A Reader’s Note and the Paypal Buttons

Some of you have already noticed that we put a widget on our side bar a couple months ago with Paypal buttons for you to contribute to Freethought Blogs if you’d like to do so (and thank you so much to those who have contributed). And the other day someone sent in a donation along with a note saying that reading FTB helped him through a very difficult transition from belief to non-belief. He said that he had struggled with the idea that there was something wrong with him because everyone around him could believe in God and he couldn’t, but reading the blogs here made him feel that he wasn’t alone and he has a community that supports him.

I’m not going to give the cliche and say that this “makes it all worthwhile.” It’s worthwhile anyway. I do this because I love it, because I get to write every day about issues that I’m passionate about, that animate me and get me fired up. And I’m still amazed that thousands of people find it worthwhile to read, respond and, sometimes, to correct me too (which is necessary more often than I’d like to admit). But it did remind me to remind you all that there’s a way for you to contribute to the network if you’d like to. Why might you do that?

To put it bluntly, putting together and maintaining a blog network with as much traffic as FTB gets is expensive. I spent several thousand dollars to get the network up and running and still spend many hundreds of dollars every month on server expenses, technical help and other expenses. And ad revenue is a pretty dicey proposition — it bounces all over the place and is much less profitable than it was in years past. And I don’t want to overwhelm the readers with too much advertising that distracts from the content.

I’ve tried very hard to balance the need for revenue with the need to keep your experience a pleasant one, though I’m sure at times I’ve missed the mark. We’ve occasionally run a pop under ad, for example, but I have turned down many offers to run ads that had auto-play audio or video (nothing makes me click off a site faster, and I’m sure that’s true for you too). I’ve made sure that all pop under ads were small, easy to click off and only appeared once per day. I’ve also turned down lots of other well-paying types of ads, like those expanding ads (where it covers half the page if you put your mouse over it) and auto-redirecting pop ups. I’ve even turned down in-line text ads from a huge porn company. Those kinds of ads pay a lot better — I mean a lot better — than the banner ads that we use. But they’d make your experience at FTB (and mine too) a lot worse, so they’re ultimately not worth it.

We are working on an ad-free option, where those who pay a small fee each month will be able to see a site with no ads at all. And we’ve continued to include the full posts in the RSS feeds, even after Google discontinued their ads in those feeds, costing us a considerable amount of money each month. Those who access the site through a newsreader already have an entirely ad-free experience, so this is a way for you to show your appreciation for all that content if you feel like it.

In fact, I’m really intrigued by what Andrew Sullivan is doing right now, making his blog totally independent and ad-free, relying solely on readers buying yearly memberships for $19.99. I don’t know if we quite have enough readers to make that work, but I’d like to explore it. I’d love to be able to dump all the ads and just be entirely reader-supported. I imagine a lot of you would like it too. Let me know in the comments if that’s something you would be willing to do.

None of this is intended to make you feel pressured to contribute at all. If you feel like doing so, please do. And if you don’t feel like doing so or can’t afford to, we certainly understand. Times are tough and a lot of people are living hand to mouth. Our readers have been incredibly generous not only to our bloggers but to a host of charities that we have asked you to help out from time to time. It’s been one of the most incredible things about blogging over the last, for me, almost ten years — the community that builds up around a place and how people jump in and help each other out.

For instance, one of the longtime readers and commenters at my blog and many others has graciously offered to pay the entire cost of sending someone who can’t afford it to Women in Secularism 2 this year. So many of you showed your generosity and kindness after my health scare a few weeks ago, and after Greta Christina’s cancer surgery a few weeks before that, and to those in need in so many ways. I’ve even been sent a box of great BBQ from Texas. You guys have consistently amazed me with your generosity.

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