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The End of Ricochet?

This isn’t a post we ever thought we’d have to write.  

Ricochet is a labor of love for us. We envisioned it, from the very start, as a place for civil and witty conversation between and among our members and contributors — a place for great audio content, political analysis, and even more importantly, cultural conversations.

But it’s also a business. And, to be honest, it’s a business in trouble.

We need more members. If you’re reading this, and you like Ricochet, and you’re not a member, we need you – need you – to join.  Today.

Every month, we get somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 unique visitors to the site.  Every month, we get somewhere around 300,000 podcast downloads. And that’s growing every month. We repeat: Ricochet is growing. 

But here’s the problem: only about 1% of those visitors are members. And that’s not enough to cover our costs paying our editors and technical team even the pittance we pay them.

We insisted, from the start, that Ricochet should be a business. We decided we wouldn’t try to cover our expenses by raising money from foundations. We should submit ourselves to the marketplace. That’s the best way to know if you’re reaching people or not; If you’re filling a need or not.

So here’s where we stand: unless we get more members, something closer to 2% of our visitors, we really can’t keep the business going. Our whole model is built on the 2% figure. That’s all we need: 2% of our regular visitors to join up.

In about four weeks, we’ve got some tough decisions to make.

That puts us roughly at January 21st, when President Obama takes the oath of office.  And yes, we’re aware of the irony.

If you’re a regular visitor here, and you’ve been putting off joining, please: join now. Join today.  There’s never been a better time to join: you get a year of National Review Digital, and you get to take part in our quest to win the country back. 

 If you’re already a member: thank you. Spread the word. 

The next four years are going to be crucial for our movement, and for the country. We want Ricochet to be there.

Rob and Peter

UPDATE: This post was originally published December 14, and pinned to the top of the Main Feed for several days.  We then revised the publication date to December 19, so we could unpin it and let it flow down the page from that point, instead of jumping to the fourth page or so according to its original publish date.

  1. Walrus

    What you need is a quarterly pledge drive like NPR. Rob knows how it is done. Make all the podcasts free during the drive and pump people for donations. Give people coffee mugs, tee shirts and tote bags for donating.

  2. Crow

    I’m late to this party but want to reiterate some of the great advice so far and just lend my voice to those ideas that I think are good places to start.

    I was dismayed when I woke up this morning to see the headline, but heartened by the number of comments. Count me among those willing to pay more to keep the site afloat. 

    Okay, down to specifics:

    - Price Tiered Membership should be implemented soonest. Set a Standard Member Rate for what it will cost to keep the lights on, but include options. A ~$0.50 fee per post for non-members to read full articles on the Main Feed, a ~$1.99 price to download any podcast behind the paywall for non-members, and create two new rates: a half the cost of a standard membership rate for universal “read-only” privileges (with the possibility to upgrade later, of course!) and a “Gold” (or whatever name) rate for, say, twice the standard membership.

    Tie that gold membership to some extra content, or perhaps some kind of extra editorial privilege (say, posts up to 300 words on a conversation thread)

  3. Crow

    A few more specifics:

    - Ricochet swag should be an additional source of revenue, but the products have to be worth buying. Someone out there in the wider Rico-verse must have some design talent they’d be willing to lend for product development if they earn a small commission on the back end. 

    - Advertising: the right-wing media universe is bigger than just NRO, and we should be advertising more widely. Members should have a separate tab to advertise their business for a small fee. Allow a bit more advertising from third parties on the site as well.

    - Capital Drive: The Republican party spent north of $1 billion on a failed election campaign. Not sure where Rob and Peter found the seed capital for Ricochet. Tell me there aren’t some donors out there who think their voice would be better heard by investing in a online tech-driven Republican make-over and could be persuaded to throw a few dollars our way.

    - Member Posts of the Year Book: an interesting option–perhaps start with the low cost e-book alternative to see if there is enough interest to warrant printing.

  4. Craig Wallace

    Ricochet is one of the best sites and visit daily for the posts and enjoy all the pod casts through the week. As a full member, I would be prepared to pay more or structured/tiered or the opportunity to donate more funds to this great site. Anything that helps keep Ricochet going will be acceptable to me and have learned and enjoyed so much from this site. 

  5. Joseph Eagar

    I can’t imagine life without Ricochet!  That would be terrible.  Ricochet is unique; the future of conservatism and the Republican Party will be decided by communities like this one.

    Besides, where else can you have a decent, substantive conversation on the web?  I can’t think of a single other site.

  6. Joseph Eagar
    Ryan M: I’d pay an extra $5/mo to have a personalized comment from Peter on each of my posts. ;) someone made that point earlier… Contributor feedback really tickles the members. · 2 hours ago

    That’s one of the biggest draws of the site.  Ricochet builds a bridge between conservative/Republican elites, activists, and base voters.  Communication between those three groups has not been good in recent years, to say the least.  Ricochet provides a very valuable service by connecting them.

  7. CuriousJohn
    Jeff Petraska: I come here dailyfor just two purposes: to read the Main Feed and to download the latest podcasts.  I have very little interest in posting, or even commenting on posts.  That’s just a reflection of my personality, I’m far more a listener than a talker.

    I was very much like Jeff, at one point.  How Wrong I Was, I Was Wrong.  I had no interest in posting or leaving comments.  I joined very very early on and then drop my membership, because I was cheap and I wanted more podcasts. that’s when I came back (in Feb 12) when more podcast were starting to come out.  Since then I couldn’t think what I would do without my Ricochet.  By the end of March, I starting working on doing regular Meetups,   which lead to the Audio Meetup podcast.  Just yesterday the AudioMeetUp feed hits went over 30,000  and has been doing roughly 10, 000 hits a month lately.

    Feedhitschart.jpg 

  8. CuriousJohn
    CoveredUp: Leave it to conservatives to suggest raising prices to save a flagging product.   · 7 hours ago

    The product isn’t failing, The product is in huge demand, the business model is failing. So change the business model. Change is good and necessary
  9. TeamAmerica

    Guess I’m unusual in that I usually don’t have an interest in sitting down for an hour to hear a podcast. I enjoy thoughtful articles by King Banian, Pethoukis, and others. Another activity I like is starting threads in the Member feed, and setting up a system to pay say $1.00 to start a thread might be a good idea, perhaps using Paypal for convenient, secure payment. The main page might also use Paypal for donations.

  10. CuriousJohn
    CitizenOfTheRepublic: Adam Carolla built “a pirate ship” so he doesn’t have to deal with media execs and producers by having a large “mainstreamish” audience that advertisers pay to access AND by flogging the “click the link to Amazon on my page before you buy anything” angle as a thing the dedicated-to-Adam do.

    Adam Curry and John C. Dvorak have a big podcast (http://www.noagendashow.com) with reasonable revenues* because they give their producers good content – completely free and available for redistribution/reuse by anyone AND then ask for money and give recognition to contributors.

    ……..

    i’m sorry to be critical of some commentators, but “widget selling” is really dumb on the web.  the big money is in easy donating – large and small.

    *my guess of ~$300k is about what the “book of knowledge” says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Agenda · 7 hours ago

    Thanks for all the detail examples you have been giving in this post. Very helpful.

  11. CuriousJohn
    KC Mulville: So are you telling me that the only barometer of pricing that you can think of is an over-hyped coffee at a pretentious yuppie club? 

    Come on, people. At the James Joyce Pub in Baltimore, a 20 oz. Guinness goes for $6.20. An Irish Punch (Southern Comfort, Amaretto, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, orange juice and Grenadine) goes for $8.00.

    That’s how we like to think of Ricochet: it’s a pub  … where, as Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) said to Sean Thornton (John Wayne) inThe Quiet Man,we like to talk a little treason.

    And since Lord Obama has taken over the country, we’re gonna need a quiet little place to talk a little treason. That’s how we like to think of Ricochet. · 7 hours ago

    My favorite movie of all time

    Mary Kate Danaher: Could you use a little water in your whiskey? Michaleen Flynn: When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water.
  12. Timothy Patton
    Crow’s Nest: 

    - Price Tiered Membership…A ~$0.50 fee per post for non-members to read full articles on the Main Feed,…

    Edited 2 hours ago

    Pay per post or pay to post (if that is what you are saying)?  Eh, that kind of hassle would lose me.  I would just quit posting and only listen to the podcasts.  Granted, I don’t post often.  I wonder how many voices would be lost by limiting which members could respond?

  13. Quintilian
    Matt Travis: I love you guys but guests like Mike Murphy don’t help… · 11 hours ago

    I agree with Matt Travis.  Allowing the loathsome Mike Murphy a platform to promote his values-free anti-Conservatism really defeats the whole purpose of Ricochet.  The Tea Party has elected many more Republicans than the always-losing Murphy.  Additionally, should we really be surprised that only 1% of Ricochet’s readers are subscribers when the government and culture promote looting, rent-seeking, and government dole?

  14. Stephen Bishop

    OK so what went wrong?

    • You grew to fast

    • You built a technocracy/bureaucracybefore you had the revenue
    • You didn’t involve the membership in managing the site
    • You are now hitting the standard cash flow crisis where a company grows to fast.

    So what should you be doing about it?

    • Get Google Adds on here tomorrow. That’ll solve a lot of your cashflow problems

    • Enroll on https://www.coursera.org/course/growtogreatness which kicks off on 1/28/2013. I’ll be there!!!
    • Initiate a a continuous improvement program and keep Ricochet adding value
    • Involve the membership. You should have by now worked out who on this site can make a contribution to running the business. Invite them!!!

    Rob and Peter, if Ricochet provided the value that people want you would have the membership. If you can’t make it pay then pass the baton to those that can.

  15. Pseudodionysius
    EThompson:Every month, we get somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 unique visitors to the site.  Every month, we get somewhere around 300,000 podcast downloads. And that’s growing every month. We repeat: Ricochet is growing. 

    But here’s the problem:only about 1% of those visitors are members. 

    Ahem… Here’s my personal plug for all you cheapskates that won’t cough up $3.67  a month:

    You are missing the opportunity of a lifetime to converse on such subjects as literaturewithtabula rasa; music(from modern to jazz to rock n’ roll) withLance,Thelonious, andFranco;politicswith just about everybody including strategist extraordinaire James of England;theologywith the likes ofPseudoandkatievs;international relationswith fab CanadiennesRedandIndaba;economic science with brainiac Michael Labeitand entrepreneurs skipsul andDoug Kimball;sportswith EJ Hill, DocJay,Mike LaRocheandCharlotte;sciencewithBrian WattandDocJay;philosophy andculturewithRobert Lux,WC,Mama Toad, and the infamousflownover, plus… a summer travelogueby the talented photographerFeliciaB.

    And this is only the short list.  · 6 hours ago

    Edited 5 hours ago

    You forgot to mention the nudity.

  16. Pseudodionysius
    Trace: Well now we know why everyone was so testy on the last podcast… · 7 hours ago

    Don’t sell Mike Murphy’s contribution short.

  17. Franco

    Hope you are still entertaining ideas -

    Have all podcasts member-only,  BUT,  have a free podcast – a compilation – which teases (tease meaning 10 minutes or more at a time) all the other great podcasts. 

    Non-members can get a 60-minute (or 45min ) compilation podcast of all the others once a week. You already have the content. Put out some of the best segments in one podcast free. Get people addicted. 

    This solves the problem of getting good guests  who want to be heard by the larger audience. As well, they will benefit by having their better jokes and insights heard by the wider, free audience.

    The  (free) listener will get a good and representative sample – enough to begin to understand the value of getting  entire podcasts – and a bunch of them – for the monthly subscription fee. Being able to read the member feed and comment is the dessert, not the entree.

    This, by the way, will cost Ricochet nothing other than paying Blue Yeti for making the edits.

     It’s a reverse of your current business model.  

  18. Talleyrand

    Peter/Rob

    I had a think about your sad news about Ricochet’s position as a business.

    First thing is not to despair, Pessimists are rarely disappointed in Life, but Optimists have a better time of it.

    I suggest you run several chat sessions with your members to accurately gauge what is working, what is not, and where improvements can be made. Your customers are your best asset, use them.

    Further practical steps I would do for any business in tightened circumstances would be:

    1. Simplify payments to smooth cash flow ie more upfront charges for a year rather than monthly billing options.  This works as a one off , but it may give you some short breathing space.

    2. Seriously ask yourselves and customers if Ricochet is now too diluted ie too many downloads, too many sources of information, much of it  uncharged. With diversions to other websites of your associates and their blogs, podcasts, etc, you are  reducing interest levels in Ricochet. We only have some much time to spend on the internet, focus it into your site and reduce opportunities to drift away and not pay.

     - Continued..

  19. Talleyrand

    Continued…

    1. More granularity in posting so people get:

    • (i) Some posts free

    • (ii) Some a few free paragraphs / headlined  then hit the pay-wall

    It is cruel,but which contributors produce the most interest, and which produce the most conversions to real revenue?

    End those that are not contributing to the bottom line. No one likes to sack people, especially good colleagues and friends, but business is there for a profit.

    Oh, and bring back Claire Berlinksi

  20. Franco

     (cont)

    At the END of this free podcast give a plug. NOTHING in the beginning. Hear? No ads! This is why people listen. First commercial should be after at least 10 minutes – and keep it short! People are not stupid.

     I suspect that membership fees trump ad revenue. Am I wrong? If I’m right, then you need to get people on board – not push them away. Peppering a podcast with ads diminishes the experience for the listener and will discourage them to pay. Imagine if movies on DVD were cheaper but laced with ads. Do you think that’s a good revenue model?

    Podcasts NEED to be long form, with minimal commercial interruptions. That’s what the appeal is. It’s a new form – not a bastard son of radio, but a completely new model. We get all the radio and news on TV for free, but it comes with a price – all the interruptions and short segments, which kill in-depth discussion and analysis – precisely what Ricochet has to offer.