2015 was a great year for The Molecular Ecologist. With a bigger team of regular contributors than at any time in the site’s history, we’ve had 200 new posts (more than half of the total number of posts in the archive, back to July 2010), and seen a big growth in traffic — 30% more visits by 27% more visitors than in 2014. We’re recruiting new regular contributors, and all of our current team are staying on into the new year — so soon we hope to have more voices bringing you the latest in ecology, evolution, and everything in between.
In 2016, we want to build on this success to become an independent, current forum for the molecular ecology community, and a source for information about evolutionary and ecological genetics the broader public. To meet those goals, we’re going to ask our readers to help support the site for the first time, through a two-stage crowdfunding effort. Up to now, the site’s expenses — the cost of domain registration and hosting, and small stipends for contributors — has been covered from the editorial budget of Molecular Ecology. While continuing our close ties to the journal and its readers, who are our core community, we want to develop The Molecular Ecologist as an independent voice, and a major way to do this is finding independent funding.
The first stage will be an Indiegogo campaign starting in the latter half of this month. That kind of crowdfunding is good for raising a specified budget, but it’s not a sustainable model in the long term, unless we run a new campaign every year — rather like a donation drive by U.S. public media. Our goal will be to raise funds to run the site for a year, as a foundation for the second stage. That second stage, which we’ll launch in late summer or early in the fall semester of 2016, will move us to the recurrent micro-donation model of Patreon. Patreon lets readers commit to small monthly contributions, which will ultimately be a more reliable foundation for the site. (Those of us who, like me, donate to U.S. Public Radio or TV will already know that this pioneer of community-funded media has actually moved to a model more like this — I make a monthly $10 donation to Minnesota Public Radio, charged automatically to my credit card, rather than pledging $120 for a year’s membership.1)
We’ll also develop new funding sources besides direct reader donations. There will be Molecular Ecologist merchandise — I’m working on a version of the site header that will look nice on tee-shirts, mugs, and other essentials of academic life. And we’ll experiment with an Amazon.com affiliate link system, in which links from the blog to product pages on that site will earn us a small portion of the value of any eventual purchase.
With all of that said, here’s what we’re not going to do in pursuit of financial independence: We’re not going to take advertising, either as display ads or sponsored posts. And we will never make access to any part of the site available only to folks who donate or support us via Patreon. The Molecular Ecologist is first and foremost a community resource and source of public information — if the content of the site were anything less than publicly accessible and motivated solely by an interest in science communication, we’d have no reason to exist.
So that’s what’s on the horizon. We’ll provide more details, including the specific kinds of things we’d like to do if we reach certain fundraising goals, as we introduce new contributors and launch the Indiegogo campaign later this month. For now, I want to thank our readers for following The Molecular Ecologist, and I hope you’ll all join us in an exciting new year.