Supporters, Not Subscribers

Supporters, Not Subscribers

Maybe this is the worst possible time to revise the website. Maybe it's the best. But the old security certificate expires in about two hours, so it's either pay $600 for another year or switch to the new site by 6:00 pm today. We're making the switch.

I've mentioned this changeover for nearly a year now. Looking through my email, the first email from Brumby sending me the first version of this was January 25, 2023. So yeah, 362 days ago. If you've emailed me about certain website issues over the past year, I've given you the same story. "Everything will be changing soon, so that will get picked up with the refreshed site."

362 days later.......

Every delay was on me. 100% on me. I want to give you an explanation for that before I talk about any of the website changes, but I'm gonna warn you, my ineptitude will frustrate you. I should do this with sections and this first section will be...

Robert's Confessions

As I've written before, I made a decision in the fall of 2022 (yes, 2022, not 2023) to remove the paywall. It's been down since then. This created its own set of problems -- namely, people who were paying for a subscription telling me "you mean I could have paid nothing and still read everything?", to which my answer was "yes" -- but there were issues with the paywall, paying subscribers couldn't get to what they were paying for, so I lifted the entire thing." There's a little box for me to check that says "make this post free for everyone" and I've been checking it for nearly 16 months.

So I need to start there. I'm still offering full refunds for anyone who feels cheated by paying for a subscription when every article was free. If you want a refund, just email me ( and I will process it. No, you didn't need a subscription this entire year to qualify for that refund. If you feel cheated, I'll refund you.

Which brings me to the main point of this change. I realized that I don't really have subscribers. I have supporters. The reaction (at least on Slack) to some people saying "why am I still paying if everything is free?" was mostly "Robert, I don't see this as subscribing to get past a paywall. I give you money and ask that you go create Illini stuff I'll enjoy." Supporters, not subscribers.

The last year (and, to be specific, all of the delays in changing the format around here) settle around that subtle shift. If I have supporters and not subscribers, then what should the monetization process look like? I can't just do this for free. The hotel room in Ann Arbor on Thursday night wasn't free. We just bought a house and I hear that people need money to make house payments. It has to be monetized, but how?

I still had the same renewal structure in place. Subscribers (er, supporters) would see their subscriptions automatically renew on their subscription date. I'd offer refunds for people who didn't like that everything was free yet they were "subscribing" and for everyone else, they keep on enjoying the content like they always have. The one thing I stopped doing, and this is confession number two: I stopped deleting people whose subscriptions did not renew.

In the old system, if the auto-renew was attempted and failed because your credit card had expired (or you had to replace it in the previous year), you'd get an email telling you the attempted renewal failed. After a month of retrying, if there was no updated card entered, your subscription canceled (just like Netflix or The Athletic or whatever). Once I took the paywall down, I stopped that system. So there are some of you whose payments failed in October of 2022 and you've had no idea because you've had full access to everything in the 15 months since.

Why would I do that? Because the only fair solution I saw to everyone's paywall problems was to remove all paywalls. Yes, it cost me more than $10,000 in income. Yes, that's so incredibly embarrassing to type. But the only solution I saw to the frustrations I was experiencing at the time, both paywall and otherwise, was to remove the paywall, open all posts to everyone, and simply rely on the successful renewals (supporters) as my base income.

The people who want to support me are the ones who have always been on top of their credit card renewals, even emailing me to see why they hadn't seen a charge headed my way in a long time. The majority of the "didn't renew, didn't notice because the paywall was down" people were at the $30 level. They had subscribed once to check it out but didn't visit very often. So they had/have no idea it expired.

Because of all of that, I realized that I have supporters, not subscribers. And that I needed to delay all website revisions until I knew how to change to a format like that. So for the last year-plus... that's what I've been doing.

I think I now have it figured out, so let's talk about it.

The Supporter Structure

For the first 3+ years of the "new" IlliniBoard - I moved here in April of 2020 but, with no sports, I didn't put up the new website until September 17, 2020 - we had the following tiers:

  • Blue Tier - $30 per year, access to all articles.
  • Orange Tier - $60 per year, access to all articles plus access to our Slack, the football and basketball previews, and occasional newsletters.
  • Seventeen Club - $90 per year, access to everything above plus, in the first year, a free t-shirt. This was the "add extra support" tier.

I was surprised by the number of people who chose Seventeen Club (there's that "supporter" thing showing up again) and that the Blue Tier wasn't chosen very often. And as the years clicked by and the renewals/cancelations happened, I realized that there was a fair bit of "I really like him" and "I just don't like him" going on. Let me explain.

In my mind, the majority of the people would sign up for the Blue tier. If they liked what they read over that year, they'd upgrade to the Orange Tier. After a while, if they really liked what the site provided, they might upgrade to Seventeen Club to support me a little more.

That really wasn't how it went. Most were aware of me at that point. Many signed up for Orange or Seventeen right away. There wasn't really a moving between tiers as I thought would happen. This helped me realize that I don't really create content like that.

I do something different. The other writers here, they do something different. We don't do news. We don't report. We analyze and we give you our opinions. Sites with "news and much more" should live in a tier structure, I think; sites with only opinions and analysis should not.

That helped me see that I should set this up as a supporter structure. This is more Patreon than it is anything else. The deal that the vast majority of you want to make with me is "Robert, here's some money - go make Illini content I enjoy." Yes, there are some who say "I like those previews you do, and if it costs this much more for access to those, I'm willing to pay it", but for the majority, at least from all of the conversations and interactions I've had the last sixteen months while pondering this topic, it's "Robert, here's some no-strings money - I trust you to create whatever you want to create."

And that's very important to a "creative" like myself. You might remember that I crashed and burned in year one and year two of this, both times stressing myself to no end by trying to provide the specific things I'd promised you. I'd attend every press conference, say something about every topic, write a newsletter even though I had nothing bouncing around in my head that was newsletter-worthy. I was beholden to the subscription structure.

I've slowly made a transition to the supporter structure since, and I think we're both better off because of it. I wrote about uncomfortable subjects (like the stadium entrances for the Wyoming game, or the attendance/fanbase issues) without "right, but will this drive subscriptions?" somewhere in the back of my mind. We didn't talk about it, and all I did was take the paywall down, but the content, I think, is deeper (and has a greater impact) because of this switch in my brain.

Which means it's time to make the switch in the tiers as well. Here's the new structure. And stick around for the explanation because you might "say WHAT?" after the bullet points and miss what's really happening.

  • Introductory Membership - $25 per year, gets you access to all articles (same as the former Orange Tier but is upgraded to the next tier after one year).
  • Grange Membership - $77 per year, gets you access to all articles, Slack, newsletter, and previews (same as the former Blue Tier but is $77 instead of $60).
  • Seventeen Club - This is purely a supporter tier. It is $17 per month. Your support goes directly to Robert. It's the "here's money to go make stuff" tier.

Current subscribers, especially Seventeen Club subscribers, have one glaring question right now so let's get to it.

No, I'm not going to take all Seventeen Club subscribers and moving them directly to the new $17-per-month (that's $204 per year) tier. All current Seventeen Club members paying $90 per month will be dropped down to the $77 tier upon their next renewal. Seventeen Club will only be a tier that you choose to switch to (more on that in a bit).

Other active subscriptions will move to the updated tier. For current Blue Tier subscribers, you will be switched to an introductory membership and, one year from now, be upgraded to a "full" subscription (Grange Tier, or $77). Or you can cancel before that date. So if you've been a $30 subscriber for three years, you'll get another full year at a slightly reduced rate and then you'll either auto-renew at the "full" subscription or cancel.

For everyone in the current Orange Tier subscription ($60 per year) or Seventeen Club subscription ($90 per year), you'll automatically be moved to the Grange Membership upon your next renewal. For Orange Tier members, that's a 28% cost increase and for Seventeen Club subscribers that's a 14% decrease. I was going to meet in the middle at $75 but Red Grange's number was right there. I feel like I should apologize for increasing some of you from $60 to $77 per year but... I feel like $77 is still a great deal for what we provide.

And of the top tier, here's where "core supporter" comes in.

Seventeen Club

A few days before we launched the subscription structure of IlliniBoard in September of 2020 (a.k.a. "how does Robert make money now that this is his career?"), we added a "Benefactor Tier" at $90. For those of you who have changed your credit card in Stripe after a failed renewal payment, I believe you see "Benefactor Tier" on the transaction because we never changed it in the system. The next day we changed the name to Seventeen Club (after my "one of the seventeen" thing) and I anticipated it would be for a few supporters who had donated a lot in the past who wanted to throw in a little extra. Maybe I'd even set up events for just those people in that exclusive club.

It then grew larger than I expected (and, if I haven't said it enough, thank you thank you thank you). Which meant that my plans for what to do with that tier became difficult. The name should have stayed "benefactor tier" because that's what it was. People willing to throw in a little extra (and not getting anything extra). At one point I promised Zoom meetings but... I failed at that, too.

With this change, I am moving Seventeen Club to a pure supporter tier. I've come to realize that I have a very unique set of core supporters, and I've learned many of your names over the past three years of interactions, and every time we interact I see that you're fully in on "here's extra money so you can keep creating, Robert." That transaction -- those of you looking me in the eye (or sending me an email) and saying "just letting you know that I'm one of those people fully in on this" -- has by far been the most rewarding thing about these first 3.5 years. When I first put my creations out on the table with a sign saying "please pay for the stuff I create?", I had no idea how much "the stuff you make is important - here's enough money to make several of them" would eventually mean to me.

So this tier is just for those people. No one will be moved there automatically (meaning no one will auto-renew at $17 per month). It's just for those who are in the "Robert, your stuff is important - here's a little extra" club. Again, it totals $204 per year, so this is not something for everyone. The Grange Membership ($77 per year) will get everyone else the same stuff that the Orange Tier and Seventeen Club people got before (Slack, previews, newsletter). I'm just creating a new Seventeen Club for the all-in people who have supported me for more than a decade since I first put up the very first tip jar.

And yes, there will be some extras involved for Seventeen Club members. We'll communicate directly. As long as the number is low enough, I might even start a group text so you ahve access to me, I don't know, on the train. You'd be supporting me directly, and I want to make myself available to you. I can't tell you what that will be yet (because I don't know the number of Seventeen Club members and how manageable it will be) but there will be something. One thing I do know I'm doing next year: a train trip to a road game open to only Seventeen Club members. Can't wait for Amtrak to be delayed four hours.

I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll put the Seventeen Club stuff at the very bottom because not all of you need to/want to read about it. Let's get to the site changeover and what you, the subscriber, will need to do.

What To Do

Most of you have an active subscription and won't have to do anything besides log in. Some of you haven't had an active subscription for several months but you weren't aware because you didn't even know the credit card on file had expired. Some of you renewed your Seventeen Club membership last Tuesday and don't really feel good about choosing a new $17-per-month fee when you just pad $90 a week ago. So I need to go through a big "what to do" list here.

First off, you might notice that the site looks different (a select few will read this article in the 30 minutes or so before the changeover happens and wonder what I'm talking about). With this new site, everyone will have to log in. So the best place to start with "what to do" is this:

  1. Go to the top right corner. Select "sign in".
  2. Enter the email address associated with your account.
  3. Go check your email, click the link in the email, and you'll be brought back here, all signed in.
  4. Repeat this process on all devices.

EDIT: Some users have reported that the sign-in email goes to a junk mail folder. So make sure to check your spam folder if you don't see it in your inbox.

That's it. There's no password you need to remember. If you're ever signed up for an IlliniBoard account, click the sign-in, enter your email address, click the link in the email you receive, and you're signed back in.

If you don't know what email address you used when you first signed up, just do a simple search for the word "IlliniBoard" on your different email accounts. The one where you got a bunch of emails from IlliniBoard - that's probably the one associated with your account.

(Some of you originally signed up with work email addresses at an old job and you no longer have access to that account. If that's you, email me right now -- -- and we'll get you taken care of.)

OK, so everyone is signed in on the new site. What now?

Once you're signed in, click on the Account button at the top right and you'll see one of two things. If you see this...

...then you're all set. Ignore the "$30/year" portion if you're an Orange Tier or Seventeen Club subscriber. We had to move everyone over as one base membership. We'll then go back in over the next few days and manually update everyone to their current tier. You'll still have full access while we do that. It's just... every subscription account had to be moved over one by one.

One more time: if you see that screen, you're all set. You can manage your subscription from there, cancel from there, upgrade from there, change your email preferences from there, review your billing info from there, everything. And then your renewal will happen on your renewal date listed.

However, after you sign in and click on the Account button, you might see this:

If that's the case, you're one of those who had a subscription that didn't renew (perhaps you had to cancel that credit card, perhaps you simply chose to cancel the subscription but you still have an IlliniBoard sign-in). For some of you, since I didn't delete any users with inactive subscriptions for the last year, you haven't known that you hadn't had a current subscription. That's 100% on me and you don't have to worry about it. Now you can just start fresh.

When you click on "view plans", you get these options:

You're basically starting over, so choose which one of those you want. If it's just access to articles, choose introductory. If you want Slack, newsletters, and previews, choose Grange.

If you choose neither, that's fine too. For Orange subscribers who didn't know their subscription had expired, I'll be going through and deleting people from Slack and the newsletter starting next week. So if you sign up for Grange in the next week, your experience will continue unchanged. If you don't sign up for any subscription at all, I'll just delete those people from Slack and the newsletter and you won't have access to articles here.

Almost forgot - another note about that. The "two free articles, then you need a subscription" thing is no more. I will simply choose which articles require a paywall and which do not. Again, supporters, not subscribers. "Here's a little taste - want more?" was never the path for me.

OK, we've reached the final thing: what to do for those of you who want to join the new (and not improved) Seventeen Club. Again, if you had a $90 Seventeen Club subscription, you'll automatically be moved to the $77 tier on your renewal date. If you want to do the $17-per-month thing, this is the process.

I guess I should note one thing before I give you the steps. Everyone else can just stop reading here because the rest of this article is just for those who want to join the Seventeen Club. There's nothing below but that. Thanks for listening. K bye.

I'm noting the Seventeen Club as a monthly thing for several reasons. One is because "$17 every month" for "Seventeen Club" sounds cool. But also, since this is the supporter tier, it would help greatly with, uh, cash flow. Meaning, instead of the money coming in when the subscription renewals hit, bursts of income here and there, there's a certain amount of money that comes in every month. That other money will be used for website purposes (paying other writers, paying for photography, website fees, and, yes, some of my salary). But the Seventeen Club money will be more of a "Robert's income" kind of thing where I can, for the first time, take a consistent draw. I already feel squirmy writing that so let me just get to the steps and then hit publish.

If you want to join Seventeen Club...

1. Once you are signed-in (see that process above), you will see "Account" in the upper right hand corner. Click on it. That will take you to this page where you can click on "Change" (in the circle):

2. Once you've selected "change" you will go to this screen. That page has an option to make a $204 one-time payment, but I'd prefer if you do the following. Click on the "monthly" tab shown in the circle here:

3. Once you click on "monthly", that page will update to look like this:

4. You then click "Choose" for Seventeen club (below the text) and follow the prompts to change your subscription to Seventeen Club at the monthly $17 rate.

EDIT: I want to update the paragraph that was here with more clarification on how the system works:

You will then be credited with the prorated amount from your most recent subscription/renewal. For example, if you were charged $90 to renew on September 17th and you're switching to $17 per month on January 23rd, the system applies a $58.52 credit to your account (since you didn't use that remaining portion of your $90 subscription). That means your first three $17 monthly payments will be $0 and then your fourth month will be $7.52 before the fifth month moves to the full $17. The credits will vary based on your subscription date (and the day you choose to upgrade). Some people have 95% of their subscription renewal remaining. Some people have 5%.

I think that's it. Email me with any questions. Those of you joining the new Seventeen Club, look for an email soon with details on how I plan to communicate with my core group of supporters.

And thank you thank you thank you for making this possible for me. I came to realize these past six months that a lot of people stand fully opposed to me. And I'm OK with that given the topics I've been bringing forward. The only way to do that is through supporters, so... thank you thank you thank you.

And go Illini.