Thursday, June 14, 2007

How Not To Make Money From Letterboxing

Occasionally, I hear about someone grumbling over premium membership. Pay for a feature? Someone would dare to profit off of our beloved hobby? I know it's only a tiny minority of you out there who grumble about this, but this message is for you. I'd like you to look on the other side of the fence and explain why this really is not just a greedy attempt by me to profit off a beloved hobby.

The technical term is opportunity cost. I've made Atlas Quest my full time job for the last 3 1/2 years now. Granted, I don't work normal 9-to-5 hours. I might still be in bed, asleep at 9:00, but you might find me working at 2:00am in the morning. I usually work every day, weekends and holidays included, for at least a small period of time. It's a job, and yes, I do make an income from my job, but lest you start throwing stones, I don't see many other people working for free.

The fact is, this job has cost me--and this is just a rough estimate--about $200,000. That's how much I likely would have earned from a regular 9-to-5 corporate job for the last 3 1/2 years. My actual income from Atlas Quest during this time is about $15,000. While it's not money I paid directly out of my pocket, I can assure you, it's a very real cost I've paid to create and develop Atlas Quest.

I know AQ is often compared to LbNA, but sometimes I feel the comparisons aren't very fair. A handful of folks like to criticize me for profiting off of you, while from my perspective, I've already given up hundreds of thousands of dollars to make this site possible. And I'm the one branded the greedy traitor by 'commercializing' letterboxing.

Most features on Atlas Quest are completely free, as it should be. A handful of perks, none of which I consider 'essential' for letterboxers, are reserved for the premium members who pay to keep this site running.

I've given up a lot of money to create Atlas Quest, and will continue to do so for a long time to come, because some things are priceless. I like the freedom it provides, working when I want and from where I want. I enjoy the satisfaction of working on something I feel is important--a quality of life thing I never had experienced from my previous jobs. Sometimes I get the most wonderful messages, by a mom who tells me how letterboxing and Atlas Quest have brought their family together like nothing before. It's moments like those I would never want to trade for all the money in the world. Financially speaking, Atlas Quest is an unmitigated disaster, but there's not another job in the world I'd rather be doing, except perhaps for thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. ;o)

This message is not to convince everyone that they should become premium members--I'm happy to report, late last year, an amazing thing happened. For the first time since I was laid off in 2001, my income exceeded my expenses. At first I thought it was a fluke, but then it happened for a second month. And a third. And it continues to this day. It's a huge milestone--I'm actually cash flow positive! Granted, not by much. And I still want to purchase health and dental insurance, and eventually start funding a retirement account. I'm sure critics might consider such needs primal and a waste of money, but they're important to me. I have no intention of raising the cost of premium membership anymore except, perhaps, to account for inflation, because I don't need to anymore.

In any case, it's always bothered me a little bit when I hear about someone saying how greedy I am and how I'm ruining letterboxing through my greed. It's true, I probably earn more from letterboxers than just about any one person in the world, but only at an enormous opportunity cost that I suspect a lot of my critics have not considered. If it was just about the money, I'd have shut Atlas Quest down years ago--assuming I even started it at all.


Anonymous said...

Aww, gee... let them meditate on what letterboxing would be like without

You're worth it, Ryan. You respond almost immediately to requests, complaints, technical issues, etc. You are constantly working to make the site new and fresh for us with every login. I've never seen a site getting new features and upgrades as nice as atlasquest and sill be so friendly and welcoming.

Not to mention the fact that you are on hand to give information to reporters who are doing features on letterboxing, no matter what town the newspaper is in. The Birmingham article could have been quite lame with all of us relative newbies giving interviews if you hadn't been there to be a reference point and a resource.

I really respect someone who can find a way to earn money honestly doing something that they really love. Are you sure all those criticisms aren't just "sour grapes?" Methinks they doth protest too much.

As soon as I can squeeze out the money I intend to sign up as a premium member.

Amanda from Seattle said...

Ryan is also supported by his family and by me, since I have a regular paying job. And a big Thank You goes out to all those folks who let us stay with you on our letterboxing trips! We couldn't afford all the cross country letterboxing that we do without the help of all our letterboxing friends, many of whom are NOT premium members. You guys are great and we couldn't do it without you.

zebstriped said...

Those who may grumble have never run their own business, it takes a long while to turn a profit.

*Lock n' Lock: $5
*Logbook: $1
*Carving Materials: $10
*AQ Premium Membership: Priceless

Thanks for all you do Ryan, even when you have to listen to grumbling!

Anonymous said...

Carolina Drama Queen and I have been at this letterboxing gig for a year now, but didn't become premium members until very recently (both of us are now). I don't begrudge a penny that I pay for either of us to help support Atlasquest and the work Ryan puts into it. We have had so many hours of enjoyment thanks to all of Ryan's work. And anytime you need a place to stay in greater Iredell County, you and Amanda are more than welcome to bunk down at our house!

Fact is, you can never please some people. And anyone who would fault you for eeking out a living doing something you love needs to learn to follow their own passion. If you can earn a living (more or less) giving this much pleasure to others, more power to you!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ryan. I've been doing this letterboxing thing for almost three years now and I think I've been visiting AQ since the beginning. I realized when you first offered the premium memberships that it was a great deal so I signed up.

AQ has only been getting better in the time since then so don't let anyone tell you differently. We appreciate everything you do.

Anonymous said...

you know, i always realized how awesome you are to all of us. i had emailed you on several occations and you were usually really quick to email me back. while i check out the latest posts, you have usually always posted a comment in regards to a post. this is some quick work.

now of course, when i learned about letterboxing, i heard about LBNA. they don't make money and i'm sure thats wonderful in many eyes. i don't see LBNA putting the work into that sight as you have with yours. don't get me wrong, i use both sights to find clues. both sights are wonderful in thier own ways.

keep up what your doing ryan.
david (team new hampshire)

Anonymous said...

David, of Team New Hampshire, said that LbNA doesn't make money. He's exactly get what you pay for.

Joe ( Big Ox)
A proud AQ member

DIXIE said...

I can't say it any better than these other fine folks have! I love AQ and am proud to announce it! and yes indeed... you get whatcha pay for :) AQ is top o' the line! Oh...and my favorite turtle is tops too! :) Keep on having fun with your job Ryan!

Anonymous said...

I am most pleased for you passion.
As I have told you in the past, Ryan, I believe the fee that you request is but a pittance of its true value. You have done an outstanding job.


Anonymous said...

I 10th all the wonderful responses to your post Ryan. I am not a premium member yet - I just started letterboxing in January. However, I plan to send you my check soon.

You do an amazing job and you're so quick to provide bigger and better things on AQ! Each time I tell someone about letterboxing, I give them the link to both sites.

I started out with LbNA and found AQ through a clue link. Once I found AQ, I hardly ever visited LbNA again. However, I still go there on occasion when I'm planning a letterboxing excursion.

I am in AQ everyday and love all the fun stuff I can get into like the boards, photo albums, etc. Actually, I'm sort of addicted to AQ and I probably should spend a little less time there and more time actually doing my own job. hehehe

Thanks Ryan for all that you do! YOU ROCK.

Becohio *getting back to work*

Anonymous said...

I really can't understand why anyone is upset over a voluntary donation.

I really don't benefit any more from my premium membership other than the pure satisfaction of contributing a little something toward a site I enjoy daily. You could have no premium membership "perks" at all, and I'd still do it, but the small perks are a way to say "thank you" to those that do help keep it running financially (as I understand it).

Did those that criticize forget that Choi was accepting donations when LbNA crashed? How much time do the critics sacrifice to enrich the letterboxing community?

Through letterboxing, I've met so many wonderful people and places that I would have never known otherwise. You've expanded a site to a worldwide level of 'boxing. I can see clues, events, postals, virtuals, etc. from all over the world without paying a penny-- and people complain because some of us like to financially support that?

Nope, can't understand it.

The Wolf Family

Steve, Christa, Emily, Meghan, Charles & Elizabeth said...

We have had our premium membership for a little over a year now and I am pretty sure that except for the ability to log unlisted finds, we don't use any premium features. We paid the money because of Ryan and the quality of his site.

The Cottontails

Three Hearts said...

I, for one, am thrilled with the content of AQ. I choose to be a premium member, and I'm happy about it. :o) Thank you, Ryan, for all you do!

Greetings From Florida...
Three Hearts
of the CFLLB

Anonymous said...

Half a night at the bar costs me the same amount as my premium membership and i'm at AQ every single day for hours. Its the best deal i've gotten in a long time.
Amanda you are one special lady. My girlfriends would opf told me to dump this guy if he only made $15000.00 a year. There is no price on someone, or something you love.

Anonymous said...

This is even a better deal than contributing to Public Radio, something I have done without fail since I was a college student. Where else could I have made my first online friend, posted my first blog comment (this one), seen my photo posted online by someone I don't even know (!) and think it is great, and just generally be pulled into using my computer in ways that twenty-somethings take for granted? I consider every letterbox I find a gift from the placer. I guess I could think of you as Santa Claus, my computer mentor, and my social director all in one. I chose a profession that gives benefits in doing good things that I enjoy instead of raking in the bucks, so I get it. I only wish you made ten times what you do!

Anonymous said...

Just got home from a boxing outing made easier by AQ, and read your post, and I cannot believe that people have had the nerve to complain to you. About ANYTHING.

As with everyone else who has commented here, I hope you don't lose heart, Ryan. I had a suspicion that you couldn't be making very much with the small amount you charge for premium membership. And as you said, the things restricted to premium membership are very few. Heck, you even make it possible for nonpremium members to log in unlisted boxes every so often!

It makes me think of my days working for a nonprofit agency. I loved the work we did (teaching people to read), but I was getting paid little more than minimum wage there. Some members of the board (meaning the corporate board) seemed to be of the opinion that we should be working there simply out of the goodness of our hearts--which I would have considered, if only I were independently wealthy. But even that low wage was a whole lot more than you are making with AQ, a VERY much more high-tech venture.

So when I hear that people have been complaining--about the fact that a few people have chosen to do a tiny, tiny bit to make it even in the realm of possibility for you to maintain the site in the superior fashion that you do--it makes me want to find the naysayers and tell them "No one is forcing you to use AQ--and it is none of your business if some of us choose to spend a few pennies so that Ryan can buy toothpaste once in a while! Or, heaven forfend, eat." Honestly, I really wish there were some way to force the naysayers to do your job for a few days for free.

I'm glad at least that there are some people who have a few techie skills of their own who know what a difficult job it is to maintain the site, and there are quite a few more who may not have the skills but do have at least an imagination. And as someone else said, brava to Amanda, too, for her contribution to the letterboxing community, since without her, even the pittance you get from memberships wouldn't be enough to keep you afloat.

I challenge all of the naysayers with this--keep your mouth shut unless you have the skills and are willing to do the work to create and maintain a letterboxing site like AQ. Then put it out there for the rest of us to use, so that YOU can get all of the complaints instead of Ryan.

That's it. I'm getting my plush voodoo doll (from Urban Outfitters a few years ago) and inflicting zits on a few people. MWAHAHAHA!!! I ain't the Pied Piper for nothing!


Anonymous said...

From the beginning (about a year and a half ago) when I found Atlas Quest, I sincerely hoped that this turtle guy at least made some money doing this. Atlas Quest probably kept most of us interested in letterboxing long after the initial excitement was over. And as someone always said-do what you love and the money will follow. Ryan, you deserve to have the money follow.

spring and snake

Anonymous said...

Ryan, this hobby has been a wonderful outlet for me. Even though I go through periods of time where I just don't feel like boxing... I always find myself picking it back up. I think AQ is awesome and I appreciate all your efforts in making it happen and keeping it up for all of us. For lack of money I am not a member... but it has always been on my top ten lists of "things to do when you get that job" list... not for the benefits... but purely to express my support in letterboxing and AQ. I'm glad you've kept with AQ... and I applaud your commitment towards bettering the quality of life for many... people are always happier when they immerse themselves in what they are truly passionate about. Thanks for being you :)

If there was a "I'm proud to be an AQ member" bumper sticker/patch... I'd definitely buy one... that is... I'd be especially proud when I become a member... and when I get around to purchasing that car... a patch would probably be better for me...

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

I just discovered Atlas Quest today and I'm thrilled. I look forward to finding my first letterbox. As soon as I have a little pocket money, I will become a premium member, and will be happy to pay the price. I envy you, Ryan, for being able to do what you love on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

We all benefit from your website expertise. AtlasQuest is a fantastic site, and it's just because of the letterboxing. It's a great model for any site that seeks to provide information in a timely, useful way. You are not commercializing the hobby at all but making it so much more productive and fun.
On the one hand, I was glad that you hadn't sold out to Chevy Suburban with that ad. But my other thought was, Well, at least someone good who deserves it would have made some money, instead of just some corporation.
Don't listen to the complainers!!

Anonymous said...

I love web technology and a finder-centric, commmunity-based database and I'm more than happy to contribute to the continued success of this website. We are so fortunate to have a tireless and dedicated webmaster willing to work for so little financial compensation.

Just Peachy said...

I am disappointed tha you aren't making more Ryan! There is no comparison between LBNA and Atlasquest. I thank you for all you do!
Dee & Abby
Dunwoody, GA