Are Lice Bad For Business?

Executive Summary: Using "Nits" may be a bad financial decision for BSD editors and writers.

The Rest Of The Story...

The democratic beauty of the internet is that the only costs to access it are the expense of a device and a connection. BSD takes that access one step further by providing a feedback function -- allowing anyone with an email address the opportunity to "write" their own comments. This has created the great BSD "commentariat" as we know it.

The $64,000 question since the dawn of the internet has been how do you monetize what everyone is in the habit of getting for free? Twice in the last year BSD has successfully monetized (Congratulations -- great work!!) their content by offering an exclusive magazine. For those of us with a passing interest in business this has provided an opportunity to watch a capitalistic case-study in real time and with instantaneous consumer feedback. How do they market the magazine? What value do they add to justify the price? And most importantly, how well does it sell? Both times the minimum amount that was publicly advertised as being necessary to create the magazine was raised (again, excellent effort!!) - however, a higher goal was not achieved.

The most recent offering occurred during a time when a percentage of the commentariat - the most likely consumers of the magazine - have voiced editorial concerns about the use of the word "Nits" in BSD content. Twice in the last year FanPost polls indicated that the commentariat did not want the word Nits used - by more than a two-to-one margin. In most businesses doing things that make two-thirds of your customers unhappy is an invitation to go out of business. Yet, the usage of Nits continues because the only negative ramification to the business on a free website is pageviews - which the BSD powers have stated is not an issue.

However, could there be a negative revenue ramification with the paid magazine? I believe there is. Following are the results from the latest Kickstarter for the BSD magazine:


435 pledges totaling $15,241.00 were received. 428 of those pledges conformed to a standard pledge amount. 7 pledges totaling $920.00 did not. Consequently the chart above includes an extra Pledge Amount of $131.43 (the average) and lists 7 pledges.

After the initial funding level was reached, a FanPost poll was posted that asked, "If a promise to cease and desist using the word ‘Nits' in anything associated with BSD had been made, how much would you have pledged to the Kickstarter?" The options were limited to the eight choices that were in the Kickstarter, (as entering amounts is not supported by the polling software). The poll was active on the front page of BSD for five days (one-eighth of the 40-day Kickstarter timeframe) before dropping off. Below are the results of that poll:


As you can see, there was heavy skewing to the $1,000 price point. WBF's first comment in the FanPost indicated that he chose that option and was lying. For the purposes of this study we will assume everyone else who chose that option was also lying and delete all those responses.

Below is the chart of responses if we do the following:

  • Zero out all $1,000.00 responses

  • Determine the % of the total backers that each Pledge option received

  • Assume the Nit-free Kickstarter would have received the same total number of pledges (minus the 7 odd-amount pledges)

  • Use the new pledge percentages to determine the total pledges in each category

  • Multiply the pledges by the pledge amount and determine a total pledged.


As you can see, the poll results are that the Kickstarter would have raised almost an additional $6,000.00. I'm unaware of the expense breakdown for the magazine, but my guess is that some if not most of the additional revenue would drop straight to the bottom line. Which is something I think would be of importance to the BSD editors and writers.

The takeaway for me is, if I was trying to fund another exclusive-content magazine on BSD, I would make and publicize an editorial decision that the word "Nits" would no longer be used on BSD. Something along the lines of, "The BSD Style Manual does not include 'Nits' as a nickname for Penn State athletic teams." As an aside, I would also give four full pages to WBF and RR to use as they see fit.

A final note: this is CLEARLY not meant to be a scholarly study. Obviously some assumptions have to be made regarding sample size, numbers, and how to interpret them. However, for every change that could be made to make the dollar total a little worse, there are others that could skew the results even more strongly in the "bad business decision" direction. And I for one would enjoy seeing this thing hit "full print" status. Couldn't hurt, amirite?

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