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GPF News Archive

First Post Previous Post Next Post Latest Post April 28, 2008

 

Man... I've been trying to get this News post out for about a month now, but various distractions have kept cropping up. If it's not things at work, it's things at home; if not at home, it's bug fixes and improvements to the site code; if not that, it's top-secret projects to add new content to the site. One way or another things have just kept creeping in, keeping me from finally sitting down and setting aside time to type this thing. And there are some important items I need to share with you guys, too, which has made this all the more annoying. I apologize for the silence—as usual—but I figure you guys are used to dry spells in the News by now.

Anyway, let's get to some of these important items:

GPF Premium is officially a success: All I can say is... wow. No, really. I mean it. Wow. GPF Premium can only be classified as an initial success. There's no bones about it. You guys are awesome. In our first two months of Premium service, you guys have pretty much paid for the comic's hosting for the entire year, and that's before we've taken into account any advertising revenue. GPF is most definitely in the black for 2008 and this will probably be our most profitable year yet. While I'm still not expecting to be able to make a living solely off the comic any time soon, we've taken some major strides in that direction.

While the ratio between paid subscribers to GPF's overall readership is incredibly small (less than 1%), it's about in line with what I expected. I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for your support, especially those of you who have subscribed for the long haul in the upper levels like Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. This tells me you have faith in GPF and in me, and that you really do want to see us continue for years to come. With support like this, I can't see any reason why not.

If you're still sitting on the fence about Premium, that's OK. We'd love to see you join us, however. Personally, I'd like to see everyone who occasionally drops a few bucks in the Tip Jar become subscribers; you're already giving us a few bucks periodically, why not get some perks for your support? The initial trial subscription (one month) is relatively cheap ($5 USD) and there are no strings attached if you decide not to renew once it expires. And if you do decide to renew, longer durations offer increasing greater discounts over the long term. We're also planning a number of level-specific incentives and bonuses that will be retroactive (if you subscribe first and we add a bonus later, we'll give you that bonus) and cumulative (higher levels get all the perks of the levels beneath them). And PayPal is not required to sign up; while it's our preferred method of payment and required if you want to pay via credit card, you can also pay via check or money order through the GPF Store. (If you are going to pay by PayPal, please use the online account creator instead of going through the Store; you'll have your account in minutes rather than have to wait on me to process your order.)

Of course, I can't ignore the support of non-subscribers. Without you visiting the site and tolerating the ads, buying merchandise, and dropping tips in the Tip Jar, we wouldn't have sustainable income. I acknowledge the fact that many people can't afford subscriptions or otherwise cannot make purchases online. That doesn't mean you can't and aren't supporting us. Just by visiting the site, you load ads, which remain our primary source of revenue. And many of you spread the word about the comic, telling friends, family, and colleagues, a valuable grass-roots marketing engine that has become all the more important now that we don't have Keenspot's might behind us. Every single Faultie out there is precious to us and without you there wouldn't be a comic. While I express special thanks to those who go out of their way to financially support us, I also thank each and every one of you who come by daily, weekly, or however often you visit. You guys rock.

Feedback on new site design: The new look of the site has been in place for about a month now, and the feedback has been... well... minimal. I was rather surprised. I expected somewhat more, especially given how vocal you guys can be at the slightest little quirk of a given comic. ;) And since this is the first time the look of the site has changed in eight years, I figured you guys would have more to say.

That said, the feedback I have received has been largely positive. Many of you have said the site looks more modern and less "turn of the millennium". In many ways this is very true: When we left Keenspot, my primary focus was on moving the site and getting the underlying code working, not on improving the look of the site. I did overhaul the underlying HTML from 2000-era 3.x to a more modern XHTML 1.1 and most of the styling is now done via CSS. The old design was optimized for 640 x 480 pixel resolutions, the lowest common denominator back in the day but incredibly uncommon outside of mobile devices today. The new design gets more on the page at once, fits better with modern design conventions (like the navigation sidebar), and is more consistently rendered across browsers and platforms. Ironically, a number of elements like the sidebar are actually throw-backs to our frames-based site design before our move to Keenspot... how cyclical.

That said, it does have its quirks. The width is fixed at 1000 pixels; I'd much rather it be fluid, but I had trouble getting the different columns to work correctly without hard-coding certain widths. I'm not happy with how it displays if rendered without CSS, and I've done very minimal testing with various mobile browsers. (I once got to see how it looked on an iPhone, but I haven't had much chance to do any formal mobile testing.) And the conversion of all the pages isn't complete. Several sections of the site that require large portions of manual editing are still in progress, so don't be surprised if you run into a page here and there that hasn't been updated yet.

The biggest complaint by far, though, as been about the proliferation of ads. I hate to admit it but that is unfortunately one of the very reasons for the updated design: to get more ads on the page. Let's face facts: GPF has been largely ad supported for years now, and that's not going to change anytime in the near future. If Premium subscriptions magically increased to 10-25% of our total readership, we might be pulling in enough sustainable income there that I could pull the ads and support the site entirely off subscriptions. I don't see that happening any time soon. And given the dramatic increase in revenue between March, when only a single "leaderboard" ad spanned the top of each page, and April, which included "skyscraper" and box ads, introducing the additional ads is likely to be our best bet for long-term survival.

To those who have been complaining about the ads, I'm afraid you're just going to have to get used to them. The online ad market isn't going away, and GPF isn't making enough money from other revenue streams to remove that source completely... yet. If you really have trouble with or are annoyed by the ads, here's some friendly, polite suggestions that will help you in most cases not only at GPF but on other ad-supported sites across the Web:

  • First of all, please do not wholesale block all ads. If you do that, we don't get anything. Similarly, please do not rip comics from the page by programmaticly downloading them without the surrounding page and ads. If you do either of these, you're just hurting us by sucking up our bandwidth and killing the comic over the long run. We carefully screen our advertising sources to limit security risks and annoyances, so most of the valid reasons for blocking ads have been eliminated or at least minimized. The worst you should have to worry about are tracking cookies, which are easy enough to remove periodically. (I personally scan and remove tracking cookies at least weekly.)
  • Use a browser/OS with a good reputation for security and keep on top of security updates for both. While I don't want to get into browser or OS favoritism, Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows usually tends to expose you to greater risks than any other combination. That said, recent events have proven that any browser/OS can be vulnerable if not properly maintained. While staying up-to-date doesn't always protect against "zero day" vulnerabilities, it does protect you over the long run.
  • Educate yourself about online security and the risks posed by going online. The most secure, locked down machine in the world is wide open when an inexperienced user is at the helm.
  • If flashing banners and moving images are too distracting for you, seek out browser plugins that can help you tame them. For example, Firefox has a number of extensions that let you control Flash and stop GIF animations. They don't block them, but they let you control them, giving you the say of when they play and when the don't. I personally use FlashBlock all the time, which stops Flash animations just as they are about to load. Using this, you can read the comic or the page first, then activate the ad to make sure it loads. Then you get to read the content in peace while we still get paid: a win-win scenario where everyone goes away happy.
  • Still too much effort? Then may I humbly suggest a GPF Premium subscription? When Premium is enabled, ads are turned off by default. Gone. Kaput. Nada. /dev/null. The ad code isn't even sent to your browser, so there's nothing to block, stop, or ignore. You can turn them back on if you really want (we'll get both ad revenue and subscription revenue in this case, a feature some of you have requested), but that's the only way you'll see them. And you won't face the moral dilemma of choosing between your personal browsing experience and security, and jilting us out of much needed revenue. An even better win-win scenario.

Since the topic of advertising has been brought up....

Advertising survey: Every now and then, you may see an ad crop up with the GPF Seal (Nick in the red circle) and text imploring you to "help us make GPF better" by taking a survey with one of our advertisers. This is a requirement of our contract with one of our ad services, Burst, and is used to better target ads to our site's demographic. The survey is anonymous and takes approximately two minutes.

If you see one of these "ads" crop up, please take the time to fill out this survey. If you don't see this ad, you can follow this link to access it directly. All we need is an extremely tiny fraction of our readership—approximately one percent—to fill out this survey annually for us to maintain our quota. Any responses beyond that will be gravy and will help them target ads to us even more effectively. The more information they have about our readers, the more profitable this revenue stream becomes and the greater support they provide to the comic and the site. The questions are incredibly general—age, gender, education level, income level, occupation, etc.—so you don't need to worry about any personal information being leaked.

Mysterious 404 "file not found" redirects: Still on the topic of ads, there have been a number of reports of mysterious 404 "file not found" errors cropping up on across the site. These typically occur just as you're loading the page; it appears to load normally, then suddenly you are redirected to the "file not found" error as if the page does not exist. I think I've been able to track down and fix this issue; full technical details of what's going on and how the fix works can be found in this thread on the Site Problem Reports forum. However, I can't be certain that I've nailed down all the situations where this problem has occurred, so if anyone has any additional information they'd like to share, please post it to that thread.

Project Wonderful ads: Rounding out the topic of ads, I should point out that in addition to our more formalized advertising feeds, we also except ads through Project Wonderful. These ads are usually much less expensive and much more highly targeted than going through one of the big bulk ad suppliers, so they're a great value for the money. I mention it here because I know a fair number of you out there also have webcomics or other sites you'd like to promote, and occasionally I get queries on how to purchase ads here on GPF. PW is currently our exclusive "in-house" ad supplier, so we work solely through them. Our PW ads run as "defaults" after we exhaust our other higher-paying feeds, but even then they generate a tremendous amount of exposure for our advertisers.

I should point out, though, that we're a little picky about who is allowed to advertise here and the content of the ads being displayed. I get a lot of ad bids that I end up having to reject because I consider the ad or the site being advertised to be "not safe for work" (i.e. it contains potentially objectionable material that would be inappropriate for the workplace or school environment). If you are interested in advertising here, please read through our advertising guidelines before bidding on ad space. That will save us both a lot of time and effort. Also, if you're going to place a bid, please give us a fair amount of lead time—at least a couple of days—before your campaign is intended to run so we have time to review your site and approve your bid. We get a fair number of bids that expire before I even have a chance to look at them because the bidder didn't give me enough lead time.

The fate of GPF books: The last topic to cover is the current state of our books. Our old publisher, Plan Nine, is for all intents and purposes defunct. This isn't that big of a surprise to me, unfortunately, as we've been on their back burner for over three years, waiting for them to do just about anything to keep GPF books in stock. The timing, though, is rather new to me, which is why I haven't posted anything about this sooner. In light of this development, I'll be pulling all our links to Plan Nine for the time being, and all our books are effectively out of print until further notice.

As for the future, I certainly don't plan to give up on our dead tree editions. Before Keenspot, they were our primary source of revenue, and even after Keen they were a close second for several years. Books have a distinct physical quality that can't be replicated by flinging random electrons through wires and I still feel proud to have several copies of my books sitting on my desk next to me. I'm in talks with some folks about how to move forward and I have a number of options to explore before committing to anything. I don't know yet if new editions will be reprinted of old books or if the entire series will be reworked into new formats. I will try to keep you guys abreast of the situation as I get anything useful to say.

That should be about it for now. I've got a few other irons in the fire, so expect to hear some additional news in the not too distant future. (In other words, sometime before the end of the year.) Premium subscribers should periodically check the Premium index and FAQ for updates to the service, as I'm adding new little features all the time. Everyone else should take an occasional spin through the lesser-traveled pages to look for surreptitious updates. You never know when those updates are going to creep up on you....

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