elephant should be free.

Via elephant journal
on Jan 5, 2011
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You can’t afford to read this article about our paygate.

You get three articles for free, every day—not including our Front Page, http://www.elephantjournal.com, which doesn’t count as a click. 95% of our readers read less than three articles a day. Going over your quota? Pay $1/month (12/yr)…or come back tomorrow and read another three for free, not including the Front Page. Since launching this a month ago we’ve been able to cut half our ads (which we don’t get much for, anyway) and focus on improving our content—and our readership traffic has actually grown. Please leave any comments, they help us improve.

elephant could be free. And out of business. Or cheap. And huge.

Over the past month, elephantjournal.com has launched our paygate—not a paywall, which blocks readers from reading unless you pay—but a cheap, weak “paygate” that only comes up after you read two or three articles in one day—something only 5% of our most dedicated readers do. It’s been an overwhelming success, and most readers are happy with it. We’ve broken even and are now ready to hire an editor and become a real media power both in terms of size and quality. But a few readers, understandably, are not used to paying for anything online—and want us to continue to give the store away for free. So I thought it worthwhile to share this dialogue, below. ~ ed.

Comment from one reader, a friend: “…u lost me forever when I couldn’t read a story unless I paid.  Of course I know u and I am coming back but…”

Free is Nice. But we take it for granted. And, usually, it’s not quality—it’s advertorial, not researched, spammy, cheap, sex-obsessed.

I posted this on our 32,000 strong Facebook page, this morning, and Leah (below) left a thoughtful response. Four folks “liked” her comment, so I figured her concern, and my response, were worth sharing more widely.

  • Leah: it’s a gamble to open it thought, as without paying we can only see two articles a day now.. not sure if i want to use my quota on something that has a vague title…by giving info for free you empower the people to make changes.. limiting us, doesn’t help those who care spread knowledge. No credit card equals no viewing. =0(
  • elephantjournal.com: Leah, media has never been free to produce. We’ve given it out for free for two years, really eight years overall including the magazine. We can’t talk sustainability unless we are sustainable. ~ W
  • PS: It’s just $2 buck a month. You can send check in if you like for the year (email us for address), if you don’t do Inspire Commerce (indie, mindful) or Paypal.

  • PPS: it’s always worth it to gamble on the future of “a girl.”
  •  One final PS: I’ve noticed that by giving away most of our articles–95% of our readers only read 3 articles or less a day—and charging $2/month to those readers who want to read more, and probably value elephant content enough to pay such …a modest sum—our subscribers value elephant more.

  • And that which we value, we read more fully and appreciate—and share. Since our paygate went live, our readership has actually increased. And for the first time in two years online, we broke even last month. If we keep going, we may be able to hire an editor—making our content better quality, with fewer typos and factual inaccuracies–which will in turn enable us to be more shareable, and do more good. So I hope you’ll consider subscribing if you’d like–or, come back tomorrow, you get another two or three articles for free. ~ Waylon

    $108 for a lifetime membership—if you live another 50 years that’s just $2/year 🙂

I’d invite all of you who bother to read this far to comment: do you hate our charging for what we do to those who read us the most? Or are you happy that, like other businesses, we charge for our services? Leading questions, I know—but please do feel empowered to be honest, it helps. ~ W


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive.


41 Responses to “elephant should be free.”

  1. I'm loving this job so much it can hardly be viewed as any kind of sacrifice. But I do hope that anyone hesitating about $1 per month will be at least a little influenced by the fact that I'm working full time and more for Elephant for no compensation at all.

    As I get my feet on the ground here, I hope the impact of my time will become obvious and the $1 per month will seem like even more a deal than it already is! (And I'm not the only one. Elephant has other unpaid volunteers putting in a lot of hours to make it all work for you. I'm only at liberty to talk about myself.)

    Stick around and join the club for $1 per month. We're going to do great things together.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Elissa says:

    Totally happy with the charging. If that's what it takes to keep this going then no problem by me. And anyway I think when there is an exchange of some sort you value what you get much more.

  3. Ben Ralston says:

    Jacquie O’Neill ‎$1 a month is fantastic value for such quality content – people pay way more than that for the weekly gossip mags that are full of lies and negativity. For some strange reason people think writers and artists should work for free – try suggesting that to a plumber or a banker, lol 🙂

    52 minutes ago · Like ·

    Sharon Walker so who gets the money? Do the writers/bloggers? If so, I have no problem with $1 a month…some great stories on EJ.com. Pls let us know.

    32 minutes ago · Like ·

    Annie Ory I can tell you. It’s about charging for something that used to be free. It’s always been hard. AND, it’s about paying for content that, while sometimes interesting, is also sometimes boring, silly and misleading. But mostly, it’s that most of us feel that Elephant Journal is a conversation and people don’t want to be paid to have a conversation.

    The other day you posted an “editorial” type piece about hot yoga. The writer didn’t check the spelling of the name of the famous person involved and didn’t ANY facts regarding actual energy consumption. He simply wrote about his “feeling” that it was wasteful and that his way was better.

    Two posters, me included, corrected some of his misconceptions. What shocks me is that you PAY these people. Elephant Journal is not high quality journalism. If it was, I’d pay. It’s high quality blogging, but bloggers get paid by selling advertising. That’s the deal. If you want to PAY writers, then hire professional writers who produce high quality material.

    I like reading Elephant, but not enough to pay. If I had to pay for it, I’d just not read it, my life wouldn’t necessarily be impacted. There ARE other yoga specific blogs with lots of info and insight and they’re free…

    25 minutes ago · Like ·

    Zac Morris this drives me crazy!… i have suggested this site to many of my friends and some have become paying elephantjournal fans like myself because it is what were about and we find it very informative and entertaining and we enjoy talking about what we’ve read. then there’s the one friend who says she won’t pay to read something on the net but loves reading elephant as long as it’s free… this is a woman who buys an over priced cup of coffee and a scone every weekday before coming to class and never finishes either one and dumps them into the trash… WOW! now shes not a bad person or cheap she’s just a little confused and i believe those people out there who are going through the same thing should spend the “TWELVE BUCKS” sit down with their $6. coffees and enjoy elephantjournal.com without trying to figure out which two articles your going to read for FREE!

    11 minutes ago · Like ·

    elephantjournal.com Jacquie – Thank you!!!

    Sharon – I think the first people to profit are the people who do all the work to create EJ… because at the end of the day, the writers are getting good publicity and exposure… but if enough people pay the 12 bucks then hopefully everyone wins, including you, as the content improves…

    Annie – no, none of the writers are paid so far. Waylon has said that if enough people contribute (via the paygate) then he can start paying writers, hire an editor, and then you’ll see less poor quality writing. Personally, I think 12 bucks a year is a total, absolute bargain, because for each poor article, there are dozens of gems.

    Zac – Spot on!

    … Ben Ralston

  4. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    I love–and am honored to write–for elephant. I'm also paying the monthly fee because I enjoy so many of the other articles. I wish I had time to just hang out and read elephant all day long! Waylon has put his blood sweat and tears into this amazing community and, well, if you don't like it enough to fork out a few cents a day, then you'll probably miss out on some great stuff today, a month from now, years to come (and possibly yesterday). Thanks to all who put their time into elephant and to all of the readers who support it.

    Lynn Hasselberger

  5. Genevieve says:

    I'm quite pleased with paying only 1$ a month! I value Elephant's articles enough that it didn't take me long to decide to cough up the 12$… I can be a bit of a tight-wad 😉

  6. Yogini says:

    As someone who can't even afford donation yoga classes except once in a while (and, being as I live in New York City, I don't drop just a Washington or a Lincoln in the box), I am interested enough to pay. But when I'm ready. And if you raise your prices before that time, I will never pay … so, please, let's keep inflation or rising costs or any (more) excuses out of it ….

  7. Yogini says:

    Oh, and also don't lose that Colorado connection … that is a major factor also … I've family and history there, though hardly ever in Boulder itself …

  8. elephantjournal says:

    From a business colleague–

    Hey man,

    Just a quick personal note; I think the Ele paygate was genius, and paid happily, and am psyched to see it working so well for you guys.

    Cheers and Happy New Year.


  9. elephantjournal says:

    Right! This enables us to stop begging advertisers, too—and focus on improving our content…for you.

    Val, anyone who has problems with password, just email us at [email protected] and we'll get you sorted asap. It's easy. ~ Waylon

  10. elephantjournal says:

    Would Indra's Net give away its services for free? I see a problem with that business model, Shelli!

    Also, you're not paying "in advance" any more than you pay in advance for the newspaper we're used to paying a buck a day for and then opening up 20 seconds or 2 hours later.

    And elephant is still free–for the 95% of our readers who don't read more than two or three articles a day. We're only charging a small amount to those who read the most of elephant, and might therefore be most willing to value elephant.

    Thanks for the good luck and your feedback–we need both!



  11. Julie AS says:

    I think charging a `paygate`is a great idea, IMHO. For those of us who don`t pay, well we can still have access to 2 or 3 articles a day. I think that`s more than fare. Growing `pains` are never entirely painless… BUT we gotta keep growing…
    FYI… I do not live in Boulder… or in Colorado… or even in the USA. So, your `words`are reaching people elsewhere who are just as interested…

  12. Julie AS says:

    Woops… meant more than "fair" above.

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Donna Wolff Freeman ‎$1 a month is less than the cost of 1 yoga class: #elej is a steal, and you don't have to recycle the mag when ur are done

  14. elephantjournal says:

    3 articles, plus the home page doesn't count as a click. Thanks, Julie, for the comment. ~ Waylon

  15. elephantjournal says:

    Good idea–hadn't thought of raising the price..! Seriously, no plans to do so. Inflation is 1.1 percent! ~ Waylon

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Good points. We have tried, for two years, to get enough advertising. Failed. ~ Waylon

  17. elephantjournal says:

    I've loved every moment of the paygate thus far and it's so inspiring to see all the support behind elephant! ~ Lindsey B.

  18. […] were people who gave their lives so that I might have that breakfast! This country is dedicated to freedom, and many people died so that the system that allows me the right to eat what I want could […]

  19. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi LotusMama,

    A blog is a weblog. In my opinion that refers to a personal log.

    Elephant Journal is an online magazine. I think there's a world of difference. It has editorial staff, is more journalistic, and has a wide range of articles on a focused group of subjects.

    My 2cents.


  20. Hey y'all,

    I also sent out a mailer to all our current subscribers with a help guide. If you can't remember the password the you can download and follow this guide :

    which will give you everything you need to know. If you still have problems then yeah email [email protected]… and we will happily help you further.


  21. I just need to add in here – the next time you go to the store, and you pick up your gluten free, dairy free, nut free, guilt free, dolphin free box of chocolate (if it can be classed as chocolate), that is five times more expensive that the standard bar of chocolate (cause you made the right choice am with you on that…) why not put it back, and pay $12 for a YEAR'S worth of content.

    Ads maybe the way blogs generated revenue previously, but that are so invasive, and don't help when you want to change the design of your website to make it easier to use!

    Remember it's not just the writers that need to be paid – it's the web server that Elephant runs on, free webservers cannot handle the amount of traffic Ele gets.

    (yes am the geek that has been helping Ele out voluntarily from Scotland!!)

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Tracy H: Love EJ & firmly believe in paying people for their hard work & valuable services.

  23. Sophie's Person says:

    Well, here’s my take on it. I’m a FB follower. I’m pretty new to you and have been enjoying it-and as a former Boulderite, love hearing what’s going on there, but part of how I am evaluating you is how you feed my “bandwidth”, if you will.

    I see many, many, many ele posts per day. Some are repeats, some have identical content under different headers, some go to “articles” that are barely three sentences long. A couple of them are really great. For all that posting, it is not always easy to find the gems from the reruns, space wasters or retreads.

    It’s the beginning of a year, I’m looking at shedding things that do not provide me what I am looking for. So, I’m asking myself, does elephant provide me enough value to equal all those FB column inches they take daily? Especially knowing that I can only view limited content on the site itself? Is elephant journal obscuring by an excessive flurry of posts my noticing other content that is solidly valuable every post? Is this how they respect me as a reader? Is this what I want to reward with my subscription dollars? Jury’s still out, but I do find myself counting the ele posts-I don’t think that’s the best sign. On the other hand, I’ve actually posted a comment on your site-not something I often do….at the least, it may help you understand why I may stop following you at all.

  24. Hi, Sophie. Don't know if you're a Yoga follower or not, but if so, this problem of finding the Yoga content you're looking for on Elephant is the first thing I'm trying to solve as Yoga Editor, because it was the single most frequent request for improvement.

    So far, I'm doing this with the Elephant Yoga Facebook page, weekly Top 10 Yoga Blogs, and classification by category.

    I'm doing this for Yoga, but once we figure out what works the best, you'll be seeing us extend these kinds of features to to other areas as well, making the whole Elephant experience much more navigable and targeted.

  25. elephantjournal says:

    One thing you can do is hide us on facebook and just follow our Top 10 of the Week via our email newsletter–one communication a week instead of much more on FB. http://www.elephantjournal.com/join-the-cause . The other thing you can do is give us a chance, we'd love to keep this relationship going–and as we become sustainable our content will only get better.

    We do repost winners or quality ones that get ignored sometimes, but not too many times…mainly we've been advised that most folks are only on FB 20 mins a day and won't notice and if you do notice you won't mind, you'll just ignore what you're not into. Ignore us if you don't want to read an article–we cover so many subjects–the mindful life is and should be broad and diverse–so if you're not into something, that's fine by us. ~ Waylon

  26. AlpineLily says:

    EJ has sponsors that pay for ad space, so I would like accountability as to where MY money will go to if it still won't used for paying writers?
    Huffington Post is free! And they also seem to actually have their articles edited and fact-checked too, which many articles on EJ (whilst they are entertaining) don't seem to be…they are just "feelings" "opinions" and in some cases are not all that well written.
    In fact, most of the posts are just some pictures and a couple of caption-like sentences…..not even actual articles!
    I enjoy EJ because it is (as someone mentioned earlier) a fun way to find out the thoughts of others in the local community in a more casual, conversational tone, however I can't justify paying when the writers still won't be getting the money. It makes me wonder whose pockets are actually getting filled by the sponsors and my (potential) payments.

  27. Hi, AlpineLily. Thanks for writing. I've got to take issue with your sentence " most of the posts are just some pictures and a couple of caption-like sentences…..not even actual articles!". I wonder if we're looking at the same website!

    Now that I'm full time volunteer Yoga Editor, I've been reading every single Yoga article and many of the others every day. It's almost impossible for me to keep up with all the great material. Take a look at the steady stream of excellent Yoga articles, at least 3-4 almost every day, at my new Elephant Yoga Facebook page. I literally have trouble keeping up with it all, and I see very few articles that match your description of "most of the posts", and the ones that do are usually video posts, so it makes sense for them to just be captioned.

    I've also started a weekly Top Ten Yoga Blogs of the Week blog, and for the two weeks I've been doing it, even though it was during the relatively slow holiday season, I still had a lot of trouble narrowing it down to the ten best blogs, even for a single week.

    I hope you will give Elephant a new look and change your mind! And I hope these new approaches of mine, which we'll eventually apply to other areas of Elephant, will make it clearer just how much great material there already is on Elephant.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  28. elephantjournal says:

    Feel free to contribute such! We're created by our readers, like you.

    And we don't announce "new" articles that are actually old…we do promote archives all the time, but don't claim that they're new, just that they have something of timeless merit, like a video by Pema Chodron, say, that we reposted today. ~ Waylon

  29. elephantjournal says:

    Good god…remember we're talking about $1 a month!

    Huff Post has taken millions of dollars of investment, which may be fine for them, but like Democracy Now! or some others we'd prefer to remain independent/reader supported. The ads on elephant don't even pay for one part-time staff person in addition to myself.

    I blog, generally quite successfully, sometimes very much so, for Huff Post and have for years. They're great and all…but they don't generally have much if any time to edit articles, either. I've seen some real advertorial on that site, which happens to the best of us…but what we're trying to do, simply, is be sustainable. ~ Waylon

  30. lauren hanna says:

    I don't mind paying – you are right in that I DO appreciate things more when I put a little money into them. And I'm very picky about what I use my credit card for – so I'm considering Elephant Journal an investment in my overall well-being.

    Besides, I'm planning on having you hire me as your editor. So I'll need to be paid. Just saying.

  31. AlpineLily says:

    While that is the case for the Yoga section it is not so for the rest of EJ. There have been many times where a thought-provoking title has caught my eye yet when the articles is opened it IS just some photos and a few sentences and is very disappointing!

    I appreciated you making the effort to create substantial content for the yoga articles and will be focusing on reading more in that section since I know that you are putting so much work into it.

  32. AlpineLily says:

    As ShelliMeyers wrote earlier "it's a very tough sell as a business model to charge *in advance* for a service/level of quality to be delivered later ("pay now and we'll be able to afford to do real journalism")"

    I know it's only $1/month and yes that IS a great deal. But apart from the fact that I think that $1 will actually become much more if you actually do decide to pay readers (because face it, even that amount is not realistically going to cover expenses if you expand as you say) it is the principal that you are asking for payment *now* for possible future improvement.

    So how is that $1 a month actually going to make a difference to the quality a reader experiences once they pay at this moment? More articles that are still of the same quality isn't much incentive.
    I there some parallel site that is suddenly a vast improvement once you pay the fee? Obviously not, so where is the incentive to pay when you still only receive the same product with nothing than a vague hint at "what may be" in the future.
    Just be honest about it because this whole money issue is really off putting, especially when it feels like you are trying to guilt people by saying "hey it's only $1/month" and not being realistic about the fact that you will need to charge more than that to honestly implement the changes in compensation for writers and staff in the future.

    I would actually be willing to pay much more than $12/year since I do so for other magazines…..and if you guys still did the print mag I would pay in a heartbeat because it was actually a quality product!

  33. HI, Alpine. I didn't mean to imply that it is only the Yoga content that is generally high quality on Elephant. Try just clicking around on the tabs at the top of the page. Under almost every one you will find pages and pages of interesting articles.

    And to be fair and accurate, I didn't create the Yoga content. It was already all here. I'm just making it more accessible. We'll be doing the same kind of things with the other sections, too, once we figure out what works.

    Thanks for being here.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  34. Hi again, Alpine. I've told Waylon and I'll tell him again that he is unnecessarily and inappropriately apologetic about the quality of Elephant Journal. Elephant is already a terrific online publication, just as it is. We have a vision of how we want to further develop it, but what we have is already uniquely wonderful.

    I've also told Waylon that, in my opinion, the standard for Elephant should not be monthly magazines (how many magazines put out 15-20 articles PER DAY like Elephant does?) but rather other online sites. Elephant is a new hybrid of online magazine and blogging hub. Elephant will continue to forge its own new unique path.

    Ok, it's true that I'm an insider now. But I'm only here because there is literally nothing else remotely like Elephant in the Yoga blogosphere. There are many wonderful individual blogs, of course. But nowhere can you find so much fine material all together in one place with frequent robust discussion and a sense of an unlimited innovative and most likely glorious future.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  35. Harriet says:

    This site is really paying for living expenses of the owner of this blog. If you have an issue with you $1 paying for his mortgage then you should not pay. I don't have a problem with that so I pay my dollar. I don't think there will ever be enough interest in this site, since it is hardly mainstream, to pay the authors. But I don't have a problem with that.

  36. Alice2112 says:

    Most magazine subscriptions are more than $1/month, and we actually get much MORE from elephant. Think of it as an interactive magazine subscription. Elephant is turning into one of the most amazing online communities I have ever seen. Some really important dialogues (not to mention fun stuff!) going on here. There are lots of subscription level options to suit your budget. DON'T MISS OUT.

  37. sarasvati3 says:

    I don't mind paying at all! I just paid for a year subscription and I'm thrilled that I did it! EJ has such interesting articles and as someone who volunteers in fair trade circles, paying writers for their work is, to put it simply, a fair trade!

  38. […] April 2011, the 33rd day of a devastatingly conspicuous one-man protest, the highly controversial elephant journal pay-gate is no more. It’s all thanks to Bill […]

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  40. Ashley says:

    This is one of my top favorite websites. I subscribed December (2012) after a week of three articles a day. It was not enough, I wanted more 🙂 A few weeks ago I renewed my subscription for another year. I read between 5-15 articles a day from here. Awesome writers from awesome backgrounds sharing their experiences, wisdom and love for the greater good on a broad range of topics… what more could I ask for?! i am happy to pay and contribute to a groovy network of cool peeps who keep it real. As a wanderer, yogini, bodyworker, traveller, etc… you guys cover every unsaid thought, current/soon to be had/past experiences I have, issues in the realms I am submerged in etc… and that’s why you will keep me as an entertained and grateful subscriber. Thank you for creating this site and for everyone who works so hard to maintain it and everyone who writes the articles. You all rock.

  41. elephantjournal says:

    Hi Ashley: thank you so much for your ongoing support! xoxoxox