Blog: 52,000+ fake subscribers?! Bring it

For three weeks, I’ve had a problem. On your side of the screen, it didn’t look too bad, but when I checked my email the morning of Aug 23, something was wrong – I had 760 messages (Clue #1) – and each one of them was a new subscription signup. When I hit Refresh, another 80 appeared, and by the end of that day, it was more than 16,000. I was being spammed big time, and when I figured out how to stop it a few days later, I had 52,430 fake signups to The Peachland Phoenix. I wasn’t collecting money, (and all my customers are protected), but if I had…well. This business would be making me more than $2.5 million a year!

To make a long story short, I’ve had a lot of back and forth (fruitlessly) with WordPress, zero communication with a Kelowna-based IT person who said she was on it two weeks ago, a suspicious email that makes me wonder whether someone is trying to do my business harm, and the reinforcement of yet another lesson for this first-time business owner: It’s on me.

I didn’t think much of it when I first started out (six months ago today, actually), but I remember hearing that entrepreneurship can be lonely. It’s because, in part anyway, no one really cares about your business the way that you care about your business. You have to muck through the stuff you don’t understand and don’t want to deal with (all the while worrying that you’re not writing, which for my business, is kind of the whole point!)

The big plus in all this is that I’ve learned a lot since Aug. 23. I know more about WordPress admin-type stuff than I thought possible, and the full week I spent going over 52,000+ user accounts and parsing out the reals from the fakes gave me renewed focus on what counts here: My subscribers. Yes, thousands of subscribers would be great. More money is good. But this isn’t a business based on clicks and advertising revenue, so I don’t need to be aggressive in getting those numbers in order to survive. I have 160 customers right now who over the past six months, took the time to sign up. They’re willing to pay me $4 a month (or $48 a year) to write local, original news stories, something I love to do. They give me feedback and ideas, and that’s why I end up writing different articles than what you’ll read in the local paper. My revenue is based solely on subscribers, so you better believe I’m here to serve them through the stories I write.

In the thick of all this (fake signups, accidentally deleted legitimate customers, more fake signups), I got an email from a subscriber who was among the first to support me back in March. She’s putting $4 a month on her credit card – and wanted to know if she could e-transfer me for a year’s subscription instead.
“Rather than have you pay the credit card processing fees each month, would you prefer to be paid a year in advance via e-transfer?,” she asked.

So considerate. Also, Yes please! I lose almost 50 cents every time (so if you want to pay this way, just send me an email).

“Any way to save a few dollars is worthwhile, in my mind,” said my awesome subscriber. “I’m proud to support such a great source of news in my community.”

There’s some motivation to keep going! It’s actually not just me, my customers really care – and as I’ve said before, this is everything.

We’re all hearing about supporting local. Did you know you can do that with the information you consume? I don’t have thousands of readers and my social media reach is comparatively tiny. I don’t have an IT person or a federally-funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter or more than $29,000 in special projects / advertising coming in from the District. The government has all sorts of initiatives to keep local media going, but as other independent outlets have pointed out, it doesn’t support this emerging, reader-supported model.

Six months in, I can say there’s huge value in being totally independent. What subscribers are telling me is they want local news stories that are original, well-balanced and aren’t written from press releases picked up by outlets throughout the Valley. I write what my subscribers want, and it’s from the perspective of a fellow Peachlander. Just me, my vehicle and my laptop. And my supporters. I’ve gone through each and every one of your names, I recognize you all. And again, I very much appreciate your support. The next six months? Bring it!

-Kristen

(Thanks to Matthew Abrey for the photo!)

Written by Kristen Friesen

September 15, 2020

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