This is going to be a long post. The short version is that this site is in critical need of subscriptions and support in order to stick around. We are releasing a mid-season top 50 eBook with information on every player on the list, which you can pre-order here. That will come out in about two weeks, and the pre-order comes with a free copy of the 2018 Prospect Guide eBook. If you’re not a subscriber, you can join us here. If you’d like to give a gift subscription or a Pay It Forward subscription, you can do that here. This is a time where people are apathetic about the Pirates, and that has hit the site extremely hard. Without further support, that apathy toward the team will lead to the site closing. Full details in the long post below.
A video popped up on my Facebook feed the other day about how some animal shelters are teaching cats how to high-five in order to make it easier for them to get adopted.
The problem is that cats are seen as less friendly than dogs, and are less likely to be adopted. The method of “adopt this cat or it will die” doesn’t work. Even though people know the reality of the situation, they don’t do anything to act unless they see the animal in a different light.
Tell a person that a cat is going to die if it is not adopted, and the results are low. But show a person a cat that can do tricks and they suddenly take interest. They see the value in the animal as a friendly pet, rather than just an obligation to adopt a random animal just to save it. And the result is that more cats get adopted through this method.
Last September, the Pirates let Juan Nicasio go on waivers, and that move marked a major turning point in how Pirates fans followed the team. They followed up in the offseason by trading Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Boycotts were started. Attendance was down. People stopped following the team. They stopped spending any money on the team or anything related to the team.
I’m not looking for a debate on this, or counter opinions. I’m not looking to focus specifically on attendance. The fact is that I know all of the above is irrefutably true, because I’ve seen it first hand.
After Nicasio was let go, we experienced a massive wave of subscription cancellations. We weren’t getting many new subscriptions during the month of August, and barely got any in September last year. But the renewals should have kept us going, and they were disappearing quickly. Every day I would see four or five cancellation alerts at the least, and very few renewals.
That led to a situation where I couldn’t pay our writers for their work. I had trouble paying my own bills at the time.
I posted an update on how that continued trend would eventually kill the site. If people were going to stop following the Pirates until they were good again, and they were going to stop spending any money on the team (even if that money didn’t go to Bob Nutting), then this site wouldn’t be around when the team was good again.
The post didn’t fully work. It was like telling people that if a cat doesn’t get adopted, it will die. That sad fact isn’t enough for people to take action.
Fortunately the cancellations slowed. We got some people to renew. We released the Prospect Guide, which also saw sales drop in a big way. I was able to pay all of our writers for their work, while providing hope that the site wouldn’t go under. The hope was that we were entering our fourth year of being a subscription site, and the majority of our original and most loyal readers and subscribers were due for renewals.
If we had 80% renewals from that core group — which was a pretty conservative estimate — and no new subscriptions, then we would have been fine through the end of the year. I took further steps to reduce costs, like cutting out travel, and cutting out unnecessary game coverage that was costing more money than it would ever bring in. That combination allowed us to enter the year ready to roll out the most daily Pirates coverage you could find anywhere, with reports from all over the system.
But we fell far short with renewals. Even when the Pirates were winning, we continued to see a wave of cancellations on par with the Juan Nicasio move. Nothing had really changed. Pirates fans weren’t necessarily done following the team, but a large majority were not spending any money on following the team, even if it didn’t go to Bob Nutting. I heard that daily from people as they cancelled.
The subscription renewals in April and May should have been enough to fund our operations for the entire year. Instead, they weren’t even enough to fund operations through May. We’re back to not being able to pay writers, and the thing I hate is that this includes for some work that has been completed. My hope was that things would catch up around the draft. I projected a very conservative $5000 in renewals around the week of the draft. We got closer to $500.
We’ve cut off all live coverage until I can catch back up with our writers. Some of the writers have offered to continue in smaller roles, just to keep active. I am greatly appreciative to them, while also feeling like shit that I can’t pay them back right now. Some other writers are gone, waiting for payment, and never returning after that, and it’s my intention to keep things going to pay them back.
This is an industry that has largely shifted to the trend of getting free work. I’ve had free work offered to me on countless times. I could have this site running for free and would never have to pay writers a dime if I wanted. But that’s not right. I wouldn’t want to run a news site like that. But unfortunately, right now, I’m not even able to do things the right way.
We’ve got some plans coming up to try and counter this. John Dreker and I are working on a mid-season top 50, sort of like a Prospect Guide with reports on our mid-season top 50 prospects. It will be available in PDF form in the next few weeks (probably after the draft signing deadline is finished). The top 50 list will be free to subscribers on the site, but the book with the reports will be sold like the Prospect Guide.
You can pre-order that mid-season top 50 here. All pre-orders get the 2018 Prospect Guide ebook for free (it will be in the download link in your receipt. Use that same download link when the mid-season list is published).
The reality of the eBook is that the funds are going to be going 100% toward catching up with our writers. That’s a bit pessimistic to assume that we won’t get enough to exceed that, and maybe a bit optimistic to think that we will sell enough to fully catch up with the book sales alone.
I’m also currently looking at leaving the site. That’s almost not a decision at this point. The site is getting to the point where I’m making choices of paying my already late bills, paying our writers, or paying to keep the site running. I’m having to buy and resell rare beers to keep afloat (just kidding, government, but sadly not really kidding). I’ve also had some pretty serious health issues over the last few months, some of which have been made worse by the current situation, and I’m going to need health insurance much sooner than later.
At this point, the site can’t sustain even one full-time employee (myself), which means that if the site will continue, I will need to find something else (and I’m not sure at this point if that means I’d be writing going forward, but I do know the alternative guarantees that I’m not writing going forward).
Looking at the situation objectively, I probably should pull the plug. Walk away and feel like shit that I owed people money and couldn’t pay them back. Feel like shit that people paid for our coverage and that went away. Go through a personal bankruptcy and find a new career separate from this site that I’ve been running for almost ten years now.
But because this site has been my life for a decade, it’s hard to walk away, especially when that means letting down our writers and readers. I’m going to do everything I can to keep it going, even when I probably should have just walked away last September.
Here’s the thing. Telling you that this cat will die if you don’t support it isn’t going to work. This post probably has more people wanting to cancel, or doubting a decision to purchase a subscription. The flip side is that saying nothing doesn’t work either.
The problem is that it’s hard to teach a website how to high-five like those adoption centers did with cats. How do I show you the value of the site, and show that it’s actually in your interest to subscribe and keep us from going away?
The Pirates called up Tanner Anderson the other day, and that news was met with a resounding “Who?” from Pirates fans and media alike. I sent out a few tweets noting that you wouldn’t be wondering who Anderson was if you subscribed to our site. He was our #48 prospect heading into the year, and I’ve written countless times about his Bronson Arroyo delivery.
We didn’t get any subscriptions from those tweets, showing the value of the site. But the value was lost.
You don’t really need to know who Tanner Anderson is. You could probably find basic free information on him elsewhere. And even if you can’t, you might see him in a game soon. Or maybe not, as I expect him to go back down quickly.
The key thing here is that a player was called up, and while the entire Pittsburgh media was openly wondering who that player was, we were pointing to several articles with information on the player. Given that information, which outlet would you choose for your coverage?
If we have details on a player that no one else even knows, then think about how much more information we have on every single player that comes through the system. This isn’t just about Tanner Anderson. It’s about everyone and everything in this system.
July is a huge month for us. The International signing deadline is coming up in a few days, and no one reports on that like John Dreker. Seriously, look at John’s coverage (he reported 65 of those 74 signings), and look at other outlets from the last year. You’ll either find places that have no clue who the Pirates signed or how many they signed, or you’ll find places that only know their information because of John’s reporting.
We will also have coverage of the draft pick signing deadline, with information on the new players in the system. We’ll have trade deadline coverage, which always includes the first reports on the new players acquired by the team (assuming they are sellers, and I think that’s a safe assumption). And with promotions usually taking place, we’re the best place to tell you what to expect from each player, and what is going on.
No one else has the depth of coverage that we provide on the Pirates. If we went away, there would be a void of information on the system, spanning across media outlets, free sites, and throughout the fan base. I know that because I’ve seen it and experienced it.
I have local media members asking us for information on players all the time, or using our information in their own reports — sometimes cited and sometimes not cited. But those media outlets can’t or won’t push the value of this site, because we’re a competitor.
The biggest boost we can get, as far as showing value, is word of mouth from current subscribers, telling why they subscribe.
But whether it’s from media or readers, requesting word of mouth recommendations is like getting people to adopt a cat on the terms that it will otherwise die. It just doesn’t work.
What sucks is that I think the value of this site will really be seen if or when we go away. I hear all the time that you can get free information anywhere, but I look at the free places, and they’re either using information from other sources, or just making up their own stuff. Maybe it won’t be noticed if we go away, but if people don’t support media with original content, then those free sites will have nothing to write about, or will just make up more stuff due to a lack of reporting.
Until then, I’m going to continue trying to teach the site how to high-five. I’m going to try to show ways where a Pirates Prospects subscription actually has value, beyond just saving the site and making sure writers are getting paid for their work. We’re going to continue providing the best coverage we can. And maybe I’ll just give out actual high fives when I see subscribers or potential subscribers in person.
Unfortunately, the reality surrounding the Pirates is that so many people are at a point where they just don’t care about value. It doesn’t matter if you provide the best Pirates coverage if people want zero Pirates coverage, and don’t want to spend a cent on the team.
I have yet to figure out a way to counter that. Judging by the attendance, the Pirates haven’t figured out a way either. The key difference is that if the Pirates don’t reverse the trend, they’re still making money in today’s MLB, and Bob Nutting is still worth a billion dollars. If I don’t reverse the trend, I’m left broke, looking for a new job, and our writers are also out of a revenue source, while loyal readers no longer have the best place to get Pirates information.
The sad irony here is that Pirates fans are upset at an owner due to the perception of a lack of spending and commitment to the best product, while the backlash to that is leading to major struggles for a site that has an owner making a personal financial commitment to providing the best product. The criticism against the Pirates is always that they should spend more to bring fans in. We’re spending, and we’re showing a commitment to offering a good product. My hope is that Pittsburgh is sincere that this is what it takes for people to support an organization.