Ads on the Alabaster Theme on Read the Docs Community Sites

We’ve been running our ethical advertising campaign for over a year now, and it is starting to show success on making Read the Docs more sustainable.

Over this time, we have only been running ads on Read the Docs themed projects. The primary reason for this is making sure that our display of ads is consistent and doesn’t negatively impact the user experience. We’re trying hard to build a sustainability model that respects our users, and making sure things are well designed and unobtrusive is an important part of this.

We’ve planned on expanding to other themes, but we haven’t simply because it didn’t give us any value. We serve about 60% of our traffic on the Read the Docs theme, so until we have 100% of those views sold, we haven’t expanded the themes. We’ve now hit that limit, so we’re planning to expand to our second most popular theme: Alabaster

We view our ad program as a way to raise revenue, and use that to better support the community. There are other ways that we can support the community as well, so today we’re also launching a Community Ads initiative. This will highlight projects in the community that we believe in and care about, and use around 10% of our traffic for those ads.

To explicitly repeat: we will start showing ads on Alabaster themes on Read the Docs starting in the beginning of July. We plan to roll this out in stages:

  • We’ll email the project owners of all projects using the Alabaster theme
  • We’ll start with an initial ad that points to this blog post for a few days
  • Then showing our Community Ad on Alabaster projects for a few days
  • Finally, we’ll expand to our full paid ad rotation

Read below to learn more about these specific projects, and what we’re doing with the money it brings in.

Changes to our advertising program

Along with this expansion of where we show the theme, we’re also updating our ad program in a few ways. In particular:

  • We will start showing Community Ads on around 10% of our traffic, for free. This will promote other open source projects, and other products/projects that we think are important, but don’t have money for ads.
  • Projects that opt out of normal advertising, as previously supported, will now be shown only ads from our Community Ads partners.
  • Users will be able to opt out of all paid ads with a profile setting, but will still see Community Ads.

Community Ads

There are a large number of projects that we care about in the software ecosystem. A large number of them are operate like we have for the past 6 years, with almost no income. Our new Community Ads program will highlight one of these projects each month.

We’ll show 10% of our ad inventory each month to support an open source project that we care about. We are working to set up an application process to be considered, but we’ve already picked our first Community Ad recipients: Sustain and Beeware:

Beeware is a collection of projects that can be used to help develop, debug and launch Python software. Each tool follows the Unix philosophy of doing one thing well. The primary goal is to bring Python to the browser, mobile devices, and everywhere else that we wish Python ran natively.

Sustain is a one-day conference about open source sustainability. We ran ads for it earlier this month, and it is now sold out.

Project & User opt out changes

Previously we’ve allowed project owners to opt out of advertising. We’re now expanding this to allow users to opt out of advertising as well. We are changing the meaning of opting out to mean opting out of paid ads. Everyone who has opted out of paid advertising will be shown Community Ads instead. We know some folks disagree with the ideas of companies paying for their attention, but we believe that supporting the efforts of projects in the community should be important to everyone.

To repeat, Users and Projects can now opt out of paid ads, but will be shown Community Ads instead.

What we’re doing with the money

We have a couple primary things that we are spending money on, and plan to spend money on:

  • Paying part of the full-time salaries for the primary maintainers of Read the Docs (Eric Holscher & Anthony Johnson)
  • Paying for contractors in order to support our users

I’d like to talk a bit more on each of these.

Paying Salaries

Read the Docs is a massive internet service. We serve around 30 million _pageviews_ a month (calculated by Google Analytics, this is over 200 million _requests_ a month.) We are currently running the entire show with two full-time staff, which is incredibly understaffed compared to most internet services.

We hope that over time we will be able to pay salaries for more people, but it’s hard to find qualified people who will work at below market rates. So, we’re focusing on hiring contractors at this point.

Paying to support our users

This is the primary goal of our new income from advertising. We brought on Manuel Kauffman for his time helping support our users on our GitHub issue tracker. We plan to expand this program with new income, so that we are able to provide our open source users with better support.

Please give us feedback

We’re making these changes to continue building a sustainable business model for open source. We try to be transparent with our thinking, and along those lines we’d like to know your thoughts. If there is anything else we could be doing better, please let us know.