This is something I sent to the CoasterBuzz mailing list, and also posted in the forums there.
It has been awhile since I've written you. This is typical of winter, because there isn't much going on with roller coasters, but this year I've been even more disconnected because of my professional and home life. Indeed, there are a lot of things that lean personal that I'd like to share with you.
For those of you who have been visiting CoasterBuzz since the beginning, you'll recall that one of the site's primary goals was to connect to you to all of the amazing content that people were creating. In the wild west days of the Internet, it seemed like every park had unofficial fan pages, and there were even pages for seasonal employees at some parks. Sure, the sites sometimes looked terrible, and the photos were bad, but there was a lot of passion. CoasterBuzz had a directory with hundreds of links, organized by park, and the news that was posted frequently promoted those sites. By 2008, the site directory was gone, and the news shifted almost entirely to mainstream sites.
The consistent thing throughout the site's history has been the community. This is where things get weird. CoasterBuzz has been growing in the number of users almost every year since its inception. With the exception of 2010, there has been growth every year, and in fact the site sees 35% more users on a daily basis than it did 10 years ago. The problem is that they don't engage the same way. I'm sure in the age of social media and mobile devices this doesn't surprise you, but visits are short and people post less.
The revenue story is much worse. Half of our traffic is mobile now, which is harder to monetize unless you use really obtrusive and obnoxious ads (and I refuse to subject people to that). Where we used to have four ad companies filling the inventory, there is mostly just Google. And if that weren't enough, Google keeps cutting about a third of their payout, saying it's for "invalid traffic," which of course no human at Google can ever explain to me. Club membership revenue is down too, in part because there are fewer big events, and when Coastermania stopped being free, that negatively impacted us as well. On the plus side, hosting is fairly inexpensive compared to what it was in 2001, when it was more than a grand per month. Still, I have to spend about $3,000 per year on hosting and related expenses to make sure the experience is awesome, and that doesn't count software and hardware of my own to build and maintain the stuff.
I'm not even going to pitch joining CoasterBuzz Club specifically, but I would encourage you to spend a little money with any site or app that you find valuable. I still pay Vimeo $60 every year, even though I probably only upload two or three videos a year, because I love the community and quality of the things that I find there. I probably spend about $300 a year on subscriptions, because I want those resources to be around. Compared to the cost of cable TV, I think it's a great value. For small and independent publishers, it may be the difference between carrying on and shutting down.
With all of that out of the way, I've worked hard over the years to make sure the technical experience is awesome. CoasterBuzz went all-secure almost two years ago, it works great on mobile and most pages come to you in under a quarter-second. About every six or seven years, the platform the site is written on sees some significant changes, and I'm about at that place again where I have to port the whole thing. That work is already in progress, and it should result in even more speed.
This leaves the bigger question: What do you want CoasterBuzz to be? Product development is what I do in my day job, and my first rule is always to not assume you know better than your customers in terms of what they want. I'm leaving this totally open ended, and I'd like to get your feedback in the forums under the "State of the CoasterBuzz" thread. For more than a decade I've assumed that you want a forum, news, a park and coaster database, and lots of photos. Please challenge my assumptions.
Thank you for being a part of CoasterBuzz!