How has that turned out?
Here I’ll share the story, including data and my analysis, in the spirit of openness. Ever since I launched myself on this unusual career I’ve tried to share as much of the experience as I could, and want to keep on with that strategy.
When the FTTE transition began, there were about 2,025 subscribers to the free report. So far, as of this writing, 62 people have signed up for the new model, or about 3% of the original population. Some joined through Patreon, pushing the number of supporters there to 104 (hurrah!), while most went the direct PayPal route.
On the one hand, this 62 number saddens me. What a major drop-off. That’s far too many people who are no longer connected to the research. Also, it represents way too many who don’t (so far) see value in FTTE.
On the other, the number who did transition over means more than 60 people found serious value in the report, which is very, very heartening. Additionally, many signed up with extra expressions of support, which was grand.
To my surprise nobody issued criticisms of the publication shift, at least none that I received personally or came across online. I was expecting some pushback for an anti-open move, but nothing so far.
Moreover, that 3% conversion rate might actually be nominal or even a bit high for this kind of thing. One observer claims 1% is typical for switching from free to paid, at least in terms of freemium software:
A really good conversion rate for free-to-paid is 4%, like Dropbox. Awesome for them, but normal rates are more like 1%, and that’s if users are reasonably active. [emphasis in original]
So is 1% is normal, 3% is much better, and heading towards the “awesome” of 4%. Good.
One surprise that occurred during the transition process was requests for institutional memberships. We launched the new model with individual options (PayPal or Patreon) only, but a growing number of people asked for an option to sign up as a university, as a library, or an association.
So my wife and I conducted a crash course of research into institutional subscription models. We reached out to colleagues and consultants. We built and discarded models that took into account IP address restriction, document watermarking, subscriber size (FTE, endowment)… then offered instead a very simply version: $600 per year, no restrictions, as many email addresses as the client likes. Within days of launching it a half-dozen institutions signed up, then several more.
That is terrific, especially as each subscription means (hopefully!) more than one reader at a given institution. The 62 number is actually much larger, conceivably, so FTTE can expand conversations.
Summing up: so far, this looks like a qualified success. FTTE now achieves some support for the work I put into it. It may approach sustainability in the near term. There is room to grow (and yes, you might consider signing up on this Black Friday!); perhaps if numbers keep rising we can divert some of the revenue into paid research and/or graphic design.
Please join us! Individuals and institutions alike are most welcome.