The Money Issue and This Website
I was going to post the following as a new thread, but it is more appropriate here. I very strongly encourage that you convert this endeavor to a 501(c)(3). If you do not, or you start a 501(c)(3) in addition to your for-profit LLC, be prepared to explain to this community why you did not fully convert. This will be a huge issue as your community grows, because this blurry line that you have going will open up the whole message to collateral attack as more people understand your business model (push out DVDs to drive hits to the website, hence paid subscribers to the reports and podcasts, etc.). Anyway, my post:
I’ve been reading on issues relating to the three “E’s” for a
few years now, but nonetheless was impressed by the Crash Course for its
succinct and clear presentation, as well as the fact that Chris brought these
topics together in an integrated whole, which are usually discussed
separately. Also, he was astute enough
to recognize that video is the preferred media of choice for many people, as
many people aren’t willing to read a book from cover to cover.
But I have to say that I am confused, and, to be frank, a little
bit leery of this website generally.
My overall question: if
this is really about “promoting the message” of the three E’s, and not about
promoting one individual (Chris), why is this site organized as a for profit limited
liability corporation, rather than a not-for profit organization?
Related to that, why is there the “Martenson Brigade” and
not the “Three E Brigade,” or something of that sort? Titles have a lot of significance, as that is
what people most remember, so I find it significant that both the web address
and its associated volunteer brigade emphasize the person (Chris) rather than
the message (the three E’s).
I have absolutely no problem – and indeed very much hope –
that Chris can earn his family a few bucks (or even more than just a few bucks)
while promoting a message that needs to be heard.
But what gives me pause about this website is that, in my
personal opinion, it unduly blurs the line between casting off the image of
being a non-profit promoting a good message, yet actually constituting for
I got this feeling after watching the video encouraging
people to distribute Crash Course DVDs for a profit. (https://www.peakprosperity.com/distribute-crash-course-dvds)
This video strongly emphasizes Chris’s
altruism in supposedly not profiting off of distribution of his Crash
Course. But while he may not profit from
direct distribution of the DVD, he will promote hits to this site and thus gain
other benefits (more paid subscribers, more speaking engagements which are
further promotional efforts, etc.) and
thus benefit his corporation. This
indirect profit channel is becoming the standard mechanism for profit for many
online businesses, and this site is a classic example of good use of that
My suggestion for improvement of this website is
that, if this is really about the message, then open up the books of your
corporation for the community to see.
Show the ad revenue, subscriber revenue, other royalty revenue, etc.,
and show the expenses for the site (design, bandwidth costs, consulting costs,
any hired employee salaries, etc.). Then
show us the long term business plan for if and when your Crash Course reaches its
next major milestone in terms of distribution. If you need money at that point,
I bet this community will take care of you.
In one of the forums, someone suggested having an open
reporting of donations to this site (as does Wikipedia, which is organized as a
not-for-profit), but no one commented on this.
I second this suggestion for improvement.
In my opinion, this general suggestion for your site will
serve you well in the longer term.
Again, I am completely for you profiting from your works and this
website. But I am leery that as your
site grows in popularity, this blurry line that you have going — between
promoting the message and promoting your corporation — will prevent you from
taking your endeavor to the next level that you desire. It would be better
to take steps to cut that criticism off early, before it takes hold like a
strong weed and threatens your efforts. Because it really will — both (1) your business model (push CC DVDs for free, but profit from subscriber base growth) and (2) the potential backlash phenomenon (from pushing a not-for-profit image too much while being a for-profit LLC) are not that new these days on the internet.
I don’t agree with the concept of being offended by the "for profit" nature of this website. First of all, the CC information was created by and made available via this website at the authors discretion. Why does he owe anyone an explanation for his efforts and or methods to author and disseminate this information.
"I very strongly encourage that you convert this endeavor to a
501(c)(3). If you do not, or you start a 501(c)(3) in addition to
your for-profit LLC, be prepared to explain to this community why you
did not fully convert."
Henry Ford used his name to effectively promote a concept and product that became highly desireable. He was able to expand the product line because he figured out a way for others to also make a profit in distributing it. I think this method is workable and promotes expansion of the message and individual enterprise. We need more of that, not less.
People can visit this website at no cost. They can also purchase a subscription if they feel that the information is valuable to them. They have a choice. If finance is a problem, the info is still there for the taking. I don’t think it is accurate or correct to characterize the CM site as a bait and switch routine.
"It will surely become a target of growing criticism,
both on this website and from external sources, which will deflect from the
power of the message."
Those that would direct criticism at these efforts because they have failed to choose a "not for profit" business model are looking at the wrong target. If one wants to criticize, they can check out the "not for profit" entities that are spending a lot of money in questionable places such as the US Gov’t.
I think $5-$7.00 is way to low and will put the site in the category of a cheap or discount website.
Who exactly are you trying to market CC to?? I really can’t see how this sort of site could be seen as "cheap" – one need only read for a few minutes to find enormously valuable educational materials. The old Retail Rules would seem to apply here – at least part of this site must be a loss leader if it is to show a profit. But Chris has stated that he simply does not want to continue to pay the costs which will grow as the site grows. Therefore 501c3 seems the way to go, with subsequently enhanced donations as well as almost unlimited access to non-profit grants, etc and the desired transparency in the organization. Fundraising is its own time-consumer, but a 100% 501c3 organization is certainly more easily managed.
Now, as for the price of the subscription, the current cost is similar to a professional journal and excludes people (like me and other retirees) who no longer have the cash to spend on professional education. Chris say he wants to prepare the maximum number of folks as quickly as possible. In several threads recently, I questioned accessibility to the site at the current monthly rate and pointed out a site I thought could serve as a good model for swift growth (no, I have no connection with them except as subscriber). The guy is a masterful webmaster and he and his wife ran the site with just a few vols until not long ago when they were were apparantly offered a remarkable deal for the site which he continues to manage.
Their membership roster, which may be searched by state & user name:
Note that there are 400,000 registered users with about 7,000 subscribed users. There are members all over the world and that the number of new registrants each day is a counter. One of the big bones of contention on the site was how to identify the location of non-US members who don’t have numerical postal codes. (I don’t think it was ever solved but it was a huge attempt at INCLUSIVITY.) This membership roster serves the purpose of linking members so that they can meet in person and they do! They have a forum to discuss meeting even.
Their forum page:
Note that the red asterisks on that page are restricted to subscribers only. Forum topics, which I fully realize may not interest a great many of you :-), are noted in the horticultural world as a great place to hang out for collectors (the forums for specific species, etc), farmers, market gardeners and who knows who else. Are the forums at cm.com sufficient to be a place where a great many folks would want to "hang out"?
Their search page:
This site has the largest plant database in the world, all contributed by members, with botanical oversite. (again, I realize this is greek to many of you, but I’m looking at the structure of the site). If you put into google the botanical name of a plant, it is likely to pop tp davesgarden.com at least several times. It is the SOURCE of EXPERTISE for this site and what caused the site to grow so rapidly in spite of the "simple" people who frequent most of the forums (providing the revenue from subscriptions).
The source of expertise for cm.com is CC. But after CC and a while on the forums lurking mostly, I find myself wandering away more and more from this because it is only focused on what we all know will happen sooner than later and I can find out what is happening each day much more quickly at other sites like 24/7, etc. After you have successfully marketed the crash course to people, there is really not much reason to stay. I spend much more time at places where the details are discussed and solutions to one’s personal spot in the world can be gleaned and evaluated. I haven’t even posted at dg.com in a few years – I use it mainly to research plants – but I know it is there and I religiously resubscribe every year – at 15 bucks per year. I hate the ads when I don’t but if it were 5 – 7 bucks a month, I really doubt I would subscribe if it did not have such rich content.
A site well worth analyzing in detail (there is much more to this site than I mentioned) when considering the future of cm.com.
Rosemary – I agree – $30 PER MONTH (to me) is way too much. Instead I gave $30 to charles hugh smith because he asks for donations instead of holding information hostage at a huge price.