Finding balance online

Concrete Disciples

Be careful what you wish for. If you spend the time and money to make something worthwhile online, you want people to read it. If you get too many people reading, it can become quite expensive and time consuming to maintain. I used to spend a lot of time on Concrete Disciples and Sleestak. As I started to develop Skate and Annoy more, I gradually chose to spend more time creating on SNA and less time reading other sites. Maintaining these things can be a bitch, just ask the guys who do it. Adding forums generates a headache of a different level of magnitude. Imagine every jackass commenter you see on this site multiplied by 100 or 500. Flame wars, server overloads, spam posts… I know, cry me river right? I haven’t been following it in detail, but I know Jeff Greenwood over at Concrete Disciples had some health issues for a while, and I think he’s turned over the reigns of CD for the most part. A while ago they made the decision to contract an online advertising agency to help generate ad revenue and pay for the heavy usage the site gets. At first there were a lot of “crossover” ads for action sports related companies, you know, lifestyle stuff. Buy your surf trunks here, etc… I was over there the other day and got a little bit of a shock when I pulled up a page and found geographically targeted ads trying to sell me a car in Portland, as well as ads for Verizon. Basically, non skateboarding related in any sense. It kind of bummed me out a little, but I know they aren’t “selling out”, they just need to pay the bills.

The reality is that skateboard companies aren’t real fond of shelling out money for advertising online, or even in print, unless you are talking about the major magazines. At best, they might be persuaded into flowing some product if you know someone who works there. A free deck isn’t going to pay your hosting bill or allow you to take time off of work to go photograph a skateboarding event, or pay for gas on a road trip. What about Google ads? Those are those text only ads that a lot of sites use on every page. I think you get paid a couple of cents if someone actually clicks on them. One of the problems is that most of the links that come up are for generic online extreme sports retailers, you know “Buy a World Industry complete for $99.” Personally, every time I see one of those Google text ads I think that they really aren’t doing anything besides diluting the appeal of the site. I’m not looking for the kind of reader that doesn’t already have a favorite local or online shop that they frequent on a regular basis.

How do sites handle it? Sleestak went to the “invite only” method, and occasionally has events where the community will donate money or time or goods or services to help out, but for the most part it comes out of Bobcat’s pocket. As a result, the community is a lot smaller that it could be, and there have been frequent “service outages” and reboots of the site. But it’s there for those who care, and without advertisements of any sort.

By contrast, Concrete Disciples is huge, and must be an even huger headache to manage. They have a lot of features, but I’d wager the bulk of the traffic is on the server heavy discussion forums. And they’ve got advertisements, but I’d seriously doubt anyone is actually making money over there. If they are, then more power to them.

Other sites? Well, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of “This site is a lot of work, I need your donations in money and content to make it work.” These kind of pleas can come off very whiny and childlike if you’re not careful. I mean, either do it because you love it, or get your shit together and approach it as a money making venture. Just don’t try and guilt your readers into supporting you as if you were on some sort of public broadcasting telethon.

What about Skate and Annoy? Well, I’ve tried to assemble a cast of enthusiasts who can generate quality content. Of course, nobody gets paid so it’s all for “the glory” or creative outlet, which doesn’t exactly encourage regular participation, especially when you can head on over to Blogger.com and set up your own site to contribute whenever you feel like without the restrictions of some guy calling himself your “Editor” and trying to get you to do things his way all time. Thanks Conahan I have some help! We run some banner ads at the top, most of which were for trade or are affiliated with people we know. Occasionally, we get someone willing to part with cash for ad. We also have the skateshop link (OldSchoolSkaters.net) on the side of the page. We get a small percentage if someone clicks on the link and actually buys something. So far we’ve made less than $200 total, but it’s better than nothing. lately I’ve been getting approached by a few web sites and companies that are geared towards extreme sports. They poke around tentatively, but are interested in much more complex (and intrusive) advertising programs than I am willing to offer, or they are more one-sided in their benefits, sometimes requiring adding their content that I’m pretty sure our readers are not going to be interested in.

So what do you think? Do you run a skateboarding web site that actually gets any money from Google text ads? Does anyone actually pay attention to banner ads on the skate sites they visit? Do ads for non-skateboarding related companies have a negative effect on you as a viewer?

17 Comments

  1. good read – call it as you see it.

    I made a promise to never have ads. How can you be unbiased and still have to please people that pay your bills? I like being able to stay neutral, and yeah if “skatepark developer X” fucks something up i’m gunna call it no matter how ‘uncool’ or ‘unbrolike’ it is. Same with some dudes skate company that rips off or makes some sub-par shit. Seems like the whole skate community is nothing but a big frat house and you need to know someone from some cool SF company in order to make the pages and drink beers with the uber-elite.

    Web hosting costs ~80 bucks a year for a decent ISP with reasonable bandwidth (for traffic). Not a major dent in anyones side to say the least. Sure sleestak has had some problems over the last 10 years, but I learned from those mistakes at least and can use that to help out other people so they don’t lose all their god-damn data due to a server crash or a delinquent account.

    Anyone who has tried to make money off of skateboarders knows it’s not there. We drink in the alley instead of at the bar to save money. We camp out in the back of the Post Office undercover instead of renting a nice room. It’s the myriads of schmucks who WANT to look like skaters that are the bread and butter of the boarding corporations.

  2. I heard a good one today attributed to Mike Estes, “Core means poor.”

  3. From the beginning, Chris and I have maintained our stance against action sports marketers, energy drinks, music labels and non-skateboard related advertising. Over the years we denied many, many junk merchants and kite-surf-wake-skate kooks and we feel the same out automobile ads and celebrity poker tournaments. They have no place or direct connection with SkateDaily’s viewers.

    We work with a select few advertisers and it basically pays for our hosting costs. We’re happy with that and if Slim Jim, the Armed Forces and Sobe want to reach their “target market” online, it surely won’t happen through our site.

  4. corncobcock on September 20, 2007 - Reply

    core means poor sounds good! get a job. keep skateboarding the part of your life that is meaningful, and dont prostitute it or yourself…insert corporate type response here!

  5. Holly shit, corncobcock nailed it!

  6. SPS has no revenue streams on purpose. We kick all of it out of our pockets, but we get the hooks on hosting since we are a NPO.

    Still, it can be tough.

  7. It’s like preaching to the choir over here. My next post is titled “Skate and Annoy readers are all pretty cool.”

  8. I love it when people bitch on the internet about people bitching on the internet.

    which i just did

  9. Tom Miller on September 21, 2007 - Reply

    A great topic. I just look for content that doesn’t bore me. I’m not ideologically opposed to advertising or even non-endemic advertising, but invariably one can draw a direct relationship between the quantity and nature of advertising and the quality of content. It’s just how it is.

  10. Great read, keep up the good work.

  11. I’ve taken record label ads in trade. Punk rock and skateboarding are intertwined for me. I’ve heard there are other types of music besides punk (and new wave)… ha ha. It may be at worst hypocritical, but more likely just inconsistent, but music advertising doesn’t seem out of place on a (or at least my) skateboarding web site. Although BK I can admire the purity of not having it.

    When is the first guild meeting for skateboard web site publishers?

  12. Good topic… those google ads are lamn and I seriously doubt that anyone ever clicks on them. I can honestly say that I have never clicked on one.

    To me it’s almost like selling out in a way. There are other routes and options out there to try to generate money without having to resort to crap like google ads.

    As a small skateboard company, we never have money to advertise…but we still find ways to do it. I too try to swap stories, information, pictures and interviews. If another site is not willing to run us an ad for us in exchange, at least if they use our information we still get some exposure.

    Why would I want to pay $600 dollars for a wallet sized ad in one of the big magazines when I can mail in a deck that cost under $20 bucks to manufacturer and actually get a review from it.

    Here’s an idea…why don’t you throw up a small donation/paypal box up on the site. People know the time and resourses involved to maintain sites like S&A and I’m sure they would be down to kick in a few bucks here and there…I know I would.

    I had no problem kicking down a small donation to the Stak awhile back…even though I think it shocked Bobcat.

  13. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the donation box either. Too close to begging. I think I’d rather have stuff for sale. Some people don’t like music or clothing company ads, I don’t like donation buttons.

    Actually, I have made donations to sites before, but I think they were music download sites that had rare, obscure and out of print music that I would download. Stuff that you couldn’t buy if you wanted to. These sites were getting hammered for bandwidth, and I felt they were really providing me a service that “enriched my life” so I wanted to help out.

    This is a little bit beyond the scope of this post, but it’s still related. One thing I didn’t talk about was something unique to Concrete Wave magazine. I don’t know exactly how it works, but they seem to have a spread each issue that is content generated and branded by a specific advertiser. I’m not talking about a road trip story that follows a team around, magazines do that all the time. I’m talking about the Silverfish Report that is a page of content generated by Silverfishlongboarding.com. They used to have a monthly feature that was branded under Team Goon that I think was a Punk Rock Skateboards affiliate (what happened to those guys? ) The point is, it’s hard to tell whether these are advertisements masquerading as content, or a feature brought to you buy a company or what. Michael Brooke sometimes pops in here, so maybe he will elaborate.

  14. I’m a sell out… What’s a website publisher?

  15. we already had our ‘internet gang convention’ at Lincoln City, remember?

    Thanks again Mike – I hope I helped you with the OMA forum with all those mods and shit. Haven’t had time to swing in there maybe later on this week to see if you broke anything.

  16. A real good read. Doubt I’ll ever get to the point where advertising would be an option btu you did a great job of highlighting the pros and cons of taking in dollars.

    Keep up the great work and hope to make it out to Portland to skate next spring.

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