Two years ago, I made a very important decision with this site. The site had been around for six years at that point. It grew from a blog I just started as a place to give my thoughts on the Pirates and the Lynchburg Hillcats — with the hope that it might pay my phone bill one day — to my full-time job and a site that allowed me to pay other writers. But the free model based on advertising wasn’t going to work any longer, and the site would not have stayed in business beyond the 2015 season.
So the site switched to a subscription model. It was a terrifying change at first, since asking people to pay for news wasn’t, and still isn’t, a widely accepted concept. But the change allowed us to not only stay in business, but grow to points we never could have imagined before. We were able to provide regular coverage from all of the affiliates. We were able to travel to more events. We were able to get more information than ever before on the Pirates and their system, all with the security that the site would still be around.
Prior to the change, we were cutting coverage to keep up with the lowering ad revenue. After the change to a subscription site, we were expanding.
We’re now near the two-year anniversary of the site switching to a subscription model, and that seems like a perfect time to recap what we’ve done so far, and give a sort of “State of the Site” for what we want to do going forward.
Tomorrow’s News a Few Months Ago
A few weeks ago, Sean McCool was down here in Bradenton, adding more live coverage and getting some features ready. One of the features he was working on was an update on Jose Osuna. This was around the time that Osuna started hitting everything, and you started seeing articles everywhere introducing you to Osuna.
We were discussing the direction and the tone of that article while Sean was down here. Should we run the article when so many other people were running an Osuna article? Should we wait a bit to separate from the rest of them? Or were we too late to write about Osuna?
The thing about that situation was that we didn’t need to worry about the Osuna articles everyone else was writing. Those articles were introducing you to Osuna. We already did that. We introduced you to Osuna back in 2010, when his name was spelled Ozuna. We introduced you to him every year since then, when he was featured in our top 50 prospect list. We introduced him to you in the over 1,000 articles he’s been mentioned in. While everyone else is just discovering him and introducing him, we’re moving on to the next stages of his development.
So we wrote about his work at third base this spring, about leaning down over the offseason, and about how he fits in to the Pirates’ plans going forward. A week later, Clint Hurdle revealed in his daily press conference that they were getting Osuna some work at third base, which is something I don’t think anyone else had before Sean’s article.
That’s the big advantage I’ve noticed from the site in the past two years. We will write articles about prospects, and the information in our articles will be discovered by other outlets days, weeks, months, or even years later. It’s not that the other outlets are stealing our work (well, that happens sometimes). It’s just that we care about covering these guys a lot earlier than other outlets. So when they reach MLB Spring Training and become a story for everyone else, we’re already moving on to the next step in coverage. Everyone else asks the questions we asked months ago, and we ask the questions about what is next.
When we switched to a subscription site, the most common thing I heard was that you can get prospect information anywhere for free. This is very true. However, it’s typically one of three things:
- Information we had well before it became free, or sometimes stuff we dug up that free sites started talking about right away.
- Very generic coverage, looking at stats, box scores, and basic information that anyone can access from home.
- Made up bullshit. I read an article last year about a player with a plus slider. The only problem was, I talked to him earlier in the week, and he said he was working on a curveball because his slider wasn’t an effective pitch. That kind of stuff happens all the time on the free sites.
You’re still going to get prospect coverage for free, but you get what you pay for. By subscribing to the site, you not only get premium information first, but you help support the site that supplies more coverage of the Pirates’ system than any other outlet. Without that coverage and without this site, the amount of information available on the prospects in the Pirates’ system would decline exponentially.
How Do We Grow From Here?
The biggest thing I focus on, pretty much on a daily basis, is how we continue growing the site. The subscription model creates a weird situation where our work doesn’t get shared nearly as much as it used to. We are heading into our ninth season covering the Pirates and their system, and some days it feels like we’re the best kept secret in Pirates media. We will report something, and you won’t find it on other message boards, blogs, MLBTR, Rotoworld, or anywhere else. The same news is reported a day or two later, and suddenly it is newsworthy at all of those other places.
I think this is two-fold. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about posting links, wondering if I’d mind sharing news elsewhere. The concern is that it’s a subscription site, and they’d be giving paid information away for free. That’s not a concern I have. I welcome the sharing of news and information. Obviously fair use would be involved here, since I don’t want articles or large amounts of content shared. But if we post an article on Tyler Glasnow’s new changeup, for example, I want other people to hear about it, so that we can attract new readers.
On the flip side, I know that some people are hesitant to share subscription content out of fear that it will offend someone. I’ve noticed when people share links to the site, it’s almost apologetic, like people will be upset if they click over to a site and then find they have to pay for the information they wanted to read.
I get that, because I know those people are out there. I heard from a lot of them when I switched to subscription site, mad at me for wanting to get paid for my work, wanting to pay my writers, and wanting to stay in business. Honestly, who cares about those people?
If you liked an article we wrote, and you think others would like it, then why avoid sharing it because someone else might get mad that they wasted two seconds of their life clicking a link only to find that the information they want requires a small fee?
Sharing the site was how I went from someone with zero readers to where the site is now. It’s the best way to reach new people going forward. If every subscriber right now got one person to sign up, or bought one gift subscription for a friend (we offer those year-round, by the way), we’d be able to add a few full-time writers this year, while expanding the live coverage even further. Expanding coverage is always our goal, and the best way for that to happen is reaching new people.
We also have a few things in the works to reach new people who don’t subscribe to the site, and more details will come on that later. For now, know that we fully welcome referrals and links back to the site.
Along with trying to figure out how to reach new people, we’re also constantly trying to figure out how to evolve the coverage of the site. Our approach is constantly changing and being evaluated, trying to find the best possible approach. It’s almost like Josh Bell’s batting stance.
One of the big issues in media is getting sucked into the idea that you have to cover everything. You need a pre-game article, and a game recap, and a notebook every day, and a featured article, and a detailed article on every single transaction, and comments from players for all of those transactions, and so on. The reality is that most of this information is either obsolete, or redundant. You don’t need to cover most of those things, and you don’t need live coverage of every single event.
The challenge is finding a balance. Which events do you cover? Which transactions do you expand upon with detail? Which games would be worthy of a recap? And then the more difficult decisions involve the analysis. Do you aim for one or two smaller articles per day? Or go for fewer articles but aim for more quality for each individual article?
I added a new feature recently called Extra Innings. It’s an extremely long article that goes up every Sunday night, going into great detail about one specific topic. It’s like writing two or three articles, which means I’m probably writing a few less articles per week than I’d otherwise be doing. But in the end it works out better. Do you want 3-4 nickels or do you want a quarter? Our goal is always going to be geared toward quality analysis and articles, and the most challenging thing is finding the balance between quality and quantity, with the end goal being producing the highest amount of quality articles we can publish.
The Future of Pirates Prospects
Two years ago, our problems on the site involved how to stay in business and maintain live coverage. The questions involved were whether we could afford writers that year, or whether the site would even be running by mid-season. Now our “problems” involve expanding the site and our questions involve the manner in which we produce quality information and analysis.
We were able to expand the site as hoped when we made the switch to subscription in 2015, and most importantly, the switch allowed us to stay in business. I’m hoping that in another year or two, I’ll be writing an annual update that will be discussing some of the big changes we made to further expand the site coverage, getting it to places that I’m currently dreaming about right now.
As usual, I hope you join us for the ride. And if you haven’t already, you can go to the subscription page and sign up for a plan to start reading all of our content.