Rattling the Tip Jar — And an Important Question

This is just your friendly monthly reminder that you can help keep Freethought Blogs going by contributing to the network, if you have the ability and the desire to do so (there are Paypal buttons on the left sidebar). But I’d also like to run an idea by you and see what our readers think of this. Would you support FTB doing something like what Andrew Sullivan has done, eliminating ads and being entirely reader-supported?

We’re still working on getting the ad-free option, which will allow you to get an ad-free version for a nominal fee (probably around $5 a month or so). But what if we did that for everyone and just asked you to buy an annual subscription instead? Sullivan is asking for $19.99 a year, but he’s also using a “freemium” format, where everyone sees nearly everything but clicking on the “read more” link more than a certain number of times (seven, in his case) requires that you have a membership.

There are other similar ways to do things, of course. We could provide something above and beyond for those who pay for some sort of VIP access, like a weekly or monthly podcast that isn’t available to others. Or maybe copies of books written by our bloggers, or t-shirts. I haven’t really given this a lot of thought, but I like what Sullivan is doing and it seems to be very successful for him so far. And honestly, he doesn’t have all that many more unique visitors than we do (he has about a million, we have about 650,000).

So please leave a comment and tell me whether you would pay, say, $20-$50 a year for an FTB membership for an entirely ad-free site and perhaps for some additional content that you don’t get now. Or tell me if you have some alternative ideas. I’d love it if we could ditch the ads completely and support the network entirely through the appreciation of our readers. But doing that is a big risk, so I’d need to know that it’s feasible before seriously considering it.


  1. Pteryxx says

    I admit to using Adblock and Noscript, and disabling them to get text-only ads properly served is so finicky it isn’t worth the trouble. That said, *because* I’m using Adblock and Noscript, FTB’s ads don’t affect me at all (nor is FTB getting adviews from me). IMHO I think consideration of ads should involve those who can’t avoid ads – folks using mobile devices, perhaps. Personally I’d donate $20 or so just to support the site, ads or no ads, and I don’t care about getting free books or anything like that.

    About mitigating the risks and encouraging donations… instead of offering substantial donor perks to everyone, or some sort of restricted content (eww) how about offering donors/subscribers the option to enter a prize drawing with their donation? Even regular donors might chip in an extra few bucks on impulse for a good prize. (Also depends on nonprofit rules, see the manual.)

  2. says

    My only issue is that you do not want to discourage new readers. People are not going to be willing to shell out money for a pig in a poke. I would think the “ad free” option, and I will gladly be one of FTB’s first susbscribers.

  3. Kengi says

    A subscription fee wouldn’t work for me personally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea.

    Subscription-based communities tend to turn away new people, discouraging future growth. It can work for particularly well-established brand names, but less so when a brand isn’t as well established. If you do go subscription, don’t forget to spend money to build and maintain your brand.

    Still, I tend to like the notion of leveraging your existing subscriber base by looking into value-added items to sell to that base. Cory Doctorow has certainly made that work for him. He gives away his content to build an ever-growing base of people to sell things to. The drawback there is having to be creative enough with the value-added content or merchandise that is being sold to that base.

    Personally, the ads on this site usually don’t bother me. Google seems pretty good about serving me relevant ads most of the time, and the rest usually aren’t annoying.

  4. wunelle says

    I would certainly shell out $20 a year–maybe $50–for access. I have more and more subscriptions adding up, and at some point adding another becomes tough to swallow. But I value your and PZ’s thoughts and would be willing to pay for them.

  5. says

    How much extra for dinner and poker party package? This would be where Ed comes to your home, cooks you a wonderful dinner, and then takes all the rest of you and your friends’ money on a card table. Couple of those a year might could fund the site for everyone….

  6. TX_secular says

    I would pay $20-$50 per year even though I freeride now. I like the “freemium” idea where the content is free up to a certain number of clicks as this would allow non-members access.

  7. rabbitscribe says

    No way! Every time I see a “Where’s the REAL birth certificate? / Tough questions for evolutionists! / How the Kaballah changed my life!” banner ad, I smile. It never gets old…

  8. says

    What I’d like is if FTB did like NPR and decided how much you need, then turn the ads off for the rest of the year once you hit that number. The downside is that it caps your upside and disturbs the ad pipeline (ad companies devalue you if you turn them on and off because you’re clearly not “captive eyeballs”)

    Internet banner ads are so much bullshit, anyway. I value FTB. I’d pay $100/year to make the ads go away. I’m throwing that and more into various tip-jars, already. The thing is that I have a part of my brain that has been trained not to see ads so I really don’t care about them one way or another. Are there really ads on the site? I don’t see them. It’s not because I have a blocker in my browser, it’s because I so deeply don’t give a shit about ads that I just don’t see them unless marketing weasels figure out how to make them obtrusive (autoplay or noises or whatever) in which case I give the site a couple days to kill them, or I leave for a year or two. (Now you know how to get rid of me if you ever want to!)

  9. tmscott says

    Hmmm… “Freemium”, isn’t that really just a paywall? Personally, I can live with the ads, I hardly look at them anyway.

  10. jba55 says

    I would want to be able to pay to support FtB, but sadly I can barely support myself. I’m not sure about the freemium thing, I come back to various posts several times a day and I wouldn’t like to suddenly get stonewalled when the conversation was getting interesting. Of course because of this I’m not going to complain about ads, either.

  11. says

    I am 0n a disability pension and would find paying very difficult. However, I also understand that you can’t operate without money. It’s a tough call.

  12. Argy Stokes says

    Ed, I’ve been reading since the old stcynic days. And I’m sure this is ungrateful, but if this became a pay site I would stop reading. I can handle a few ads, as long as they don’t pop up in my face.

  13. Pteryxx says

    No way! Every time I see a “Where’s the REAL birth certificate? / Tough questions for evolutionists! / How the Kaballah changed my life!” banner ad, I smile. It never gets old…

    And there’s that… if a lot of us don’t care about or mind the ads? then short of aforementioned mobile or reader users, why take the risk.

  14. markr1957 says

    As one of your current monthly subscriber/donors I am perfectly happy that my subscription helps anyone less able to pay to see the entire site. Now if you can give me an ad free view I wont object at all, but I do not want to see anyone chased off or discouraged by limitations on access.

  15. says

    I’m happy to help support FTB. In fact, I just did so and will do so regularly. I would be happy to pay for an ad-free service if it helped, but if it was necessary to keep it with ad space, it doesn’t bother me. Like Marcus, as long as its unobtrusive, I’m easy going as I am good at ignoring them. Been here a long time and I’ll continue to support the whole gang.

  16. Jacob Schmidt says

    Maybe you could do both? Lessen the adds, and put up freemium content?

    I really don’t mind the ads. I actually kinda like them. If they’re shit, I ignore them. If they’re ironic (FIND GOD NOW on a post laughing at goddists) I laugh. And, every now and then, there’s a good one, though never on this network.

    Seconding the inability to pay. Your business model is your business, so do what you want. But if a paywall goes up, I need to find a new network to frequent.

  17. timberwoof says

    As long as there’s some kind of guarantee that the people who pay for the ads don’t call the tune here, I’m fine with them. Every once in a while I find an egregious ad; I click it to increase their click-though count. That makes them pay more!

    I’m generally ad-proof so aside from the formatting that the ads impose (my lappy isn’t big enough to show the full width of the page) I don’t have a problem with the site as it is.

  18. stumble says

    I am happy to pay to contribute, but I like the idea that my contributions go to help keep the site free. While I value the content and have the expendable income to pay, I also appreciate the fact that many people don’t.

    The idea I like the most would be some sort of raffle. With donations buying tickets, and prizes for winners. You could also do monthly winners, and annual winners, with changing prizes depending on which FTB author has a new book out, ect.

    I prefer full access to everyone with benefits for donors over restricted content.

  19. says

    I like the ad-free option for a *small* price – I couldn’t afford more than $20 per year. And I wouldn’t object to Bling for High Rollers (as long as it’s not rubbed in my face).

    But PLEASE do NOT go with any route that puts any content behind a paywall, even a nominal one. It’s not that I don’t want to pay more, it’s that I (and many, many others) literally CAN’T. I’m living below the poverty line as it is. Please don’t join the gazillion ways the lowest 1% is shat on every day.

  20. maudell says

    I understand the need for funds to keep the site going, but I think it would be sad to cut access to poor people (including restricting the amount of articles). I read Freethought Blogs everyday, and it’s one of the rare place where I feel I can somewhat take part in the atheist community (at least by keeping informed about current issues) while being poor. Whenever there is a conference near my place, I have to just tell myself how fun it would be, and hope the talks I want to see will be on youtube.

    Now, I don’t want to come across as entitled, because none of the bloggers owe me free information. I do see it as a privilege. But I also think the people that would be cut off with a paywall are often people that we want to include. I agree with a pay ad-free version and a free regular version, however. And although the ads don’t bother me (I too am amused at how many “where’s the REAL birth certificate? and “Language professors HATE him” ads there are), I would gladly pay for it as soon as I am employed.

    On behalf of all poor endebted students in programs that promise a life of financial misery, I hope you consider my point. :)

  21. physicsphdstu says

    I have disabled adblock on ftb so that you do get the adviews. I would prefer that to freemium model.

  22. says

    Might depend on how much you’re getting from the ads — and from what kind of ads.

    I don’t mind the still ads, so if it adds money to your pocket, I’d say don’t take them away on my account. I’ll donate $20 a year, anyhow (if you remind me to).

    On the other hand, lately I’ve been getting some really annoying animated ads — so I’ve turned on adblock. (Though Chrome seems to be de-activating adblock without my permission.)

    I imagine the more annoying the ad, the more money you get from it. But there might be a good balance where no animated ads are allowed — you still get some ad income — and people who can chip in some money.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about the limited number of read-on click model. I haven’t given Sullivan my money yet, in part because I’ve got mixed feelings about him too. (It also means I read him less than I otherwise would.)

    I would pay for it for FTB; but I’ll donate without the pay wall too. I can’t think of any premium content that would particularly entice me (I’m not going to be excited by bonus podcasts, for example).

  23. g says

    I’d pay $20 per year. I read via RSS so I see very few ads and never click on a read more link, since you allow full text RSS feeds to everybody. I recently paid for an Ars Technica Premium subscription to get their full text RSS feeds and found out that Google Reader doesn’t play nice with private RSS feeds, so I am still just reading their normal feed.

    Google Reader is going to close in July, and lots of people have announced plans to replace it. I suspect there will be enough competition that the replacements will work with private feeds.

  24. ohioobserver says

    I would probably pay the twenty bucks now. But back when I was a student, twenty clams was a week’s worth of meals, and I’d have been a lot less likely to part with it to subscribe to an online service like FTB. You want to rope in young people — they’re the most impacted by religious propaganda, and they need n opportunity to see the other side. Can you have a student rate, or a multi-tiered system that accommodates folks who can’t afford it but need to see it?

  25. says

    To clear one thing up, if we went to a subscription idea, I would not make it so that people don’t get what they already get now without a paid subscription. I was thinking more along the lines of providing something new over and above what already exists for those who subscribe. I definitely don’t want to limit what either a new user or an existing user already sees. As I said, I haven’t really given this a lot of thought and that’s why I asked for everyone’s input. But I think requiring people to pay for what they already get free is a non-starter.

  26. nakarti says

    Once I get paid again there are so many things I want to contribute to…

    But the freemium idea has a lot of potential. I think the best method I’ve seen for that was a delayed-access freemium: Premium users get immediate full access and comment privilege, Free users get time-delayed full access, (and possibly limited immediate access, like headlines and summary; Sign up or wait X hours/days to gain full access)

  27. Thorne says

    I’m not a big contributor to the comments here, and I don’t frequent all, or even most of the sites on FTB, but I do enjoy the ones I do visit. Like some others, i use ad and script blocking so I’m not bothered with the ads. Even when I do see them, I don’t really see them. But I always assumed that the site was paid by click-through ads, not just viewing them. If the latter is the case I’d be more than happy to turn off the ad blocker to help out with the finances.

    But as for subscribing? Not likely. Sorry. There’s just too much out there that’s free. I’d miss it, but not enough to pay for it.

  28. tomp says

    If the site costs me any money then I will stop reading you. The fact is that there are plenty of free sites where I can get similar content including on facebook. I would miss you though,

    Right now I read you through google reader so I don’t see any ads. You could change the output to the reader to include ads if you need more views.

  29. says

    @28 Ed
    Yeah, definitely don’t take away what is already available now.

    Otherwise, the ads don’t bother me much except for those “Power companies hate this!” ads that have been on here as of late that have the animation .gifs (or whatever) that get nauseating. Can you at least not allow such ads?

    I’m also already chipping in $5/month out of the goodness of my heart (or something like that), so offering extras won’t change anything for me. I, of course, cannot speak for others.

  30. thebookofdave says

    I get more out of FtB than my personal inbox. Design a subscription model that doesn’t burden ultrapoor readers or turn away potential newbies, and I’ll enlist as a premium member, regardless of its specific perks.

  31. brucemartin says

    I like the site as it is, with both relevant ads and also hilariously irrelevant bible study ads.

    You should add sales of premiums, such as:

    Signed books,
    FTB designed shirts
    FTB designed SurlyRamics, etc.

    FTB designs would include both items designed by individual bloggers who were interested, and also more generic FTB designs to be sold site-wide.

    FTB authors could also auction off theme topics, where a big enough gift (on a sliding scale?) means some number of FTB bloggers will analyze some common topic in the next 5 days, to be selected by the auction winner.

    FTB authors could also auction off their services as a tour guide to a conference they’re attending anyway. For a big enough gift they get the donor into the conference Green Room to meet whoever happens to be there, or something like that. Nothing risky, of course. Just rent a friend, with FTB filming it to show any great conversations between donor and FTB author host. Just another possible idea.

  32. cactusren says

    I would pay 5 to 10 bucks a month to support FTB. A bit of bonus content would be cool for contributors, but honestly I don’t care that much. While the ads don’t bother me, I would just be happy to support the site should you choose to go ad free.

  33. petern says

    I read just about everything on Freethought Blogs and I would happily pay a bit to keep it going. If you go to some kind of subscription for premium content, I really hope you keep it closer to $20 than to $50, since like many here, I am already contributing as much as I can spare to many other causes.

    I’m under the impression that just seeing your ads generates revenue for you, so although I could block them, I don’t. But I am so tired of scowling Prof. Plimseur and vulgar t-shirts! And Liberty University and criminal history checks and those ghastly GIFs. It’s not doing the service that places these ads any good to keep recycling such bad ones! Can you do us all a favor and let them know that just because a lot of the posts contain the word “god”, we’re not all slavering over Christian singles?

    Has anybody reading this actually ever bought anything from any of the advertisers?

  34. Ichthyic says

    Would you support FTB doing something like what Andrew Sullivan has done, eliminating ads and being entirely reader-supported?

    already have.


  35. Ichthyic says

    ….why not have it set up like any android app?

    the “free” version of the site has ads, but you can subscribe and ads will then disappear.

    it’s not a hard thing to do.

    really really.

  36. teawithbertrand says

    I agree with a number of folks here – the ads don’t bother me a bit, except for the obnoxious animated ones. And I find many of the religious ads quite amusing.

  37. machintelligence says

    Fifty cents to a buck per week to avoid the ads seems like a good deal to me.

  38. Matrim says

    Stick with what you have now. Keep ads, pimp for donations, but do not get a subscription service going. All it’s going to do is alienate certain segments of your reader base. Unless there’s something horribly wrong with the site income, leave it be.

    Although it might be a good idea to to a fundraising drive once a year. It seems to work for other folks. Plus you can probably do some good with a pledge drive, maybe split proceeds 50/50 with a charity of some sort.

  39. raven says

    I really don’t mind the ads even though most of them are wildly inappropiate.

    It is sort of like funny and ever changing wall paper.

    Besides I now know where to go to furnish my nuclear war survivable bunker and how to defeat creeping Shariahs..

  40. Ichthyic says

    Fifty cents to a buck per week to avoid the ads seems like a good deal to me.

    yup. cheaper than a newspaper subscription, and fucktons more interesting.

  41. poxyhowzes says

    Mostly a lurker, but the Sullivan model doesn’t cut it for me.

    For one thing, I find many of the ads hilarious, as previous commenters have noted.
    For another, there are too many ad-blocking aps and softwares around to make any Sullivan-esque scheme fair or practical. (I haven’t read Sullivan since he went to his new scheme, and I used to read him all the time.)
    For a third, much of my appreciation of FtBs is generated by the commenters, and I’d hate to thiink that some commenter had to pay to keep me entertained.

    Do like public radio does: have a twice-a-year (or so) fundraiser.


  42. drr1 says

    While I’m certainly willing to pay for content, my concern is that not everyone can. A “freemium” or subscription-based model might deter or outright prevent those who want access to FtB from being part of the community. So – keep the ads. I pretty much ignore them, except for the really obnoxious flashing pics and the occasionally intrusive script. If you need money over and above the ad revenue, do periodic fundraising drives like on PBS. I’ll gladly support the network that way, too.

  43. PatrickG says

    While I hope to get a job soon (yet another second round interview — maybe this one will pan out), at this point I can’t possibly afford to pay for online information and community… At this point FTB is my gateway to the internet. I start here every day!

    When I get a job (crosses fingers), I’ll be contributing and then some. But I’ll shamelessly beg for you not to go to a paywall model of any kind. At least leave the ad version?

  44. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m in law school, the Money is a Harsh Mistress right now. If I couldn’t get FTB free, I would pay $10 + $1/month for the site. More than that, I’d ask my partner since right now a lot of money for household stuff comes from here. Not paying my full share, I’m hesitant to commit much without consultation.

    If I could get FtB for free, but an ad-free version was available, I’d pay up to $30/year, but i’d want to pay it in $5 increments rather than one drop.

    I would want to make sure, though, unless it really wasn’t economically viable, that a free version with all info is available to all comers.

    Part of what I would want for me $30 is a guarantee that all the info is available to anyone who wishes it, able to pay or not.

    I know that I would never have payed for access to FtB if I was coming here for the first time. If I had to pay to finish an article from a stub after the 7th time, I’d also not pay – I’d just leave.

    I don’t mind the ad-free vs. ads present model: all the info is still accessible.

    I just mind the full content v restricted content model.

  45. dshetty says

    why not a wikipedia like donations system where you lay out how much money you need for a year and people contribute and when its reached you are done.

  46. kmhughes says

    I like the freemium idea. I would definitely pay for access, though I also think having the majority of the content free is important for those who can’t pay as the content here is important. I find the ads humorous when I can be prayed for when accessing this site, but an ad free version works for me as well.

    I do find the folks that say “I will go elsewhere if you charge” sad. I do agree, there is lots of free content out there. But the content here tends to be excellent and money has to come from somewhere to keep all of the servers of the Internet running and many people seem to think Internet servers grow on trees.

  47. Trebuchet says

    I’d be unlikely to pay, but omitting the ads for those who do seems reasonable. I don’t mind the ads myself, unless they autoplay, especially if there’s audio. That’s not been a problem here for quite some time.

    As a premium for those who pay, you could omit some of the moribund & non-contributing blogs from the main page, with a link to get to them if desired. Actually, that would be a good thing for everyone.

    Since someone mentioned the mobile version, would it be possible to set it up so there’s some way to see the blogroll, not just the last 10 posts?

  48. Midnight Rambler says

    I had actually forgotten about Sullivan since he switch to a subscription model, until a couple of weeks ago when NPR (of all places) did a story on how it was going. I was never a regular reader (I find him occasionally interesting and mostly mind-numbingly tedious), but it seems like no one links to him anymore. I kind of expect a similar thing would happen here – even if there was enough to support the site it would become more insular around subscribers with a much reduced pool of free-floaters, as I currently am.

  49. robertberra says

    How about letting people “buy” labels that appear next to their signons showing what awesome supporters they are? That’s one of the revenue streams for edcforums dot com.

    I’m a regular reader but seldom comment because your system doesn’t have an internal signon system. I’d be more inclined to join/pay/comment if I could have an “identity” specific to the site.

    I seldom see ads because most of my reading is done on my BlackBerry (except for the occasional one that hijacks my browser–usually an ad for a lottery), so ads are a non-issue for me.

    All that said, I love your site. I’m not an atheist, but I am otherwise a “fellow-traveler” with you and the almost all the commenters here; disappointed in Obama on secrecy & civil rights, love to see prosecution of Bush, Ratzinger et. al., corporate “personhood” issues etc. Keep up the proverbial good work!

  50. twincats says

    FTB is always up on one of my window tabs whenever I’m on the intertubes so if it came to it, I’d pay 20 bucks or so a year, but I’m able to do that right now. Heck, I’d even kick in another 20 to enable access for someone who can’t afford to.

    But I also don’t mind the ads.

  51. Loqi says

    I’d be willing to subscribe to get rid of the ads (especially on my phone…I’m often on 2g or slower because of location, and the ads increase page loads considerably), but I’d feel queasy getting some kind of “bonus” content simply because I have more leisure money than someone else. It’s enough for me to just have an alternative way to support FTB.

  52. says

    I’d say do it like Salon. You pay an annual fee to have no ads, or you put up with the ads. Either way, you make money. Donation drives are also a good idea.

  53. Catrambi says

    I hope that an ad free paysite would be an option and not the only option. In that case, I think it’s a great idea. My wife and I would gladly pay the suggested fee, to get rid of the ads but mostly because it’s an easy way to donate. If it’s just donating for the sake of donating, then I don’t feel like we can spare the money. But if I can tell myself that we’re sort of buying something, then it seems ok.

    However, we would love to have a mobile version (app?) that works better than the current one, and would also be ad free if you paid.

  54. Tom Gilbert says

    No, sorry. Like many folks. the ads don’t bother me. But I slopped reading Sullivan when he did that. As many have also said, it will put off new readers.

  55. lanir says

    I’ll have to pitch in next month.

    Since the main goal of the site is to spread a message and provide an online forum friendly to anyone who agrees with it, I’m not sure content as a reward is a good idea. Something like a couple tiers with one just being a donation and a slightly higher one also paying for a t-shirt or book would probably work out better.

  56. blormo says

    I always block third party ads, and I always will continue to block third party ads, because I do not need third parties to build up a profile of my browsing. I think that’s the major issue people have with online advertising.

    If you had ads served from freethoughtblogs.com, I would allow them to display while I’m on freethoughtblogs.com.

  57. lancifer says

    Ads don’t bother me. I could block them if they did.

    I might be willing to pay for more features depending on what you had in mind.

  58. chezjake says

    I’m retired and living on Social Security plus a very small pension. I could maybe squeeze out $20 per year, but no more.

  59. leni says

    What about like a freemium with a certain number of blog reads and comments per time unit, but beyond that pay?

  60. says

    I think the idea of fundraisers twice annually would be good–maybe a 24 hr blogathon or google + hangout or something. Anyone donating $20 can go ad free for a year, donate $50 and you also get a choice of t-shirt/signed book/surly ramic/signed poster/calendar* etc. You could also hold an auction at the same time for something really spiffy (free trip to a conference for example).

    Anything that sets up a second class isn’t something I’d like very much.

    *not a nude one though; that’s so done

  61. says

    I think that some money needs to be spent on FTB before you offer anything. The home page consists of the banner and last 2 entries of thirty odd bloggers. Doesn’t matter if they haven’t blogged for a month they are still there. You have 30 silos of information and other than the 3-4 bloggers I’ll always check. I am not going to click onto 30 blogs to see if they have something interesting. Ophelia (as she has posted here) is a case in point. I’ve clicked on her blog a couple of times, not really found anything to interest me and haven’t gone back. Now she could have some absolutely brilliant posts but FTB has done nothing to promote those particular articles.

    FTB should have an editor who creates a magazine like front page with the more interesting and more popular posts. You could reward writers that get on the front page with a larger cut of revenue. You could have contributions from other people other than the “official”. You could also group posts by subject and like scienceblogs have “a last 24 hours” page.

    Ed at the moment FTB looks like a library where the librarian has torn the covers off all of the books, thrown them into a dark basement and thinks the answers to their problems is to charge to visit the library.

  62. Nadai says

    I don’t really care about the ads; I’m so used to seeing them that I mostly glance right over them. That said, I also have no problem with pushing a $5/month subscription, whether that’s to make the site ad-free or just to keep the servers running.

    I don’t like the idea of a two-tier system of access to content, though. There’s a lot a people barely making ends meet and it’s hard enough to be poor without having it shoved in your face when you go to your favorite blog. I also see FTB in an atheism-advocacy role, which doesn’t really work well with differential access. It undercuts the we’re-all-atheists-together vibe.

    I’d be more inclined to do whatever combination of the following nets the necessary money: pushing subscriptions (for ad-free access or not), keeping the ads, annual fundraisers, small gifts raffled off to donators (like NPR does), even fundraising campaigns where you offer content made available to everyone (donator or not) once a certain amount has been raised. Maybe do like a lot of Kickstarter campaigns and offer increasing extras for surpassing a fundraising goal by various amounts.

  63. raven says

    The ads don’t bother me.

    Still, I would pay without a second’s thought if FTB needed it. In the struggle between light and dark, FTB is an important light resource.

    I donate to Planned Parenthood also already for the same reason.

    I like the idea of a donation drive. Figure out how much FTB’s need and keep at it until it is done.

  64. mikes says

    I’m happy (and lucky enough to be able) to pitch in to support talented writers writing tackling important topics but would be less willing to do so if I thought you would be reaching a smaller audience.

  65. Erik says

    I’d pony up. No strong opinion on what the exact pricing/benefit structure should be. Whatever winds up being the most cost effective.

  66. Aliasalpha says

    I suspect my rather sad budget could stretch to $20 a year as long as it was a ‘pay when you want it to happen’ thing rather than renewing subscription

  67. didgen says

    I donate some now, I could craft some items for a raffle if you were to have a fund raiser. I have some amazing talents,or so I’ve been told, and I spend lots of time with nothing to do. I read this site every day, and would see time spent on something to give back for the enjoyment and wonder of learning things, and also the pain of knowing we have so far to go as a people. Before I found this site I spent many lonely years as a lone atheist, not realizing that there were actually people that had common views with me.

  68. fwtbc says

    I like the sound of the NPR/wikipedia fundraising model. Set a goal and then if you reach it, turn off ads for everyone.

    If you wanted to be really fancy, you could perhaps setup http://spam.freethoughtblogs.com/ where those who aren’t at all bothered by the ads could go and continue to ad-support the site, even after the main site turns off ads.

    Thanks for clarifying that no one will be locked out. Already living below the poverty line here, so it’d sting if I had to find money for a subscription.

  69. ischemgeek says

    At this point in my life, I would not buy an ad-free version because I’m strapped for cash – I’m saving up for something that could quite literally change my life, and all my cash is going to it.

    In a year or two though, I’d buy the ad-free version, sure.

  70. carlie says

    I would pay about $20-30 a year, but I know that a lot of people can’t, and I would not approve of any system that blocks them out. The “freemium” format that blocks people after a certain number of clicks or that gives certain high-income people “extra” content would be awful. Payment should result in lack of ads, period. You don’t pay, you get the site with ads. You do pay, you get no ads. Shouldn’t that be enough? (and if the ads were actually relevant, that would be even better.) Maybe the raffle idea a couple of times a year would be nice, and then you could get extra virtual “tickets” in the lottery depending on how much you pay, but I would vehemently oppose any system that creates tiers of actual content depending on your ability and willingness to put up money.

  71. Johnny Vector says

    I would certainly pay $5/month. I know this based on the fact that I am. Which I do to offset the freeloading effect of running AdBlock. So, yeah, I already have the ad-free subscription, and would continue to do that if it became an official thing.

    Based on my experience selling shareware, I have no idea what people think is worth paying for. (Really? You bought a sound cue player on impulse because it was half-price? When are you going to use that? Oh well, thanks.) But it sounds like paying for the ad-free option won’t alienate many people, and quite a few would use it. So that’s my vote.

  72. Badland says

    Thanks for the reminder Ed, I’ve signed up for a monthly donation. Chalk me up as another person who tunes out 95% of the ads, but I’d be happy to support you in an adless subscription if you walk down that path

  73. says


    Since I’m about to have to make a decision whether having a cellphone or the internet is more important I am not in a position to pay anybody for anything. Having said that, I concur with other readers who say that they would be willing to pay for an ad-free version of the the site.

    One other thing you could do is charge commenters to comment. The model could be by word count (sorry, Mr. Michael Heath, heddle, ragingbee and a few others) or by number of comments, expeschly the number of comments in a row, without nobody else commented in between them. And you should charge everybody, except me, because it was my idea!

    Oh, yeah, you know those “anonymous” donations you sometimes get, the ones with Kruggerands taped to a piece of cardboard or the jars full of loose change–yeah, that was me, when I was rich. And, um, those letters from Nigeria asking for your account information and “starter checks” to make sure the funds transfers would work? That wasn’t me, also, too.

  74. Jordan Genso says

    I’m the type that even once I contribute $20-$50 to the site, I don’t want you to sacrifice the ad revenue. I assume the marginal benefit to you having the ads is greater than the marginal detriment that I experience with them being there (but that’s because they don’t bother me).

  75. foolish wolf says

    Penny Arcade Kickstarter
    I think you you try a kickstarter like Penny Arcade did as which worked out pretty well for them. Not sure exactly how well it would apply to ftb but it’s probably worth a try.

    People who can contribute, will, and people who can’t aren’t stuck behind the pay-wall of despair.

    Then depending on how much is donated you can remove some or all of the adds and potentially add more shiny things.

  76. thumper1990 says

    Personally, I would not like a members only format. New readers would be less, and we’d get no trolls. And while that may initially sound like a good thing, I learned a lot of what I know about Atheism and Feminism by lurking on the troll-bashing threads.

    Also, coming onto FtB and seeing a horrendously inaccurate God-Ad, like the one that says “Jesus Said He Was God! Click here to see how He proved it”, makes me chuckle :)

  77. ottod says

    I read FTB (ir)religiously; some every day, some occasionally and some almost never. I don’t have a problem donating, and I would prefer that method over the subscription option. Also, subscriptions tend to eliminate those who can’t afford them from the readership. To be honest, I sort of enjoy the ads. They don’t interfere with reading the blogs, and most of the ones I see are from right-wing or religious goofball groups or businesses, so I giggle at the idea that they’re dangling their hooks in empty waters. Keep the ads and donations; reserve the subscriptions for less egalitarian enterprises.

  78. greg1466 says

    I think the ‘ad-free’ pay option is the way to go. I think you lose too many current and future readers by providing limited or no content to non-subscribers. Personally, I have no problem with the adds. As other people have commented, I actually find some of them amusing. Plus, there just seems to be something wrong with the concept of charging for access the Free Thinking.

  79. ambulocetacean says

    there just seems to be something wrong with the concept of charging for access the Free Thinking.

    Oh please. People have every right to be paid for their work. I trust you’re not suggesting that intellectual and artistic labour isn’t real work.

    That said, I’m glad that Ed isn’t thinking of going behind a paywall. I think that would make FTB lose a lot of readers immediately (some through inability to pay; others through disinclination) and would make it very hard to gain new ones and keep getting the writers’ messages out.

    I don’t mind the ads at all.

  80. Rob says

    @85 :-) Agreed.

    Ed, The adds don’t bother me and my browsing is 50/50 desktop and iPhone. I’ve made a few very small donations to particular bloggers who’s work has appealed for an extended period and who seem to need the support. I’m happy to extend that to network infrastructure support in general, but to be honest income support I’d prefer to be writer specific based on how much I like their work and do they need the income.

    I might support a content+ subscription, but only if the ‘+’ was something I valued. I can’t think what that would be off hand. I’m more interested in the ideas and debates on this site. To be honest a lot of the best content comes from the commentators, albeit sparked by the bloggers.

  81. sugarfrosted says

    Keep the ads. They’re unintrusive banner ads that actually are unintentionally hilarious. And people who don’t like them will block them anyway.

  82. davros says

    As someone with experience in online news media, I strongly urge you not to consider freemium or ‘leaky paywall’ or similar. Firstly this will generate a lot less revenue than you think – most news media doing this earn a tiny fraction of their advertising revenue from it (they can’t even contemplate cutting ads as you mention) and cry this as a big success for obvious reasons.

    More importantly any hiding of content behind a paywall is a recipe for decreasing your reach and relevance.

    If FTB is really short of money, I think the best suggestion is an NPR-style fundraiser.

    Personally, I put up with the ads, even though they are quite intrusive opening a popup every time I click on a link (and there’s very few sites that could do that and ever have me visit again).

  83. says

    I read through RSS, and so have no ads at all on several feeds (and on the ones that do have ads, they’re ignorable), but I would absolutely pay $20-$50 a year to help support the site.

  84. pamsmigh says

    I’ve got adblock and noscript on so tight, I can’t even figure out which of the hundreds of blocked out sites I’d have to re-enable to see your paypal link. If you could just include the paypal link in the content of the post, I would gladly donate. Thanks.

  85. Stacey C. says

    I’ve got adblock and noscript but I’d be willing to do $20 a year for general support of the site. I couldn’t do much more than that as we’re down to 1 and a bit paychecks. I hate the idea of making things impossible for people to see without paying and I’d be willing to put a tip in the hat to keep that a non-possibility.

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