A couple of days ago, I posted up our new Plus members-only tutorial, How to Make a Time Machine-like Icon. There is a long thread of comments going on there about why we are charging for the Plus membership. Since perhaps some of our readers feel this is unfair, I thought maybe I’d write out a bit why we do this to explain. Then maybe everyone will be happy … or at least not confused!
OK, so first of all in case you hadn’t realized, we have a Plus members section that we charge nine dollars a month for, where you get the sample PSD files for tutorials and occasional extra tutorials (about once every two weeks). And there are complaints about (a) why we charge for content and (b) why we need to post about it.
I can only assume that the complaints are mostly because of misunderstanding, so here’s a post explaining a bit about the site and how it’s run. I’ll try to keep it interesting, but can’t make any promises :-)
The Business of Starting Web Sites
To explain about why we have this system, I’ll begin by telling you a bit about me and Web sites.
You see I like starting Web sites—I *really* like starting Web sites :-)On my days off, I sit around thinking about new Web sites and ponder ideas for the current ones. I carry a little black book around with me everywhere, where I pour in ideas and calculations and estimates and logos and names. So a couple of years ago, along with a couple of other designers, I started a business to do it called Eden. And our business is going well, which is why I had the chance to start Psdtuts+!
But here’s the thing: if you start a Web site like this one, for example, you very quickly create a job for yourself to keep it going. Someone has to write the tutorials, someone has to put them up, someone has to maintain the site and the server and so on and so forth. And who’s going to do that? You!
But what if, like me, you *really* like making new Web sites?
How can you start more Web sites if you spend your whole time running the previous one? I’ll tell you what happens, you start to not maintain the old project, because now you have a fun, new project. Over time, updates slow down, maybe the quality drops, and it takes forever for new features to appear. And if you do it a few too many times, the sites may even die off.
It’s clear we’ve built a great product. The site is super popular. But right now, I spend most of my working week running it—chatting to writers, putting up and formatting posts, going through submissions, approving comments, working on features.
Although I enjoy this job, I can’t keep that up! Why? Because I want to start more sites. For starters, we could make a Flash tutorial site, or a CSS tutorial site, or all sorts of other tutorial sites, all showcasing amazing practioners, cool effects, and great communities—to say nothing of all the non-tutorial ideas I have!
The solution is to make Psdtuts+ a site that operates by itself, even when I’m not here. To do that, you need to have a system for how it all works. You need to have a business.
Why Psdtuts+ is different
One of the reasons I think Psdtuts+ is doing well is that we try to be very professional about it. This isn’t a hobby site, though Photoshop is my hobby. It’s not a creative outlet site that I maintain on weekends, though it is a creative outlet. And I’m not a junior writing to improve my own skills, even though they do improve by writing.
Psdtuts+ is a business.
Being a business is actually a really, really good thing. It means, for example, that we pay our writers fairly and we provide compensation for general contributions. It means we create posting schedules that are pretty consistent and are getting more so. It means that the server rarely, if ever goes down, even under sometimes tremendous load. And it means that even though the site generates literally terrabytes of bandwidth every month, you’ll never see a sudden "We ran out of bandwidth" notice.
It also means that, although the site has run for six months and hasn’t actually generated a profit yet, that we just absorb it in, and keep it running. This is possible because it’s a business.
And we’re only just getting started. Actually there’s still a lot of work to do to systematize the site. And things will get better and better over time.
Now put yourself in my shoes.
You’ve started a Web site that’s running great, really popular, but is taking up lots of your time. You need to move to the next project soon and don’t have time to do everything. But you don’t want the site to go downhill either. What do you do?
Here we are, and it’s time to turn Psdtuts+ into an awesome, self-reliant Photoshop tutorial Web site. Where do you start? Well, first you need an editor, then you need a set of writers, a method for finding new writers, a developer to build features and improvements, and to pay all these people … you need cash.
Advertising … Nope!
Where do you get money to pay all these people? Advertising right? Nope! Advertising is a *hard* business to be in. If you’ve tried starting a site or a blog, you’ll know just how hard it can be. It simply isn’t that easy to make money from ads, even on a big site like Psdtuts+, and *especially* when you aren’t willing to compromise and put ads everywhere on your site and pop-ups and pop-unders and so on.
We do sell advertising across our sites, but it doesn’t pay the bills, and it’s inconsistent. Maybe that’ll improve over time, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
After advertising, we tried selling individual PSD files, but that didn’t work; they cost too much (Paypal fees become a bigger portion of the cost when the price gets lower) so people didn’t perceive value. And value is what it’s all about.
So We Made Plus
So we created Psdtuts+ Plus, where there is value because there are *so* many psd files and on top of that, there are occasional bonus tutorials. And so far the results are looking good, the Plus system is the oil that’ll keep this baby runnin’!
Sure, periodically there are tutorials that are only for Plus members, and yes we’ll continue to advertise them in a blog post because it causes a Plus membership spike when we do. But that’s OK isn’t it? 95% of the content is totally, completely, don’t pay a cent, free as the air you breathe. If you don’t want to pay, you can come to this site, learn a ton about photoshop, never say thanks, never pay us anything, never click an ad, never Stumble or Digg a post, never contribute a tutorial, never even lift a finger, except to click away at the end, and you know what will happen? Nothing. Because that’s OK, that’s your right to do so!
And the site will be here anyway, because of all the *other* people who do participate, chat, contribute, vote, and yes, some even pay money—for which I’m eternally grateful!
Not everyone needs to pay. You only do it if you feel it’s worth it for you. It’s my job to make it worth paying for. But if you’re not going to pay, all you need to endure is a few posts and notices about it, and maybe to press the skip button in your RSS feed. I think that’s OK, right? That’s not such a big deal to put up with?
I like to think that we have a really kick-ass community here, and I’m pretty sure that most of you *do* chip in, even if it’s just by commenting or uploading to the Flickr group. And that’s yet another reason why the site is so cool, because we all get involved.
With the Plus system, we can continue to grow. I can finish building the system to make the site run without me, and then I can build more great sites that more people—maybe even the same people—get to enjoy. I’m happy because I get to build Web sites all day long, and audiences are happy because I like to think we build good quality sites. So everyone wins!
And how could anyone argue with that? :-)