Every quarter I like to do a little update just to give our readers a behind-the-scenes look at what is happening. Oftentimes there is a big difference between what folks see publicly and the inner workings of STH, so I like to peel that back. In this edition, I just wanted to go through some of the exciting things coming to STH along with the challenges they bring. I also wanted to address a few questions we have gotten recently. I also have an ask of our readers. This edition may be our most profound yet, so it is important for all STH readers.
If you want to check out how this series has evolved, here are the links to the previous ones:
- STH Q1 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2022 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2022 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2022 Update A Letter from the Editor
That list is getting quite long.
STH Q4 2022: Changes in 2023
One of the biggest challenges at STH has always been the model. I touched on this in all of the quarterly letters this year. Going back to the framework from the Q1 letter, here is the basic industry layout:
- Press – The general model is that companies and industry organizations send news via a press release (PR.) News sites generally take the PR and either wholesale repost it, add a few lines to a press release or write an original copy covering the press release. This can also include things like interviews. Most of the activities for traditional “press” one can write a story over a cup or two of coffee without ever leaving a chair in the world of Zoom.
- Analysts – Generally these are folks that are retained by companies to provide third-party perspectives that will be placed in other media outlets. They also often do paid engagements for specific activities such as white papers or video work.
- “White paper houses” – Traditionally these have been white papers, but now they can be videos or other collateral. These firms usually do a sponsored piece to show that one company’s offering is better than another company’s offering. Usually, distribution for these is the responsibility of the sponsoring company.
- Influencers – Generally these are folks who have large followings on social media that are paid to present points of view to their audiences. There are many different ways that support is provided, but that is the general model.
For STH, fitting in the above is a real challenge. If I am being perfectly clear, at STH, we have just about zero benefits to being classified as “Press” at this point. We do not do typical press activities like re-posting press releases and doing interviews. I am starting to look more at the Analyst model. What I have found is that there is a newer class of Analyst-Influencer. That is basically an analyst with some distribution. Many of the traditional analysts that have attempted to migrate into that space have greater than 99% inorganic engagement on some platforms. That legacy has created a different situation for STH to launch into.
STH will be a strange fit in this market. Our organic traffic just on the main site has sat steadily at many millions of page views per month. We are now several times bigger than sites I used to admire like Anandtech, albeit still smaller than Tom’s Hardware, which makes a lot of sense.
As we have been working on the YouTube platform since 2020, something I have noticed is that our web metrics have been drifting by a large margin. Over the past two years:
- Web server log traffic is up ~110%
- Average page view size is up ~15%
- Average STH bandwidth is up ~105%
- Google Analytics is up 15%
That is quite interesting when I think of YouTube and other platforms. YouTube knows whenever a video is accessed and increments the view counter. That same behavior does not happen on the website since we are not tracking directly from logs. 5 years ago, there was a bigger correlation between access logs, bandwidth, and GA. Now there is divergence. At least we still have growth when so many web-only sites have not grown.
So as we end 2022, the challenge is that STH is in a really interesting spot. We have a site that seems like it is growing. Some companies classify us as press, even though we do mostly analyst, influencer, and hands-on testing. In 2023, we are going to just stop classifying STH as press. That label at this point has become an inhibitor of STH’s growth.
The impact on our readers should be nothing. We are still going to maintain editorial independence on what we publish. It just helps us to not be classified as “press” these days. Many of the pieces STH does are extremely expensive to put together, and not having access to help in terms of even buying drives for things like the large storage servers we did last week is a huge challenge. Most analysts, influencers, and white paper houses go through reviews with vendors who sponsor pieces. As I have been messaging this with companies we work with, I have simply said that we are not doing it.
So in summary, it may increase the video work we do, but also the resources we have access to. From an editorial perspective, I have just told everyone, that is not changing. We just need to get to a better model than we have today since buying memory for a new server, buying storage, or other bits can often cost $10,000 or more.
For those that watch our YouTube channel, we added a small change this year. We launched the ability to join the STH YouTube channel. While we do not have Patreon, we are using the STH YouTube membership feature for those that want to help STH. We are going to use those funds to pay for the Project TinyMiniMicro, STH Mini PC, and some of the networking gear that we purchase to review. We are starting to see some of the impact of this in terms of being able to buy new units to review. That is a benefit of adopting an “influencer” model.
With that, a holiday ask for the STH readers, our newsletter.
Subscribe to the STH’s Newsletter and YouTube
Did you know STH has a weekly newsletter that comes out Saturday with curated “Top 5” pieces from the week? We know you cannot visit every day, so we can deliver our picks for weekend reading directly to your inbox. Subscribing to the newsletter is easy. Here is the form.
We are not selling your e-mail addresses and MailChimp is managing everything at this point so you can subscribe and unsubscribe from the list as you want.
We are not promoting the newsletter via overlays and pop-ups. Those are very effective, but they are bad for readers. I do not like them, so as long as I have a say, we are not going to have newsletter signup overlays. I run STH as something I would want to visit daily even if I did not work on it.
Finally, subscribe to our YouTube and check it out here. This is an area that we are going to have more of in 2023.
Subscribing to STH’s newsletter helps you see my favorite pieces of each week and a preview of the next week. Subscribing to the STH YouTube channel also helps us demonstrate our reach beyond just the website. Sometimes, doing things like showing power consumption or fan noise is easier than writing about it. This has also been something important for STH over the past few months. We are having to demonstrate reach, and simple things like subscriber counts help explain reach.
Since this is going live on Christmas Day, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to our readers, viewers, team, and all of those in the STH community. Get ready for 2023 since we have an enormous amount of really cool content coming.
So, OK, you are going to become at least part influencer.
Will you post who is paying you, and what they are paying you to say?
I think becoming an influencer will damage STH badly. How are we to know when you ppl are posting stories based on objective experience, and when based on whatever you are paid to say?
The tech press is sadly full of shills and axe grinders. I am sincerely sad to read you say you intend to become another one. Gotta say, I am surprised that you came right out and said it, as well.
Emerth – We already post a list of all companies that support STH via ads, send loaner product, give us free access to labs, and etc in our editorial and copyright policies and have done so for years.
We are not planning to change our editorial policy.
Here is the issue we are really trying to solve. We have reviews that we spend 100+ hours on and that cost over $1000 in just electricity. Many large companies only will spend $5M+ to directly support an outlet. So we get into situations where I tell companies “hey… this costs a lot to do.” Executives assume they are supporting STH with ad sales, but they are not because we are below a $5M/year spend threshold. I have been fighting the status quo for years, but it is not going to change.
We will continue to post when companies help on projects. We are not going to let companies pay us to say things. That is exactly why we do not let companies see drafts and edit pieces. Most analysts/ influencers pre-share scripts and allow edits. We do not, and as folks have been asking about the change, I have simply said we are going to have the same process. We just need to find a way to let large companies support STH to keep the site going.
My goal is that a year from now, folks do not notice a change but we are also not spending $10K+ on pieces where companies are not helping to offset those costs. That happens too often these days, and it is not really sustainable. It also means we do fewer cool pieces. I want to do bigger pieces, but our current model is preventing that.
Merry Christmas Patrick.
You have this reader’s support. You know better than most of us how to manage the perception that you are a sufficiently independent perspective from the manufacturers’ marketing departments.
As you know, that’s a huge issue for anyone that’s an “influencer” – being transparent about manufacturer support. I think you already do a good job with that.
Best of luck in the new year.
Patrick – perhaps this is a problem of semantics. “Influencer” does not mean what you think it means in the context of the Internet & social media. Influencers are people who sell their followers’ eyeballs to the highest bidder (Justin Bieber, or Selena Gomez for example). Which is a different thing from people who run sites or channels that produce trusted info (that’d be you).
Thanks for elaborating on what you are trying to solve. Possibly Phoronix has a model that could work for you as well. Michael does a lot of hardware reviews using his Phoronix Test Suite, and from time to time people pay him to test specific sets of hardware. Reading between the lines I think part of his business is doing analysis for vendors privately.
Are you simply outgrowing the business of running a tech website, and becoming an engineering shop or something similar? Different market…
Appreciate your hard work!
“Analyst + Influencer” is hard to do while being impartial, so easy to loose the trust of the audience.
Maybe you try Ads within the videos and sponsored links, often you display hardware that looks interesting but we would need pricing & availability, detailed specs etc.
Focus on one end of the market? You’re now anywhere between $500 and $100k for a unit.
Yeah, I do kind of agree that STH is more of the “Analyst-Influencer” style of reporting. You definitely don’t regurgitate everybody else’s pieces, a VERY refreshing tack in light of often low- to no-effort half-baked crap that serves no purpose other than as clickbait just to get views and that much-coveted ad revenue.
I don’t doubt at all that it’s expensive for your end to create the articles you post. I don’t even want to think about how much any single server or NAS box costs nowadays. Maybe consider adding Patreon to your “arsenal” of monetization strategies. It couldn’t hurt. I’m not really a fan of “exclusive content” that I’m forced to pay for on a monthly basis just to watch once, but you could do that if it absolutely came down to it. I know a lot of other YouTube creators do that.
As for sponsored spots in YouTube videos… I’m less keen on that if it’s not for things you actually use. I can understand why content creators do that, but again I’m not keen on stuff I don’t trust, use or want or cannot afford on my non-recurring budget hawked at me in that characteristic manner where the “pusher” makes it seem like I’m gonna die if I don’t buy whatever they’re selling at me (I’m unemployed and what money I have has to be spent more in a manner where I’m actually buying something I can own, something tangible, and once it’s gone, there ain’t no more coming in.).
If it’s something that you yourself actually use on a regular basis and it’s NOT some scammy payware VPN provider that gives all my files, usage data and browsing history to the government on a subpoena without my knowledge or explicit consent, I guess I’d be okay with that. Anything else other than that WILL get sponsor-blocked. Use Paul’s Hardware as a representative example. All the SSDs, keyboards, motherboards, memory kits, PC components/cases and graphics cards he advertises are things he actually uses. His channel is fully whitelisted in my SponsorBlock browser extension as his spots are both harmless and all things he actually uses in PC builds and benchmark demos.
Hopefully my voice will be heard. Feel free to reply with your thoughts and to all at STH, have a very Merry Christmas and a fruitful 2023 ahead. 🙂
I’ve been reading for about 6/7 years now, and I have always admired your principle of never doing anything on the site that you personally wouldn’t like. That’s a huge part of why my ad block has been off for this site for all these years.
I think something you do well, and point out specifically when you do it, is to use a product that is loaned to you to facilitate the testing or showcasing of a different product. Things like RAM, SSDs, HDDs, and networking cards are all things I am sure that I have heard you mention that were loaned for one project, but then are used in other projects. This must be extremely helpful for your team. As a reader I especially like seeing products get used in “real world” situations instead of a specific benchmark or spec sheet showing.
I would be willing to pay for an (ad-free) version of the text content on the order of 10-20€ a month. I personally don’t watch a lot of video content. Just throwing this in as a data point…
I don’t particularly care how you define your content, whether it’s influencer, analyst or press. A lot of what is sold as press is also mostly either regurgitating what officials are saying, gossip or opinion pieces masquerading as news. As long as you’re open about how you monetize in these quarterly updates that’s probably a level of transparency that is sorely lacking elsewhere.