Donate Now, Or Pay Later, Part Duex

Brent Plummer
by Brent Plummer
Yes, it's back! And it's glorious! The MOdonations campaign! We need your support to make MO better, and MO readerAstonMartin summed up our feelings on the fee/donations matter moresuccinctly than we've been able to say it:

"So, where's the loyalty here? Most of you guys were hangin' out herefor years, enjoying the freebies, and now, when you gotta pay forit you'll just split, saying f*ck you, goodbye? Where's that famous'biker camaraderie?'

"It's like saying 'go to hell' to a good friend, just because he'sasking for a little money which he actually worked hard for.

Why don't we think about it, before forecasting such a darkfuture? Imagine this: we can all continue busting each other'sballs while reading the better and bigger MO. Yuhe!

With the help of dedicated MOite Patrick Rhodes, aka DezertWind, we've writtenour own completely secure donation system -- the support for our Amazon.Com"Honor System" page was so overwhelming, it reached the maximum contributionsallowed in the first hour, and the account ceased to work while Amazon contemplated why MO was going to receive so many donations. It was, to say theleast, an encouraging experience from a support standpoint -- many people came forth to donate the maximum, $50, and one MOian donated 50 bucks, and keyed in another credit card to donate 40 more.

If you "Read More" you'll find detailed answers to the most-askedquestions about MO's donation system...

Many of these questions were lifted verbatim from our first Donate Today or Pay Tomorrow discussion, and in many cases, there'sadditional answers/information there on the topics below.

  • I don't like to give out my credit card online.
  • Not so much a question, but a common concern, and an utterly unfounded one --this fear burns me up: How many people seeyour credit card and have a paper copy of it per month? Human greed is the onlyway a credit card number is stolen/used, and at MO, not only do wenot have a copy of your transaction or credit card number, no human sees it,and the entire processes in encrypted. We aren't greedy and have integrity,and we'd be happy to GPL the code to anyone who wants to see it or use it.

    Here's how our donation system works: MO is using a 128-bitRSA key at (you need Netscape 4.7 or IE5.0+security patch, or IE 5.5 to use such strong encryption),and that key has been validated ("signed") by Thawte Consulting, aworldwide-trusted company/key verification service. This is why youcan go directly to and yourlittle secure site icon (the lock image in the bottom right of Netscape)"lights up," or validates without you having to accept the certificate,like you would at a site with a self-signed, or non-validated key.This means Thawte has investigated our corporation and found it to bein good standing.

    This encrypted transaction is done in real-time withAuthorize.Net, which, as far as I know, has never been cracked, andhandles massive volumes of transactions per month. We are not storing yourtransaction or credit card number here @MO, no human is involved withyour credit card transaction at any stage. There is no facility forsomeone to "get" your credit card number, even the NSA or CIA has problemsdecrypting (let alone intercepting) a 128-bit keylength transaction. So,with such strong encryption, and MO never seeing your credit card, it isinfinitely more secure than the common transactions you probably make on yourcredit card all the time (do you take your carbon copies?). I cannot stressthis enough: MO is significantly more secure than walking into any storeand using your credit card. Additionally, Authorize.Net matches your creditcard number and the information you type in our credit card page against yourbilling address on file with your credit card company.

    MO auto-generates your password and then emails it to you. This means your username/password pair is unique to MO. This is good. Keep it that way by never using the same password for the same publically available data sources!

    For our overseas readers, your credit card refund policies are governed by yourcountry and your credit card company in that country, not American laws, so youretain all rights and charge-back abilities according to your familiar, nativelaws.

  • The next question is a common one, and a represents a big misconception:"But you are not a 'magazine.'Until you publish your stuff in print, and distribute itto people around the world, you are not having to deal with a lot ofthe costs that other "magazines" do. That is part of the reason peoplecontinue to think it should be free, like the majority of other websites."
  • Paper magazines have costs of paper, some bulk-rate postage, thewholesalers handle distribution at newsstands (for which they receive40- to 44% of the cover price). Conversely, they don't have racksof servers, bandwidth, firewalls, redundant power supplies, massivegenerators and all the other costs associated with running the largestand "stickiest" motorcycle site in the world. Beyond those two items,what else is different? We pay for everything they do: Insurance,rent, power, payroll. Business is business, there's a million thingsthat suck money out of companies. The costs are pretty standard, andnothing miraculous.

    Here's an in-depth example: The fee income the Cycle World reportedlast year was 9 million, and I'm glad for them, they run a fine magazine.

    With a reported circulation of 330,000 (a third of MO's one million plusunique visitors last month), that's about $27/person per year based on theircirculation. This number isnothing more than an average of fee revenue Vs. reported circulation-- many sales are one-time newsstand sales, not amortized across thewhole reader base -- but you get the idea.

    Add to that their 30 million in advertising income, and they make substantialrevenues. MO, on the other hand, made about a million, with no circulationfees, and we hope to do (again, not counting fee revenues), slightly morethis year in ad revenue. Now that you know the amounts of money thesetwo concerns make, ask yourself this: what percentage of that goes intothe editorial staff? Last year, at MO, all of revenues, less theprofit we made (and we kept as roll-over funds for the "slow"month of January) and the amounts spent developing new business leads(basically, the time and payroll of the "management" here) went intoeditorial. What percentage of fees do the major print mags give backto you, the reader that supports them?Whether it be through outrightsubscriptions or higher prices at the consumer level to support massivead rates, you are paying the bill. Is Cycle World thirty nine timesbetter than MO?I don't think so, and the reason is our revenues,effectively your money, goes intoeditorial.

    Our pledge here at MO is to spend 100% offee revenue on more and better content, as well as a better, more user-friendlysite. Further, we'd be happy to discuss, at year's end, where this moneywas spent with any donor over $50.

  • Why not just go directly to being a pay site? As of last I knew, countingon charity to support a business isn't usually successful. I get the ideafrom your reluctance to become a pay site that you're not sure it's goingto work. It seems to me if you thought it was going to make the big money,I'd be paying to write this right now.

    I am convinced MO will prosper greatly as a fee site. Founded in early 1994, MOwas the first commercial magazine online that I know of, the only online magazine tobe profitable (albeit meagerly so!) for more than five years, and manythird-party measuring concerns rank us as the "stickiest" motorcycle site (onewell-respected audit service even ranks us atop the entire automotive group instickiness), meaning that the readers we have spend more time here, on averageevery month, than at any other motorcycling site. I, for one, read MO and Ipay for the Wall Street Journal, and spend 95% of my online time betweenthe two. There's just too much garbage out there, too much questionablecontent, and finding one succinct resource for the information I needis simple and easy, and worth the money to me. I, for one, can say I'mmuch happier paying for good sites than wasting time cruising endlesslinks looking for information.

    Even simpler, the Internet is boring. Whether you like MO or not, we'recertainly not boring.

    About 15% of our readers will initially stay when wego fee, and I believe many more will come around, as we "scoop" the restof the industry, once that one shootout or test of whatever major purchaseyou're considering comes up @MO before anywhere else. You're better offpaying a fee here than buying blindly -- and most bikers are too impatientto wait months for print coverage to come out if they know it's here.

    All that said, the reasons we don't gopay immediately are twofold, one business, one personal.

    First, and foremost, is the fact that migrating the entire MO site to afee-based one in the manner I want to do so is incredibly hard. Itwill take me months to code it, assuming I can find the time: regularMO duties eat up 12 hours a day, all the code must therefor be done during thenights and weekends. Donations are easier, and it helps us contract out and/orhire professional programmers such as Mr. Rhodes to help improve the site(in addition to the fee code).

    Second is the dreamers: The students, or the people not currently able to afford abike or any other fee, let alone a credit card. Itwasn't so long ago that I was a full-time student, flipping burgersfrom 8:00 pm to 3:30 am, going to class, spending all my spare time andwhatever money I had (it takes a long time flipping burgers at threebucks an hour to buy even one race tire!) building my own custom-made500cc two-stroke roadrace bike out of an H1R engine and a mix of GPz500and GSX-R750 chassis parts. I finished it my senior year (my first senioryear, that is ;-), raced it three times in my "seniorest" senior year,won twice, qualified for the Daytona Race of Champions where I ranpractice times that would've let me walk away to a victory until mygas tank split from vibration in practice (those old two-strokes shooka lot!). I couldn't afford another, my weekend done, dreams of beinga racer shattered, I packed up my Magna Cum Laude letter-of-intent(I couldn't afford the $300 diploma fee, so I left college without myofficial-looking "papers"), gathered my stuff, moved to California,eventually to found MO, where, it's safe to say that since you've gottenthis far in this diatribe, whether you like MO or not, you've found itan interesting place to "hang out" online.

    I believe that it's the dreamers and rebels that succeed andbring color and style to so many things -- one MOian that I've come to chatwith frequently, a student, is all fired up about putting a chainsaw engine ina bicycle and doing crazy things with it. He might just do it, and I might justsend him a chainsaw to get it rolling. Cutting people like this out would be a mistake --at the very least, they're an entertaining bunch to have around in our feedbackand chat areas. After all, much as I did while growing up, many can go to their local library orbook store and read print magazines for free, or to check out the content infull before deciding to pay.

    How do we set up a system like this @MO? Do we let people who claim hardship infor free? Do we allow one public "Freebie Squid" account for everyone to use toperuse MO, with a limit to how many concurrent users are allowed "in" at anyone time? The latter mirrors the newsstand scenario somewhat, but if you have abetter idea, let us know.

  • What consideration will be given to those that donate(in the event you go pay soon)?

    When you donate, if you have cookies turned on (95% of you do, those that don'tcan turn them on while they donate, allow the MO cookie to be set, and turnaccepting cookies off again -- this is what I do whilst browsing and I'msomewhere where a cookie will be useful), a cookie will be set for theentire domain that'll last for a year. If we go pay, you're paidup. Whether we're pay or not, special features (early access tocontent-in-the-works, videos and multimedia clips) will be available to you. AsI said above, at the end of the year, those who donate $50 or more will havethe chance to review with us our current state of donation affairs.

    Those that don't donate will have to put up with our soon-to-be-sitewidedisplay of images asking you do donate, stop-page ads -- when you click "ReadMore on an article, it may take you to a full-page "advertisement" about whyand how you should donate, and you'll have to click out of it to get to therest of the story, users who have donated won't see the ads, they'll just getthe content.

  • Why should I pay for MO when I can get the same information elsewhere onlinefor free? For bike information and reviews, there will always be(non-profit) sites like or where I can get morebike specific information for free than you'll ever have.

    When people say this, we're incredulous. Yes, you can get news items at othersites ( is a good one), but 85% of our traffic isreviews, not news, and certainly not racing news/results.

    Let's look at racing news first: Even when MO was the only site onlinereporting racing news from the major series around the world, it was a smallpercentage of our traffic. Still is. We still do cover races, GlennLeSanto will be at all the World Superbike events (the most-read series)while esteemed racing novelist Colin MacKellar will be back doing GPs again. Notethat Colin's been doing race reporting and features for MO longer than anyother site has been online doing them. Sending people around to cover races isexpensive, and based on the number of readers that read it, we spend a grosslydisproportionate amount of income on this area.

    Similarly, we have It accounts for about 12% of ourtraffic, and we spend a disproportionate amount of time here, too.

    The reasons we stick with these two areas, not our core competency, are, inorder: Because race fans are the most vocal minority in motorcycling. They haveto be since US race coverage is horrible. I'm one of those fans -- remember, I ranthe Motorcycle Online Pro raceteam for years, we even won a national title.Secondly, started as a way to keep industry eyes glued toMotorcycle.Com, a daily fix. With the advent of the MO BBS feedback system in1995, (and it's accompanying Reader Feedback sections on articles)grew into it's own beast, an interactive area for bikers to coalescetheir thoughts, and an easy way for us to get feedback.

    In all, though, we spend about 35% of editorial resources for 15% of thereadership, and they tend to be the two highest-complaining groups. The other85% of our readership at @MO is here for feature reviews, and probably not reading thisor commenting here. Thus, these feedback areas tend to be skewed to the 15%that are much more prone to complain, and aren't aware that our primary focusis those reviews. Specifically, multi-bike motorcycle shootouts.

    In that area, where we estimate most of our donations and/or subscription feeswill come from, here's our competition: and went bankrupt last year, the latter was our biggestcompetitor for years (I was sad to see Graham et al. go). Bikenet was reborn as acommerce site, and I'm not sure what is anymore, but they don't havemajor reviews either. In fact, Motorcycle.Com is the only digital magazine thathas first-run access to testbikes. Some manufacturers don't give outmotorcycles to any other digital magazine. doesn't have comparison reviewsonline, and when they do come fully online, I doubt they'll beat theirown print magazine out by two or three months with their best content.Same with EMAP's concerns, and I don't see how they are going to recoup the 100million-dollar investment before they get fed up and pull the plug.

    There are many fine specialty sites like,but, again, the point I was making is: where will youget the latest, greatest bike shootouts in an unbiasedhasn't-been-run-through-the-ad-department-sanitizing manner? I don't think so. All finesites, mind you, but none of which can compete with MO.

    In the year 2000, MO completed 56 bikes reviews, with eight major shootouts,hundreds of news items, product reviews, video clips, and so on. Using Garamond8-point font (a common print magazine font), I printed out our content fromJanuary, it was enough pages to fill two large US print magazines (not anentirely fair statement, as the editors of those magazines would love to havemore space to do more, but they don't, so you don't get more), so wehave more content than anyone every month.

    All of that with only three people full time. Imagine what we can do with nine?Ten? Fifteen?

  • In Closing...

    MO doesn't even have an ad department. Ranking bikes against how much adrevenue we'll get has never been a concern here, and we don't "sanitize" our content. You're fooling yourself if you thinkyou're getting the real, no-holds-barred opinion from any major Americanglossy print magazine. The sad part is that MO won't make the kinds ofad revenues print magazines do unless we "sell out" in this manner,and as long as I'm here and own MO, that won't happen. Our primaryresponsibility is truth to the readers, and if that's the case, it's upto the readers to support this truth.

    If you value an unbiased opinion and want a friendly place in which to readit, now's the time to show us by contributing what you can to MO's success. Ouryearly donation fee is anything from $2.95 on up. We will use your moneywisely, in fact, all of it will go to build a better MO as you know it.

    Thank you for your support!

    --Brent Plummer, Founder, Motorcycle Online

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