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Community Feedback on Ad Blocking and Redesign Changes Our Policies

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Hello, MarySue community. My name is Dan Abrams, and I own and helped create TheMarySue. I say “helped” because, while I am the proud founder of this site, the concept and even the name were brought to me by a terrific young writer named Susana Polo, who became the founding editor of the site (and who has gone on to do other great things).

I have never before written for this site and expect this will likely be the final time. Why? Because I have gone to great lengths to ensure that this site belongs to the editors, readers, watchers, and commenters. I have nothing to do with the day-to-day editorial content here and never have. The editors and writers who work here have created a smart, fun, and important site that I can best appreciate from afar.

So it is with this background that I want to weigh in on our new redesign, subscription service and requirement that users lift ad blockers. This is a community that demands transparency, so please allow me to try to provide that.

To be blunt, since I launched this site in 2011, it has never been profitable. It has lost money, sometimes quite a bit, every year of its existence. I say this not to engender sympathy—because I deserve none—but to present a reality of where we are. With that said, I believe in this site as much as anything I have ever created. It presents a unique and often under-appreciated voice that needs to be heard, and despite the financial losses, the end product has been well worth every penny.

Every month, I meet with the editorial team to discuss traffic to the site where I make broad and, I am certain in their minds, not particularly helpful suggestions like, “Should we cover more science and space?” or, “Are we doing enough video game coverage?” To be clear, the last time I knew anything about video games was in the Pac Man era, so it’s not like I am offering actionable information, but I am trying to figure out how to encourage the team to build traffic so we can emerge from the financial hole.

As you can imagine, the editorial team would rather not be judged based on traffic, and for a site like this one, that is entirely understandable. It was also a priority for them to pay any contributors, even though many were willing to write for the site for free. So together, we agreed that we would implement an optional subscription with perks so that hopefully they could worry less about traffic, pay contributors, and focus entirely on the stories they want to cover. That is what we did, and thank you to all of you who have subscribed so far. I have loved hearing the terrific feedback on the subscriber newsletter and hope the ad-free experience along with the perks have been going well.

25% of the visitors here have used ad blockers, and the feedback we received when we conducted a survey was that the vast majority of readers would either be willing to lift ad blocking or pay for a subscription. We also redesigned the site in theory to “update” it. (Can you say “New Coke?”) Well since that survey I, and we, have heard from many of you on a number of issues, but the two primary concerns have been:

1) Many of you hate the redesign, in particular because, on the front page, you find it hard to distinguish between promoted content and articles.

2) Some of you refuse to lift your ad blocker for fear of overbearing or malicious ads.

I have heard you loud and clear and have decided to make some changes in response to that feedback:

A) We are going to remove the requirement that you lift your ad blocker to get access to the site. We will still encourage readers to remove ad blocker, but it will not be required for access to the site. That will be effective immediately.

B) We are going to change the front page back to make it feel much like the old chronological front page. It won’t be identical, but it will be close and will include text from stories so there’s no ambiguity over what is promoted content versus new content from the editors.

C) I am continuing the concerted effort with my ad team to limit or eliminate intrusive ads.

It pained me to read the comments and responses to the changes (I read every one), and listening to your passion for the site reminded me that we can never lose sight of the fact that this is your site. Without your support and faith, we have nothing.

Speaking of support, I still hope that you will consider a subscription here! The subscription will still offer a far cleaner site palate with no “recommended stories,” advertorials, etc. (as well as the subscriber newsletter, etc.) and is a critical part of our effort to balance a desire to avoid chasing traffic with financing the site.

So thanks again for all of your feedback.

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