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.
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