Exactly one year ago today, Apple World Today launched with high expectations from me and the two other co-founders, Dave Caolo and Kelly Hodgkins. A lot has happened over the past year, so I thought I'd write a bit of a combined "lessons learned" and history post about the site. Here's what's happened:
A great launch, then a crash to reality
Our launch went really well, thanks to publicity from a number of sources. However, our first month as a new website was our best ever. Things were really quite desperate during the summer of 2015, when our traffic dipped to about a third of that first glorious month. Fortunately, we've recovered somewhat with a little growth each month since then, and we're now seeing solid numbers that are at about 55 percent of last February. It's not great, but seeing growth is a good thing and keeps us going to the keyboard every morning.
Some people got real jobs
During 2015 we had some staff changes. In particular, Dave Caolo got a real job and Kelly Hodgkins decided to try some other avenues. Every day I’m thankful that Dennis Sellers was looking for a new gig, as he and I were both somewhat in the same boat; longtime Apple bloggers who needed a new home.
To be brutally honest at this point, before TUAW was shut down by the brilliant minds at AOL I put out a lot of feelers to other Apple sites, including some that had previously told me "Hey, Steve, if you ever decide you don't want to write for TUAW, let us know and we'll hire you". You can see how well that worked out, and fortunately I don't hold grudges... People should never make promises they can't or won't fulfill.
We're not getting rich
Our loyal readers have one thing to thank for our continued existence; both Dennis and I have other sources of income that make it less painful to work here. We are definitely not getting rich, though. Taking into account what I made just from Apple World Today and the hours I put into the site, I'm making less than the US federal minimum wage from my work here. Add in those other sources of income and things don't look so bleak.
However, it's rather depressing to put in almost 2,000 hours of work on the site in one year and not have something to show for it monetarily. Sure, Dennis and I would love to spend some time in Las Vegas covering CES early next year or attend MacStock later this year, but we're not making enough to justify the expense.
The hopes and realities of advertising
Every cent we make on this site comes from one of several sources: advertising, sponsorships (a form of advertising), affiliate programs (yet another form of advertising) or subscriptions (our patrons). When the site started we had some advertisers who were willing to pay a premium rate, primarily because they were thinking of the audience numbers that TUAW used to command. When we started letting advertisers know what our actual audience numbers were, we were no longer able to charge those high rates.
We decided that it would also be a good idea to stop selling our own ads and turned those and our sponsorships over to BuySellAds and Syndicate respectively. On the plus side, they handle the details of ad and sponsorship sales. On the negative side, they take part of the proceeds. In addition, we don't always sell the spaces -- that's why you see the gray "advertise here" banners on the site on occasion. Empty boxes don't make money.
So one thing we've done is to sign up for Google AdSense, which of course probably sets off alarm bells for a lot of readers. Don't worry - if they ever actually get around to approving us for ads, I plan on blocking anything that annoys me...and I get annoyed with ads easily. The idea is to give us a more steady stream of income, IF Google ever approves us (if anyone knows how to speed these guys up, let me know).
Sponsorships are going OK so far in 2016; we've sold two weeks and have another "on the hook" as they say. Once again, our readership numbers don't command a huge rate, but having a steady stream of sponsors would definitely be a plus. Affiliate programs? iTunes remains a steady source of a trickle of income, while we haven't made a penny off of Amazon. Our other affiliates include Brydge, Pad & Quill, and Gazelle, and we've been able to see some income from those places.
The last source of income is our biggest -- patrons who subscribe to the site. Even there, we're still not making what we considered to be our "minimum" amount to continue running the site indefinitely. We appreciate every dollar that our patrons provide to help run the site, and if you weren't making that contribution? Well, we wouldn't be here. We are deeply indebted to those who make it possible and we'll keep it up as long as our bank accounts (and wives) let us.
But for every step forward with patrons, we take a small step backward. Just in January, we lost $92 in monthly donations. We know that it can be difficult for some of you to continue donating on a regular basis through Patreon, which is why we offer other methods of sending us money. That sidebar on the right side of the page is where you can go to find those other methods.
We’d like to be the “public radio” of Apple news and review sites, supported by readers and sponsors. So here’s how we do that…
What can you do?
For those of you who are already patrons of the site, we thank you. Anyone who is reading Apple World Today on a daily basis who isn't donating? Please consider doing so to the best of your ability. Although we are trying to get more ad revenue on AWT, our dream is to have the site be totally supported by readers and sponsors.
We are trying to do more for our patrons; we have started a weekly podcast just for patrons and we have a Slack chat room especially for them.
There is also something you can do that costs nothing, but sends a lot of traffic our way. Follow us on Facebook if you haven't already, and share the posts on our Facebook page with your friends. Twitter users can follow us (@appleworldtoday) and retweeting everything that comes through can also help out traffic.
Dennis and I both have a surprising faith in the future of this website. We want to get rid of some of the pain points of running this site on Squarespace; it’s been a very stable solution with a lot of features, but there are also some real issues with trying to add things that we believe can improve our readership. Expect that sometime during 2016, we’ll launch Apple World Today 2.0 on another publishing platform. That work is just beginning and will take several months.
Another post accompanies this one, listing everyone who is currently supporting Apple World Today through Patreon or other methods. For everyone who supports us with even a buck a month, we thank you because those dollars add up and make the dream of growing the site a reality.
I’m hoping that by this time in 2017, we are able to tell you just how much our readership and revenues have grown. Expect to get regular progress reports from us as 2016 unfolds.