Introducing Autostraddle Plus Cobalt Level: Support Us For Under $3/Month!

“As shameful as it feels to ask for money on the internet, it’s how you develop a committed community. People do pay for writing. They do all the time. They have always paid for it, since the first typeset books nearly six centuries ago. People tend not to pay for writing that exists for the sole purpose of holding our attention for just long enough for a page to load. But we actually have incredible stories to tell.”

Tyler Reinhard, editor of Mask Magazine

In July of 2014, we introduced Autostraddle Plus. It aimed to be an easy way for readers to support beloved independent LGBTQ media in a landscape increasingly dominated by enormous, well-funded, corporately owned websites with deep pockets and a sudden desire for some queer content of their own. Without our 1,300 A+ members, we’d have shut down earlier this year. We’ve been doing the work against all odds for nearly seven years — going without health insurance, living with our parents, paying self-employment taxes on small stipends, racking up debt, working 60-80 hours a week, cutting corners wherever possible — to grow and maintain this beautiful, thriving community. Our competitors have entire teams devoted to social media, advertising, SEO and content partnerships. They have accountants, lawyers, marketers, merchandise developers, advertising budgets, video crews and tech teams. We don’t. The senior editors do everything we can do ourselves, on top of our writing and editing responsibilities, because we need to free up as much money as possible to pay queer people to write and draw and photograph things for you. We have one designer and one tech director, each juggling a workload normally performed by dozens. We’re also desperately in need of a redesign… but can’t afford the time or the expense.  Because of A+, we’re now proud to say that we pay all our contributors. But it’s not enough, not just yet.

The internet is changing, and it’s changing fast. Social media is the primary traffic driver, and those who can’t invest financially in social media are suffering. Ad-blockers are making it so that while big publishers cash in on native advertising and Facebook deals, it’s quite possible that no indie publisher will survive without charging members for content. We’re “lucky” that we stopped being dependent on ad revenue a while ago due to advertisers’ general disinterest in the LGBTQ women’s market (we make about $50/day on advertising), but we also face a very different challenge: our community-oriented focus means paywalled content is much trickier to respectfully integrate and promote. Whereas a premium program like Slate Plus can entice members with several paywalled posts a day, we can’t — we have to walk a fine line between actively recruiting new members and not alienating those who can’t afford it.

Today, we’re introducing a new A+ level that we hope will make supporting us easier than ever, even if you’re low-income or only mildly interested in our site to begin with. We call it:

Cobalt Level!

It can be yours for only $4/month or $30/year (that’s only $2.50 a month!)

To maintain and improve Autostraddle through 2016, we need more money. We’ve hit an A+ plateau. Last week we put out a call for writers and the response has been phenomenal, exceeding our wildest dreams. Right now my inbox feels like a Sunday afternoon at the used bookstore, just aisles and aisles of brilliant possibilities. We’ve gotten more applications from people of color in the past four days than we have in the past four years combined. We want to be able to bring you as many of those voices as possible, but we’re stretched tight financially already (did I mention that we need a redesign but can’t afford it? We do!). THERE ARE SO MANY COOL PEOPLE IN MY INBOX PLEASE HELP US BRING ON MORE OF THEM. (Also if you wanna just contribute to us straight-up, please do!)

Not gonna lie, we’re downright jealous of the writing that sites like Broadly, Bustle, and Buzzfeed can afford. We don’t have the investment capital or lucrative ad contracts that they do. Just look at this graphic we made you in March about the accumulated investment capital other media companies are working with:

Most of the companies on this list have gotten most of these investments in the last 1-3 years, whereas we've been around for six! Also, The Huffington Post (which has a gay vertical) was purchased for $315 million in 2011.

Most of the companies on this list have gotten most of these investments in the last 1-3 years, whereas we’ve been around for 6.5! Also, The Huffington Post (which has a gay vertical) was purchased for $315 million in 2011.

So, let’s talk about Cobalt Level. Cobalt Level gives you access to everything Bronze-Level A+ members can access, the only difference is you won’t get an A+ sticker in the mail. This includes:

Now, here’s the thing: if a bunch of monthly bronze members cancel their memberships to re-join at the Cobalt level, this whole plan will fall to pieces. In fact, everybody I suggested this idea to warned against it, convinced that a massive downgrade could occur. I said Autostraddlers aren’t like that, they want to support us financially as much as they possibly can. If you come to a crossroads in your life where the choice is to cancel A+ altogether or switch to Cobalt, then we’re glad this option exists for you! But if you can afford Bronze, please don’t play us like that and downgrade.

Plus!

  • We’ve unlocked our most recent episode of the A+ podcast to ALL A+ members, not just silvers and golds. So go listen to that now.
  • Jenny Owen Youngs and Julia Nunes recorded a cover of “Walking With The Ghost” for you, it’s really spooky, and you’re gonna love it.
  • You can upgrade at any time, and when you upgrade from an annual membership you’ll get credit for what you’ve already put towards it.

Where Does My Money Go, Huh?

Good question! Here’s an infographic for you of where all of the A+ money we have collected since July 2014 has been spent. (Also, although it’s not illustrated here, a lot of the work that goes into making A+ function, like the programming, design, the Insider, the questions and so forth are done by the senior staff as part of their regular jobs, which isn’t included in the 3.4% below.)

a+cobalt

Still Don’t Wanna Join A+? Here’s how else you can support us:

  • Buy some merchandise from our new-and-improved store! We’ve finally (as of yesterday, truly), ironed out all the kinks and you can now expect fast shipping and all that jazz.
  • If you’re already shopping online, do so via our affiliate accounts. It’s super-easy. Our Amazon affiliate account specifically is a huge revenue source for us — we know it’s an evil company, but if you’re gonna shop there anyway, you may as well do so through us! Cee even made you a broswer extension that’ll enable you to automatically shop through our affiliate account whenever you visit Amazon!
  • If you can’t support us financially in any way, all hope is not lost! Following us on Facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr or pinterest also helps us out a lot. Specifically, a lot of web traffic these days depends on Facebook, and as we can’t afford to spend thousands on “boosting” our posts, the likelihood of our fans seeing all our posts depends almost entirely on how many likes, comments and shares the post gets. Your “like” is a huge help!

As always, thank you to everybody who has supported us over the past 6.5 years. We have long to-do lists, but very high hopes.

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2656 articles for us.

136 Comments

  1. Autostraddle, I <3 you so much. You've been integral to me coming into myself and I cannot possibly thank you enough. I am broke AF right now, but last year when I had more money I gave you quite a lot of it. I hope that I will have more money soon again, and can give it to you. Thanks for all you do. (And I renewed my A+ membership this year anyways!)

  2. I just want to remind everyone that there’s a DONATE NOW button that I bet could use some love! 🙂

    This website helped me come out (Laneia, I think I read “How To Leave Your Husband (Because You’re a Lesbian) a thousand times). When I didn’t have a single gay friend, this website gave me hope that that would change.

    Now, I am not going to buy anything else because I think my girlfriend will literally shoot me if I have one more thing delivered to the house.

    So I just simply donated – because in no way would it be ok if there was no Autostraddle.

  3. This is awesome! I hope it brings you more revenue 🙂

    I have a question. Is A+ available as a gift yet? I was a silver member for a year and have recently become extremely broke so had to cancel (which broke my heart). I was thinking of asking for an annual membership for Christmas. ALSO this may be something that other non-A+ members are interested in?

  4. This site has been so essential to me, from basic dating and girls and identity advice to teaching me about intersectionality to queer family stuff. I love every part of you, from your commitment to serious journalism to your vapid fluff and butch/femme clothing advice (which, to be honest, I am still confused about 5 years into being out). The previous levels were too expensive for me, but I am so down for Cobalt.

  5. Despite reading this post, I still don’t know how the A+ structure works. Would it be feasible to make A+ articles accessible to readers without a membership for a single-read fee? I can’t afford a monthly membership right now, but I definitely would pay to read a single A+ article now and again.

    • that’s a good idea, pay-per-view. i’ve definitely lurked some of those A+ gold articles that I was desperate to read b/c of immediate personal relevance; pretty sure I would drop a couple bucks to read those once in a while.

    • This is a really good idea, and really the only thing stopping me from signing up for any of these is that I am not financially secure enough to allow any amount of money out of my account every month. But sometimes, on a good financial day, I am pay for a premium article.

      This would be a really cool idea, I think.

  6. Great post – thought “I really should be able to afford cobalt”
    Looked at prices, checked exchange rates, found I was able to afford Bronze 😀
    Heads up for UK folks – annual bronze is ~£3 per month – less than £1 per week, just saying.

  7. Cobalt is mah favorite color!

    Yes I will sign up. (I won the bronze membership, so cobalt will be my first paid membership).

    But also I still haven’t white-listed AS because I don’t know how. If someone had the inclination to publish the step-by-step, I would totttttally do it. I’m thinking there are many of us in this category.

    <3

  8. I am a straight ally, and so don’t normally comment because it’s not really my space. But wanted to say that after months of reading your site for free, I figured I owe AS something and signed up for Cobalt! This is a great membership option. This site is such a remarkable place for women on the internet + I’m so much better educated on queer issues than before I started reading. Thank you for everything you do!

  9. Thank you so much for introducing this level! I’ve meaning to get the bronze or even silver subscription, but then I checked my bank account and realized I can’t afford it 🙁 Cobalt is perfect for a poor PhD student living in an insanely expensive city.

    AS means so much to me, it has helped me come to terms with being a bisexual dating a dude and still being a part of the community (I even managed to explicitly come out to my partner a few weeks ago!) and it has taught me so much about intersectionality, being a queer feminist and much more. Seriously, I am so happy I gave up on shit like 9gag and found this oasis of amazing people and wonderful writing.

    I might upgrade to bronze or silver in the winter, depending how much teaching money I get. You lovely people deserve all the best!

  10. I owe so much to y’all at autostraddle for helping my figure out my own queerness, and how to come out and explain it to my family, which was nerve-wracking, and a little painful, but I couldn’t have done it without the resources here. I’m so glad that you released the cobalt level! I love being able to throw some money into the hat without breaking the bank as a student. (also didn’t notice the donate button before, whoops)

  11. Autostraddle has been with me from the beginning. You guys started out when my teen years first began, and when I moved to the States for the first time. I started reading you guys even though I was sure then that it was only because of the writing, not because of my sexuality. Lol. You’ve seen me through loving my self, depression, religious disenchantment, being a gay African and so many other things. Gabrielle was the reason I was finally able to stand my ground when it came to microagressions. Riese, Heather , you both helped me with depression and other mental health issues I had literally no one else to turn to about. I don’t know where I’d be if Autostraddle didn’t exist so it pained me that I couldn’t afford a membership. I have about 80 bucks in my bank account but I can sure as hell afford cobalt. Thank you for letting me be able to give back to the community that saved my life, and is pretty much the only safe space I have.
    That being said, if you guys are having staffing issues you could put out a call for unpaid internships especially to college students like myself, or high school folk who want to beef up college application resumes. I don’t know the first thing about anything but I wouldn’t mind donating my time , and I’m sure others wouldn’t either.
    Thanks for existing guys. I pray (or hope.. if you’re not the praying sort) that you guys receive all the accolades and recognition you deserve. You guys are heroes.

  12. This is so great! I’ve been wanting to contribute to Autostraddle for a while but never had the funds. Plus I’ve been like binging on articles for the past few days and have been dying of curiosity about what’s behind those A+s. Upgrading as soon as I get home!

    • Ditto that here: newly bronzed!

      I can bet that it’s humbling to ask the community for money, but articles like this are a helpful reminder for us to up our engagement as we’re able. Thanks, Riese, for doing this. Like any good relationship, I appreciate that you talk with us openly about finances.

  13. Yes! I’m trying to encourage friends who are A+ members to sign up for cobalt. I wish I could do more than a bronze membership — I wish I could buy more of the awesome merch — but I definitely won’t be downgrading.

  14. Hey thanks for doing this. I didn’t have the money when A+ launched. I’ve been able to swing (i.e. say fuck it and go into debt) supporting Autostraddle in some previous campaigns and going to a-camp (privilege check!) now and again, but recurring things freak me the fuck out. I just couldn’t. I love you all, but I couldn’t.

    To be honest, I *still* don’t have the money to do this quite yet. But I will soon, I finally stopped doing grad school. My freelancing business is about to start seeing checks come back from invoices for the first time. (I’ve been lucky to have it spin up so fast, and lucky to be in a field where money is ridiculous.) So it looks like I’m going to start making rent from freelancing soon. So. So I think I can do it now.

    Thanks for taking this step, that you made A+ more accessible is important to me. Lately when I’ve come to articles I’ve felt bad seeing the nice yellow circles around almost everyone’s name. Great to see so many friends, a bit guilty to know my comments show up without. I’ve felt bad and no longer part of the party anymore. Frankly while I understand so crystal clear why A+ is totally the future and so very necessary to all the things I believe: supporting queer media, *paying* queer writers, it still felt hard.

    Especially since I know so many friends who don’t have the privileges I’m finally taking advantage of now to basically go soak up some capitalism when being poor finally doesn’t fucking work anymore. It was just hard to feel like one of my favorite websites was creating barriers that made things feel weird for people I cared about and for so many people whose positions I’m not super far from being in.

    Thanks for making A+ more accessible. It’s finally allowing me to feel good about it.

    I’m subscribing at silver. I’ll figure out how to make it work.

    Keep doing the right thing.

    Oh. One last thing: Can I opt out of the yellow circles somehow? Don’t get me wrong, they’re neat, I understand why you have them, but personally I’d prefer not to have them around my picture on my comments. Is that a thing I can do?

  15. If we wanted to make a donation in order to pay for someone’s paycheck, how could we go about finding the information? Like sponsoring someone’s commission for an article. (It depends on how much it is, of course, lol.)

  16. I’m gonna get cobalt! I’m really happy you guys have decided to take this route, and it’s also really beautiful to see the outpouring of love for autostraddle in the comments! This website is special to a lot of people, and I’m so glad you’re offering this sliding scale. When I graduate te in 2017 I will defo move up to at least silver

    I will also post about this as a news item on the Facebook page of the queer radio show I help run to remind the Aussie queers

  17. This is really great. I won a bronze membership and am using my free year to hopefully get more financially stable so I’ll be able to properly buy a membership. With cobalt I might be able to contribute even sooner. Just out of interest, what sort of percentage of merchandise price goes towards AS? Is it a sizable chunk or more like a dollar per shirt?

  18. I started off as silver and could not continue paying for it and now I am at bronze level. I will not downgrade to cobalt! I will stay at bronze as long as possible. Hopefully when I change my A+ subscription it can be up to silver or gold instead of down to cobalt! That said, I really appreciate y’all creating this option.

  19. Since A+ launched I kept subscribing and canceling every 2-3 months because I couldn’t always afford it, and I felt really bad about it every time. But the Cobalt level is much more affordable for me, I’m going to subscribe as soon as I get home!
    You are a big presence in my life and being able to support you (even if in the smallest way) really means a lot to me. Thank you for this opportunity <3

  20. Alright, you got me. I just totally uprooted myself and am currently jobless, but I think this website is sooo important and was especially important to me ~5/6 years ago when I was really questioning a lot about myself.

    Thanks for what y’all do and thanks for sticking it out for so long!

  21. While I don’t have as much time to read Autostraddle right now (I used to read everything you posted about 4 years ago), lgbtqa voices are important! And this inspired me to move from nothing to gold, so Riese I hope everyone else is wrong an you are right, that this gets more $$ in the door.
    This fellow member of the media who works for “the man” wishes you the best of luck! I don’t want an internet without Autostraddle!
    ~thows money at Autostraddle~

  22. I know it’s probably a pain in the ass to set this shit up, but if there was a plan between Silver and Gold, I would probably upgrade to that.

    I’m on Silver now ($12/month) and Gold is $25/month, which is a little steep for me. BUT! I would totally do $15 a month, which would basically be like a new Colbalt sign-up, yeah?

  23. This is exciting! Thanks y’all. I’m building up the confidence to ask for a small raise in my tiny hourly wage and I am so ready to upgrade to gold if it all works out. Alsoooo can’t wait to buy my space hat if that is still a thing!

  24. Autostraddle, what would I do without you? You are the greatest thing on the internet.

    I see the work you guys do, and I appreciate you.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to support you and always being flexible to my needs.

    <3

  25. I think this is a great idea and I’m glad you’ve made an option available to people with lower incomes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to downgrade my membership and will definietly consider purchasing a cobalt membership as a gift for someone when that option becomes avaiable again!

  26. I am poor AF right now, needing to buy a new car and being in grad school.

    Every time I think about buying a subscription here or more merch (I have a shirt somewhere), I think about the bajillion other places I want to donate (and I do!).

    BUT. Visibility is important. Community is important. I promised a while back that I would support Autostraddle. And there’s been a slew of really great content recently about stuff I really care about (mental health, personal essays, Ellen Page) and I would like to keep that up.

    (please hire more QPOC authors)
    (please hire more TWOC authors)
    (please)
    (please)
    (please)

    Here is *gasp* my coffee, chocolate, and muffin budget for the month of November (it mostly gets heavy usage on Mondays). Please be prepared to apologize on my behalf for all of the grumpiness. Please try not to post any articles about any of these items in the month of November, or apply an appropriate warning to the top.

  27. Hey Autostraddle! I’m a happy A+ member. I am wondering, though, other ways you can make money. Like grants and sponsorships and such? I don’t know that much about LLCs, as I’ve almost always worked for non-profit theatre companies, where ticket sales cover only 20ish% of costs, and grants, individual donors, benefits/galas, and corporate donations are huge. I have a colleague who got corporate sponsorships for his LLC. I’m just trying to help and am brainstorming/thinking out loud.

  28. Once again AS is being awesome. I salute everyone who HAS NOT downgraded and everyone who has signed up for Cobalt!

    BOOKMARK THOSE AFFILIATE LINKS. I once looked for those when I was shopping on my phone.

    Come support something that you love <3

  29. Y’ALL ARE WORLD’S GREATEST HUMANS! We’ve had 100 new A+ sign-ups today including 70 at Cobalt Level! I can’t wait to see what the numbers are when I wake up tomorrow! Your comments and support means the world to us. Right now my inbox is all staff writer applications, new member notifications and donation notifications, it’s a happy place to be.

    • I live in NY: expensive as fuck, on a non-profit salary. But Cobalt level membership? For me, not even a question.

      This site is clearly so necessary for all of us here, and you and the team deserve every bit of praise and financial reinforcement you receive!

  30. I’m living pretty close to the edge right now, but I am happy to have spent a small portion of my savings on a year of Bronze A+ membership. I thought it wasn’t feasible, but after reading this and considering the prospect of a bankrupt Autostraddle, I recalculated. Math is relative!

  31. Hella impressed that you folks pay all your writers, when you’re running on the smell of an oily rag (compared to places like HuffPo who don’t pay bloggers etc.)

    So impressed. So yes! I want to upgrade my membership too! How do I do that?

  32. I don’t plan to downgrade until I literally can’t afford it, so when my dog rescuing habit becomes too expensive to manage I will probably have to become a Cobalt member… until then I’m glad that it opens up the A+ experience to lots of straddlers who would’ve otherwise been unable to afford it!
    You guys are the best. <3

  33. I shop at amazon a lot. I think it would be really helpful if the auto straddle link to amazon was somewhere easy to find on the homepage (or maybe it is somewhere, i just don’t know where).
    Planning on joining cobalt once I’m sure my credit card can handle it. Thanks for the cheaper option.

  34. You guys are the best – thank you for your transparency in talking about the financial issues in running a website (and that super depressing infographic). In terms of the affiliate links, is there one for the Amazon UK store so that I can do something good even when shopping via an evil corporation?

  35. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how you do all the things and pay all the writers with a budget of just $25,000 per year. HOW.

    Business schools should pay you speaker’s fees to give a seminar on how you run AS b/c that’s seriously impressive.

    • oh we don’t anymore, that would be impossible! that graph is of the amount of money that has been invested into various media outlets, not their annual budgets. In November of 2009, when we were gonna give up, one of the people working with us was able to put $20k into the business and another put $5k in, and that’s what we survived on for all of 2010, when laneia and i were both full-time and alex was part-time. and that was the end of people investing any money into autostraddle, the rest we’ve made.

      • “And that was the end of people investing any money into autostraddle, the rest we’ve made.”

        That in and of itself is so impressive. That you’ve been able to raise funds on your own to keep this website afloat for going on 5 years now. AND have expanded that capital base enough be able to pay your writers. This is the stuff of feminist legends!

  36. I won an A+ membership a little while back, and I want to join for real in the next few months because I love you guys!! This seems like something perfectly reasonable to use my christmas bonus on.

  37. Also one of your won an account people, but I could in-real-life pull off cobalt without worry and am very happy to see you offering it. So, I shall now go figure out how to give up some of my birthday money. Some of me just wants to stick a check in an envelope and put a stamp on it as I never remember passwords for things like Paypal…

  38. I live in LA, as in Latin America, not Los Angeles 😛 and my income is less than $600/mo. I’ve come to AS almost daily for longer than I can remember and literally could not imagine my life without this space <3
    Since amazon and the merch store were out of reach for me, this is the first time I'll be able to contribute and I'm so happy! I'm signing up when I get my next pay.
    Thanks for all your hard, life-saving work.
    <3

  39. I’m currently a bronze supporter, and hope to go up a level soon! Just wanted to add to the love and support shown here – you guys rock! I’m only at the start of my queer journey, and it’s like autostraddle has held my hand through everything, a friend when I needed it the most. I’m starting to find my community locally now (with your help!), but would have been miles behind if it weren’t for your amazing articles, I can’t thank you guys enough! xxx

  40. I first came to AS in 2010, when I was coming out to myself and working up the courage to come out to friends and family. AS helped me so much in figuring out who I am and understanding that there are so many awesome queer women out in the world, even though there weren’t many in my immediate vicinity. It would be another few months before I came out publicly, and another two or three years before I said “Autostraddle” out loud, finally discovering others who were openly queer and liked the site. I am ashamed to say that I haven’t given a penny until today. I just signed up to be a Cobalt member and I’m hoping to buy a scissoring tshirt soon! I know that I would not be where I am today without the help of Autostraddle. Now, I have a large group of queer friends and an amazing girlfriend who also enjoys AS and frequently texts me links to articles. After years of lurking with the occasional comment, I’m also excited to start contributing to the community. Thank you for all that you do. If I ever get a raise or a higher paying job, I promise to move up to bronze.

  41. I don’t have a lot to say except that I love Autostraddle: its writers, its topics, its ethos, its goals. You guys are doing a great thing and for some weirdo reason I was reluctant to sign up for a recurring payment because even though I should be able to afford it I’m comically bad at budgeting/impulse control….but this is actually a great way to incentivize myself to be better. This is what’s important to me, not stress-shopping for candy or nail polish or…. honestly a surprising amount of my money goes into stress related candy/nail polish purchases. I could live without that stuff. But I don’t know where I’d be without Autostraddle, and specifically, an Autostraddle continuing to be able to build on its ideals of inclusion by being able to pay a wider range of writers. So I’m moving contributing Autostraddle into the mental “non-optional” category with rent and groceries as long as there’s room for it at all– which hopefully with Cobalt as backup for the Silver subscription I just bought, will be always…and impulse drugstore buys can go back into “optional if not totally wasteful” where they belong.

  42. Oh man, I love Autostraddle so much. I’m sticking with my silver membership but love that you’ve made the cobalt option and also that you trust the bronze level folks to keep supporting you. What would we do without you <3

  43. I’ve been reading Autostraddle regularly for about a year now. It’s an incredible website that’s run by amazing people. I finally signed up for an account and the bronze subscription today. I’m currently an unemployed student, but hopefully, I’ll be able to upgrade in the future! Good luck with everything!

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