Seriously, those keys on my keyboard are showing significant wear after the reaction from to the unveiling of our new TidBITS membership program (see “ ,” 12 December 2011). Between the incredibly kind messages from many longtime readers and notes from people who had problems due to multiple accounts or other quirks, it took me almost a week to regain control of my email. But that’s good, and for those who have become TidBITS members, thanks again.
But as gratifying as hitting 1,200 members in a few weeks has been, that’s less than 5 percent of the 25,000 people who receive TidBITS via email each week, not to mention the tens of thousands of people who read our articles via our Web site. So, if you haven’t yet joined the TidBITS membership program (and especially if you tried, but were stymied by glitches that affected some people in the first week), won’t you to 2,000 by the time we cover Macworld Expo for you at the end of January? We also now have member-only discounts on over 25 top Mac programs, including the newly added PDFpen, TextExpander, DiscLabel, SpamSieve, EagleFiler, DropDMG, and Fetch — see our  for the full list. (And let me know if you’d like to offer a discount on your product.)
Thanks to the whirlwind of responses in December, we discovered (and fixed) a few mistakes, made some changes, and learned some lessons. In the interests of transparency and helping others avoid our missteps, here’s what we’ve learned.
People Like the Option of Manual Renewals -- This is the biggest one, and it wasn’t even really news to us, since a good friend of TidBITS who runs a subscription service had encouraged us to offer both manual and automatic renewals. With four renewable membership levels ($20, $50, $100, and $250), though, we felt that eight options was overwhelming, so we initially opted for making the two lower levels renew automatically, and the two higher levels renew manually.
After hearing from some people who dislike automatic renewals on principle, we posed the problem to our friends at eSellerate, who suggested we use a feature of their system that was new to us. With it, all our memberships default to manual renewals but give those who prefer not to run through the cart every year an option to switch to automatic renewal.
Offer Multiple Levels of Membership -- Speaking of the different membership levels, it turned out to be incredibly important to offer widely varying levels so people could choose how much they wanted to contribute. Although the vast majority of people joined at the lower membership levels, when I compare what percentage of revenue each level generated, it’s remarkably even, apart from the $250 Patron level that has primarily been used by companies and user groups.
Level % Revenue
Contributor ($20) 26%
Supporter ($50) 28%
Benefactor ($100) 19%
Patron ($250) 6%
Angel ($1,000) 21%
While we are grateful to each and every person who becomes a TidBITS member, I particularly want to thank all the people who contributed $20 and then sent me email apologizing for not being able to give more. Believe me, we appreciate everything, and in this tough economy, it means all the more to us that our work is considered so valuable. On the other extreme, for all the Angel-level members, we’re truly overwhelmed at your generosity.
Currency Conversion Is Confusing -- Although we pride ourselves on trying to treat readers in other countries as first-class citizens when it comes to things like including metric measurements and avoiding season references that are backward for our Southern Hemisphere readers, currency exchange still throws us.
Initially, we let the eSellerate system handle currency conversion, since then the amount you see in the cart matches the amount that appears on your credit card statement, no matter what currency conversion fee your card charges. But it turns out that the service eSellerate relies on for that feature charges a fairly steep “hedging” fee to ignore any exchange rate changes between when you place your order and when the transaction clears the credit card.
That’s still an option, but after we realized the extent of the issue via an alert Canadian reader, we’ve tweaked the cart so U.S. dollars is the default currency, meaning that your credit card company will perform the currency exchange, likely at a more favorable exchange rate than what eSellerate can obtain from its partner.
Seek Help from Support Ahead of Time -- We tested all the Web pages and code involved with the membership system until we were blue in the face. But what we forgot to do was ask our friends at eSellerate support to take a look at what we were doing, which turned out to be an unfortunate oversight, since most of the problems we encountered (and which they helped us fix) could have been avoided if I’d asked them first.
It wasn’t that what we were doing was actually incorrect, or our testing would have found it. Instead, we’d done things in some non-optimal ways that exposed limitations in various Web browsers and in eSellerate’s systems with edge-case data. The moral of the story is to talk to support people before unveiling a new system.
Looking Forward to Memberships in 2012 -- I’ll admit it — we’re jazzed by the initial success of the TidBITS membership program, and now our goal is to keep it growing while continuing to publish the content you’ve come to expect from us.