Should I give readers a heads-up that I'm killing one of my websites?
September 16, 2013 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I am a professional publisher who produces four lifestyle websites loved by lots of people. After four years of non-profitability, I've decided to kill one of the websites at the end of the year. Should I give the site's 175,000 monthly readers a heads-up that the site is dying?

I can see arguments for both ways:

If I give readers a heads-up that the end is near, does that allow them to enjoy the last few months?

If I DON'T give readers a heads-up, do I save myself the trouble of months of freaking out and complaining over a business decision that's already been made? What's really to be gained by telling people in advance?

Relevant bits of information:
* The editor who produces the site will be kept on staff, working on other sites.
* The site itself will stay online in archive form, but no new content will be produced.
* The site's community can be prone to drama & histrionics (wait... doesn't that describe all online communities? Maybe irrelevant)
* Most similar situation: maybe when Valleywag was killed?

I'd also just love to hear stories of from other content folks who've "put down" online publications that weren't profitable. Did you switch Wordpress to static pages? Did you plaster ads all over your archives? How did you make the announcement?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would give them a month heads up. The only thing that telling them now is going to do is make the last few months joyless and make the demise of the site a central focus of discussion. With a month you can provide some community management guidance, maybe work with other sites to handle the refugees and help them find a new online home and basically approach it in a spirit of good will, showing you understand the loss of an online home is a big deal in a lot of people's lives. This is a message you may want to assure these folks have, and something the readers of the other sites may feel comforted by as well.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd announce early- 175K monthly uniques may be large enough that you can find a buyer interested in growing the readership, which would be better for all concerned.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:39 PM on September 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Giving them the heads up allows people who only communicate with each other on your site a chance to exchange contact info if they want to keep in touch. If you're open to the idea of selling the site, it might also give an interested party the opportunity to purchase it from you.
posted by Candleman at 4:41 PM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think a month is more than fair. I think you could possibly even do less, just to save yourself the hassle of scraping together the content for a whole month. I think even 2-3 weeks is fair.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:43 PM on September 16, 2013

I would give them a heads-up, in the spirit of community.

But maybe you need to figure out a way to "set it and forget it". PM me if you want more details about my experience.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:49 PM on September 16, 2013

Can you sell the site?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2013

I'd also say, if your heart's not in the site anymore (and it's not making you any money!), you could always shut it down before the end of the year. Go out on a Halloween bang!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:00 PM on September 16, 2013

If you're not going to update the site, and it's not profitable, why are you keeping it up at all since that costs money?

I'd give people about a month. Anyone who wants to buy it will have enough time to get that done. But it doesn't leave people with too long to bitch about it going away.
posted by theichibun at 5:01 PM on September 16, 2013

No! No. Do not announce before your last piece of material is posted. Spare yourself the complaining. (People will survive. They survived the deaths of Gourmet and of Domino and Cookie. They'll mourn, especially loyal readers, as I mourned Gourmet, but don't drag it on.)

This is related to that impulse to give, like, six weeks of notice when you're leaving a job. Don't. There is no benefit; there is only annoyance.
posted by purpleclover at 5:03 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Part of this might be because I suspect I know what websites you're talking about, but if there's a lot of crossover between the communities of these websites, I wouldn't assume that giving people little lead time to process would really spare you very much whining at all. They very well might just transfer the whining to another corner of the community.

I would give them at least a month's notice, in light of that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:23 PM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Considering you plan to leave the content up indefinitely I wouldn't give any notice before the last content is posted.
posted by Mitheral at 5:28 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a data point, the Cheezburger network doesn't give notice until the last post. Users tend to treat the comment section of the last post as a memorial service.

Example:, aka "Must Have Cool"

Other times, Cheezburger will roll sub-site content into one of their larger sites, and make the original URL redirect to the new site.

Example: (originally a fashion site) now redirects to the fashion tag of the roflrazzi site.

I'm not a fan of the latter approach.
posted by homodachi at 5:28 PM on September 16, 2013

I'm with purpleclover. "As of today, is no longer open for business. It has been a great pleasure, but it's simply costing us too much. Please join us at, where Editor Person and much of the content you love here will be."
posted by Etrigan at 5:30 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid this all depends on whether your name is Matt Haughey.

More seriously, you might consider offering your community an alternative place to convene in the absence of original content--a Facebook page, group submission blogging service, mailing list, etc.--so they could interact with each other indefinitely.

You could probably get away with pretty short notice, though cutting it too close would presumably swamp the alternative venue with noise.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:34 PM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're not "killing" it, so I wouldn't give advance notice. You're just not growing it any more. As others have mentioned, the last post should be the last post. Thanks everyone for your support! There will be some grousing, but all the existing content will be there.

If somewhere down the line you actually want to remove the content I would give a month's notice. It would give a chance for people to update their bookmarks, make personal copies of posts they treasure, etc.
posted by Ookseer at 5:35 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rather than have it sit there, I'd consider selling it. Maybe someone would want to take it over and announcing it early would let buyers know.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:48 PM on September 16, 2013

Seriously consider selling it - find a broker and only share with qualified inquirers. Drop me a line and I can try to put you in contact with someone who can help, depending on the subject of the site.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:49 PM on September 16, 2013

On the technical side, if you do keep it, I would strongly recommend changing it to a static site rather than leaving it on WordPress. Not only does it use less hosting resources (leading to lower costs), but it also makes it essentially maintenance free. If you leave it on wordpresss, you have to make sure you keep updating wordpress to avoid any security issues, and then you have to deal with anything that any wordpress update breaks. It may not happen often, but even once is enough to be a headache, and in this case it would be for no gain whatsoever.

You could even throw the whole thing onto S3 if you wanted to. I have a couple of sites hosted that way and it works well, at a pretty low cost.
posted by primethyme at 6:01 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have procedures in place to allow users to archive all content, ESPECIALLY user-produced content. Anything similar to Salon's Table Talk, say. It's a slippery slope from "the site will stay online in archive form" to "meh, why renew the domain" to "oh shit everything is gone forever."
posted by dekathelon at 6:51 PM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

It seems wantonly cruel to shut down the site without giving contributors the opportunity to exchange contact details and keep in touch. That costs you very little, but it means a lot to your former users.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:35 PM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there a forum, personal messages or something like that where your readers communicate? Or is it just in the comments of postings?

I'd suggest no warning until the last piece of content is posted, but leave some form of communication open for a while so people can vent, catastrophize and share contact information. Revealing your plans before the last content is posted will just serve to muddy the waters of that content.

Another way to approach it is to make a strategic decision to combine the resources of two sites onto one. Or split the content of the closing site onto two other ones. Instead of killing off Pontiac, you are just letting the Buick dealers sell the new Grand Prix and the Chevy dealers sell the Vibe. If you get my drift. The actual plan doesn't change, but spinning it that way might soften things.
posted by gjc at 7:53 PM on September 16, 2013

If you aren't taking the content down, there is no reason to announce in advance.
posted by empath at 7:59 PM on September 16, 2013

I think at least a little notice, with a thorough and empathetic explanation of why you're ending the site. The reason being that since you have three other sites with presumably a fair amount of audience overlap, you want the readership of the other sites to feel that their sites won't be yanked out from under them and that they can trust you to 'do the right thing.' There isn't one 'right thing' for everyone, of course, but I think I'd feel more comfortable knowing that a site I'd become invested in would end with notice and good communication than having reason to worry that it would just stop updating one day.
posted by trig at 8:47 PM on September 16, 2013

If a site (that you didn't own) you really liked was going to be shut down, would you like to know in advance, or would you prefer to only know at the very last moment? Me, personally, I'd prefer the former. But I'd just go with your heart here.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:48 PM on September 16, 2013

Why not charge a $1 a year subscription? Viola! Instant profitability, and people get to keep their beloved site. Or something like that.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:06 PM on September 16, 2013

I think it's fair to give participants a chance to make arrangements to stay in contact once the site is gone. A month should do it. And I would definitely try to sell it unless there's a reason not to.
posted by theora55 at 10:08 PM on September 16, 2013

Two sites I used regularly were closed.

One was Regretsy - the site owner announced it earlyish, people were mostly happy for her and sad for the site. I'm annoyed that the archives have vanished, though - I was looking for something off there the other day.

The other was GuardianTalk, a forum that lasted well beyond what should have been its lifespan, but was pulled instantly and without warning, with users finding a message saying the site had been shut. (The rumour was that it was for legal reasons - the moderators had a hard job on that site but one person went from being a troll to being a troll with a legal team.) People were VERY pissed off. Some had met, married and had kids on that site, and years worth of discussions just vanished, with no notice period for people to swap details and stay in touch, and many have not bought the paper since.

I'd go with the first option.
posted by mippy at 3:41 AM on September 17, 2013

Are there forums connected with the site? If so, you definitely should give them a couple of months warning. More, if possible. Even if there isn't a forum, at least a month's warning would be nice.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you plan to leave the old content up and mine it for pageviews then no need to alert people until very near the end. Old content has some value and your readers will migrate elsewhere once you tell them it's over.

If you can migrate your readers to other parts of the your empire then treat your plan as if you are selling it. Have a migration plan and consider some form of opt out if people really don't want to get mailshots or alerts from your other sites because of (ir)relevance.

If your readers aren't paying customers then you don't owe them a duty of care in the same way that, say, a subscription magazine would. Your customers are your advertisers, and they do need advance notice if you want to keep the relationships intact.

Your users and content are worth something - but you know that. If you plan to sell it then, again, you don't tell your readers until you are close to the switch unless you need their buy-in and are prepared to reverse or modify your decision on the back of feedback. Your buyer will have a plan and you'll typically work to their plan.

However, if you aren't selling it is worth having a back up plan given how active your community is. If they are that engaged with the site, could they write for it? Does that change the economics of your business? Worth thinking about if you can leverage the hullabaloo from an honest conversation about how you can't make a valued site pay its own way via a more traditional route.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2013

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