payments for outside authors to a more
competitive level, attend (and report on) important free software events,
deal with the long list of site improvement ideas, broaden our coverage,
cope with the next inevitable horrifying health insurance cost increase, and, just
maybe, give a long-delayed raise to the current staff. That might just
make the grumpy editor feel a little better about the world.
We have a long list of ideas on how we might bring about that increase.
Most of them are oriented toward making LWN a more valuable resource and
trying to actively sell LWN subscriptions. One short-term idea
(which we would like feedback on) is increasing the lockout time on
subscription-only content to two weeks, or possibly more. We value our
free readers, and we live for those "I finally decided to subscribe" notes,
but we also have to strike a balance which respects those who are actually
paying for LWN's existence. In the longer term, we may seek some sort of
financing to help grow LWN into a truly sustainable business.
One thing we do not intend to change is our commitment to providing the
net's most comprehensive, accurate, and well-written coverage of the Linux
and free software development communities. That is what LWN set out to do
back in 1997, and we've never seen any reason to try for anything else.
The years in between have been a wild ride, with amazing ups and downs.
But, during that time, Linux has gotten stronger, and we have built up the
best group of readers we could have hoped for. We expect that the coming
years will be just as interesting - and just as successful.
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