Spring Training games begin next week, with the annual Black and Gold game on Monday, followed by the first game of the season on Tuesday at Detroit in Lakeland. We will have three people covering Spring Training on those two days, with Wilbur Miller and Sean McCool both in town to help with the coverage in the next week. Ryan Palencer will also be coming down later in the Spring, which means that starting today, 18 of the next 30 days of Spring Training will have at least two people from the site providing coverage.
The day of the Wild Card game, we did a free Pirates Prospects day. Everything on the site that day was free. I wanted to do another day like that, to show off the content we’ve already had this Spring (and the content you can expect from us all year, both in quantity and quality). I can’t think of a better time to do this than the first game of Spring Training.
On Monday, Pirates Prospects will be free all day. For those of you who aren’t subscribed, this will give you a look at our content, and allow you to check out some articles you might have wanted to read over the last few weeks. Of course, I hope that after reading these, you’ll sign up for one of our very low-priced plans, with the annual and Top Prospect Plans getting discounts on the 2016 Prospect Guide.
This brings me to another similar topic, and that involves free articles on the site. I have a difficult time setting free articles, and usually only do it about two or three times per month. There are many reasons for this.
The first reason is that we’re not a new site by any means. We are entering our eighth year covering the Pirates and their minor league system. This is the seventh Spring Training where we’ve had live coverage. This is the fifth Spring Training where we’ve had live coverage from start to finish. This will be the fifth year where we will be credentialed to cover the Pirates all throughout the season, after being the first independent website to receive credentials in 2012. And of course, we’ve covered the minor league affiliates live since that first year in 2009.
In short, we’ve been around. Before we went subscription, you knew our coverage and the quality prospect analysis we put forth. That has only increased since we went subscription, which allowed us to afford more live coverage, including places we couldn’t cover before, like the Dominican Academy and the Arizona Fall League. And as someone who checks all Pirates forums throughout the year, I couldn’t help but notice an increase in comments this past year about not having any information on specific prospects. Meanwhile, I would always look on the site and find 2-3 featured articles and reports on that player. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, as the only site that covers the entire Pirates’ minor league system went subscription, and people who said they could find free information anywhere ended up discovering that the information we provided wasn’t that easy to find.
As far as the free articles, I had a hard time in principle making articles free, because my thought was that in our seventh year, you should know the quality of content we provide. At the same time, when we did post free articles, I noticed a trend where people remembered how good the site was, and jumped back on board with a subscription. I usually get e-mails of regret from those people shortly after they sign up, and the regret is in the form of “why did I wait this long?”
So I want to provide free articles, because it serves as a reminder of the site, and a reminder of the content we provide. At the same time, my next biggest struggle has always been deciding which articles to share. In a perfect world, I’d love to give everyone ten free articles to view, but the reality is that those “X free article” approaches are easily manipulated to make the site free. So I have to pick and choose the articles I want to make free, and that leads to a tough choice.
I want to show off the best articles on the site, since that gives the best example of what we produce. But if I’m always giving the best articles away for free, then that’s a real slap in the face to the current subscribers, who are paying for all of the articles (and the other ones are still good), but seeing the very best stuff go to the people who aren’t paying anything.
I’ve been kicking around an idea the last few months to solve this free article problem. The solution I’ve come up with is to make First Pitch a free article.
First Pitch was originally designed with the intent of rounding up all of the articles from the day, and putting them in an easy to find location, while also providing a bit more analysis on a subject each night. It’s a great promotional post, and that’s why I feel it would be perfect for the free article, as it would show off all of the articles that went up on the site on a daily basis.
I still have the issue of giving away articles to everyone, as I feel that cheats the subscribers. But the tradeoff here is that I think this move will bring in more subscriptions, which will only increase the regular daily coverage. And that coverage going forward will always be behind the paywall. First Pitch will be free, but there will never been another free article on the site from our daily analysis and prospect reports. Those will be reserved for the subscribers.
This isn’t a permanent switch yet. I’m going to try this out during Spring Training and see how it goes. Maybe try it out at the start of the season as well as we kick off our live coverage. And honestly, I don’t know how many free Pirates Prospects days we would do going forward if this approach sticks.
We switched to a subscription site a little over ten months ago. I don’t check the subscription numbers often, but we were over 5,000 at the end of 2015, which is outstanding. But I am in no way finished. I want to provide more live reports. I want to have a full-time writer covering the Pirates, which frees me up more for minor league coverage. This Spring Training we will have different writers coming down throughout the Spring, but next year I want to have at least two people covering things at all times, and maybe more than that when minor league camp starts.
We could maintain the current level of subscriptions and we’d be good for a long time, while still providing a ton of great analysis throughout the system. That’s something I couldn’t say a year ago, when I knew we had to make a switch from the free model to avoid the site shutting down in the future, and under the free model it probably would have shut down by now, based on the continued trends of ad networks.
But I don’t want to maintain. I want to improve. I want to take something that I think is great and make it better. I want to take a site that has content no one else has, and dig deeper to find even more content that no one else has. And as we saw all last year, the more the site brings in, the more I can afford to expand the coverage to provide tons of analysis.
So the site will be free all day on Monday. First Pitch will be free for the time being as I test that approach out (and the next one will be on Monday, since it’s hard to do this article daily at this stage in Spring Training). I hope a lot of people sign up after that, in part because of all that I want to do with the site in the upcoming year. The bigger reason is that we’re prepared to have a very busy Spring, followed by an even busier season, and I can’t wait for you to see what we can do in our second year as a subscription site, and our eighth year covering the system.
Pirates Prospects Meetup in Bradenton
I mentioned this the other day to subscribers, but I want to do meetups this year in every minor league city. This is in response to your requests for events like this. It also pretty much makes it official and organized, since last year I did meet with a lot of you when I was on the road, but it was in the form of you letting me know you were at the game, and me coming to say hello when I had a moment. So we’re basically making the meetups more official.
The first one will be on March 22nd in Bradenton. The MLB team is off that day, which means we will meet at Pirate City for the minor league games (with the Triple-A and Double-A teams in camp that day). After the games, we will go across town to Darwin Brewing Company, have a few beers (hopefully their collaboration with Rivertowne will still be on tap) and talk some baseball.
I’ve heard from about a dozen people so far who said they would be able to make the meetup, or at least the part at Darwin’s afterwards. Any subscriber is welcome, and honestly anyone is free to join us, even if you don’t subscribe. I’ll have more specific details as the date gets closer. If you haven’t already, let me know if you’re able to attend in the comments of via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you’re not in the area, don’t worry. We’ll do this throughout the year in other cities (and maybe one in Altoona during the opening series).
Just some brief notes on the site:
**If you haven’t downloaded our Android app yet, you can do that here. I’m still waiting on word for the Apple version. Apple makes things very difficult, especially if you’re selling something. They take 30% of all sales through the app, so we’re developing it in a way where it’s only for subscribers, with no way to buy the subscriptions to the site. So it’s a bit different from the Android app, thus the delay. Plus, there’s the longer approval process. I can’t tell you how much I hate Apple, especially when their product is so inferior to Android.
**I mentioned that we had a lot of live coverage last year, and I’m already planning out this year’s coverage. I’ve already got the first trip booked, which will be Pittsburgh for the opening series, followed by Altoona for their opening series. Sean McCool will be helping me during each series. From there, I’ll come back down to Bradenton for Marauders and extended Spring Training coverage, while Sean continues in Altoona and Ryan Palencer continues in Indianapolis. I’ve got plans for trips to Indianapolis and West Virginia in May.
**We’re going to be posting for new writers soon. We’re not adding too many at this point, mostly because we’ve got a good group in place. But the priority right now would be coverage of the West Virginia Power in Charleston, WV. I’ll post details next week, but anyone interested now should e-mail me at email@example.com.
**Any other questions or comments? Just leave them in the comment section below, or e-mail me.