Update on GMPuzzles

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I’m sharing here a message I sent to subscribers by email this weekend, which contains a lot of the emerging vision I have for 2020 and beyond. We’ll be back soon (but with no fixed date in 2020 for this return yet), but I’m excited for what is coming.


TL;DR: I’m writing to share an update with what should be good news as we will be back sometime in 2020, but with some immediate changes including the end to all subscriptions in their current form.

Dear subscribers,

As mentioned a few months ago, my full-time work in science and my goals for bigger things for GMPuzzles made it unsustainable to continue to do regular web puzzle posting, e-book publication, as well as routine subscriber reward fulfillment. It was not an easy decision to “pause” the site, but the words of encouragement from you — our loyal fans — have helped over November in clarifying our best approach to 2020 and beyond.

A couple common themes that you shared with me were that:

  • Many of you subscribed in part to just give back to a site that you loved (that you’d donate if you could and that I shouldn’t bother to send a refund*).
    • *I am still going to send you a refund for any 2020+ prepayments by end of year, as that is what any business should do in this situation.
  • The solving videos really helped you better understand the puzzles, author motivations, and tips to solve them. They were one of your favorite rewards.

Across these themes and others was a pretty clear signal that we have the right content (elegant hand-crafted puzzles from our group of authors) but the wrong approach at the moment for this content, particularly the wrong early monetization. The Patreon/subscriber reward type model was a first experiment but one that it is time to end. It makes it harder to do our job each week. A lot of the interactions because of the small scale have not been automated, like adding/subtracting names from the email list. Rewards that need me to reach out 2 or 3 times for a book choice (and I still am bothered when 15% have an unclaimed reward even after many messages). So when subscriptions after a couple years do not bring in too much revenue (and I don’t need the revenue at the moment to keep the site running for many years), I should return to focusing on the core strengths. One of my biggest regrets in going to the subscription model is that it greatly reduced the commenting on the GMPuzzles blog. We never had a technical solution to let you comment early when receiving the puzzles early, so the discussion from those who would print a puzzle out after 9 AM to do that day died away. I think it is important to have “events” to build a community like first releases to everyone at the same time, as well as other time-scale releases (products/books) that aren’t meant to be absorbed in the same way.

Building the puzzle community is the most important thing we should be doing right now. Our solving videos on Youtube are another important channel we’ve not tried to make the main channel. That is where I want to start an active web channel for me and other puzzlemasters who solve our GMPuzzles posts (and possibly outside puzzles like Puzzle Grand Prix puzzles) to discuss the beauty of puzzles as a means to *grow* a community, including a competitive puzzle community. Putting all the videos *behind* the paywall is a mistake I need to undo. I am going to unhide the whole channel very soon. I’ve already shared the full backlog of videos with you a couple weeks ago. I’m sharing it with the world, and going forward it is not a “reward” to learn how to solve a puzzle. It is a route into our community for people of any skill level.

So in 2020 (but not in January), we’re going to return to a predictable web posting schedule. We will add solutions in PDF form to each puzzle after a few days so that we can cut down on the only comments we still routinely get on the site that need moderation — people doubting we have a valid or unique puzzle solution (and we’ve never made an error *yet*). And we’ll probably completely remove the puzzle submission tracker but not the rating/fave system as it takes us extra work to define submissions, add arrows to our otherwise automatically generated art, and triple check we don’t have typos there (where again we have many checks on the puzzles but not the submissions). Keeping the good pieces and making them easier to get to you, with a focus on growing the audience, is the core theme for 2020. And I have a very good candidate (you may be able to guess who) for our Managing Editor position who will come on in January to ensure we have this predictability in all things GMPuzzles when we “unpause”.

As a business, we will still try to generate some revenue, by publishing and selling e-books. Once we get a routine schedule for these books to be published, including regular series we are launching like Grandmaster Puzzles Quarterly, we may turn on subscriptions again to let you receive some of our books at a discount. But we will have a far better technical solution for how to get you that content so that it can actually scale.

For seven years since launching the site, I’ve considered myself the main patron of GMPuzzles. I have put both time and money into seeing the puzzles I like to solve come about more. I’ve appreciated having other patrons take off some of this burden (financially), but the burden in time was actually larger than expected in doing so. So I’m improving the patronage goal by simplifying too. We will add a tip jar to the site. And we will let you choose whether you want to donate to GMPuzzles, to a puzzle author, or to both at some ratio. GMPuzzles is stronger than just me, and you should have a way as we grow the community of puzzle authors alongside the community of puzzle solvers to encourage their art.

While this is a long message, I want to close the mail with a simple message of thanks. For as much as you’ve thanked me for our puzzles, I am as appreciative of the thoughtful comments, patience, and dedication you’ve shown me and the site over the years. I would not find the energy to continue to try to make GMPuzzles a larger thing if not for all of you!


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