Back in July of 1992, well before the rise of the Web, we instituted our corporate sponsorship program, explicitly patterning it after the policies of PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service. Since then, much of the rest of the Internet has taken advertising to heart, and it's not uncommon to see Web pages with ten or more ad banners flashing away. Now, as we close in on our 500th consecutive issue, we're taking the next step in the PBS model and making it possible for individuals and small organizations to support TidBITS financially as well.
I've long said that the only time I'd want to require a subscription fee for TidBITS was if we had a viable micropayment system. Otherwise we've always wanted TidBITS to be free, not so we could attract and sell more eyeballs, but because TidBITS hails from a time when information about the Macintosh and the Internet was hard to find. Much of the information existed only in commercial publications, and we felt it was important that there also be a free source of quality news, reviews, and analysis.
I can see some of those eyeballs rolling even now, as you think back to the last PBS pledge drive, with earnest announcers breathlessly telling you of the importance of your support while you were dying to find out who Hercule Poirot would finger for murder in the episode of Mystery you were watching. Rest assured we have no intention of interrupting your regularly scheduled reading with requests to contribute. We aren't even using the common shareware approach where you should pay for a program if you use it - TidBITS is free and will remain free, and you should feel absolutely no guilt if you don't wish to contribute. If you like, think of this as a voluntary subscription program.
Much of the credit for this voluntary subscription program goes to the members of TidBITS Talk, whose recommendations, encouragement, and enthusiasm convinced me to set up the necessary infrastructure to accept contributions. A number of people explicitly said they wanted to contribute money to TidBITS, and when I expressed my uncertainty about what worthwhile additional services we could provide to contributors, they gently told me that I just didn't get it: they wanted to support TidBITS for what it had done for them over the years and continues to do every week, not because they wanted anything more.
I may be dense on occasion, but I can take a hint. So I spent some time working with Kagi to make it possible for anyone who wishes to express their appreciation for TidBITS to contribute toward keeping TidBITS alive and healthy. Everything is working now, and I'd encourage you to visit the TidBITS Contributors page to see the results of these efforts.
Design Details -- We've put a good bit of thought into how we designed this contribution program, and several outside folks provided valuable perspective. Some of the more interesting aspects include the following.
We've intentionally left contribution amounts open-ended. You can contribute as much or as little as you wish, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. We have set some suggested contribution amounts because our testers indicated that, without suggestions, they felt confused about appropriate amounts. Right now, those amounts are $10 for students, $20 for individuals, and $100 for groups (such as small companies that distribute TidBITS internally or user groups that regularly reprint articles from TidBITS). If you've just sold your Internet startup for a few hundred million, you can feel free to add a few extra zeroes.
To contribute via the Web, you must use a credit card. Kagi has both SSL (Secure Sockets Layer - a way of encrypting the transmission of sensitive data from your Web browser to the remote Web server) and non-SSL versions of the contribution form, in case your browser doesn't support SSL security. If you're uncomfortable using a credit card over the Internet, or if you wish to contribute via cash, check, money order, or as though you had received an invoice, you should instead use the Kagi Register application we've customized for TidBITS contributions. Using it, you can generate a piece of paper to mail or fax to Kagi with your payment. If you need a Windows version of the Register application, send me email. Visit the TidBITS Contributors page for links to the online contribution form and the Register application.
When you contribute, you can tell us whether you would like us to list your name and a link to a Web page of your choice on the TidBITS Contributors page. You're welcome to remain anonymous, of course, but we wanted to provide a visible, and perhaps useful, show of our appreciation. We'll update the list of contributors as new contributions come through.
We've made "TidBITS Contributor" and "I Support TidBITS" badges for contributors. Feel free to copy one from our badges page and display it on your Web page with a link to the TidBITS Contributors page.
Finally, when you're filling out the contribution form, you can choose to receive an annual renewal reminder via email. Several people asked to be reminded to contribute regularly, and we certainly don't want to make that difficult.
If you have any questions or comments about contributing to TidBITS, direct them to TidBITS Talk, where many of these issues have been discussed.
Our Thanks to You -- I'm fascinated to see how this contribution program works out. But whether it brings in enough for us to buy some more RAM for the Web server or to start shopping for an island is essentially immaterial. Whatever the results, we're already grateful to all of you just for reading and for offering support with words of encouragement. This contribution program merely enables TidBITS readers to express support in a concrete fashion, which in turn helps us keep producing TidBITS in the manner (and at the level) you've come to expect.