Today is the Stew’s third anniversary! We launched on May 12, 2008, with almost the same lineup of gnomes but a whooole lot fewer readers, articles, comments, and subscribers.

It’s been a fun three years, and we hope you’re having as much fun reading the Stew as we are publishing articles here. We just crossed article number 900, and we’re on our way to 1,000!

The real news today is our third anniversary contest, though: Guess how old the gnomes are, in days, and win a $103 gift certificate!

But if you like stats, by all means pull up a chair and check out our 2010-2011 numbers — and, if you’re so inclined, help us solve a problem at the same time.

I do these state of the Stew articles twice a year, on our anniversary and around New Year’s Eve, and if nothing else they’re a good record of how things are going here in the stew pot.

Year Three: The Year of Masks

Our second year was the year of Eureka, Gnome Stew’s first book, which has gone on to sell over 1,100 copies in less than a year. Year three has been the year of Masks, our second book, which we announced in March.

Like Eureka, Masks is a system-neutral GMing resource — a book of 1,000 NPCs usable with any roleplaying game — and like Eureka, when the dust settles it will have taken us close to a year to produce it. We are, in two words that would make a great name for a punk band, anal motherfuckers.

Notoriously tight-lipped anal motherfuckers, actually (which sounds more like some kind of detestable ska band), because we don’t talk much about our books until they’re nearly done. Masks is nearly done, and it’s been a hell of a ride. Watching Eureka sell well in every venue, and reading reactions from GMs and reviewers, has been a hell of a ride as well.

We have another Masks preview right around the corner — the cover — followed by an announcement shortly after that (the author of our foreword). Then we’ll start in on previews of the actual text of the book, likely sometime in June. Stay tuned!

Also the Year of Other Cool Things

The Stew in other languages: Thanks to the efforts of some very cool fans of the Stew, you can now read our ramblings in other languages: Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.

The year of a million: Gnome Stew had its on millionth unique visitor earlier this year — a million people visited this blog in less than three years! That’s amazing to me.

Our new server: We moved the Stew to its own server, upgrading from shared webhosting that was essentially free to a $34/month virtual private server (VPS). That gave us us dedicated RAM and resources and made the site much faster and more responsive for our readers. It’s been totally worth it.

Amazon linkage: We also started partnering with Amazon, and we asked our readers to click the link in the sidebar before making Amazon purchases — a simple way to support the site and help pay for our server without costing you a dime. We’ve earned about $129 this way since January, or about $32/month — the perfect amount to cover server costs! We appreciate everyone who has supported the site this way — thank you!

Look, Ma, Numbers!

Year three site traffic:

Year three RSS/email subscribers:

  • 2,120+ registered members, 25% growth (5/09: 1,100+, 5/10: 1,700+)
  • 3,700+ RSS and email subscribers, 17% growth (5/09: 2,100+, 5/10: 3,175
  • Nearly 181,000 unique visitors and over 351,000 total visits, a 10% drop and a 9% drop, respectively (5/09: 188,000/316,000, 5/10: 210,000/387,000)
  • …of those 181,000, 51% visited more than once, a 4% gain (Google changed how this is tracked, so these are percentages now: 5/09: 41%, 5/10: 47%)
  • 644,000 pageviews, a 9% drop (5/09: 619,000, 5/10: 708,000)
  • The gnomes have posted over 900 articles (5/09: 400, 5/10: 650)
  • …which have attracted over 12,000 comments (5/09: 5,200, 5/10: 8,900)

This is the first year where we saw drops in several stats, which is a bit disheartening.

We gained members (up 25%, which is awesome — but compared to 55% growth from year one to year two, less awesome) and subscribers (up 17%, but hasn’t moved in awhile), and repeat visitors went up by 4%, but we lost ground everywhere else: a 10% drop in visitors, down 9% in visits, a 9% drop in pageviews, and fewer comments (3,100 vs. 3,700 in year two).

I’m not a stats or numbers guy, but here’s what I see in that picture: I see a site that’s hit a plateau, doesn’t seem as fresh anymore, and which has coalesced around a core group of members without much new growth in the past year. I think that having fewer visitors and pageviews but more repeat visits backs that up, as does the rate of growth in new members.

But I also see a site that’s thriving: We won a silver ENnie award for Best Blog thanks to your support, and we published a book that’s been received better, and sold better, than we could have imagined. Those are awesome things for any site, and hell, even our smaller stats for year three would make many sites envious. I’m also particularly proud of our readers and your comments, 12,000 strong and featuring virtually zero bullshit — that signal:noise ratio is as strong as ever.

Stepping back another few paces, I see a site that’s had to fight for its authors attention more in the past year than in prior years. Publishing Masks, which has been time-consuming, has also coincided with a general increase in real-life-busyness among the gnomes, a combination that shows up pretty clearly (to me) in our site stats.

I’d like to cross the plateau and get Gnome Stew back to growing, and climbing, in year four!

What Are We Doing Wrong?

I feel a bit funny ringing in our anniversary — a damned cool milestone that we’re thrilled to have achieved — with what’s frankly kind of a downer article, but the numbers don’t lie and I’m not one to avoid the writing on the wall: I think Gnome Stew is doing something wrong.

Why? Because if we weren’t, we’d have seen growth across the board in year three. Maybe not the explosive growth we saw in our second year, but growth. Or am I just tired, overworked, and overthinking this? (If so, tell me!)

With that in mind, I’d like to ask you, our readers, two questions: 1) What’s the Stew doing wrong?, and 2) What can we do better?

Thank you!

I never miss a chance to say thank you to our readers, and there are few better opportunities than a third anniversary: THANK YOU! You really do rock, and we value each and every visitor, commenter, and subscriber. We write this site for you, and for GMs everywhere, and you’re why we keep at it.