Post-Dispatch Proposal

by brendan on 01/20/2013

Dear Post-Dispatch -

I don’t get home delivery of the paper. It’s nothing personal; reading a physical paper has never been part of my routine. However I do read the news online, and often end up on the stltoday.com website. But it’s almost always a grating experience. I don’t like the website, and it doesn’t seem like you really want me to like the website. When I visit I’m greeted with six to ten ads, some of them animated, and an auto-playing video. I do my best to tune those out, find the article I want to read, and get out. Unless of course I make the mistake of opening the comments. Talk about the dregs of humanity. Not once have I closed a comments section thinking “I feel better about my fellow St. Louisans” or “That was a good decision I just made”.

Here’s the thing. I really want to support the Post-Dispatch. I appreciate the value that the P-D brings to the community, and how important it is to have a strong local press. I look forward to reading several of your writers, including Evan Benn, David Hunn, Bernie Miklasz, and Tim Logan. I get that if your readers don’t support you, then you won’t exist, and the void that you would leave behind isn’t going to be easily filled by a scattered group of local bloggers.

Currently my options are to either subscribe to home delivery for $155/year, or the E-Edition only for $300/year. Home delivery would be wasteful, since I wouldn’t ever read it. And the E-Edition without home delivery costs twice as much? That’s just stupid. Only in some alternate reality would a self-downloaded PDF file cost more than ink and paper hand delivered to my door. Plus while the E-Edition is great to occasionally browse, it’s not nearly as efficient as the website for just popping in on a favorite column or two. So neither of these options work for me.

I propose that you offer a third subscription tier. $8/Month for “Enhanced” stltoday.com access, with an optional $2/Month add-on for Sunday E-Edition.

Enhanced stltoday.com access would include:
1. No Ads. A Deals page is fine, but let me choose to navigate there.
2. Comment Blocking. A setting to turn comments on or off, site-wide.
3. Auto-play control. A setting to toggle autoplay, site-wide.

This would extend to the mobile site and work with at least two concurrent logins, since most people have at least two devices (laptop, phone, tablet, etc).

I visit stltoday.com a couple times a week to read probably 1-3 pages each time, and I never click on ads. What do I represent to you, in terms of CPM page revenue? I would suspect it’s a lot less than the $96-120/year I would rather pay you to take the ads away. Can you go even lower than $8/month and still pull in decent revenue? Do it. The idea here is to make this as accessible as possible, and you’re only increasing revenue when a non-subscriber / site-lurker chooses to convert.

Taking this idea a step further, how many people are subscribing to PDF only for $300 a year? I can only assume that it exists solely to make Home Delivery seem better by comparison. So let’s abolish the current E-Edition tier. Anybody who chips in the extra $2 on top of the Enhanced site access gets E-Edition for all seven days. That would probably be a lot more popular than the current E-Edition option.

We share the same goal. I don’t like hearing about layoffs at the P-D, and I certainly don’t want the P-D to become the next paper to cut down days of operation or worse. But if you want me to help out, you’ve got to adapt and offer something I can latch on to.

Please give this some serious consideration. I’ll gladly be the first one to sign up.

Brendan Gates

Update 2/17/13:
I emailed this to P-D Newsroom Leadership, Public Relations, and Customer Service. The Customer Service department replied a couple days later to say they would pass it on. I also posted it on Twitter to Weatherbird’s attention, and received a similar response from Weatherbird as well as a kind reply from a P-D reporter. No sign of an enhanced online access tier, though. Maybe someday.

No Comments

Goodbye Livestrong

by brendan on 01/19/2013

livestrong

I bought my Livestrong bracelet in the Summer of 2004, right when they came out. I was caught up in the Lance Armstrong hype with him beating cancer and then triumphantly returning to win cycling’s toughest event. It was an impressive story, and you weren’t cool if you didn’t have one of the yellow bands on your wrist. So I bought one. The smallest one I could find, on account of my child-sized wrists.

Fast forward one year and like many people, I still had the bracelet on. Then something changed in my life. I had been feeling off for a few months, leading up to an episode where I temporarily lost vision in one eye and talked my way into an unscheduled visit with my primary care physician. Based off my pale skin and symptoms of sluggishness, he opted to check me for testicular cancer – pointing to my bracelet and saying “I’m sure you’ve heard of this disease”. That scared me a little bit. I couldn’t have cancer, could I? Later that night he called me with blood work results to insist that I check into a hospital immediately, as my blood counts were universally low. I did that, and woke up the next morning to a new doctor telling me to prepare for a fight with leukemia. That scared me more than anything has ever scared me.

It turns out that I didn’t have leukemia. Further testing revealed that I had (and still have) aplastic anemia. It’s pretty rare, so there aren’t a whole lot of inspirational books written by survivors. Instead, I was given a copy of Lance Armstrong’s book It’s not about the bike: My journey back to life. That book made a real difference for me. It’s right up there behind the care of my doctors and the support from my loved ones, for what I credit with how I was able to deal with the illness.

Almost overnight my bracelet changed from something trendy to something very different. It no longer had anything to do with cycling, or Nike, and had everything to do with me beating my own illness.

Now it’s 2013, and I’ve had the Livestrong bracelet on day and night for eight and a half years. I took it off once just to prove that I could, but other than that it’s been on my wrist every single day. Lance Armstrong is also now a confessed cheater. And his Livestrong foundation has been under attack over the last couple years for what it’s really brought to the fight against cancer.

I don’t care that Lance cheated. And I never really identified with Livestrong as an organization that supported me, since I didn’t have cancer. I don’t doubt that they helped many, many people. But it’s time for me to move on. My illness has been in remission for several years now, and the bracelet is just something that I’ve kept wearing out of habit.

So I’m taking it off. This doesn’t diminish what the bracelet meant to me at one time, nor what Lance Armstrong did for me. I just don’t need to wear it anymore. And if anybody asks, I’m still going to recommend that book.

2 Comments

Storify

by brendan on 01/10/2013

Have you heard of Storify? It’s like a blog, in that it’s long form social media. But where it differs is that Storify is highly integrated with other social networks and can easily pull in outside elements for commentary. I used it to narrate a series of beer themed twitter exchanges between a local brewery and well, the people it angered. Check out my attempt here: http://storify.com/_bgates/aggressive-ales

No Comments