Columns, Cut&Run, Interviews, Job Applications, Letters, Patreon, Rants, Uncategorized

No more Mr Freebie guy…

Right, then.

Every once in a while, I get the need to shake things up. That’s my five-year plan. Try to fix stuff that isn’t broken. Ruin a good thing. Fill the comfort zone with pepper spray and lock everyone inside.

In late 2018, the Sunday Tribune in Durban made the calamitous decision to terminate my Durban Poison column. Cast adrift, with no realistic way of making money short of getting a proper job, I thought my column-writing days may be over. Before I could properly celebrate, I received an outpouring of support.

Someone called Craig was one of the first to suggest a viable alternative. “Simple solution,” he wrote. “A site all of us who appreciate Ben’s work can subscribe to. He has a huge following and rightly so. I suggest a stipend a month to read his incredible wit. Whatever you think it is worth. Will keep him in beer and all of us highly entertained. I hope everyone is in.”

I thought it was a brilliant idea.

I had been posting my columns on a blog since 2011. With the prospect of actually earning a living from my writing, I spent thousands of beer money on setting up a proper website. The problem is that people who paid to subscribe were getting the same content as those who didn’t pay. Over time, many eventually cancelled their monthly payments – I am nevertheless grateful for their contribution to the cause.

In 13 years, I’ve put up 850 posts. A total of 682,291 people have visited my site and a staggering 987,008 views have been logged. I say staggering because that’s the condition I was in after writing most of the columns. Right now, I have 62,216 subscribers. Of those, two die-hards are still paying their R100 a month. Thanks, Peter and Geoff. The other 62,214 are getting my stuff for free. Not an ideal business model, you’ll agree.

I’m not only not making money from this venture, but, factoring in the cost of hosting the site, I’m coming out at a loss. I might be financially retarded, but even I know this doesn’t make sense.

I’m deeply grateful to all of you who have made a point of reading my stuff over the years. You’re good people. Mostly.

So I hope you’ll follow me over to:

For the modest sum of $5 a month, you’ll not only get my weekly column but also fresh material and other goodies that I’m working on. Automatic notifications when stuff is posted.

In case you’re concerned, Patreon isn’t some dodgy, fly-by-night outfit, so rest assured that your patronage will end up in the right place, i.e. with me.



PS. Sign up to get the latest column.

Thursday 28 March, 2024

“I like our Speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. I really do. And not just because I prefer a full-figured woman with a wig fetish. I’m attracted to her lack of criminal ambition. She reminds me of myself. In a pool of killer whales looking for an easy meal, she’s a pyjama shark…”

Sign up and read the full column here:

21 thoughts on “No more Mr Freebie guy…

  1. Tony Sanders says:

    Fark. Can you lend me a fiver till the weather breaks?

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      The weather’s not the only thing that’s going to break around here

  2. Hi Ben

    I’m so grateful to hear this news because for years I’ve been feeling so so guilty for not paying for your writing.
    I actually promised myself I would send you a lump sum once I started earning Uk pounds and then it turned out I wasn’t earning that much and for very long …. But in the end I don’t think there is really any excuse.
    I m back in SA – I’m not well off but I feel the need to subscribe because I love your columns and need to assuage my guilt!

    Deborah xxx

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Thanks Deborah. I wish everyone suffered from that kind of guilt. Assuage away!

  3. Jacko (Jacqueline Truzzell) says:

    I have really enjoyed your column. Thank you for many chuckles and laughs. I wish you all the best. Sadly I am not in a position to join up. Ask SARS – I am way below their radar. I will miss your pearly words and political digs.

  4. Charlotte says:

    It’s not so much that I don’t want to join all you guys on the Patreon Party Bus.
    It’s more that I can’t. But I can and do wish you lots of lovely lolly…
    Will miss you, Ben.

  5. Simple Steve says:

    Fuck you Travato, how dare you suggest suirable reward for effort ?? That kinda capitalism crap is for the owners of luxury German sedans and underpants. I own neither. But that’s by choice, not because I’m a cheap bastard. In fact I’m considering joining the ranks of capitalist pigs myself in the future. But it shall me before you. I did not join the struggle to still be wiping my arse with next week’s copy of the Cape Times yesterday. I demand you keep me amused for free…’s the easiest (and cheapest) of my demands to comply with !!

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Being a cheap bastard is one of your better qualities, Simple Steve

  6. Verne Maree says:

    Done, Ben. You’ve earned it… if only for having to sweat through all that arithmetic. 🙂

  7. Alan Paterson says:

    Hi Ben! Politicians have to eat, that’s a given. That’s why I try not to pay taxes, e-Tolls, traffic fines, licence discs, rates and other non-essentials (alimony is essential at risk of castration). Otherwise only booze and ciggies are crucial for life. The latter on principle I buy from a vendor next to the bus stop. I assume the profit goes to the EFF, Call it a campaign contribution although I’m not proud of this. But Trovato is definitely an essential. I have thus written a cheque for $5 and this morning pushed it under the door at the Post Office. There’s a big sign saying “closed” but maybe for Easter, maybe forever. If not received by 31st March then plan B will be activated. My only misgiving is that someone who flies to Costa Rica regularly must have a secret stash. Are you a secret cadre after all?

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Implement plan B immediately

  8. Susan McCready says:

    Hi Ben
    Yes, it seems you do need a more rigorous software to discipline your many fans. I myself thought i was a paid-up subscriber, and on checking, note that i am guilty as charged! My credit card account shows the R100 for one month only (March 23) and instead of being a monthly occurrence, as i was under impression i had subscribed, i now note that it was once off!! Previous to this, i found that my current account kept dumping the debit order. Tried two different banks, back then, but no joy.
    Best i can do now is subscribe via Patreon which i have done. i sincerely hope it is an automatic monthly debit from now on. But have learnt my lesson and will be checking … this comes with my apologies for my oversight and Thanks for the 2nd chance!
    All the best with the new venture. You deserve your success!

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Thank you, Susan. You are a kind and noble woman and I hope some of it rubs off on the niggardly wastrels who claim to be fans.

  9. John Holloway says:

    Not really for public consumption.
    Though you may think not fit for human consumption.
    Also good.
    Anyway, instead of thinking ‘what a pity’ – because it is – I thought I’d try a constructive response.

    Your reader/free-subscriber numbers are amazing. You’ve got the goose in hand.
    Read on for how to get the golden egg – and maybe many . . .

    I hope you have a satisfying flood of paying response.
    But if not, failure to harvest a goodly number of paying subscribers, given how many ‘freebie fans’ you have, will be the proof you need that you just need to try harvesting them differently – until it does work. Your content is funny and unique and has proven appeal. QED, if it doesn’t sell (now), then whatever you’re doing to sell it must be wrong. Yes, it’s never the audience’s fault for not ‘buying properly’. Don’t be the spectator to all this audience fruit falling of the trees, and you’ve got plenty of it – overripe, just because you can’t get the ladder to work. If you need more response (otherwise ignore what follows – maybe this worked as well as you wanted it to) – try follow-ups to this article. Publish it, or variations on it, multiple times (frequency works – but first jot down a plan); vary by appealing to each segment of your audience with a benefit relevant to them; use different article headlines and email subject headings until you hit the ones that work; include a benefit at headline level (doesn’t have to be material – peeps mostly want comfort and security at base, however packaged); attach the continuation of this benefit to registration on your patreon site (but it’s a long way from here – so maybe also appeal to material greed with a money-off, limited time offer, however creatively and alternatively you can phrase that). Wealth is no barrier to greed when it comes to freebies – you’ve experienced that from previous subscribers – so turn the tables, offer the greedy bastards something. If you let off a series of such attempts, response will first rise, then fall. So carry on repeating approaches until response falls. Then try writing to the non-responders personally – especially those stage 1 respondents who’d said they’d go to patreon in response to the money off (or whatever) offer, but didn’t arrive there. Work out how to find out who these are. You’ll get more response out of them than out of a random selection of all your readers. They’re half ready to go and only require another, small push. Etc. (If this sounds like it’s from a textbook it probably is. I was doing this stuff when they were being written – well, with the exception of really old guys, like John Caples. Though, if you think you’ve got a better idea, you may be right – creatives are the best strategists. But if you just think I’m wrong, I’m probably not. There are years of boring numbers that prove that this kind of thinking works. PS – I don’t do this for a living any longer, so feel free (because it will be) to follow up with questions or insults. (Good clients always did both : ) Oh yes, and you can test writing to subscribers – and even just commenters – by writing to just a few of them, even sending different approaches to different small groups to see which approach works best. (If you do, personalise the emails – response will be much higher.)

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      I appreciate your suggestions, John. But they made my brain hurt.

  10. Bel says:

    Hi Ben, As I’m a pensioner you’re now out of my league. I wish you all the best, you’re a talented writer and often had me in tears of laughter. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      You silver-tongued charmer, you. Perhaps I’ll toss a freebie your way now and again.

  11. Keith says:

    I’m more than willing to subscribe, but just how much is $5 per month in local ZAR currency? Since I’m not a supporter of either the walking dead (Biden) or the sentient naartjie (good ole Donald), but a real-life inhabitant of the best banking system in the world (depositing my cash in my couch) as ole New Dawn so ably demonstrated, is there a local subscription fee?

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      As of 28 April, the local subscription fee is R93.90. Of course, this may change if Jacob Zuma becomes president again…

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