Ask DN: Best way to monetize Pttrns.com (pttrns.com)

over 3 years ago from , www.pttrns.com

Hi, I'm trying to figure out how to make enough $ to cover the expenses (~$2k/month).

I tried ads via BSA, but they are ugly and irrelevant and hard to optimize. So no ads.

I just launched donations, I like it because I can define the rules but I don't think it will work long-term.

Last option would be a Sponsorship (weekly) -- Twitter link, Flipboard post, FB Post and featured app on the front page. But I don't want to feature ugly apps just because someone paid for it.

Thoughts? Thanks.

35 comments

  • Tanner ChristensenTanner Christensen, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Just going to spitball this one, if you don't mind. Feel free to take or ignore any of this as you see fit.

    • Sponsorship could go well, and if you're worried about low-quality sponsors simply decline anyone who doesn't met your set standards (it helps to have those standards outlined somewhere too).

    • If you haven't yet, consider publishing a book with the best designs and possibly reach-out to the designers/teams to provide insights into their process/reasoning. That type of book could do well (just look to "Web Designers Idea Book" for an example of what's possible).

    • Paid memberships could be an option too. I'd pay $5/mo if it meant I got insight news and interviews with the top developers/designers behind some of these apps. Even offering members something like the ability to vote on designs (exclusive to members only) and all of that could be worthwhile. $5 is chump change for many people in your market.

    • Start outlining best practices as seen in this apps. Obviously you're looking at all of the shots that come in (right?) so you've got to start seeing a lot of unique trends, etc. You could easily collect insights you've seen and create an ebook/guide with those insights, sell it for $15 and you could easily recoup your $2k costs (you'd have to sell just 133 copies).

    • Become an Amazon Affiliate. Depending on how much traffic the site gets (and whether you have an email list or dedicated RSS following), Affiliate links can build up revenue really fast. I just started implementing more affiliate links on my own blog and with 100,000 subscribers that's led to some months where my affiliate check covers my (very expensive) rent. You could easily sell design-oriented books and tools, etc. with your audience.

    • If you have any spare time, consider making Pttrns into a consultancy. Again, if you're looking at and evaluating all of these designs, you likely have some valuable insights into how iOS designs can be done as well as how they should be done. Sell that as a service ($100/hr to start) and if it goes well after some time that could be your full-gig. Hell, I'd love to work with you to consult.

    • Boost donation requests. Donations can work, if done right. The number one problem with donations (in my experience) is that most users don't realize it's an option (or that $5 really can go far). Stick a donation button everywhere you can, but do so intelligently and with clear indicators that "donations help this site going."

    Good luck!

    23 points
  • Ketan Anjaria, over 3 years ago

    Robin, I saw that you are hosting on Heroku, Heroku is insanely expensive, you could switch to Digital Ocean or other hosts and reduce your costs.

    12 points
    • Mathieu MayerMathieu Mayer, over 3 years ago

      This.

      1 point
    • Jose PadillaJose Padilla, over 3 years ago

      Definitely. Pttrns seems like one of those sites that with tons of caching can handle that kind of traffic without any problems. Hosting this up properly with decent servers on Digital Ocean, Ubiquity or Linode would be way less than $200. You could setup one proxy server, one app server, one db, one instance of something like memcache, and you should be golden. Would be interesting to hear more about the technical details. My bet is that probably out of those $2k, 20% or even less is going into hosting.

      0 points
    • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

      I think it's worth it, I really like Heroku as a product. For me it's the Rolls-Royce of cloud platforms. All the Add-ons, Docs, Support etc. is very well crafted and they take design seriously.

      0 points
      • Ketan Anjaria, over 3 years ago

        Yes it's a great product but the latency is terrible and you can get much better performance for a much much lower cost with other hosts. The design of a host matters little when you are losing money.

        0 points
  • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Note: we have 1.5M pageviews/month on average and most of the visitors are designers.

    3 points
    • Christoph OnoChristoph Ono, over 3 years ago

      2k/month sounds very expensive for 1.5M page views. Have you optimized the back-end as much as you can? If you're willing to share where most the money goes, I'm sure the community would help you find ways to optimize that.

      2 points
      • Dominik SchmidtDominik Schmidt, over 3 years ago

        Heroku is very expensive. So it could be possible. But it is not very hard to switch to his own server (Then the server would just go for no more than 300$ bucks). We have at 9elements have a service up and running that lies on a root server from the german hosting provider Hetzner.de and it is running well on it.

        0 points
      • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago

        It's 2k/mo since we added iPad and iOS section (3-4months). It was much cheaper before. 60-70% of it is editorial and development.

        We're still working on optimizations and the next thing is going from PNG to JPG.

        0 points
    • Martin LeBlancMartin LeBlanc, over 3 years ago

      I ran Iconfinder with 20 M pageviews for less. You can often optimize the server setup a lot (caching), the code (more caching), database (even more caching) and save a factor 10 on server cost.

      6 points
    • Joe BlauJoe Blau, over 3 years ago

      At the cost of $2k a month for that amount of views, it sounds like you need to hire a systems architect to refactor how the site is designed. The site could essentially be refactored to a static site running with a CDN. I would definitely look into optimizations of taking what is likely a bloated rails/node/ruby/java app and converting it to a static site with search powered by a third party search. You could probably cut your costs by 90% doing that.

      0 points
      • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago

        Probably, but for the future development and new features a static page isn't very versatile.

        0 points
        • Joe BlauJoe Blau, over 3 years ago

          I've fallen into this same classic startup conundrum where I've justified over-complexity for future-proofing. If this project was architected in a way where you were cash positive every month 2k then I could see this rationale. There is a very slipper slope, one that I've fallen into many times.

          I'm not sure what your future plans are, but at current state this could be static and cost you next to nothing to host.

          One quick patch could be that you use a CDN to cache your assets. cloudflare.com is pretty good and very simple to use. The content isn't changing so you could set long TTL's which would reduce some load on your servers.

          0 points
      • Martin LeBlancMartin LeBlanc, over 3 years ago

        I actually think you could keep the code as it is and just cache it heavily. There are few personalized elements on the site, so caching would be very effective.

        0 points
        • Joe BlauJoe Blau, over 3 years ago

          Yeah, that's a great point. Without seeing exactly what is costing so much, it would be hard to tell if that would completely alleviate the problems.

          0 points
  • Lewis FludeLewis Flude, over 3 years ago

    Sponsorship seems like the best option for continuing to scale up. Working with larger sponsors rather than multiple smaller ones would be easier to manage.

    One consideration, although I'm sure that it's not what you're looking to do, would be to scale down and make pttrns.com a paid only resource, with member paying $5 a month or something similar.

    With 1.5m pageviews you could easily monetise the site assuming a $1.50 CPM and unlimited inventory to fill on the advertisers part. If you want a designer-y ad network, then I recommend The Deck. http://decknetwork.net/

    2 points
  • Benjamin RogersBenjamin Rogers, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    I think ads could still be an option if you did some leg work and reached out to a few relevant companies - or to networks that specialize in design, etc. There are niche ad networks a lot of popular bloggers will take advantage of that pretty much ensures relevant, quality stuff that shows up. I might do a little digging on that.

    http://decknetwork.net

    http://fusionads.net

    http://carbonads.net

    Yadda... yadda...

    1 point
    • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago

      Yes, I know the all. But static ads are so 2000 for me.

      0 points
      • Benjamin RogersBenjamin Rogers, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

        True, but beggars can't be choosers. You're clearly in need of cash.

        As a user, I wouldn't care if there were a couple ads on there... it would not make my experience any worse.

        I'm not saying it's the solution you absolutely should take, but I'd take a harder look at it until you have solid sponsorships booked for a significant amount of time. I don't think you'd lose any viewers by adding them in tastefully and you're getting the cash infusion you so desperately need.

        1 point
  • George KukaGeorge Kuka, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Can't comment on hosting but it seems others have pointed you in the right direction.

    On recouping costs my vote goes towards Sponsorship. Generally companies that would want to advertise towards Designers are design savvy companies, I don't think ugly ads would be much of an issue. Plus weekly sponsorship could put a little green in your pocket for your hard work.

    1 point
  • Bruno MarinhoBruno Marinho, over 3 years ago

    I'd charge something between $25-30 bucks / year If you have about 1000 users and just wanna pay the bill. (but since you don't have login is hard to guess how many users).

    Also for sure heroku is not the best option in this case. Digital Ocean works and is cheaper.

    Hope u get enough donations to keep running.

    0 points
  • Mike SpragueMike Sprague, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    You could also potentially look into making a News Stand or mobile app to view the content on your site and charge for it. Although that might require quite a bit of work.

    I also really like Tanner's idea of publishing a book.

    0 points
  • Paul ScrivensPaul Scrivens, over 3 years ago

    No doubt Heroku is killing you on the costs. I'm sure a ton of web hosting companies would love to host you for free or at a reduced rate for free ad space.

    0 points
  • Dennis EusebioDennis Eusebio, over 3 years ago

    Are you using s3 or anything else for images or other static assets? Reason I ask is that you might be able to reduce the amount of dynos from heroku and save money.

    0 points
  • Robin Raszka, over 3 years ago

    I think I should have mentioned as well that I plan to introduce a beta version of API. Perhaps this could be a way to get a few bucks in exchange for the content access.

    0 points
  • Stuart FrisbyStuart Frisby, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Once you're sure that you've cut down on excess costs ('liking' your hosting provider is a luxury you can no longer afford if you want this thing to be sustainable), you need to try and find a way to support the site which is in keeping with the editorial standards. To my mind - Fusion/Carbon/The Deck are all tasteful networks of ads which I think fit with your audience nicely, again - feeling that ads are anachronistic is a luxury you can't afford unless you have a better idea.

    Here's one thing I know: Hiring iOS developers is hard work, and it costs a shit-load of money. You have a loyal, captive audience of mobile designers & developers - access to whom companies hiring these folks would likely be very willing to pay.

    You could go about this a couple of ways:

    1. A jobs board: You charge per post, or you come up with a creative referral system through which candidates successful hired via your site earn you a nice little bump (You could easily cover your costs here with one successful candidate per month - find out what a recruiter earns per candidate in this field, it'll blow your mind).

    2. You approach companies you respect and ask if they'd like to be a 'featured employer'. If you have good traffic, good users and good content - employers will pay to be featured. Give them a month featured prominently on the site, sticking to the pttrns way of displaying apps, but with an inside-line from the company that uses the product to outline why a designer would want to go and work for them. The only stumbling block here is 'companies you respect', because being picky is a luxury you can't afford if you want this thing to be sustainable.

    That's my spiel - employment is the angle, you can skin that any way you like, I think it has potential to pay your bills and then some if you get it right.

    0 points
  • Todd BenningsTodd Bennings, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

    Hey Robin - thanks for maintaining pttrns.com! It really is an invaluable resource.

    I like the book idea the most. I'd pay a premium for tangible items that I could use as reference for years to come.

    I would create somewhat of a flashcard set of screenshots and categorize them and package them in a fun case something like those Wildlife Treasury Cards of years past. You can do this pretty much yearly, but wouldn't really work well for iPad shots. This could also take the form factor of a pantone book.

    This may not be a way to monetize, but I could also see a possible relationship with Offscreen Magazine . They cover the people behind the pixels, and you cover the pixels themselves. There's an opportunity to leverage their audience to offer something to offscreen subscribers or vice versa.

    0 points