The Future of AAC, morganscloud.com—Part 1

aac

Phyllis wrote about the process of life re-evaluation that we are going through. Obviously the future of this web site is entwined with that process and so we thought it would be a good idea to share our thinking about the site and its future with you, our readers:

AAC History

We started Attainable Adventure Cruising (AAC) as a simple home page to keep our friends and family up to date with our travels. Talk about the hobby that got out of hand!

AAC Today

Eleven years later:

  • Phyllis and I spend an average of about twenty-five hours a week, between us, creating content and maintaining the site. I’m not sure what Colin’s time commitment is, but it’s substantial.
  • Two years ago we spent three person-months porting the site over to the WordPress content management platform.
  • The three of us (Phyllis, Colin, and John) have created over 550 separate posts of original content. It’s important to emphasise the original content aspect. At many web sites, much, or even most, of the content is commentary on content created by others—they take in each other’s laundry.
  • About 25,000 readers visit the site each month and read some 50,000 pages. About 100,000 different people visited the site last year. Comparable readership to  many sailing magazines.
  • Since we migrated to WordPress, traffic has doubled every year.
  • An extremely smart and experienced group of readers have contributed some 4000 comments in the last two years, adding immeasurably to the value of the site.
  • The site is now owned and published by our limited liability company, Attainable Adventure Cruising Ltd.
  • We seem to have a tiger by the tail with the Adventure-40.
  • The site has developed real authority and clout in the marine industry.

AAC Finances

We believe in transparency, so here is the site’s financial situation:

  • The site has no income. The logos in the right side bar are those of companies that have helped us out with discounts or free products over the last 5 years, but the total amount of benefit is less than US$5000 and there is no ongoing revenue. Oh, and we did make just over $100 in Amazon referral fees over the last six months.
  • We finance the AAC site out of the modest revenue of The Norwegian Cruising Guide. While the AAC expenses are not huge, they are growing every year as the site expands, both in features and traffic.
  • Our expenditures on computers and camera equipment are substantial and most of our usage of that gear is in creating content for this site.
  • The AAC site contributes almost no traffic that results in sales of the Norwegian Cruising Guide.
  • We have been advised that we and the company should have liability insurance and that will add substantially to the expenses.
  • We tried a donation button about two years ago. No donations were made in the two weeks the button was displayed.
  • Since we have no interest in actually building boats, there is no clear path to making the Adventure-40 a revenue generator for AAC Limited.

Personal Aspects

Phyllis and I really enjoy creating content for the site and publishing it. We love the creative process, the focus, and the purpose it gives us. We also treasure the community that has grown up around the site and our connection to you, our readers. (I assume Colin feels the same way, since he has produced thousands of words of great content for AAC without getting paid a penny, but it would be presumptuous of me to include him in the above paragraph.)

The Future

We have lots of ideas for great new content and features for the site that we will be rolling out in the next year. And we should have more time to focus on AAC since we are nearing the end of the gargantuan task of publishing a new edition of the Norwegian Cruising Guide. Also, we are not planning any aggressive and time consuming cruises, like last year’s to the Arctic, for at least two years, further freeing us to focus on AAC.

The 800-Pound Gorilla in The Room

I’m sure most of you have figured out where this is going by now. More on that in Part 2.

Comments

If you have any thoughts or questions on any of this, please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

51 comments… add one
  • Lou Jun 12, 2012, 9:00 am

    Excellent synopsis – very eloquently put John.
    What you guys are able to achieve with the resources you have is truly amazing. The standard of writing (and commentary response) is better than many magazines, so long may it continue – in whatever form it needs to be, to be sustainable.
    Looking forward to Part Two…

  • Chris Jun 12, 2012, 9:22 am

    John,
    As you lean toward monetization, three things you might want to consider — based on some IT consulting I did for two large organizations before hauling our docklines aboard and setting off. Both had severely damaged their reader base by monetizing via subscription.

    1 “Information wants to be free” reaches far beyond the intellectual property rights discussion. There is so much free, quality content out there that fee for content is a very steep ramp to climb. The readership becomes very demanding — very much out of proportion to the fee.

    2 Instituted for even a short period as a test, fee for content can damage readership permanently [and impact advertiser enthusiasm]. One organization lost a third of its base almost overnight.

    3 Advertising isn’t bad. You folks have tremendous cred and existing and new readers won’t punish you for caveated advertising.

    Given the internet advertising model is based on clicks and views, you might want to run your site stats through a revenue predictor. All clicks and views are not equal. [A photo gallery or slideshow may generate a “view” per image, but it will be registered as a single click by most ad revenue software.]

    Finally, as this is longer than I intended, I would suggest you look into the evolving world of micro-payments. There isn’t enough of this going on yet for the statistics to be useful, but given the improved automation of the payments process, it appears to have some growing traction. Although a third party payments manager will add cost.

    Good Luck, Chris

  • Matt Marsh Jun 12, 2012, 11:57 am

    Re. original content:
    This is what I love about AAC. So much of the Internet these days is either inane garbage or rewrites of other people’s rewrites of press releases. You folks keep coming up with good original work, and I learn something new with pretty much every post.

    Re. funding the site:
    This is not easy! A server that can handle 50k pv/month is not free. Cameras, laptops and network connections aren’t free. The authors’ time is worth something, even if they aren’t taking home any pay from it. Yet, as Chris mentioned, subscription / fee-for-content models usually fail. Ads, too, are not really effective anymore, as most users are either blind to them or actively block them. Demand Media’s model suggests that, to be fully ad-supported, a site can’t spend more than about $15 per article, and you just can’t generate quality content on that kind of budget.

    So I’m very curious to see what you folks come up with…

  • Paul Mills Jun 12, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Dear John, Phyllis and Colin,

    I am the worlds second biggest fan of AAC – actually, that’s a lie – I am the first, but hate to sound boastful 🙂 . AAC is the only site or magazine that I follow full time.

    For quite along time now I have been amazed at the level of work and expertise that you all put into AAC. Part of me has wondered how you manage to finance things, create the necessary time (I guess none of you watch drivel TV…) and what function the production and maintenance of the site fulfills for each of you – because I am eternally curious about other peoples motivation, values and how they lead fulfilling lives.

    I take on board and agree with the comments above; and also, for my part I would happily pay a significant monthly fee, to acces your stuff and expertiese, and if I had spotted the donation button I certainly would have used it. I will also buy a Norwegian Cruising Guide, just before I go to Norway …. though have not decided in which format!

    I recognise that the A40 could easily be a snowballing project – as well as an interesting and exciting one, and have expressed my interest in supporting it.

    I hope that part 2 will come soon and am keen to find out what your thinking is….. and if there is any way that I can help you feel able to maintain this sites status as number one.

    Paul Mills

  • John Jun 13, 2012, 7:38 am

    Hi Lou, Chris, Matt and Paul,

    First off, thanks very much for the kind comments. While you have quite correctly divined the purpose of this post, it is that kind of appreciation that keeps us publishing, far more than any chance of future income.

    Second, what a great collection of insights! In writing this post, it was my hope that by leaving things open it would inspire you, our readers, to help us figure this out. It seems to be working, thank you. We see AAC as a community, and like any community, if it is to survive and prosper many members need to be engaged, rather than just us, in setting the course.

    We have deliberately not engaged on individual comments as we don’t want to steer the conversation, but rest assured that we are listening and learning.

  • Jean-François Jun 13, 2012, 9:42 am

    Dear John, Phyllis and Colin,

    I believe everybody will agree on the level of expertise you can find on AAC. The way Paul Mills express it is very eloquent…

    I sincerely hope you will be overwelhmed by large numbers of people saying the same thing…

    I’m like Paul. Expertice has a value. I pay for a sailing magazine, I’m ready to pay for “an AAC magazine”…

    Is it helpfull to ask people who feel the same way to express it ?
    Would it give you an idea of numbers ?

    AAC is made by you for your readers not for yourself…
    We, readers, should all be aware of that… and gratefull

    Let me finish with a copy/paste of Paul Mills :
    “If there is any way that I can help you feel able to maintain this sites status as number one.”

    Jean-François

  • bernard douteau Jun 13, 2012, 10:04 am

    The integrity of the research and information is for me a cornerstone of AAC. I have verified more than once in having
    made purchase choices after reading your searches. It might be true that having to pay a membership fee might hurt that perception.
    However I would imagine that paying for access to the library but not the weekly editorial would not bother anybody serious and engaged enough in sailing pursuits. I am a dedicated fan and will happily follow along any decision you make (ending the site is not an option!) good luck

  • Robert Reyes Jun 13, 2012, 10:16 am

    Dear John:

    Whatever your decision, I will support your site. It was your commentary/advice that prompted me to ditch my CQR, and go all chain with an oversize Manson Supreme. First night out in a confined anchorage ( Ochebee and Eagle Island ) in Maine we woke up to a 180 degree shift. It reset and held within 4 feet of our original position.

    You might wish to revisit the ” Donate Button” concept. Two weeks might not be long enough to attract the readers who value quality. I visited the below site three times before I realized they were accepting contributions; I made a small donation.

    http://www.pbase.com/mainecruising/boat_projects

    Thank

    robert

  • Heather Holm Jun 13, 2012, 10:18 am

    There are WordPress plugins that allow you to have both free content and premium or paid content. They integrate neatly with payment providers such as PayPal.

    The free content would allow you to continue to attract readership and use the great SEO advantage of WordPress.

    For paid content, you can write your excerpt, and the “Read more…” link will take the user to an invitation to register or log in.

    The people who are serious enough about sailing to buy technical books and magazines will be happy to pay an annual amount for access to the more technical information.

    Armchair sailors will still be happy.

    I’ve been working on such a site for a client and tried a couple of plugins. The one I kept is s2Member.

    Heather

  • Scott Jun 13, 2012, 11:45 am

    I’d go for the micro subscription model. If the 25,000 figure you give is for unique readers, at a $1 per month, that’s a pretty good chunk of change. I’d certainly be willing to pay a buck for the excellent content and intelligent commentary I find here every few days.

  • Giancarlo Jun 13, 2012, 11:49 am

    Hi AAC,
    with the amount of money i spent on sailing magazine full of advertisements i can now probably buy a small boat so why not support an indipendent blog written by friends with money yes money.
    With subscriptions we can also test some new equipment and have real indipendent reports.
    But, whatever course you plan to stear ,grazie.
    Giancarlo

  • Ernie Jun 13, 2012, 12:30 pm

    Bette and I have valued your site during the many years of Iemanja’s refit and will continue to do so now that she has been launched.

    The information that you both have provided to us regarding refit ideas, seamanship, navigation, and on and on has a value to us which far outweighs that of the sailing magazines that we subscribe to.

    Bottom line for us is that we would gladly subscribe to an AAC site. Your site has a tremendous value and considering that most of us will spend more on a night out with our family than the potential cost of a subscription…..I believe you both have done a great job of qualifying your readership and will not loose many if you choose this route.

    Which ever tack you follow, thank you once again for your guidance.

    Ernie & Bette
    S/V Iemanja
    BTV

  • RDE Jun 13, 2012, 12:33 pm

    Hi John, Phyllis, & Colin,

    I second the many comments pointing to the exceptional resource that you have created through your work building the AAC site.

    Two suggestions;
    1- Before converting to a pay-for-information format do your research! My impression is that the model only works when you are selling one of the standard on-line drugs— greed (stock investment advice) or lust (on-line dating)! My guess is that a site consisting of teasers plus paid links to useful information will simply kill traffic.
    2-Advertising: High volume nitche sites are what every internet advertising guru says you should try to build. There are tested values placed on traffic volume, and by those metrics you have a valuable piece of internet real estate. The question is, how do you monetize it?

    What do cruisers really need, especially those who are adventure cruisers? First thing that comes to mind is gear and equipment of course, but that is not an unpopulated nitche. If I were doing it I’d build a separate, simple review site where I could be free to be a commercial whore, selling whatever pays for affiliate sales leads!

    What does every long-distance cruiser who has cast off the dock lines need? A reliable, predictable source of income! There are hundreds of possibilities in this space, but let me just discuss one. For most cruisers their shore-side nest egg is their home and perhaps a few rental properties they accumulated during their working careers. We all know how well that has worked out over the past few years! Even in normal times real estate is ill-liquid, requires maintenance, and is subject to price risk if it is leveraged. Not the ideal investment if you are half a world away!
    Even though you might agree with Warren Buffet’s lieutenant Charlie Munger that gold is a remnant of the middle ages, the fact remains that it has doubled in value since 2008, and tripled if you go a few years further back. (and out-performed Berkshire Hathaway!) No roofs to repair, no tenants who lock their Dobermans in the bathroom! And instant liquidity anywhere in the world—an ideal cruisers’ store of wealth.
    So how does this relate to putting AAC on a profit making footing? As an affiliate advertiser for the leading seller of physical gold AAC would earn 50% of the sales commission, which could easily generate a $1,000 -$10,000 profit when a cruiser decides to put their savings into gold rather than real estate.

    So my conclusion: Rather than chase away viewers by charging them for information, hire a good affiliate marketing manager on a percentage basis to monetize the advertising potential of the site.

  • John Armitage Jun 13, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Hi John and Phyllis, as co-author of the Norwegian Cruising Guide II Edition, I have been thrilled to see the fantastic job you have done in extending and improving it over the last dozen years. And also to see the evolution of your great website. Even as a ‘land cruiser’ I continue to enjoy your website, and I’d be glad to participate financially however you decide might work best.

    Before switching from PC to Mac, I was a paid subscriber to Windows Secrets, and their model seemed to work well although I have no idea how much income it generated. As a non-paying subscriber one gets the first half of their frequent reports, and as an annual paying subscriber one gets more. As I remember the annual fee is up to the subscriber, no fixed amount is required; I felt this encouraged generosity and subscription.

  • John Jun 13, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Hi All,

    Wow, this is amazing. Despite the fact that Phyllis and I have been brain storming about this for over two years, this comment stream contains all sorts of information and insights that we had not thought of.

    Thanks very much, and please keep it coming. We are carefully reading every word as we work on a strategy.

  • Westbrook Jun 13, 2012, 3:33 pm

    John & Phyllis—
    It was a lucky day for me 5 (?) years ago when Wolfgang Reuter was unavailable and you called me as his substitute Annapolis, MD, OCC port officer. Cindy & I have enjoyed your visits, and I the AAC website—though (or perhaps because) a number of the technical and equipment postings go beyond what I ever am likely to need or use in my more limited sailing life. Or even beyond what I am able to understand (think the posts on AMG batteries). You provide me with vicarious enjoyment of experiences that I never shall have personally (though I’m not sure that enjoyment is the right word for standing watch in the Arctic night with a 10 ft. pole to push away the ice floes). In sum, if you enjoy maintaining the AAC website half as much as I do reading it, then I enjoy it twice as much as you.

    So I hope that we may continue through the website to continue our long distance friendship, and if I’m guilty of too much take and not enough give, then I’ll step up on my end.

    Best regards to you both.

  • Bill Balme Jun 13, 2012, 5:03 pm

    I’m a newcomer to AAC but have enjoyed many of the articles and posts already. It clearly takes a lot of time to keep such an informative site up and running, new and interesting, and monitored to ensure improper comments are kept to a minimum. (I have my own small sailing blog which is difficult to keep fresh – the AAC is on a whole different level.)

    I would imagine – especially having seen the comments to this article – that a large number of your regular readers would be willing to ante up something, but there are certainly some pitfalls to up front fee route. You run the risk of offending and drying up attendance as has been stated – but you’ll probably also drive away many newcomers – just at a time that I think you’re trying to assist newcomers with the Model T project.

    I’d consider three courses of action:

    1. Try the donate button again. When you launched the donate button last time, did it suddenly appear – or did you announce it adequately? Seems like you’ve just made a wonderful announcement and a great case for another trial of the donate button and many people have indicated support – see what happens this time.
    2. Alternatively, keep the main forum open to Joe public, but archive it from time to time into a fee required area. People could see what the site is about and get interested in particular information – for which they are willing to pay.
    3. Get some help to keep the thing alive – spread the burden. Find some other folk out there to write some of the articles and/or monitor the conversations… It would perhaps be especially interesting (if you dare) to take on someone that doesn’t necessarily share your opinion on things… Good debate is always interesting…

    Good luck with it.

  • Peter Jun 13, 2012, 6:13 pm

    First and foremost I what to thank you for what you have created here. Nothing short of amazing.

    Thoughts on how to make this work financially:
    1. I am, like many others, not too optimistic of traditional pay for content models.
    2. However… Even though I really love reading your articles, I almost enjoy reading comments (and having the opportunity to post comments and questions to the community) just as much.

    Maybe the articles could continue to be free, but in order to be able to take part of the wealth of knowledge provided by the community by using and reading comments, you would need a membership (fee based). So the community aspect (high value to me) is for sale.

    Still some articles may come with published comments (still no possibility for making comments though) even for non-paying readers just to make it obvious how much value is in there, for marketing purposes.

    My ideas are based on the observation that most comments (also in this post) are made by a relatively small subset of the numbers of visitors you mention. They are also the ones that are most likely to happily pay for such a membership and by doing that, add the value you could sell. Maybe it feels weird selling the content they generate rather than what you are generating, but on the other hand they get your input for free.

    For me, this would be a setup that I would seriously consider paying for. If next time I visited this site, there was a more traditional “all or nothing” model, or even “watered out teasers vs. paid indepth articles” I am almost ashamed to admit that I may well choose to google my way to other (mostly inferior) sites.

    Maybe you could separate articles more clearly so that some invited more to dialog and collaboration (where you really want to be able to dicuss), alternated with more traditional tests and articles that are more “closed” by nature even though comment may still be possible. That is already the case, although currently more by chance than by design?

    I don’t know, just an idea… But the fact that I was able to post it is the beauty of it! 🙂

  • vince bossley Jun 13, 2012, 10:29 pm

    Whatever you do (bearing in mind Phyllis’s earler comments) don’t sell the site! That would be the fastest way to oblivion for a site of this superb quality.
    The time you all have invested in AAC to date may not have been financially rewarded, but it needs to be recognised now that for this quality to continue, recompense for the ongoing input has to be addressed.
    If your regulars (community) are serious they will have no compunction to sign up for a $10 annual subscription. If in the event only 50% sign up you have yourself a substantial revenue stream. Carry out a survey ahead of time.
    The trick is going to be to get them to click on the button and sign. Nothing catches folks attention like FREE and first time up you could, for example, look to offering a free download ebook of an expanded ‘What Really Matters’.
    Commercialisation I know, but top knowledge from folks such as yourselves has monetary value and I think, unlike the battle over whether news should be paid for on the net, you will be pleasantly surprised at the response from your community.

  • vince bossley Jun 13, 2012, 10:34 pm

    p.s. Check out sail-world.com to see how they generate revenue from their rolling advertisements

  • Deb Jun 14, 2012, 12:54 am

    I’m really surprised that no one has pushed the Adventure 40 as a way out of this for you. I know you said you don’t want to build boats, but it seems to me that any boat builder worth their salt (pardon the pun) would be really eager to capture the buyer interest in this project that you’ve created. I would think that there would be a way to work a commission deal or residual income percentage deal of some sort with a boat builder that would continue to support the site. It would be great exposure for them in advertising as well. Have you thought about approaching any of them yet?

    Deb
    S/V Kintala
    http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

  • Antoni Campins Jun 14, 2012, 4:31 am

    AAC is the only sailing text that I read in full as soon as I get it and is an ocean away from the market oriented sailing magazines. Every word in it distilles real experiences and an acute mind. What you have done is unique on the web and a truly amazing achievement that has expended mouth to ear. There is not much to add to what has already been said, but I am ready to offer any kind of support to keep it alive and going. Please do not stop it.

  • Scott Jun 14, 2012, 8:37 am

    Just wanted to add another thought. A number of on-line newspapers, the NY Times and LA Times for starters, have instituted monthly free access limits. That is, you get to read a certain number of articles (10 or 20, not sure) for free every 30 days, after which your access to other than the home page is blocked: when you click on an article you get a message asking you to subscribe. I will say that I find this very annoying, but it is a way of getting new readers interested in the site. I did end up subscribing to the LA Times at $4.99 a week (which I think is high).

    I think a modification of this scheme might work well and be less annoying, and that would be to make all recent articles free, let’s say within 30 days of publication. Outside of that window, a reader would have to subscribe. That way, you’d be able to attract new readers, but they would have to pay to access the bulk of the information on the site. I’d still keep subscription fees very low, though, so it would be a decidedly impulse buy.

  • John Jun 14, 2012, 9:53 am

    Hi All,

    What a great group of readers you are to put so much time and great creativity into solving this issue. Thank you!

    Please keep it coming. Even if your thoughts are very much in line with a previous comment, they have value.

  • Matt Marsh Jun 14, 2012, 10:53 am

    Re. archiving content behind a paywall:
    Although possible, this can be tricky. URLs must be persistent for the entire life of a site- if old links start breaking, it becomes impossible for other sites to send visitors your way. (Newspapers often break article URLs after a week or a month, then can’t figure out why their site traffic and revenue are plummeting.)

    Re. supporter subscriptions:
    Cruisersforum.com and arstechnica.com are doing this; the sites are still free, but active supporters can choose to contribute and they get a shiny acknowledgement on their profile (and maybe some bonus content). I don’t know exactly how much revenue it brings in, but it does seem to work. I’d bite, if you did this.

    Re. Adventure 40:
    John, if this project were to go ahead, I’d hope you’d be part of the design team, in which case you’d share in the design team’s royalties. It may take a while before the boat’s ready to be sold, though.

  • Jeffrey Siegel Jun 14, 2012, 11:48 am

    Almost all the suggestions above provide features of what you should do: Put in a donate button; Charge a subscription; Don’t charge a subscription; Get advertising; Build the boat…

    That’s the wrong way to figure out what to do. The right way is to step back and honestly look at the benefits that you can provide and the first step of that is deciding who the customer is. That isn’t obvious here at all and is usually a very complex problem to figure out.

    Whatever the conclusion, you can guarantee that it will take significantly longer to monitize than you expect and will be much more difficult to accomplish and get exposure for than you anticipate. There’s no quick solution that provides real value unless you’re incredibly lucky. And luck and hope aren’t business plans.

    I know that all sounds negative but it’s realistic. On the positive side, you guys have incredible experience, contacts, and desire.

    I personally think you’re thinking too much in a 1998 way and are leaning too much toward the spent, biased, and failed models of magazines, especially boating ones. The opportunities are all out there because few have looked past copying what has already been done before.

    There’s real gold in front of you. Don’t let distractions steer you away from finding it. Think benefits.

  • Dave Benjamin Jun 14, 2012, 12:52 pm

    This is one of the best sites on the web. I’d like to see it continue in present fashion. Let us know how we can help support your efforts. I totally understand the need for monetization.

  • Ken Page Jun 15, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I have nothing to add other than I love your site, top notch subject matter and top notch comment threads.

  • Westbrook Jun 15, 2012, 1:28 pm

    John— A personal suggestion: You started the AAC website because you enjoyed it. Wonderful. But, if it’s taking to much of your time and has become chore instead of a joy, then quit. As these posts show, I and many others would miss this exchange of ideas, but that’s insufficient reason to keep you chained to a task you may no longer relish. And we’ll continue to love you and Phyllis and value your friendship—just not as often.

    • John Jun 15, 2012, 1:35 pm

      Hi Westbrook,

      Wow, I never said that! Look at the “Personal Aspects” paragraph in the original post. What I said was the exact opposite. We love working on the site.

      • Westbrook Jun 15, 2012, 2:53 pm

        My bad.

  • Si jones Jun 15, 2012, 4:16 pm

    John and Phylis
    We are planning to follow in your footsteps and although you were not the original inspiration we came across your site soon after we made the decision. You have added momentum to our plans and importantly some very important insights and perspective. There is nothing else out there that comes close to the value of what you generate.

    So, to the problem of making money (or covering costs). The siren call of ‘monetising’ the site could well destroy what you have created so please think very carefully, as I know you will, before the advertising or paid content. As with many other posters, I missed the ‘donate’ button and would have happily clicked it. This is, in my opinion, the lowest risk option and I would advocate trying it again.

    Following that they are many ideas coming at you. However I haven’t seen any mention of consultancy. For sure your gathering of views and ideas about the A40 have got to be of real value but I would like to throw in the idea of you selling a consulting service for those of us who are planning to take off. As an example I would very happily pay to spend a day with you both, in a small group workshop working through the practicalities of long term cruising

    Si & Kat
    S/Y Magic Marlin

  • Robert Jun 15, 2012, 4:51 pm

    It seems to me that the obvious way to capitalize on the hard work that you put into the website and the traffic generated is to keep the information and reference free but become your own on-line retailer. I don’t see that this undermines your authority and integrity in any way but does produce $$. Many of us buy gear through your testing and recommendations, then why not via your web store, that way you at least make a margin, a return and build an asset value.

  • Derek H Jun 16, 2012, 11:15 am

    John & Phyllis,

    I have read AAC from the early days and have learned much. Not only do you both write well (and Colin too) but the high level of decorum found on the site is always refreshing.

    I believe your hard core readership is ready to pay a flat subscription fee as many above have already commented. A large part of any readership on the internet is mostly “looky-loos” whose absence from AAC probably won’t be missed much. The subscription model is honest, transparent and has worked well in just about every niche on the internet.

    Sign me up!

    Derek H

  • John Jun 17, 2012, 8:17 am

    Hi All,

    Once again, thanks so much for all the great input. We will cogitate on it all and then write part II of this post with our plan for the future of AAC, that will certainly include many of your ideas.

  • Dick Stevenson Jun 17, 2012, 8:18 am

    Dear John, Phyllis & Colin, For me the site has been a pleasure since Colin introduced it to me back in Lagos. Not only good info, alternative thinking but a forum to air my thoughts and relieve ginger from being dutifully attentive. My first question would be how hard you three want to work. It seems to me all else cascades from that. Then the money question, sustaining the site vs earning. Etc. More thoughts to follow. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • RobertB Jun 17, 2012, 10:13 am

    First of all, I echo all of the above positive comments. I get a great deal of both information and personal enjoyment from AAC. Obviously the following are just my personal thoughts and may or may not be relevant. They reveal some of my myriad personal short comings, but in the interest of the AAC community….

    I have a very busy executive position in a tech startup in the U.S.. Add wife, kids, turmoils of daily life, miserable economy and free time is hard to come by. Ergo, when I sneak some time away for cruising plans or general reading, everything has to be quick or I generally won’t do it…despite all good intentions of coming back to it. If I don’t pay for a service I like, it’s more because I didn’t get to it rather than any reflection on the quality or worth of the service. There are those that would say then I don’t deserve to take advantage of that service. I have no argument to that, but it still doesn’t put more cash into the service.

    My assumptions based on what AAC has said and general intuition developed over years of reading and participating in the AAC community: AAC has no delusions that it will become a big revenue generator. This is a labor of love and that’s why it works. It’s growing at a pace that is not sustainable on personal funds and current business model. You would rather concentrate on content and doing and sharing the things you love with the cruising community, rather than the day to day grind of site maintenance. Part of what makes you happy is the sharing of information and spreading ideas. The A40 is exciting for you because of the community response, not because you want to build boats….the spark and coordination of a great idea. Remember that you got discouraged but then reinvigorated by the community? That’s what I think drives you. So the goal is site sustainability and enough extra funds to allow you the freedom to create the content you want, the way you want….and toys to review 🙂

    So if that’s all true, then here are my personal comments, good and bad:

    1. The same person to whom “information wants to be free” was credited also said “information wants to be expensive.” I haven’t seen that conflict solved….

    2. However, I’ve seen some groups do better than others. For example, Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia. He makes his occasional plea and people come through because the users see the value.

    3. AAC is truly a community. After years of following, I see a core group commenting and occasional international experts chime in. AAC is much more than the sum of its parts. It has a life of its own.

    4. If the current AAC crew had to sell it or not take part, the shoes left vacant are not likely to get filled easily….if at all. The community is the heart of AAC, but without the leadership you provide it will wither away.

    5. Charging for site access is unlikely to work. I really think this is more out of consumer laziness or already subscribing to other things (e.g. print magazines, organizations, etc.) than it is a reflection of the site quality. But most importantly, I don’t think you will be happy if you feel like you are excluding people because they didn’t pay…for whatever reason. After awhile, you will not want to do it anymore because it will have lost the feeling of community. AAC works because you care about AAC and because anyone can participate. It’s never going to work like a newspaper site or pay-for-articles site. AAC is unique and needs to be treated like a community rather than subscribers. On that note, I am far more likely to fund sites that ask rather than tell me what I need to pay. There is always that question, on both content consumer and content creator sides, of is this content worth the money? I don’t think you want that responsibility….it would take the enjoyment out of creation.

    6. I am always annoyed with the advertising on web sites. I rarely ever click on one and they mostly distract from my reading. I have stopped reading some web sites just because the advertising made the whole experience unpleasant for me. Recent research with Facebook has shown similar dismal returns for the advertising dollar.

    7. I never saw a donate button on AAC, but I probably would have been in a hurry and not pressed it anyway. I hate admitting this, because it is worth contributing my funds to AAC. I get enough value that I should pony up cash to keep it alive and well. The term “well” meaning the current crew remains giddy about posting the next subject and assisting the community involvement.

    8. The statistics (site hits) don’t matter much. You have at least 4 hits from me that will appear as unique. The number of comments are a much better indication. Or even better, the QUALITY of comments! It’s outstanding, which really shows the strength.

    8. So what would work then? Guilt. Most people recognize that quality content is not free to make or distribute. The Music Industry still doesn’t get this, but most people will willingly cough up money for music if it is reasonably priced and they know a good chunk will go to the artist so they can make more. Same with Wikipedia…NPR….good software….and good content. Where this doesn’t work is with mediocre products, because it doesn’t force a sale. AAC doesn’t suffer from the latter.

    9. DONATE – the word just turns some people off, I think…no good reason though. Maybe it’s just overused. I don’t think people put 2 and 2 together and realize what is at stake. Frankly, I don’t even see these anymore, just like advertisements. There are so many I’m just immune.

    10. I haven’t purchased a Norwegian Cruising Guide. Why? Because I’m lazy and busy, NOT because I don’t wish to purchase it. I also get a headache every time I got to the buy page….too many choices (color, b/w, etc)….and how much USD is a Euro again? 🙂

    11. I have yet to purchase your photographs, though I have planned to for years. See #10, except the purchase process is much easier.

    12. Enough of my personal shortcomings….critiques are not worth much if they don’t come with suggestions. So here are mine:

    a. Create the AAC community membership….”please join the AAC community!” might replace the ads.

    b. Site content is still free and available to all, but make the personal pleas once in awhile. Who is going to turn down John Harries when he says server fees are due! Guilt works. Have an AAC fund raising week occasionally. NPR does this with great success. It annoys me, but I send a check in because I listen. Same with Wikipedia.

    c. Create different levels of membership. I think humans want something for their money that they can touch and feel….sometimes the value of the information alone just doesn’t click. Not a good or bad comment…just nature. Or maybe I’m wrong, since I almost always say please don’t send me the free gift, unless, of course, it’s really cool.

    d. Perhaps a level of membership that includes the Norwegian Cruising Guide? I would pay more for the guide as part of a AAC membership that helped support the site.

    e. Same with photographs….with annual membership “get this nice photograph suitable to remind you why you are working!” Again, I would buy/renew a membership immediately.

    f. The above is not to say I am completely superficial and want something…or maybe it is and I don’t want to admit it to myself. So double the price and I will still THINK I got something. That would work for my simple mind 🙂

    f. Make it easy to join. Btw, I’m a member of SSCA because they are at boat shows and I read their forums occasionally….not nearly with the frequency I read AAC, so it clearly would not be difficult to get me to join AAC. SSCA has made it very easy to join….and I get a magazine subscription, which I’m sure you can strike a deal with your favorite publishers.

    g. Have a fundraiser…why not? Have a seminar. I would happily pay to attend a presentation by any of you. Politicians raise a fortune by talks and seminars. You just cruised on the Chesapeake Bay….I would have been at an AAC fund raising party in the PA/MD/VA/DE area in a moment’s notice. I’ll bet there are a lot of others, too. But we would have to know about it – betcha get more funding from that ad than a commercial product’s ad. I’ll even go so far as to say you could likely get someone in the area to host it….may not even be time consuming for you. I think you may be surprised at the willingness of the locals to help you out with something like that. Communities can be very supportive and your support is global!

    h. Lastly, please ask for help with what you need. Just reading the comments on this post alone tells me there are people who will step in when you need it. If you said “I need everyone who is able to chip in $50 for the next year of server expenses,” my guess is you would have at least $5K in a week or two.

    Regardless of your decisions, I will support the AAC site….and will get off my butt to help support it.

    Cheers,
    RobertB

    • RobertB Jun 18, 2012, 7:31 pm

      OK, John…..how long has the “donate” button been there?

      • John Jun 19, 2012, 7:57 am

        Hi Robert,

        Three days. Several people had asked for it in the comments to this post, so we thought we would give it a try first. It is certainly the easiest solution for us to administer. The donate button also appears at the bottom of each post, before the comments.

        One thing that makes me a bit uncomfortable is that I’m guessing that the only people to donate will be a very small group of our readers and may have little to do with the amount of content consumed, which seems rather unfair. But perhaps that is just the way the world is.

        • RobertB Jun 19, 2012, 11:47 am

          Whatever you did with the Donate button worked to grab my attention. I don’t know enough about user interfaces to know why….colors, fonts, placement….but it’s unobtrusive and I hope it works.

          I think you are stuck with donations never being in proportion with content consumption. In most human activities, a dedicated few have always carried the burden for the rest. The old saying that 20% of the people do 80% of the work is profession and activity independent.

          • John Jun 19, 2012, 1:31 pm

            Hi Robert,

            User interface is fascinating. If we can get a bit of income going here, one of the many things we want to do with it is buy some mouse tracking to learn more about how our readers use the site. Right now we are strictly in the “try it and see” camp.

            And, I agree on the donations, completely.

            One thing, if we go over to any type of member system, those who have donated significantly, will be grandfathered in.

  • susan estes Jun 17, 2012, 12:15 pm

    Love the content and the site.
    I have spent the last hour pouring over information, linking to the added links and dreaming off casting off. I started with the Dubarry boot review and have been hooked!

    I know you will figure out a way to make it happen(Bumfuzzel ask for Pizza donations via paypal on their 1st cruise).
    and we will be here to support in the way we can.

  • Paul Mills Jun 19, 2012, 4:12 am

    Good move, John, and well spotted Robert!

    Felt good making the donation.

    Paul

    • John Jun 19, 2012, 7:47 am

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks very much for your very generous donation. You were the first.

  • Dave Benjamin Jun 19, 2012, 2:06 pm

    Just made a donation. One suggestion I have is to have the donation page open in a separate tab. I went through the process and had to hit the back button to return to the blog. How did your dollar get to be stronger than our dollar again? Guess we’ve been printing too much money. LOL.

    • John Jun 20, 2012, 9:29 am

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the heads up. I have added a return link to a thank you page, which I should have done in the first place. And thanks very much for the donation. Much appreciated.

  • Jacques Landry Jun 20, 2012, 11:05 am

    Hi John.

    All very good comments. I think the idea of “Supporting membership” is a good way to go.

    You could have a page listing “Supporting members” which could be a way of making them feel that they get more out of it. I personally believe it is what we get out of reading your pages that is important, but some others may feel good to see their name on your site! For sure someone could “opt out” and be listed as anonymous.

    I think some suggested “levels” of membership! That’s complicated to implement, and might not be worth the extra management. On top of that, I really appreciate the fact that we can comment freely on your site (even if we are an unknown french Canadian out of the box) so maybe membership levels would remove this feeling of all posters being equals! Levels is also a subjective concept, as 10$ for someone might represent more of one’s budget that 200$ for someone else!

    I decide to not renew Practical Sailor and reallocate this budget to sites like yours! How often do I have to redo my anti fouling anyway 😉

    Keep up the good work, best site on the web, best source for sailors, real people, real discussions!

    Thanks for such a great site

  • Donal Jun 20, 2012, 1:03 pm

    We have had to postpone cruising to remake ourselves financially since 08 into multiple streams of income and a natural for me (writer/photographer/editor in both advertising and editorial) has been internet marketing, especially with monetizing blogs and learning WordPress. One effort underway is a newsletter-based site on how to feel good at any age with a friend/guru. As part of that I’ve been going through an online course ($1000) called Inbox Empire by two very smart people who have made millions. They are probably more commercial than most sailors are comfortable with, but they say that the most valuable thing you might own is THE LIST, people who have opted-in to an offer (paid or mostly free) and received value and built trust in you. At that point you have loyal people you can market to in various ways (hard sell or soft) both on site/in newsletters/by email. They suggest that even a marginal list is worth $1/month per list member. Do the math. This can be and is done in very professional, tasteful, ethical ways. I’d be happy to discuss more. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions barely pay postage, so the ads are vital. And studies show that the highest authority publications actually improve the credibility of advertisers and generally such publications (Nat. Geographic, Reader Digest, etc.) command higher ad fees. AAC is certainly in that category (albeit a narrow category), as evidenced by the comments. Considering that most of the money spent on cruising these days is buying manufactured goods (from boats to bolts), advertising & marketing can be valuable information. Be happy to discuss this more, especially if we get to keep reading AAC!

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