Exactly four months ago, Jason Kottke found my project, NewsBlur, and tweeted:
In that time, every measure of traffic, paid subscriptions, and community feedback has cleared new heights on my revered munin charts. But I kept my full-time job and only worked on NewsBlur as a side-project, as I have been doing for the past two years.
I’m at a slow but steady trickle of users, enough of whom convert into paying premium subscribers to pay for the increasing number of servers (now costing almost $800/month!). But a vocal support forum and an ever-increasing trickle of payments aren’t what convinced me to dedicate myself full-time to my humble project.
What convinced me is that life’s too short.
Yesterday was my last day at Tasty Labs. Today is my first day as a full-time indie developer.— Samuel Clay (@samuelclay) February 23, 2012
I’m following the better-half of my inner-Jobs and choosing to follow the path of doing what I love to do.1 It’s going to be expensive on my part. There will be no paycheck, health insurance runs out in a few months, and even on an exceptionally good day, premium subscriptions bring in only about half of my former salary.
It’s not that big a risk. Users are choosing to pay and choosing how much to pay. Some users opt to pay a $12/year at a buck a month, while some choose to pay $36/year at $3/month. The servers cost roughly .75x what premium subscriptions bring in. That gap between cost and revenue is growing steadily, as the servers I have are running at 25% capacity.
Maciej Ceglowski, of Pinboard fame, has written extensively about the scourge of free services not taking payments from users. From a recent February 2012 presentation, he writes of the three types of services [pdf]:
Business Model #1: Charge Money
This is a groundbreaking new approach where a site accepts fungible tokens of value in return for a product or service.
Business Model #2: Burn Money
￼Find a sponsor with deep pockets and run at a loss indefinitely.
Business Model #3: Offer a Free Service and Fail
The most popular business model has been to offer a free service and then shut down (or transition to model #1).
You can look forward to new features, bug fixes, and an unending stream of progress, all because you’re paying me for the work I do. It’s a simple setup that helps me sleep at night. I’m building an honest product. You know what you’re paying for. And NewsBlur will continue to be ad-free, because ads are not part of the product that I want to use myself.
In what I can only consider a bizarrely wonderful coincidence, I see this the morning after I declared freedom:
@samuelclay Good luck!— Google Reader (@googlereader) February 24, 2012
The wind’s at my back, and I’m feeling pretty good about this.2
The worse-half of my inner-Jobs insists on perfection and never gets anything shipped. The balancing act between better and done is about the only constant in this crazy dream to be a self-sustaining indie dev. ↩