Christmas, Premium Issues, and Independent Content

Typically, around Christmastime, I send the Premium edition of True to the free edition readers.

The first time I did that, I was surprised that so many took the time to say “thank you.” A simple thing — and meaningful — but actual, sincere thank-yous seem so rare these days. Then again, True readers are a good bunch, so I’m no longer surprised to get the warm notes of thanks. I’ll let this letter represent the many who wrote about last week’s Premium:

I just finished reading the Premium edition that you sent to all of us Free subscribers. You mentioned that the Free edition is a sample of the Premium edition – yes and no. Yes, it contains the same type of stories and major features; No it isn’t the same experience AT ALL. While I was satisfied with the free edition, reading the Premium edition was like a completely different experience. —Bruce, Hawaii

So much so, Bruce immediately ordered a two-year upgrade. Indeed his was part of a much higher-than-normal upgrade surge: There were 40 upgrades in the last week, 13 of which were gift subscriptions.

So the question is, do I give you the Premium sample in order to stimulate upgrades? Well, 27 people out of 120,000+ decided to upgrade — .0225 percent of the readership, which I’ve found over the years is about typical. (About half that number normally upgrade each week, dropping the actual “surge” to only .0113 percent.)

So no: if I was doing it for effect, it sure wouldn’t be worth it. Rather, I do it truly as a gift, since so many readers like Bruce are startled by the completely different experience Premium is. I get that comment all the time, but I’m at a total loss to explain what the difference is so you all can “get it.” When I ask Premium subscribers if they can explain it, they can’t either. I asked Bruce if he could; he replied that he’d get back to me in a few issues, and meanwhile could only say, “Over the last 2 or 3 years of receiving it, the free edition NEVER induced me to go Premium, but one issue of the Premium and I was hooked.”

The most-common comment I get from people who have recently upgraded is they’re “kicking themselves for not doing it sooner,” and the most-common comment I get from people renewing their Premium subscription is “I don’t want to miss a single issue.” That’s why I instituted a cheaper “sample” upgrade — four months of expanded Premium issues so you can try it and see for yourself. You probably won’t be able to describe the difference either, but I’m sure you’ll see it. The sample option is part of the info here. [Update: there’s now instead a quarterly — three-month — option.]

“Wait a second,” I know some of you will say after seeing the numbers above. “About FOURTEEN upgrades a week is NORMAL?!” Yep, that’s all. I’ll even do the math for you: 14 times 52 weeks is 728 people who upgrade during a typical year, plus perhaps a few surges here and there. Multiply 728 by $24/year for a whopping $17,472 — maybe $20,000 with surges. That’s it for upgrades, out of which comes collection costs (Paypal and credit card fees, mostly — about 3 percent, or $600 right off the top), server expenses, and plenty more.

So why aren’t my wife and I starving? Because the vast majority of those fewer-than-a-thousand people per year renew — remember that second comment above? — because once they see what they get, they consider the subscription fee a huge bargain. Luckily for us all, it adds up to thousands of people who keep True going.

Really: the Premium subscribers make True possible; the meager revenue from the two ads per week only covers distribution costs with almost nothing left over for daily operations. That less-than-one-percent of readers who upgrade each year is how thin the margin is. That is what I mean by I really need your help to upgrade if you can, and to help the newsletter grow by recommending it to others.

That means links on your own web sites or blogs with your endorsement, and forwarding issues to friends with your reasons why you like True, since your reasons why they should subscribe mean more to your friends than mine ever could. Word of mouth is the number-one way True has grown over its entire lifetime — now 12-1/2 years — and it will be without a doubt very helpful if you pass on the favor of the friend who told you about True.

Just please don’t put any stories on any web sites: if you need “sample” stories, see the free True-a-Day service. NOTE: stealing the stories for your site doesn’t help True, it hurts it, and hurts me. If you’ve done that, please take it down and put in True-a-Day or a link in its place.

I hope to keep True going for 12-1/2 more years, but I can’t do it without your help — either by spreading the word or upgrading: this page has info on the second part; you already know how to do the first. Either action really helps if you can’t do both. Just imagine if every reader recommended True to just one friend, and a mere 1 percent of those people actually subscribed: an instant surge of 1,200 new readers. If everyone made ten recommendations and 5 percent subscribed? That’s 60,000 new readers — and about one percent of them could upgrade in 2007, giving True a real push.

But the reality is this: the majority will do nothing, and little will change. Please: if you like True, don’t do nothing — that’s why so many of your favorite online resources have died out over the years; people just didn’t care enough to bother. What a waste that only huge media companies really thrive, like MySpace (owned by the gigantic News Corp.), AOL (owned by Time Warner) and “Live” (owned by Microsoft). We independents need your support to compete since we don’t have billions of shareholder dollars to spend on promotion. That’s why I give some of my space in True to promote the “Bonzer Sites” every week — have you ever noticed that the vast majority of the sites there are tiny labors of love? I want to support them so they aren’t swallowed by the media giants either!

Something to think about, eh? So do something about it — today! Thanks, and may 2007 be good to you!

10 Comments on “Christmas, Premium Issues, and Independent Content

  1. I just wanted to join the other people in saying thank you and to say that though I have not upgraded yet. I will be doing so asap. I am short of funds currently but I will be signing up by the end of the month. By the way I also sent one copy of your edition on to my mother and she has now subscribed and she just loves it. You are direct and to the point and tend to say exactly what I am thinking. And to think that I actually missed 12 years of this.

    Thanks, Marissa, and I’m glad your mother enjoys it too. To be sure, I don’t want people to take food out of their mouths to put it in mine — in some ways, “spreading the word” (as you did with your mother) is just as important. So thank you for everything you’re doing to help! -rc

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  2. I don’t want you or your wife to starve nor do I want you to quit True, but I’m a firm nonsubscriber to the Premium. Why? Because I’m swamped with reading material. Any increase avoidable will be. Yet I like free True and its ads so much I’d pay for it! I think some other free readers may feel the same, so here’s a suggestion.

    Offer the free edition as optionally a paid subscription. You’ll have to set a price that covers costs and adds grocery money. Sure, the majority won’t pay, but at least I will, and maybe others.

    I have heard the too-much-to-read “objection” before, and here’s the surprising answer: even though the free edition has only half the stories, the free and Premium editions are about the same size (usually within 1K, byte-size-wise). How is that possible? Premium has more stories, but a lot less of what I call “sales language” — pitches to upgrade, for instance. And of course the outside ads are omitted.

    You’re also far from the only person who says he likes the ads. In fact, a significant percentage of Premium subscribers also get the free edition. About half say it’s so they can see the ads, and about half because they want to see the “Honorary Unsubscribe” sooner. -rc

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  3. My only excuse for not sending a ‘thank-you’ previously is that I imagined you wouldn’t want to be swamped with scores or hundreds (or thousands) of mails simply wishing you well. Since that’s not the case – Thank you for the gift premium edition and thank you for writing This is True at all.

    I *have* passed on copies to friends and I know that at least one has subscribed because he later forwarded a copy to me! The trouble is that I can’t remember exactly who I sent the examples to and I’m very concious of copyright, being an occasional author myself. Your terms are a limit of three and I have just one left. I want to use it wisely.

    Keep up the good work.

    Heh! Thanks for your thoughtfulness. No, I really didn’t want thousands of thank-yous — that would take a nice gesture and turn it into a logistical nightmare of an overflowing inbox. It is sweet, though, that some just cannot resist.

    The “only three” thing in the copyright is meant to instill the thoughtfulness you already have. The idea is, if someone is interested in getting the issues regularly, they should get their own subscription, not forwards. That way, they can be counted properly — because advertisers pay by the number of total readers. Unlike some newsletters, I refuse to say “well, since on average everyone forwards one copy, we have 240,000 readers” and charge for that number. I consider that dishonest, so I only charge for the actual number of subscribers. If that means the advertisers get “extra impressions” for free, increasing their results, fine — that means they’ll come back for more later. And they do: you probably have noticed some of the same ads are run again and again.

    So while I won’t amend the copyright notice to say it, consider that “only three” part to really mean “only three in any one year,” and I’ll bet you’ll be fine. 🙂 -rc

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  4. Hi, Randy, I was a free True subscriber until I FINALLY hit a month that had extra money at the end of it, and I immediately subscribed for two years, and have since not only renewed my subscription but have found funds to buy some of the terrific GOOHF things you offer.

    I was struck by how much more satisfying the Premium is from the Free version, both are good, but the Premium has a completed cycle to it that the free version lacks. I think this is probably because you select the stories for the Premium version, sometimes using lines from songs as an intro, or a build up on a single theme, or whatever the case. It is a completed circle of thought, whereas the free version has some of the thoughts removed. It is still highly entertaining, but after reading the Premium version, I can tell the free one isn’t complete. It is kind of like reading only the front of the greeting cards – they are pretty or entertaining or sweet, but to get the full impact you have to read the inside message too. The free version is just the front, the Premium is the whole card. That is how I think of it anyway. Thanks for all you do and I hope you continue it for longer than the next 12 1/2 years!

    I love it when people notice the theme! It’s not always there, and it’s often very subtle, but you’re right: sometimes you can just read all the story “slugs” (titles) in a row and it smacks you in the face that they’re telling a story all by themselves. I’ve got a huge smile on my face that you’ve not only noticed, you noticed it consciously. And yes: when I knock the Premium down to just four stories for the free edition, it necessarily does usually destroy that aspect. -rc

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  5. I can’t afford to upgrade yet, but I will when I have paid off my bills.

    I have a website that is similar to yours. Since I feel bad about not upgrading, I have linked from my site to your site the entire time I’ve subscribed to the free ThisIsTrue.

    I’m hoping we will work together when I get my internet radio show off the ground. I’ll link to you on my other sites when I get them going, also. I appreciate all your hard work.

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  6. I’ve been a premium subscriber to This Is True for two years now, and I have to agree that the content is incomplete in the free version. Further, in my last renew, I also ordered some True books to get the stories that I missed before I got the newsletter.

    I look forward to each week’s issue and the comments after, and I hope it will be around for years to come, and I’ll be a premium subscriber as long as I have the funds, and it’s well worth it.

    P.S.: Writing those good taglines has got to be the hardest part, because I can’t even come up with one with the tagline challenges you do.

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  7. I have been a Premium subscriber for (I think) about four or five years now, and can’t live without it. (I originally subscribed to the free feed and then got a clue.) I always look forward to Tuesday morning when I know it will be in my inbox. I hope True keeps going for more than the next 12 1/2 years. As long as it continues, I will be a loyal subscriber.

    Time flies when you’re having fun, Amy: in March you will have been a Premium subscriber for seven years! -rc

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  8. Like Erik above, I have lots to pay off and a strict budget BUT your premium newsletter is on my “want” list and I and my loved ones (for gift-giving moments) are working through that list. I thank you for the Christmas premium issue and compliment you for your journalistic quality and perspicacity. (You would want to do a daily issue if you were in Europe as I am.)

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  9. I have been a premium subscriber for just over a year now. I work in a serious industry and the little shot of humour that shows up in my mailbox every week is worth every penny.

    I thought that I could not afford to subscribe, but I would not give it up.

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  10. Here is another advantage to the Premium upgrade which hasn’t been previously mentioned…outstanding customer service. I’ve no idea how many years I have enjoyed the free issue of Thisistrue but I did forward it to friends as well as buy copies of the books, a mug and GOOHF cards. Finally, last summer the guilt of freeloading could only be relieved by supporting my favorite site with a Premium upgrade. Shortly thereafter, my PC died and it was 6 months until I could replace it. When I was back online, I contacted Randy and asked if I could get copies of the 24 issues missed. Within mere hours of my query, he sent me every single back issue. Absolutely no question of my renewing this summer.

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