Where To Go From Here
I'm not a fan of Elon Musk for a variety of reasons. I've been relatively open about that. But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and shortly after the first Twitter Blue catastrophe, Musk tweeted something that I respect: to summarize from memory, he basically said “over the coming months, we're going to try a lot of different things at Twitter. Some will work, some won't, and some will look stupid from the outside. That's just how business goes. You have to try things.” I respect that, because it's true (and also I respect when people are vulnerable, human, and admit they don't have it all figured out). At The New Oil, I have tried a lot of different things. Some worked, like TikTok and making videos. Some have yet to be seen, like Discord and Reddit. And some were failures, like Patreon and Tumblr. That's just how it goes. You have to experiment and see what works.
Last month, I got the notice from my contact at IVPN that our partnership would be ending. To my knowledge, there is no bad blood or misconduct. The numbers just didn't work on their end: they weren't seeing enough traffic from The New Oil in proportion to cost of the sponsorship. (It was $500/month USD, for those curious. I'll explain why it's removed in a moment.) Naturally the first thing I did was to consult those more experienced than me and ask if I was overcharging. The answer I got was “not really.” That certainly is a lot of money to ask from anyone, but I have the number of visitors to justify my math. If anyone is really concerned I can break down my full system and math, but basically I average the number of views, readers, and visitors each quarter and plugged in the industry standard per-visitor numbers to calculate my asking price. All this is open between the transparency reports and the Open Collective tier. So again, $500 was a lot, but the numbers are very much there (and that's actually using the least expensive formula). Still, the number of people clicking the link wasn't enough. In light of the feedback I got, I decided to keep my prices what they were and part ways.
For the past month, I've been deciding what to do going forward. Losing that much money per month is definitely a big hit financially, but thankfully this isn't my day job so while it may slow some things down (I was planning a relatively large purchase to upgrade my video quality), it's not really going to affect me individually in terms of housing, groceries, etc. But the plus side is that this sort of resets everything back into a blank slate, given that I don't currently have any other sponsors. I can do anything going forward, including completely burn down the existing support structure and rebuild it. All that to say, I'd really like to make The New Oil primarily community supported again. I miss being able to say that. Making a (relatively) lot of money is/was fun – and I'm glad I am/was able to do it ethically – but that said I'd much rather be community supported (if possible) for lots of reasons. For one, it's more practical: getting paid a few bucks from lots of people rather than lots of money from a few people means I hurt less if one or two people leave. There's also less perception of (or potential for) conflict of interest.
So that brings to me the purpose of this blog post: I want your feedback. I would very much like to focus on community support again, but that means I have to provide the community with things they want. What does the community want? Keep in mind that I am very, very, very strapped for time. As I write this post, I am several weeks behind on my latest video (more on that in a second). But things that are low-investment on my end, I can accommodate.
Take videos, for example. I recently quietly gave up on video deadlines (which I did not publicly announce before now as it seemed best to put both announcements into one). I just can't sustain it. I was constantly going from one video to the next immediately with little or no downtime, often staying up late, sacrificing sleep, and falling behind on mountains of other tasks – personal, TNO, and otherwise – to try and rush the video out on time. Remember, I have a full-time job outside The New Oil. (As I write this, we're still having some router issues at home that I've been unable to fix for nearly a month.) And even then I was still often a day or two late. But this also presents an opportunity: that means I could offer early access to videos as a perk to subscribers since I'm no longer finishing them the night before they're due. (Note: my current video is a beast, it's long and involves tons of extra filming and footage compared to a usual video, but other more typical videos shouldn't take over a month to complete, even with this new no-deadline approach. Probably more like 2-3 weeks on average. I could offer updates and snippets to supporters to tide them over in these rare cases.)
So that's where I'm at. While I'll miss the opportunities that came with IVPN's support, this is also an opportunity to shift back to something more community-focused. What sort of things would you guys like to see? For the record, I want to be clear that this isn't me giving up entirely on sponsorships. I do want to reserve the right to work with an organization in the future if our goals align and I find them to be ethical and in line with our criteria and values at The New Oil. But I would prefer to put the emphasis back on the community, as mentioned above. In my mind, I see this being funneled primarily through Open Collective as they do allow me to make tiers and are not Patreon (who allegedly fired their entire security team a while back). I could see perks such as early access, exclusive group chats, behind-the-scenes pieces, listing people's names on the site (like how I did for sponsors before) and other things that require low investment on my end to maintain but still offer a lot of value to the community. So this is your chance to weigh in: would anyone be interested in any specific perks? Do you have any other thoughts? Let me hear them. Email me at email@example.com (or firstname.lastname@example.org, for Tutanota users). You can also try to ping me on channels like Matrix and Discord, but it may get buried in the chat so email would be best.
Thanks for all the support so far from everyone, and rest assured that TNO isn't going anywhere any time soon.