Tech blog The Brooks Review starts charging for content, with a few twists


Tech blogger Ben Brooks was tired of running an ad-supported site. So he decided to add a modified paywall to his website, The Brooks Review. For inspiration, he looked to the New York Times.

Brooks writes that running ads on his website “always made me feel less genuine” — plus, he didn’t like the way they look. He decided to charge for content, but he had some concerns.

“A paywall in its basic form is ineffectual for what I want, because then it becomes a massive hurdle to gain new readers (since all my content would be hidden out of the public eye) — I don’t want that,” Brooks writes on his blog. He outlines his challenges:

  1. How to continue to attract new readers and thus expose my writing to new people.
  2. How to keep my writing quotable and linkable by other sites.
  3. How to keep the current readers I have.
  4. Provide a firm reason why a membership model is better than the ad supported model, for those reading the site. (This was something I personally had to answer before I felt good about moving forward.)

He was against truncated posts, trial periods and sample writing posts, which “would personally piss me off.” He noted that the New York Times‘ paywall lets readers read a few articles for free each month. “What I have going for me that The New York Times doesn’t have, is that I am not a news site. And since my opinions should stand the test of time, I do not need to move at the speed of light, therefore: time itself should really not be a big deal to me or the readers of this site.”

So he decided that non-members will have access to all content on his site, with a delay: They won’t see the posts until seven days after their original publication. “I think that anything shorter [than seven days] would be too easy for a reader to decide it’s not worth becoming a member. Anything longer than seven days and I felt that I was being too punitive against readers who simply cannot afford to pay for a membership,” he writes.

Brooks is charging $4 a month. If paying members link to articles on the Brooks Review from their own websites, readers who click those links can read the posts for free immediately. Paying members get a “unique RSS feed that shows you the content as it is published, without delay.”

Brooks thinks the new paywall model will change his site somewhat:

I can’t buy new things to review unless I have the money to do so — so that may taper off for a bit until the membership base (hopefully) grows. Also, since I am not worried about the timeliness of my linked items and articles, I am going to try and write all of them with a lasting and value added motivation (keen readers may have noticed that my commentary has slowly been getting longer on linked list posts — this is what I am talking about).

Linking to a post and commenting “cool” is now against my own rules. If I can’t add value to a link with thoughtful analysis and opinion, then that post isn’t getting a link on this site.

The model’s working so far — but “it doesn’t scale”

“The reaction has been amazing,” Brooks told me. “I was completely expecting it to be negative, but so far the positive reactions greatly outweigh any negative ones.”

I asked him whether other tech bloggers can use his model. The answer: It depends. “This model works poorly for news blogs and for the really small blogs that haven’t yet built a dedicated readership,” Brooks said. “The biggest caveat is how this model scales across the web in general — because it doesn’t scale. I subscribe to over 500 RSS feeds, and there is no way I could afford to pay each of those $4 a month, so if too many people take on this model it’s going to be a real battle for paying readers. However, how different is that from the battle blogs currently face for paying advertisers?”

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