We’re excited to announce the start of our first subscription season of GMPuzzles. Please go to our store to purchase the 3-month, 175+ puzzle subscription for July-September. You will immediately receive one week of puzzles by download as well as instructions to register an account on the blog (after which you should be able to see the same week of puzzles in your gmpuzzles.com/blog view right away too). The next week of daily puzzles will start posting on Monday, July 10th.
The rest of this post will talk a little about our journey to figure out “how” to implement subscriptions where we’ve already covered the “what” in an earlier post.
As previously discussed, we had decided earlier this year to try to combine the best of our books and blog to make a single product platform for delivering high-quality puzzles and encouraging more author/solver communication. But we had to explore ways to get some of these ideas to work. For a long time we’ve had a vision of a single place for making/sharing/solving/talking about puzzles, where instead of “books” solvers would be buying “puzzle packs”, with more visible FAVE ratings and ways to highlight the best authors more regularly than once a year, a place we could repackage some of our easiest puzzles from the blog to make better tutorials for new solvers, that could do more interactive hinting/checking, …. Of course that vision is big, and not something we could do all at once or by ourselves without any full-time engineers on the team.
But we had already achieved a lot in 2020-2022 to digitize our entire blog archive using Penpa-Edit and to put digital solving options and solution animations into our Starter Pack series of books. So we thought we might be able to continue bootstrapping into a better puzzle platform through new integrations or interfaces with other available tools, to at least get something to launch with that would manage puzzle delivery (with content restriction), communication, and some other core needs.
I had entered the year pretty sure the blog format was in need of a refresh (and I was also getting tired of all the time it takes me to manage posts and comments), so encouraged the team to explore other tech platforms we could integrate on top of. We (particularly Serkan) spent over a month building a Discord-based prototype of GMPuzzles and did active testing with some members of our audience, only to receive mixed reviews but helpful feedback. We learned a lot about ways to improve some of our content while amplifying posts/authors in different ways. But we simply could not capture all of the best aspects of our current blog such as having a rich “archive” of puzzles/tags/difficulties that could be quickly searched — something that works both for people solving live with new posts and for those going back later. Discord would only be a solution, in our implementation, for live solvers. We also found that some of our basic puzzle tracking tools needed better replacements than we had come up with if we were going to make a move, something that would have delayed our ability to launch. (We still like several aspects of Discord and are still using it across the team for communication and project discussion. We are also making it a bonus part of the subscription to give solvers a log-in token to our GMPuzzles Discord for now as we continue to experiment with different communication and puzzle interaction.)
Coming back to the drawing board, it came back to me to see if we could do a very clean WordPress integration so we could launch by the end of June with the content we already had available. Some WordPress tools are out there, particularly for people releasing online courses or doing “content-dripping” where people get new posts every day or week after the specific time they subscribe. But we didn’t want to invest too much time in a third payment processing route right away or in needing to make large changes to the format of our posts or our database back-end. After several tests and some customization, we’ve ended up with a front-end that still uses Shopify and a back-end that gives users a login to our WordPress blog with as close to the same experience as you all had before. The one difference is you can see more puzzles/posts when you have subscribed to some of the content.
- When logged in with the appropriate subscriptions, a user should see all the new content and be able to comment on the blog posts or mark FAVE/SOLVE or do other steps just like before. Searches for the “easiest Aqre” puzzles will now pull from subscription and archive puzzles for such a user.
- When not logged in, a user can see all the old content (but will have a sign in the “Subscription Puzzles”/”Season 1” category in the left menu with an increasing count of puzzles that they can see but not access that new stuff is out there).
We’re also set up for the next several months and for some new ideas too. We can have multiple different kinds of subscriptions and we’re starting with “seasons” of daily posts as our first kind of new product. While we haven’t turned it on yet, there is also a “Beginner” track to the Season 1 subscription that just has the six easiest puzzles each week. We expect later this summer to open this up for sharing gift subscriptions, and potentially for some free trials. We are also thinking of reworking “books” which used to just come as downloadable PDFs into also being accessible via blog posts and pages too, making them more like “puzzle packs” that add into the archive of puzzles a solver on GMPuzzles has access to and can search for in one familiar interface. We have the technical capability of releasing them gradually (so after someone buys a Yajilin pack, they always get 1-2 new puzzles each day for a full month or more) or we could still release them all at once.
There may be some small issues to resolve (we’ve been dealing with a small RSS/feed issue in final testing that may have shown a few of you we were posting again), but we’ve gone through successful initial testing and have 13 subscription puzzles posted and 13 more queued up starting July 10th. So with this fresh start, the next year of GMPuzzles is back on with many more puzzles to come.
I still don’t expect that WordPress is the be all/end all tech platform that GMPuzzles will use indefinitely, but it is now set to support today’s launch and several other subscriptions for the next year or more. And we do want to invest (eventually) in a more powerful platform in general and some more tools for enhancing the solver experience. We’ve learned the GMPuzzles archive/database (including puzzles people have bought via subscriptions/books) is at the top of the list for most of our audience when comparing us to other places. So we will always start, in technical considerations like an API on top of Penpa-Edit or anything else, in making sure we can support the searching and tracking aspects of our content better than we do on the current blog before making a change.
This is still an important transitional year for GMPuzzles and for me, and I’ve encouraged us to make decisions by looking for a state and a date in the future that we want to see. So that is where I’ve made a two-pronged commitment to the team and community. If we can reach “X” subscribers by the end of December (which won’t yet be self-sustaining but is a fair number comparable to our best-ever selling book), I’ll put more investment into our technical stack beyond what we have already done. On the other hand if we can’t even reach “Y” paying subscribers by the end of December we may slow down or stop some of what we are doing. I expect to be delighted to reach and surpass “X” this year, because it isn’t that high a number relatively speaking and is mostly about recapturing our current audience; and with gift subs and other new ideas to expand reach we might be able to get to the larger numbers we want to see to be successful into 2024+. I won’t reveal “X” and “Y” here at the moment, but we’ll celebrate the rise of subscribers as we hit these milestones in the coming months. We hope you will sign up and continue into this next phase of GMPuzzles.