Today marks the end of this column and with it, the end of this site as you know it. It comes at the end of what has been a very frustrating few weeks in which a deal to save this column could not be worked out.
This site has been such a big part of my life that I’m not sure quite how I feel about it all coming to an end. Mixed feelings really. Relief that I will no longer have a Sunday deadline to meet. Disappointment in the totally unnecessary way it has ended. Pride in what I have achieved.
I had no idea that what started almost 19 years ago as a bit of fun would grow in to a popular website with a large and loyal following. But nothing is forever and everything has its day. The time has come to say goodbye.
Rewinding back to 1998, I’d been living in Bangkok for 6 months when I bit the bullet and bought a computer. That was an admission to myself that I would be sticking around for a while. The original plan was to stay in Bangkok for a year, two tops. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would stay for 17 long years.
Back then our lives weren’t entwined with the online world in the same way they are today so you didn’t need a computer. At the same time, stopping by an Internet café once or twice a week to check emails and read news from home wasn’t exactly convenient.
Within weeks of getting a computer, the first edition of this site was online. It was a bit of fun, a way to share my thoughts on life as a newbie expat in Bangkok with anyone who might happen upon them.
I bought my first digital camera in 1999 and this site was one of the first Bangkok expat websites to feature images. That was a boon – photographs on a website was cutting edge back then!
I loved the Bangkok lifestyle and enjoyed writing about my new life. Emails came in from people all around the world as I came to realise that others liked my take on life in Bangkok and encouraged me to write more.
It was never about the money in the early days and for years I beavered away on this site without any financial reward. It was a hobby and I did it entirely for fun. The reward I got was the opportunity to exchange ideas with readers, many of whom I would go on to meet, some of whom would become good friends – and a few of whom I am still in regular contact with today.
I guess it was around 2000 or 2001 when an Israeli living on Ko Samui contacted me. He operated a flower delivery service where he personally delivered flowers and a message to bargirls from their boyfriends abroad. He was keen to get a banner ad up on the site to promote his business. My reply was something along the lines of “Banner ads would make the site look ugly. Sorry, I am not interested!” But he persisted, I relented and he took a boat and an overnight train from Ko Samui all the way up to Bangkok to hand me 4,000 baht in person to pay for a banner ad for a month.
It was not long before more local businessman contacted me, keen to get themselves promoted. Before I knew it I was making more from this website than my teaching income and investments combined.
There was a time when owning a bar in Thailand was a licence to print money. Thaksin was in charge and business was booming. Companies providing services to expats were opening every month and sentiment in expat circles was extremely positive. Visitor numbers increased every year – and much of that increase was farangs. The dollar, the pound and the Euro were all strong, and everyone was living large. Just as it was a good time to be a bar owner, 2004 – 2008 was a golden period for Bangkok webmasters. There was fun to be had and money to be made, lots and lots of money. That really was a great time to be in Thailand. I loved my life there and I really loved running this website.
One of the best times was the official Stickman readers’ submission writers get-together in 2006 when we filled The Big Mango Bar in Nana Plaza with many of the big name writers like Dana, BKKSW, Marc Holt, Pothole Research and Korski.
Stickman was humming. At its peak, this site’s Alexa ranking – an independent website which ranks websites – placed this site at 26,000 in the world. (Anything in the top 100,000 is a real achievement for an independent website.) Those were the days when I was publishing 3 or 4 readers’ stories a day and receiving 100 emails a day was not unusual. And yeah, I read and responded to each and every one of them. Each week I would write the weekly column, and proof-read & publish 20 odd readers’ stories a week. Each month I was carrying out on average 6 or 7 investigations, all of this while working full-time as a teacher. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed it.
There were frequent trips to Pattaya to gather news and hang out with friends, and I made a point of meeting at least one new Stickman reader every week, someone I had never met before. Those were the glory days of this site…good times, good friends, and very good money.
2010 was the turning point. Readers’ submissions, the number of emails I received and advertising revenue all came off their highs – but all were all coming off such lofty highs that I was not at all concerned. The combination of the effects of the global financial crisis, a change in visitor demographics and increased competition with more Bangkok-centric websites and forums meant that turning things around would be a challenge. The peak might have passed, but life was still pretty good.
I can’t be sure exactly when I first seriously thought about returning to New Zealand. It had always been in the back of my mind. As much as I liked Thailand, I never considered myself a lifer. In 2014 I made the decision to move back to New Zealand and announced in the column that I planed to stop the column when I left Thailand, in early 2015. I’ve written about it before and don’t really want to go over old ground but to recap, I was just days away from calling it quits when someone expressed interest in buying the site. It took 5 long months for that deal to be finalised and in September 2015 I sold a majority share of Stickman and signed the StickmanBangkok.com domain name away.
I might have left Thailand but I continued to run the site and write the column from New Zealand. It shouldn’t have worked. How can you write a Bangkok expat / bar news column from halfway around the world? I had been doing it for so long that I had an established network of people feeding me news and gossip – a mix of friends, bar bosses / bar managers and regular bargoers. What wasn’t perhaps obvious was that I hadn’t been spending much time in the bars in the years before I left Thailand. Sure, I would go out when a friend from home was in town, and I would go out and do photo shoots often enough, but seldom did I make the rounds of the bars more than once a week. And when I did go out I was on a mission to gather news and gossip. Going out to the bars for a fun night out was in the distant past. Some weeks I would not go out to the naughty bar areas at all – and I didn’t have to because I had a steady stream of news coming in. What became more important was not gathering the news, but knowing who to trust and having systems in place to verify everything that came my way. The bottom line is that when I moved back to New Zealand it was not that different from how it had been in the years before I left Thailand. To verify stuff I would send trusted friends / bar industry figures an email or a message on the Line app, rather than call them. Or I could call them by voice on WhatsApp or Line if need be. Of course, the column should be better if you’re writing it while on the ground in Bangkok but that’s not to say you can’t still produce a decent read from outside the country.
I do enjoy putting the column together from New Zealand. I signed a contract that stipulated that I would continue to write the Stickman column and I would be paid for that. The majority owner’s responsibilities were the technical side of the site and monetising it. He did a tremendous job with the site technically and a lousy job generating revenue. And that is why we are where we find ourselves today.
When the majority owner said that was no longer able to pay me, it was a deathblow. In retrospect, I should have written my final column when he first told me, instead of writing The End Is Near and hanging on for a deal that would never eventuate. As much as I like writing this column and running this site – and as willing as I am to continue with it – it’s too much work to do it for nothing.
There was talk of a deal being done with the site being sold and me staying on as an employee but a deal has not been reached.
I left Thailand almost 2 and a half years ago and while I have made various trips back to Bangkok, I am firmly ensconced in New Zealand and very happy to be here. I don’t wish to disassociate myself with Thailand, but I would like to disengage with the place to some extent, at least for the time being. And not being paid to write the column means that there just isn’t sufficient reason to continue with it.
This site has a large and loyal following and when I wrote 3 weeks ago that the end was near I received a massive number of emails from readers keen to see it continue. But like I say, without financial reward it’s just too much time, too much effort and as such, this really is the end.
I am not sure what will happen next. The site will most likely stay online but there is a serious conversation that has to be had, copyright and contract issues that need to be discussed and I just don’t know what will come of it.
There is no grand finale column. Maybe I’ll save that for a book. Or maybe this is the end of Stickman entirely and I’ll never write another word as “Stick” after today.
To everyone who has tuned in over the years, whether you’ve been with me since the beginning or have been but an occasional visitor, thank you for being part of the Stickman community.
Your Bangkok commentator for the last time,