Too Big To Succeed: What Happens When Your Blog/Podcast Grows Too Large to be Sustained?

Today brought a good amount of twists and turns, not the least of which was the news that one of my favorite game-agnostic blogs Contains Moderate Peril is going dark. Whether this outage is temporary or not remains to be seen.

I would simply link to the post, but seeing as how I’m not sure how long it will be available, I’ll simply copy Roger’s own words into the following block:

Yesterday afternoon I received an email from the company that hosts Contains Moderate Peril. To cut along story short, the site uses too much bandwidth and CPU resources. This exceed the fair usage policy of the hosting plan. Furthermore I was given 72 hours to resolve the issue.

Effectively I have been given two options. Reduce the load on the server by removing the majority of files or upgrade to a dedicated server. The first option would effectively gut the majority of back content from the site. The second means a significant increase to monthly operating costs. The current hosting company is based in the UK and its price plans are not the most competitive. I could be migrated to a US host but even with a more favourable hosting plan, the cost would still be high.

So it would appear that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever I chose, the monthly operating cost will increase to the point of being prohibitive. Plus a potential migration means downtime and a lot of hard work. Sadly there is no quick and easy solution to the problem. I am currently in discussions with the host but as Contains Moderate Peril currently resides on a shared server, I fully understand why they have to consider the needs of the majority of their customers.

Therefore it is more than likely that Contains Moderate Peril will go offline within the next 36 hours. At the very least I may have to place the site in maintenance mode myself. This means that all content, including podcasts will be unavailable.

At present I think the most practical course of action I can take is to simply comply with the hosts wishes and accept that Contains Moderate Peril will be offline for  awhile. I have not yet considered what my long term plans are so I cannot state categorically whether this is “the end”. If that turns out to be the case, I shall refund the recent donations that were made by readers and listeners.

No Room for the Middle-Guy

I’m still wrestling with what to make of this news. It’s a disturbing thought that there is room on the ‘net for small “startup” blogs like Gaming Conversations and huge, monetized press sites such as Massively, but not for medium-sized hobbyist run blogs and fan sites. I’ve spoken with Roger quite recently and I know that one of the things he likes about new media is the low barrier to entry. Anyone with a web browser and something to say can sign up for a free WordPress or Blogger account. Podcasting takes only slightly more technical expertise and money. These are ways that the ‘everyman’ can have his/her say to the world like never has been possible in the past. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I suspect these ideals have something to do with the reason Roger is considering walking away from CMP. It’s the principle of the thing. If ‘everyman’ can no longer have a voice without a great expense, then the whole point is gone.

The Financial Compromise

At this point I’ll stop speculating about CMP and turn my attention to the larger implications of this development. It’s very seldom that blogs are started with the intention of becoming big. Most bloggers with this goal do not put in the necessary time and work required for real, organic growth to occur and end up getting frustrated early in the process. I would guess a majority of bloggers set out to have some fun, contribute to a conversation, make some friends or simply gain some validation. Most bloggers do not expect to grow large, even if they specifically do things to encourage growth. Like Roger, I consider #blogging and #podcasting an extension of my gaming hobby. A way to extend my reach and meet new people. I’ve had a couple of friends approach me recently with the idea to use Patreon on my site, but that is not something I’m interested in at this time. Asking for money (especially on a recurring basis) changes the relationship between you and your reader/listeners, whether anybody intends it or not. When you’re giving money for something you enjoy, an expectation is built. With my busy life schedule, I don’t want to build an expectation of delivery that I can’t promise to meet. For my part, I’m afraid that knowing listeners are (in a sense) paying for my content may cause me to start altering it to please the listener instead of being completely genuine and blogging/podcasting about the things that I enjoy.

The Expense of a Hobby

However, the reality is that blogging and podcasting require some amount of financial capital. #Hobbies are something you spend money on for the pure enjoyment of it without expecting to ever see that money again. That’s why I chose the term “capital” above and not “investment”. You can spend a little bit on a hobby or you can spend a whole lot of money on a hobby. The thing is, in most hobbies, the cost increases gradually as your hobby gets more elaborate. If your hobby is fishing, you may start out with a cane-pole and a box of worms from the side of a pond. Eventually, you would work your way up to a rowboat, then add an outboard motor, then some more expensive gear, then a larger boat, then a trolling motor, and so on. The unfortunate thing that CMP is facing is that there appears to be a huge jump from one tier of the hobby to the next. Just a quick glance at Bluehost‘s plans show a threefold increase from one tier (shared hosting for $4.99/mo) to the next (VPS hosting for $14.99/mo). That’s a large increase which doesn’t even include media hosting for us podcasters. For podcast hosting, the percentage increase is the same. Libsyn, generally considered one of the better podcast hosting sites, has a low-tier option for $5/mo (which would not be sufficient for a weekly podcast) but the next available tier is $15/mo. So, the hobbyist fees for only a moderately sized blog could be at least $360/year. Whether these options would even be sufficient for a relatively popular blog like CMP, I don’t know. It could very well be even more expensive. That’s a decent-sized jump from $120/year for the lower-tier option. These fees also don’t consider things such as domain registration. I’ll be very open at this point and tell you that by the end of 2014, I will have spent $86 on this blog and podcast. Relative to other hobbies, I consider $86 a bargain for the amount of enjoyment I get out of it. Still, the prospect of that amount growing by a factor of four (or more) annually isn’t all too exciting.

Money

Considerations for Growth

What can bloggers and podcasters do to future-proof ourselves? I’ve come up with a few ideas to consider.

  • If you can, spend a little money up front to position yourself for flexibility. Don’t cheap out.
    • If you have podcasts, host them somewhere besides your shared web hosting. Web hosts get angry when thousands of podcatchers all start pulling your 30MB podcast all at the same time, eating up shared server and network resources. Many actually have policies against it, and will terminate your service if you violate them. Host podcasts somewhere designed to serve media, like Libsyn or Blubrry.
    • If using shared hosting for your blog, choose a service that can upgrade to virtually dedicated or dedicated resources. This will make transition (if that’s the route you choose to go) from shared to dedicated more seamless if you outgrow the shared service.
  • Images can also be a storage/network hog
    • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDN’s cache images and static content on servers in the Internet so your resources do not have to serve them up for each individual request. This will simultaneously alleviate network and server resources for your host and improve the performance of your blog by delivering static content closer to the end-user browser. Looking at Bluehost again, it looks like every account comes with basic CDN services (via CloudFlare) if you chose to enable them.
    • Look into the potential of using smaller image file types. Google has developed an alternative to GIF and JPG (called WebP) that delivers significantly (25-35%) smaller image files than are seen with the traditional image types. It’s a little unclear to me whether WebP is supported in either WordPress or Blogger yet, so keep an eye on this space.
  • Most importantly, don’t be surprised! Assume that your blog and podcast will grow, and start making plans now for when it happens. Will you ask readers for donations? Will you monetize your podcast with affiliates? Will you simply take the extra cost as a part of your “hobby” but start to budget now? Having a plan in place for growth will allow you to move more quickly when the time comes. Or, allow you to start preparing your audience for “the end” well in advance.

Selfishly, I do hope Roger is able to ensure the survival of Contains Moderate Peril at a cost that is acceptable to him (be it a financial cost or a cost of ideals). I seriously enjoy his thoughts and find that they stimulate many of my own. Less selfishly, I hope that Roger comes to a decision that is ideal for his own current life situation and needs. He has an open invitation to guest-post on braxwolf.com at any time, provided he promises not to grow it too fast!

Featured image by las – initially on Flickr Creative Commons

Money image by epSos .de on Flickr Creative Commons

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Too Big To Succeed: What Happens When Your Blog/Podcast Grows Too Large to be Sustained?

  1. tsuhelm July 23, 2014 / 5:51 am

    It’s like LOTRO’s F2P model…3 empty bags starts off fine, you find a free vault and housing helps help but as you get deeper into the game suddenly all available storage is is stuffed and you have to spend to get more storage…

    Not got there yet, free WP….but dread the day my images approach max storage…have used 172 MB of 3GB limit… OK not that bad for 2 years of hobby blogging!

    Like

  2. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) July 23, 2014 / 7:44 am

    One of the reasons I wrote about the issues facing CMP yesterday was to highlight the fact that the same thing could happen to many other bloggers and podcasters.

    There is a brief window of time when any new form of social media flies under the radar and becomes a virtual “frontier”. During this period things are often fair and equitable. Some folk even make a killing. Others use the relative success as a spring board to other things. Most people just have fun.

    But sooner or later those who have done all right for themselves, pull up the ladder. Big business steps in and everything ends up just being formalised and following a standard business model. That being, offer the public a cheap point of entry and then monetise everything beyond a certain level

    I believe this has happened to the “internet” per se and that the halcyon days are over. Don’t get me wrong, a new blogger, podcaster or live streamer can still “splash about in the shallow end” but it becomes far harder to sustain those pursuits as a hobby beyond a specific size.

    I have managed to fund CMP for another three months, so the blog has a short term stay of execution. The site is being migrated to a VPS hosting plan. However if traffic increases beyond a certain threshold, I will have to increase the back end server specifications which will drive up the hosting cost further.

    I have thought long and hard about donations because they are exactly that. A sign of appreciation and not a shareholders certificate. So I will continue to accept any funds that readers and listeners see fit to give. It’s a simple equation. No money. No CMP.

    However, I will not go beyond that and use any more complex form of crowd funding. I think that would significantly change the dynamics of the relationship between CMP and those who give. For me it would introduce that Japanese concept of “Giri” (Obligation).

    If CMP does go to the wall, then it really doesn’t make a huge amount of difference in the great scheme of things. Yet these hosting related issues could also happen to sites that do more important work. Support groups, charities and many other worthy institutions. I find this concerning. Plus this is a back door means of putting a price on social interaction and it could be used as a tool to silence dissent.

    I think content creators of any kind and at any level need to be aware of this. Perhaps collectives and group collaboration is a potential solution.

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 23, 2014 / 8:32 am

      Good news that a short-term plan is in place! I agree that this is a concern for non-profit organizations specifically, as many of them are month-to-month as it is. I do think that solutions are out there, it’s just a matter of whether we’re able to incorporate those into our hobby and maintain it as a hobby.

      I’ve heard that the most difficult period in the life of a business is not when it is really small, nor really large, but that transition period in the middle when it’s trying to go from small to large. Phil Vischer mentioned this in his book about the rise and fall of his media company “Big Idea”. They were good at being small, but success killed them financially. It seems counter-intuitive. I wonder if blogging and podcasting is similar in this respect.

      Collectives are one way to go, but require other types of compromises.

      Like

      • Pasduil July 24, 2014 / 6:17 pm

        Dying from growing too fast is a fairly common business problem. Apart from the problems of trying to manage huge changes, and suddenly dealing with all kind of issues you never faced before, there is often a cashflow crunch because you usually have to pay up the costs of running the much bigger business before you start earning the incomes that come from being a bigger business.

        I guess if you’re a hobby blogger and there is no actual income, then the only thing that growth can bring is more costs. Scary thought.

        Like

  3. DJPimpDaddy (@djpimpdaddy) July 23, 2014 / 9:30 am

    As both a professional IT person who helps run an actual 50k sq/ft data center and as a long time content creator through podcasting and community sites… there is no easy answer.

    The tech side of me sees the growing war of ISPs (at least here in the states) fighting turf wars and slowly creeping bandwidth costs up and up with worse and worse customer service to back it. We have been negotiating a deal recently to add a 4th ISP to our data center and the other 3 are pissed about us paying to have the new isp”dig the last mile” of fiber down the street. Yet we all sit around lighting candles praying that someday the mythical Google fiber will walk into town and lay down the atomic hammer. I just love that Google is causing tsunami’s of controversy by offering insane speeds at a fraction of the cost. Clearly that is the only way this war will end.

    Along this line is the “everything is faster and more robust” argument. Sure memory prices and disk space is cheap but the initial investment to get that up and running has prohibitive costs. In our own data center I personally was tasked with building private cloud solutions where people “pay by the drink”, and there is no way possible that anyone but a medium to large business can afford these prices. Some of our best costs for shared SAN still hover at around $0.14-$0.19 per Gb/month range. I am happy and proud of the work I do but in the end everyone’s hand in the jar leaves very little margin. Microsoft, VMWare, IBM, Time Warner, Cincinnati Bell, Verizon, AT&T, Dell, and Cisco are the only ones walking away with all the cash. I mean , I just purchased an $98,000 router the other day! Sure it has the theoretical power to calculate trajectories of objects flying around in space but why does this one single thing have to cost that much? Is it because they don’t want more data centers or ISPs springing up?

    The (former) podcasting side of me has well past 250-300 hours of talking into a mic under my belt and was constantly pissed at how the leap from the $15 a month plan to the next was ridiculous. The service we got at the $15 level through both Podbean and Libsyn was,… well lets say when I compare it to service I get at a business customer I won’t even attempt to compare the two. Our shows always politely reminded our audience that hosting was not free and we even tried out doing a few advertisement spots on the show but that didn’t help either. In the end the donation thing always flopped in all our attempts. Most of our listeners just wanted a TF2 server to play on which, not surprisingly, almost doubled our monthly costs. Our best idea was to try and form a network of shows and all share resources but even the administrative effort to do that was a nightmare for that “medium range” area where everyone had decent shows and communities that we were trying to blend together. It made sense on paper to centrally purchase and share resources but that just never happened when the rubber hit the road. Everyone had their own agenda.

    One thing I can say is that I love the homebrew scene. I too was at one point hosting my own website out of my basement. I love how services like DYN DNS exist. I am friends with several people who have bumped up their home internet just to get the faster upload speeds but there is some hidden line in the sand where you attract the attention of your ISP and may violate some ToS. Until you reach that point, my honest to god answer to most new people starting out who want to host a website, small podcast, or gaming server is to at least try that route first to get your feet wet before spending a cent elsewhere.

    Lastly, Roger: hugs man. Been there done that. It hurts to see this happening to providers with great quality content. Keep fighting the good fight till you don’t want to or it doesn’t make sense to. I can totally respect your stance and wish more people had your values.

    I am at work so I should probably go concentrate and make someone else some money now. Sigh…

    Like

  4. Aywren (@Aywren) July 23, 2014 / 11:46 am

    This is a very real concern for folks who have large and active blogs. I’ve faced the same issues in the past as well, which forced me to have to pick up and move hosts completely. This was back in the day when vanilla WordPress ate up a lot more CPU than it does now (and depending on traffic and plugins, it still can).

    Hosts can be scary-protective of that CPU usage. The first thing they try is to bully you into upping your tier payment. The cost for Bluehost’s VPS isn’t bad at all. The previous hosting company that threatened my site charged an upwards of $50 a month for VPS. Ridiculous! Though I’d hosted there for years, I ended up dropping them after that fiasco. They’d just pull down my site without warning, and their CPU limit was very strict.

    I really don’t monetize any of my sites. I own many aside from the main blog itself, including webcomics, fiction and other projects. It’s all run out of pocket for me, and has been for over a decade — including the monthly cost of hosting and the yearly renewal of several domains. I cut back on a lot of domains in the past few years due to the price rising for those. And while my webcomic does have a few banner ads, those are mostly there to offset the cost of paying advertisement for that site, and never produce a profit.

    I totally know this pain. I’ve always wrote it off as a hobby cost for doing something I love.

    I hope everything works out for CMP, though. Hang in there! 😦

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 23, 2014 / 1:04 pm

      Thanks for your viewpoint! It’s great to hear from others who have run into these situations.

      Like

  5. Pasduil July 24, 2014 / 5:56 pm

    It’s a shock to read about CMP possibly going dark.

    I see Roger says he’s arranged for a few months hosting, but currently I get database connection errors on trying to load the site. Hopefully just a temporary glitch.

    One reason I put my blog on WordPress.com is I had a self-hosted site once, but ups and downs in my finances and in the time I had to spend on it made it not worthwhile to keep paying up for that every month. I guess that’s similar to why I prefer games that remain playable without an ongoing sub as well.

    I wonder how far a blogger / podcaster can go using only free services like WP.com, Imgur, YouTube, Archive.org?

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 24, 2014 / 9:13 pm

      Great question. The technically curious side of me really wants to try self-hosting, but the busy/old/wise side of me wants to milk .com as long as I can. I don’t think I’d go the cheap route with my podcast, though. I like knowing that it will be there when I want it there.

      Like

      • Pasduil July 26, 2014 / 9:12 am

        > I like knowing that it will be there when I want it there.

        In my case my willingness and ability to keep paying for such services are a lot more unpredictable currently than the future of the likes of WP.com or archive.org! Being on WP guarantees my site will remain up better than if I were self-hosting.

        When I first read this post, I was tempted to (mis)quote Elton John…

        I don’t have much money but boy if I did
        I’d buy a big blog where we all could live

        Like

    • Doone July 25, 2014 / 2:28 pm

      Not terribly far, but using those resources definitely helps you get out there and grow.

      In all the time I’ve considered creating a podcast I’ve looked for a network or service for game specific podcasting. Like a community like Podomatic or Soundcloud. Aside from the services they offer, people congregate around those places because there are people like them there. Is there no place like this for geeks/gamers?

      The idea that CMP could stop casting should be a wake-up call to all of us. Funny thing happened the other day ….old, old pingbacks from CMP pinged my blog again. I looked at them and saw the dates and wondered what was up with that. And then this.

      Like

  6. Hagu July 25, 2014 / 6:03 pm

    My world view is that middle anythings are getting squeezed out of existence. Walmart can do fine; single mom&pop stores can do fine i they work hard and smart. Regional chains lack Walmart’s efficiency or the local’s flexibility & focus.

    EA & ATVI can make money; 1-3 person mobile shops can make money. I think the Trion’s in the middle have a hard road.

    Like

  7. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) July 26, 2014 / 7:09 am

    I am responding here Brax because at present, CMP is continuously crashing. This is due to the VPS server not being able to handle the volume of traffic. So I have to add an additional CPU and 1 GB of RAM to the package which adds another £12 to the current £28 a month operating costs.

    The good news is that I have found a sponsor and as a result will be migrating to a new hosting company in the next week or so. This arrangement will negate all hosting costs for the next 12 months. I will be able to provide more details next week.

    This matter has highlighted an important point. The alleged free nature of the internet is slowly being eroded. If it wasn’t for the fact that CMP has secured sponsorship, then it would have to close by the end of October. The operating costs would just be to high.

    This has wider implications. A friend of mine works for a Charity. It has a small website, mainly for organising and promoting events. They recently were involved in a convention called GeekFest which helped raise funds for them. It attracted a lot of traffic due to the nature of the event. They intend to run this yearly now and hope that it will become an established part of the convention calendar. However if this event does grow, the demands on their website will increase and eventually they’ll be hit with the same problems I have encountered. This is a real dilemma for a small charitable organisation.

    We should all be aware of this situation and also consider the fact that a lot of the free services that we use at present, may not remain so. I wonder what the costs and viability of setting up some sort of collective site and hosting service would be? Running such a online portal would more than likely be a full time job and like so many good ideas, probably has major ramifications that don’t immediately become apparent.

    I think this merits a thread over on the NBI forums.

    Like

    • Pasduil July 26, 2014 / 9:40 am

      If you’re getting income (e.g. charity donations, ad revenue) in proportion to traffic, then growing traffic is most likely a very good thing. If not, traffic growth is liable to become painful eventually.

      A group solution won’t really solve that problem. What it could do is help avoid sharp jumps in costs where you cross some threshold and find a $10 a month plan is not enough, but the next bigger option is to go up to $50 a month.

      If a $10 plan is not enough, but a $50 plan gives you many times the capacity you actually need, sharing that capacity and the costs with other people makes sense.

      Like

    • Braxwolf July 26, 2014 / 6:58 pm

      Thanks for the update, Roger. I’m a little surprised that the hosting company that was able to pinpoint CMP as the traffic problem on a shared host was not able to appropriately assist you in sizing the VPS resources required. I am extremely interested in the process you’ve gone through (both your thought process and the actual process) of procuring a sponsor, if you’re willing and able to share that at some point. I think it would be helpful for people who are planning for growth to at least have an understanding of what may be ahead.

      Like

  8. Liore July 30, 2014 / 12:52 pm

    I’m a little late on this topic, but I know this problem all too well. For the last few months I’ve been hitting the limits of my current server setup and it pains me every time I have to wait like 20 seconds for my blog to load.

    The answer for me right now is to go to Amazon Web Services. For US$380 a year ($200 now + $15 a month) I will have a “medium” server from which I can run my blog, my guild site, a few other tiny 1 page novelty sites, and podcast storage through S3. That $31/month, as it breaks down, is doable for me particularly because I cancelled my cable TV, but I know not everyone has that wiggle room. (I still may put Adwords on my blog just to help make up the expense.)

    And I’m sure I don’t get half the traffic that Roger gets!

    And Doone, a network for gamer podcasts is a great idea. Now if only one of us could afford to run such a thing…. XD

    Like

    • Braxwolf July 30, 2014 / 4:34 pm

      Does your amazon s3 increase as the number of downloads increase? I thought that was the deal with s3.

      Like

      • Liore July 31, 2014 / 7:31 pm

        Sort of, yes, but it’s not enough for me to notice. s3-to-Internet is free for the first GB and then .12 per GB after that (up to 10TB at which point it drops to .09 per GB). With an average podcast file being about 45MB, it takes a while to add up!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s