The original post was an assembly of thoughts from the fantastic team helping to keep CTH level and steady. It was accidentally published prior to my review.. /SD.
The Treehouse previously operated on the WordPress/Automattic platform without a lot of fanfare; a genuine labor of love. At first it was just a blogging platform, but as technology became more sophisticated, things got better for you, the loyal reader and the admin team. Specifically, CTH was able to monetize the site with advertising, which allowed me to spend more time doing research, writing articles and managing the direct concerns of the readers. Running ads was a checkbox, we turned it on and it just worked.
It’s safe to say that we were unaware of the amount of technical value, managing day to day technical issues, that blogging platforms like WordPress.com delivered. That all changed when CTH was deplatformed by Matt Mullenweg’s WordPress.com.
Fortunately, the software that operated the site was “open-source,” which means we had the option of moving the whole site to new servers without a lot of TECHNICAL issues. It was was really the scale of content and the goal to preserve the decades-long library (w/internal citations) that provided the greatest challenge. However, keeping the machines running is a different game when every page view now comes at a cost.
Within the migration process we also discovered the dynamic of cost driven by the commenting system; the conversation on the porch about the stories, research and analysis. As we have often repeated: it is the conversation that matters; that conversation is your comments and fellowship.
These lessons about self-hosting a website have been very expensive. It turns out the popularity of the site requires a six-digit annual budget just to maintain the technical status quo. Independent server costs, the cache system, the CDN and bandwidth allotments, the auto-leveling needs for stability, the software licenses, the email notification system and the support developers all come with an expense. Those costs do not include all of the unpaid effort by loyal moderators, tech support and volunteers that are managing these things right now.
The initial saving of CTH and the relaunch (a great accomplishment by some fantastic tech support) was also expensive. CTH was blessed and thankful to have people that care about truth reach out to offer assistance; and CTH readers were generous in offsetting those emergency costs. Many people stepped in to help save our little corner of the internet and with a core tech team (scruffy but smart) we stand on solid ground again.
My task now is to find a revenue model that works best for the important people, you; the Treehouse readers.
Advertising seems like the obvious move, but like many nowadays, we have long been suspect of things like covert tracking (3rd party cookies); and we accept the entire content delivery ecosystem is in flux at the moment. Privacy has been our CTH priority for years, and recent events -which include our own targeting- affirmed the wisdom of putting privacy at the forefront of our discussion.
As we are seeing corporations are now openly operating their businesses with the intent to influence politics, their advertising money is now a weapon they can use to generate leverage over website content. Not only is Big Tech making ideological determinations over monetization, but advertising companies are now using their budgets to align with Big Tech’s ideological goals. This is not a good outcome. Corporate fascism is on the advance.
As Scott Adams points out in the tweet below, ad revenue is now determining the type of information we can find on the internet. Many “conservative” information websites and platforms are increasingly making content determinations in the same way that MSM cowers to the almighty corporate dollar. You might be stunned to know just how prevalent this is; I know I was.
It won’t be long before consumers of ad-based news media are seen as mental slaves to ridiculous narratives while the consumers of subscription-based news are the only free thinkers remaining to preserve our system. @RubinReport @ggreenwald
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) April 19, 2021
My priority with content has always been to stay steadfast to the motto: “The Truth Has No Agenda“, and CTH has declined financial offers because we never wanted to be in a position where outside elements have any influence on our content or conversation. Additionally, our crowdsourcing efforts not only produce great results, but our community credibility is our strength.
With all of the operational costs in mind, here is what we need to figure out: What is the best revenue model for the readers of the Treehouse?
I need to figure this out soon, or there is a slight risk there won’t be a Treehouse. Fortunately, software is soft, meaning we can experiment with models until we get it right.
We like the idea that we are in charge of our own destiny in that we are running our own servers and out of the reach of Big Tech, so while other “Free Speech” platforms like Substack, Locals and Minds look very attractive, it’s always going to be somebody else’s platform, making the enterprise dependent on their viability (remember MySpace?).
Additionally, from the outset I have always wanted to provide information free to everyone; that remains my priority. I do not like the idea that information comes with a cost; as a result a subscription based website was always a non starter for me. That said, I foresee coming up against pressure to find a revenue model (which pays for the expenses) before it’s too late.
That leaves CTH with a few paths forward to consider:
- Turn on 3rd party Advertising (we’re likely going to do that for now)
- Some kind of crowd-sourced sponsorship (PBS annual drives, Reoccurring PayPal or Subscribe Star)
- Subscription with tiered content (not all content is free) [I don’t like]
- Pay-to-not-get-what-you-don’t-want (Pay to turn off ads)
- Something else (because we are considering everything)
There also might be something else I just don’t know what it is.
As I look at the landscape I see in front of us, my goal would be to establish a proprietary system for revenue via ads that allows CTH to work directly with sponsors and not with 3rd parties. In that process we would have full control and retain 100% privacy. But to achieve that goal CTH would need to have seed capital to launch a business model and at least one person to coordinate it.
The Conservative Treehouse has always been about you, not me. For me the sharing of information is a labor of love; I truly enjoy the fellowship, the research and the writing assembly. Together with tips, crowdsourcing and research we put the information together and write articles about the ‘Occam’s Razor’ conclusions. Through the years CTH assembled a network of allies in the fight who form a deep rebel alliance of information. However, staying outside the reach of Big Tech and keeping the site anti-fragile to their attacks is a little costly.
So I turn to the experts… the people who really matter… YOU !
Before any decisions are reached I want to hear what scenario makes the most sense to you. Let me know, below.
Love to all,
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” [Isaiah 54-17]