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Why do we have to pay for the last Sunny and Balls article?
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Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Why do we have to pay for the last Sunny and Balls article? on 12/21/2011 01:33:06 MST Print View

Just wondering... All 3 of the previous articles were free. What happened?

Did the "lets charge for everything but 'most' of the forum" change affect this article series as well? Or was the plan all along to hook you with the first 3/4s of the story then charge you for the ending? Either way, just feels a bit shady.

I've said it once before, and I'll say it again... If you need to make more money off this site, why don't you add advertisements for non-paying members? Tons of websites out there make all of there money solely on advertisement.

I often see the argument "You'll pay if you're getting a good value out of the site." Or, "$25 a year isn't that much," etc. etc. The problem with those arguments... well... is that they aren't the problem. The problem is, there are other backpacking sites out there that are free.

So, even if your car is worth $20,000, the majority of people aren't going to buy it when Joe Schmo is giving away a nearly identical car for free. Of course there are a few people who'll buy your car for the name brand, or to support you/your company/what you stand for...

I don't read magazines anymore, because I can get better discusion/answers from multiple users of a product on a free forum. As apposed to the opinion of a possibly biased article writer, that may or may not have ties to, or been payed by the seller of said product(received the product free,etc.). So, if you think your articles are such a value, think again. Nearly all the information in your articles trickles down into the forums(and not just your forum). Not that I don't think your articles are good, its just a fact. And I'm not the only, nor the first to think that way or even bring it up.

It pains me to see a website that gets a ton of hits a day(I imagine) not take advantage of the most obvious source of income, but instead try to convince it's users to pay for a product it can get free elsewhere.

Anyways, just bummed I won't be able to finish the Sunny and Balls story. Lame.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Why do we have to pay for the last Sunny and Balls article? on 12/21/2011 02:25:53 MST Print View

I agree with the advertisements. Although a further refinement. Instead of doing something lame like google ads, BPL could be highly selective in what ads they accept. This allows them to charge more for ad space because it's such targeted marketing as well as an implicit BPL approval. Similar to how Penny-Arcade only advertises games and products they support.

If you feel this provides an unjust benefit to big manufacturers and hurts the cottage industry, well the entire point is that it's at BPLs discretion. Penny-Arcade will advertise for small indie games if they feel the game is worth being promoted, and I'm sure they do so at a significant discount than a product from a big name brand.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Regarding Advertising on 12/21/2011 02:50:24 MST Print View

This is a reprint of a post on another thread that Ryan Jordan put up two days ago that addresses some of the pitfalls of relying too much on advertising dollars to keep the site going:

To everyone:

Unfortunately, I'm not able to respond to everything in this thread, but I did read all the posts. I'm currently in Seattle visiting my extended family for a funeral, and then will return to Bozeman to enjoy some downtime for the Christmas holiday with my own family. After Christmas, you can look forward to some new content from me. I'm trying to free up some time in my schedule to do some more writing for BPL, and put three new articles to bed this week.

I do have to respond to one thing - advertising conflicts. As you can see, we're testing out some advertising (automated) in an effort to generate some revenue. This is a really new thing - just a few months old. We have received some money from it, but for now, it's not a lot. However, it is increasing, so I plan to stick with it for a trial period of meaningful length. If it starts out delivering a few dollars a month now and increases at a rate of a few % per month, then within the span of a couple of years, we have a meaningful revenue source, maybe?

Those of you that have been around here for awhile know how sensitive I am to advertising conflicts. We experienced them. We sold advertising in the print magazine. We sold annual contracts to a manufacturers of gear. We wrote reviews about their gear that were less than stellar. In more than one case, a few days after publication, manufacturer's broke their contract claiming that our reviews were "unfair". This happened more than once - it's real. It even happens within our beloved "cottage" industry. Here's a fun exchange we recently had with a cottage manufacturer:

Me to one of our editors: "Do we have a (product name) in the queue for review at BPL?"

The Editor: "Nope. (manufacturer) no longer provides gear for us to review. (Manufacturer's) logic is: if a review of (their) gear gives it less than a Highly Recommended, it hurts (their) business...(Manufacturer) has decided (that they don't) want us to review (their) gear anymore."

So I requested a sample of the gear from the manufacturer. Their response:

(Manufacturer): "It would have to depend on the particulars...I'd kind of like to know who might review the (product name)...and when it publishes...from a strictly (business) standpoint on my end a simple quick hit spotlight type review with no rating would be much preferred...risking a rating other than the (Highly Recommended) is a money loser for (our company)."

This is real stuff. Can you believe it? I could probably make a lot more money writing a tell all book about bad ethics in the outdoor industry rather than trying to sell subscriptions to

Some (including the manufacturer), will say that "it's their right, it's their business", kind of like what some of you have said in this thread about BPL's "right" to do whatever. However, it reflects the continued infection of our business culture that focuses on short term profits above long term credibility, integrity, and sustainability.

And, this type of thing is increasing. Why? Is the world spiraling down the toilet? I suppose at some point, manufacturers will outright refuse to pay, and we can simply afford to be another "customer" for them and buy their products outright, which of course, will totally eliminate conflicts and we can do what we've always wanted to do, which is call people on the carpet and review things without bias or fear of losing revenue, which we've done anyways, but it does make things more challenging, and it makes our relationships with manufacturers a little more tense.

Behind the scenes, we're working on the site's BACK END, including infrastructure upgrades of the forums. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but hang in there. I have no interest in building a reactive business, but one that is sustainable over the long run. For me, "long run" is measured in decades, and I plan on BPL growing to a very old age without advertising conflicts or an IPO. That said, we're still in our infancy and we're still thankfully small and "cottage" ourselves, so thanks for sticking with us.

Take care and happy holidays,

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Why do we have to pay for the last Sunny and Balls article? on 12/21/2011 05:05:14 MST Print View

Did the "lets charge for everything but 'most' of the forum" change affect this article series as well? Or was the plan all along to hook you with the first 3/4s of the story then charge you for the ending? Either way, just feels a bit shady.

Shady? No. That is how a "teaser" game is played. Legit, but can be anoying, sometimes.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
It's not just the Sunny and Balls article on 12/21/2011 05:52:42 MST Print View

I saw that some of the PCT trip report articles by Ryan Linn had been made members only. That's a great series of articles, but I can find dozens of trail journals and trip reports that are just as good online for free. Why should I pay for trip reports?

My guess is that the powers that be have to put some content behind the paywall to make the members happy. But lack of real content (about UL gear, techniques, philosophy, etc.) means that all they have for some weeks is trip reports.

I've been a subscriber in the past, but I'm not going to join again if I don't think I'm getting something for my money. One article per week, which sometimes might be a trip report, is not worth even $25 from me.

David Goodyear
(dmgoody) - MLife

Locale: mid-west
funny ? on 12/21/2011 06:06:34 MST Print View

In another thread people were complaining that the content was too much gear oriented and not enough trip reports and info on actually using gear.

A value to one is not a value to another. :)


Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Great posting from Ryan on 12/21/2011 08:18:21 MST Print View

That's a very informative post, quoted from Ryan Jordan, above. Thanks for reposting it.

From that, I can see that he and his crew are working on the back end of the site, which is the more expensive and aggravating side of things, and that he's looking at methods to monetize/fund the site without running afoul of his desire to remain insulated both from advertisers that seek to influence reviews and advertisers that break contracts in the middle of things if they don't like a review. Ahhhh, been there, myself. A worthy quest.

Importantly, albeit off-topic to this thread, it's apparent that the new year will bear some updates, upgrades and special content for the subscriber side of things. That's great. Rock on!

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Trip reports on 12/21/2011 08:41:42 MST Print View


I'm sure people like reading trip reports. My question is why should I pay for them since I can find so many good trip reports available for free elsewhere?

I can understand paying for gear reviews, tips, techniques, other UL-related stuff. But not trip reports.

Edited by sschloss1 on 12/21/2011 08:42:18 MST.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
re on 12/21/2011 10:03:14 MST Print View


Dave is simply pointing out that others were wanting less of what you want (gear, technique, etc..) and more trip reports content that you don't want.

We get your point, it is just that others are wanting the complete opposite. Pay for what you want of course.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: re on 12/21/2011 10:12:36 MST Print View

I find all this complaining quite silly

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: re on 12/21/2011 10:18:04 MST Print View

"Anyways, just bummed I won't be able to finish the Sunny and Balls story. Lame."

And it is amazing.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
ethics and pubishing on 12/21/2011 10:29:02 MST Print View

OK-I run an advertising company when I am not wasting my time on this here are a few notes how this stuff works.

1. Publications make their money by delivering an audience to their advertisers. The stories, photos, gear reviews, and cartoons are all simply a way of increasing their readership base. Ther real money is the advertising. So all the rest only matters if the readership base can be shown to respond to advertisers, and buy the products. Trust me on this one---my company gets paid a lot of money to study the various publications and assess which ones do the best job of convincing their readers to support their advertisers. Sometimes that is overt: please support our advertisers. Sometimes it is covert: "this backpack is a GREAT BUY," (and the producer happens to be an advertiser in our magazine.)

But make no mistake about it---advertisers track their dollars, track the results, and every few months they revise their spending based on what is working best. BPL is in direct competition with our publications for these dollars.

2. Publications always tell you that advertisers never have any say in what gets printed. If you believe that, go read a car magazine. I can't remember the last time I saw a negative review of a car in a car magazine. Why? Because if they did it, the car company would pull its ads. So all car reviews are positive. Some outdoor magazines may be different, but over the long term, the ones that will survive are the ones that get the most advertising dollars. You do the math. (this doesn't only apply to car magazines---network news usually works the same way. All those cute stories about nice last minute gift ideas for the holidays? Yep.)

3. There are a few publcations that take NO advertising, and exist only on subscriptions. That way they can be completely objective. And their readers pay for this objectivity.
Consumer Reports is an example. But they tend to focus on big ticket items that are bought by large numbers of the population: cars, refrigerators, etc. Why don't they review backpacks? Because there are not enough of us to make it worth their while...and if they don't sell a lot of magazines, they go out of business.

4. Ethics? Yes, many publications (including BPL, apparently) make a real effort to give honest reviews of products. But as the BPL voice here has noted, that's not a perfect way to win advertisers. Companies really need good reviews. When a customer in a retail shop is staring at a wall of backpacks, that "best buy" review or "Great New Product" label will often make the difference. That's a real result. And it matters not only to the company--but also to their entire distribution chain. There's a reason that those reviews get out into the market and on the shelves next to the products so fast. More backpacks sold into retail shops means more backpack sold to consumers--all because of that review.

5. One last comment about reviews and ethics. Reviews are subjective, and let's not get confused about this. My wife and I have a ton of experience backpacking together, and we STILL often disagree about the equipment that we use. There is no such thing as a perfect review. Yes--you may think your staff knows everything, or that you have the perfect expert--but it is unrealistic to assume that ANYONE can give a perfect review for all users. So what to do? Heck, if I were a magazine, and my wife and I were both reviwers, I would ask us BOTH to write the review---and then take the most positive one. Why? It would still be an honest opinion, but it would also not offend so many advertisers. But that's just me. Every publication struggles with this issue every single day. Trust me.

As a participant in these "free" boards, what options do you have?

>> If you believe that BPL gives honest reviews of products, and you really value that information, then you have to communicate that--not so much to BPL--but to the people who are advertising here. And to those who are not. And while long letters like this one are sometimes helpful, the best way to communicate this is to buy the products that are highly rated by the magazine. If you buy a tent that was highly rated here, drop a note to the company and tell them that--attach the receipt. And drop a note to the competition, explaining the same thing--and attach a copy of the receipt.

>> If you believe in BPL, and you really love backpacking, then maybe it's about time you paid your own way a bit. Yes, I know that other sites are free. Other sites also may not give the same honest and ethical reviews of products. If you get value here, then it is worth money. If it isn't worth any money to you, then go elsewhere. But I think it is just a little bit hypocritical to say that you want all the quality editorial content for free...and if advertisers don't like it, they can go elsewhere. There is no free lunch. Either they pay, or you do.

>> You could also do more to promote this site to friends, colleagues, and others who enjoy backpacking. That increases the BPL readership---and makes them more attractive to advertisers.

And now a disclaimer: I do not get paid for anything from BPL or any other publication in the outdoor sector. Nor do I pay to subscribe to BPL, nor do I pay to participate in these boards. I don't have clients in the outdoor industry.

And I do have a website--that's free, does't accept advertising...and doesn't review equipment!

Edited by balzaccom on 12/21/2011 22:03:13 MST.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re on 12/21/2011 10:36:16 MST Print View

I don't think anyone has to pay.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Worth it on 12/21/2011 10:39:28 MST Print View

Great article, great story. Worth every penny.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Why do we have to pay for the last Sunny and Balls article? on 12/21/2011 10:53:28 MST Print View

I'd totally read a tell-all about the shady practices in advertising. I love that kind of stuff.

By the way, Balls and Sunshine's whole story is on

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Straight teaser on 12/21/2011 11:06:37 MST Print View

Hi all!
I made the decision to publish the final article as members only, advised Ryan Jordan and Eric Gjonnes of that decision, and got thumbs up from both. I know Ryan is better at articulating all sorts of things about what's going on behind the scenes here, but here's my two cents: BPL has to pay the bills. Ryan's in charge of a huge swath of ideas/plans/etc that I'm sometimes vaguely aware of. One of MY main roles is to use the editorial schedule and articles to grow membership, single article sales, etc.

It's true, trip reports can be found many places, for free. Much of Balls' story can be found at his trail journal site, albeit over many days, and without the photos or gear reviews I got to use. Balls and Sunshine benefited from BPL sponsorship, and BPL has benefited from his excellent prose. We sponsor them because they still have bills to pay. We've limited the final article because we do too. We're a magazine, first and foremost, and it's perfectly ethical for a business to charge for what it's providing.

For what it's worth, the Staff Picks this coming week will be a public article, as always, and I'll pick up the publishing schedule again (more articles per week) as winter winds down. The general rule I try to follow is about 2/3 of the articles are members only, with 1/3 being open to the general public. Rarely, I'll change the restriction for past articles, though it is usually to make them public rather than the other way around.

Hope this helps, though I already know, with a sinking feeling, that we cannot make everyone happy all the time. Drives me nutty, but I was already halfway there anyway!

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Why pay? on 12/21/2011 11:07:27 MST Print View

Site runs mostly on subscriptions I guess, and the free ones act as a hook. I'd hate to see this site go away and have to interview UL hikers myself (somehow) to see what works/what left them under a rock seeking shelter after gear failure.

Speaking of advertising, I really do not understand the hang-up. Most here use rucksacks (don't overload them), tarps (origami is helpful), or even cat food can stoves (why doesn't Fancy Feast or Friskies advertise here? -let's see if they pop up on gear buyer below-heh,heh). Its not like other outdoor publications, where having the latest aluminum x-frame with unobtainium struts, integrated solar butt heater, and pockets galore is all that helpful. If a product is actually inferior, it means they (the manufacturer) are lax.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Straight teaser on 12/21/2011 11:19:45 MST Print View

Thanks for the post Addie. Makes perfect sense to me.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Regarding Advertising on 12/21/2011 12:03:41 MST Print View

>> This is real stuff. Can you believe it?

Yes, I can and, to be honest, I don't blame them. The cost of providing free gear to reviewers is part of their marketing strategy; if it hurts their business, it's not a successful strategy.

I would be in favor of paying subscription/membership dues to enable BPL to operate with minimal advertisements and to purchase gear that manufacturers won't provide for testing/reviews. After testing, BPL could easily sell it on their own gear swap to recoup some of the expense. Reviews would be unbiased and BPL would have no "obligations" (implicit or otherwise) to the manufacturer.

Consider an organization like Consumer Reports that charge for their reviews. Maybe it's just clever use of psychology but I feel like I'm getting a more unbiased opinion when I'm not seeing a full-page ad next to the review of the same product.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: ethics and pubishing on 12/21/2011 12:16:17 MST Print View


Thank you for taking the time to give us your professional views on this topic.

Always great to get wisdom from someone who is in the know and can speak to the realities of the situation when it comes to running a business and ads.

Appreciate your adding to the conversation and making it educational and utterly civil.


Thanks for speaking out and giving us some insight to the inner workings of the BPL machine.

I think that in the absence of communication from BPL's staff, people on the forum are left to run amock with their ideas and thinking the worse about the situation at hand.

Much of the squabbling could be easily avoided or put to rest with a little input from Ryan or someone like yourself.

Anyway, thank you for your always.

P.S. On a personal note, not attacking anyone, I just have to say how amazed that I am about the how much time and energy has been spent on the issue of dissatisfaction when it comes to free vs. paid for information. I find that only when it comes to the internet is there a belief that all things should be free. In the "real" don't get this argument all that much.


Edited by Valshar on 12/21/2011 13:05:56 MST.