Yet Another Site Update

May 30, 2020

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The question keeps coming up in the comments, so I want to address it. This will be a post about the site and future subscriptions and "pay" and such. If you're not interested in that, please skip this one. Lord knows there are better things to be reading about today.

Here's the timeline. I'll try to do this quickly.

February 2009 - I start alioneye dot com. I write for fun for four years.

August 2013 - What started as "write for fun" has become a bit of a financial burden. Hotel rooms, dozens of trips to Champaign per year for games and to cover practice - I'm spending a lot of my own money on my hobby. So I join Brumby at IlliniBoard and we use TinyPass to offer subscriptions. We add other writers, we pay them, we cover our expenses - all is well.

November 2019 - Piano Software announces that they're shutting down TinyPass Go, their "mini" subscription service for small sites like ours. You have to be actually trying to make money or you're not worth their time, apparently. (That's not a dig - I totally get it. They were probably losing money supporting a tiny subscription package like ours. Probably shouldn't have named it TinyPass, though.) So, we're going to need a new subscription service. Brumby has some ideas, he starts working on it, but we decide that a change-over right on January 1st would be way too hectic. Give it a month, let us work out all the subscription rollover (active subscriptions needed to move over to the new service), and we'll roll it out on February 1.

Mid-January 2020 - My wife gets the "would you be interested in a job in central Illinois?" call from her former manager. This changes every timeline, so Brumby and I make February free as well. I leave my job, I announce that I'm moving to Champaign in mid-February, and Brumby and I begin working on a new subscription structure - one that makes IlliniBoard dot com my full-time job.

Mid-March 2020 - We have the subscription structure worked out. We decide to launch mid-March. The target: the day after Selection Sunday. I'll go to the Big Ten Tournament, show everyone what 24-hour Illini coverage will look like on the site, and then that Monday we'll put up the new subscription packages. I'll then travel to cover the NCAA Tournament and this thing is off and running. Can't remember what, but something happened globally which made all of that not happen.

So now I've quit my job, there's no sports, and there's no way we can start offering subscriptions. At least not in good conscience. Nobody needs to pay for "13 ways to view Lovie's recruiting as not half bad!" articles, so I'm just in a holding pattern. I now live in Champaign with nothing to do besides tinker with this podcast stuff until I get it right and launch it.

There's another important piece on information here which I haven't shared. I was going to talk about it when we launched the subscriptions but I might as well just toss it out there now. It's this: we don't have the subscription expiration dates for all current subscribers. I'll explain what that means.

TinyPass shuts down. They give us all of our data. Here's the current subscribers, here's when they subscribed, here's their email addresses. We will take that, notify each subscriber individually, and tell them "here's your current subscription which runs until July 13th, here's how to log in, when July 13th gets here, here's how to renew under the new service". That will work for anyone who subscribed for the first time in the last year. But for anyone who subscribed between 2013 and 2018 and then renewed (even if they only renewed once), we don't have that renewal date. All we have is the original subscription date.

An example. Kevin subscribes in August of 2015 because he can't get enough of Tim Beckman's final Camp Rantoul. He notices that his subscription ran out the next August but he doesn't renew until mid-September. The following year he let's it expire but renews once basketball starts in November. Let's say Kevin's most recent renewal was in December of 2019. So he has paid for a full year - until December 2020. Our data? Our data only tells us that Kevin originally subscribed on August 9th (in 2015). We have no idea when his current subscription runs out. He paid $24 in December of 2019 for a full year of coverage, so he must receive that.

So, basically, with our entire subscriber base, we have treat it as if every single person renewed on December 31, 2019. There's no other way to do it. If someone's subscription ran out on January 5th, there's no way for us to know. Brumby and I decided in March that when we launch, all existing subscribers will simply be auto-extended until December 31st. That way we know that every single year-long subscription has been fulfilled.

We should pause here to laugh at my plan to quit my job and write full time:

  • Leave job on February 14th.
  • Plan to launch subscriptions March 16th, global pandemic hits.
  • Now live in Champaign but athletic facilities are silent.
  • Once subscriptions do launch, entire current subscriber base will need to receive free subscriptions until December 31.

That last one is a bit of an exaggeration. Because we originally launched subscriptions in late August, the vast majority of renewals happen in September and October. So the majority of that "subscriber base" paid last September and October and deserve their coverage until September or October of this year. If anything, without sports, they're not getting what they paid for.

So while I like to joke about it (some day I'll laugh that I attempted to launch this NOW), it's not some big financial burden. If Covid never happened and we launched on March 16th, the majority of the current subscriber base would just wait until November when their subscription is up and then renew at that time. Pushing all subscribers to December 31st probably isn't that big of a deal.

The main issue: that number of subscribers, at that cost, will not make this a career for me. It would just remain in the "hobby" category and I'd need to go find a job here in Champaign. So it's going to have to cost more, and I'm going to have to double or triple the number of subscribers. That's what will determine if I sink or swim.

And because of THAT, I'm still resisting all of your "just put up a tip jar and let us pay you during this time" comments. I get it, and I understand it, and I'm grateful for it, and I've even emailed with a few of you about it (to the point where I talked to Brumby about how we would set that up), but every time I come back to this: I'm going to be asking people to invest in me soon. If college football moves ahead this fall, that "soon" will happen in two months (meaning, we'll launch the subscription structure). This whole thing (leaving my job to do this full time) will hinge on that agreement between you, the reader, and me, the writer. If enough of you say "yeah, that's worth it to me", then this will work. If not, it won't.

Because that conversation will happen soon - because I'm going to look you in the eye and ask you to invest in this whole thing - I just don't feel right about a tip jar that helps you show appreciation for what I've been writing these past five months. I'm totally OK doing it for free if it allows us to have that conversation in late July. I really only want to have one conversation about you paying me in 2020, and I want that to happen when the subscription tiers are launched. If there's college football, that launch will happen in late July. If there's no college football, I'll probably wait out the full year and then I'm free and clear of all one-year subscriptions paid for in 2019 and we can begin anew.

And I should note: for those who subscribed between May 31 last year and January 1, it's not "free". You're getting what you paid for. Someone noted in one of the comments that I've been writing for five months without getting paid, and that's not true. People pay for a full year, and that's what I'm providing.

OK, I think that's about it. Please know that I really appreciate many of you saying "let me pay you" in the comments. That's what I've always wanted this to be. "Here's what your hard work is worth to me". I hate clickbait and "top 7 Illini quarterbacks between 2012 and 2015" listicles and everything else about the way people put sports words on the internet. I want it to be a roadside stand where you see the trinkets I've assembled (articles) and determine that you'd like to purchase them.

So if you're one of those whose subscription has expired and you're getting these articles for free, please see these last 5 months as me giving you a preview of the trinkets I'm going to sell soon. And please save your money until then, because you're really going to get tired of me asking you for it.


SactownIllini on May 30, 2020 @ 12:45 PM

Thanks for the update, Robert! Makes me feel better that you have a plan to start getting paid more. Your articles have been such a great source of happiness since the rest of the internet is so boring now. I can only read so much about the pandemic or celebrity games of horse. Luckily my kids and I started playing Pokemon Go and it's been a lot of fun.

The most amazing thing I've learned from this article is that I've been reading your site almost every single day since the alioneye days. I had no idea it's been so long. As far as I see I have a vested interest in your success in this venture because there's no better source for analysis of Illini sports than your site. And your writing style is so engaging. I can't even stand to read some other Illini sites. And when I start commuting again, I'm sure I'll be all over your podcast.

I wish you and yours the best in riding this out and I look forward to re-subscribing!

ktcesw on May 31, 2020 @ 06:29 AM

Love your articles! So happy that you are continuing! This really does need to be your full time job and you should be well compensated!!

uilaw71 on May 31, 2020 @ 07:37 AM

Who even knows what their renewal dates were? Tinypass was so maniacally difficult that - but for the value of your writing - many would have taken a Big Pass. I kid, but not entirely. Your loyal base will support you. Just make the ask sufficient. And while you have the spare time, spend some of it with Tate and his buds. Their long suffering perspective will enhance your understanding of all things Illini.

Gadwallgetter on May 31, 2020 @ 08:08 AM

I agree that Tinypass was hard to figure out from the user side for sure. So Robert when we log in it says “Member since March 05...” in our information. I assume that is the same info you have then? Funny how it tells you what time I became a member (12:21pm for me), but not the year. I appreciate your stance on all of this, but I hope when you start all this you give us the option to sign up before our existing “subscription” runs out if nothing else. Thanks for what you do!

San Joaquin on May 31, 2020 @ 12:03 PM

You run an above board operation, Robert. If there is a way to allow people to sign up for longer than a year when this thing launches, please ask Brumby if he could make that happen.

PacNW Illini on May 31, 2020 @ 04:30 PM

Robert, I see your line of thinking, and I commend you for being transparent and above-board as you run your business. It is commendable and sadly, not always the norm. This stated, Is there a way to sign up prior to December 31st? I for one view what you post as having value and I can't remember if I signed up in the first, second, third, or fourth quarter. If it would be helpful to have people sign on for the next year or two at this juncture, I'd be game to do so. I'd rather see you continue and be whole than save 37% of $24 (for example).

Robert on June 1, 2020 @ 09:03 AM

All current subscribers will get their subscription (access to every article) extended until December 31st. All non-subscribers (either former subscribers who let their subscription lapse before Jan 1 this year or new subscribers) can just sign up at that time. And if current subscribers want to support the site during that time where their subscription is extended, there will be a way to do that as well.

PacNW Illini on June 1, 2020 @ 03:12 PM

Great. Thanks Robert

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