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IMPORTANT: The forum is (not) closing down!
Right, that hopefully got your attention...
Actually it's not closing down just yet but I've recently had to consider that possibility.
When the forum was established back in 2012 I signed up on the Vanilla small community plan for $50 a month. That provided everything we needed and included 50,000 page views a month.
Now, 3 years on Vanilla has noticed that we are exceeding that by a factor of 10 or so (peak page views this year have been about 950,000 a month) and want me to start paying more. The same factor more.
The forum is monetised using SkimLinks which converts URLs into affiliate links and that generates enough to cover current fees, and will go some way to covering the new cost, but it won't meet it entirely.
The main site where most of the income is generated to there's no immediate problem of not being able to cover the increased fees but I will need to look at other monetisation methods for the forum and I'd appreciate your advice on how best to do that.
Possible options are:
- Adverts shown to all
- Adverts shown only to non-members
- Parts of the forum subscription (e.g. marketplace)
- Rehosting the forum somewhere else. The Vanilla software is open source.
What are your thoughts? Any other suggestions?
Would it matter if it did shut down? (I think I know the answer to this, but will ask it anyway)
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Recent discussions •
What would a sponsorship look like? "BricksetForums Brought to you by Toyota?"
What about setting up a voluntary donation page where the funds can go directly to supporting this forum? I don't mind the adverts; Facebook is free, but it can't get any worse than that...can it?
In terms of ideas, I think adverts would be the best option, assuming they would raise enough money. However, I think I probably speak for most people on here when I say that pretty much anything should be considered to keep it going.
Just a thought, but if hosting a forum alone would cost a lot less than $500, why not get someone to code Brickset-specific forums from scratch? I assume you've already discounted that idea (on grounds of cost most likely), but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway.
Having run a site before and having to rely entirely on generating revenue to keep it open, a couple of thoughts...
1. Advertising (sometimes) is a simple way to go and users of the forum can ignore them for the most part, so they aren't that annoying. The issue is that online advertisers don't pay nearly what they did a few years ago for the most part. But, @Huw, you have enough hits to this place that a number should be interested I'd think. Put bluntly, advertisements being present would not stop me from coming here.
2. As a frequent user of this place (more so in recent months), I'd be willing to pay a subscription to being a part of the forum. The problem is, not everyone would be willing. That's where donating might be better. But it has the same problem, not everyone will donate. What about a read for free, pay to post model? Where you can read all you want, but if you want to post discussions or comments then you must be a subscriber. Anyway, I don't see myself leaving anytime soon, so I'd be willing to pay. The value of this place is enough for me. I'm not sure what that number is, but I can definitely say I wouldn't leave just because it wasn't free.
3. I'm not a fan of adding a transaction fee to marketplace sales. It could definitely work, but I think one of the advantages of the marketplace over eBay or whatever else is that a couple of people can come together, agree on a price, and make an easy transaction. Almost like we were negotiating in person. It just makes it simple. I've made three transactions through the marketplace in the past two months - one sale, one purchase, one trade - and they were all very simple and to the point. That to me is a definite benefit to this place.
What do you mean? "Facebook is free"
When you open up a FB account you are the product! I have no FB, and if FB wants all my personal info, they should pay me, I value my privacy. As long as it is not necessary in any professional capacity, no way, I will never ever sign on! Besides who cares about all the nonsense people post there about where they are at what time, and what they ate for breakfast this morning etc.
Like @BumblepantsI too prefer adverts over subscription, but I don't mind making a donation if that helps.
Since as you @Huw said it is open software, rehosting might be the option to go for, though I suppose that all depends on hosting costs elsewhere. IDK, I am not very knowledgeable on such things. These are just my two proverbial cents, for now.
Also get quotes from other suppliers as I would not be sure that the Vanilla is the cheapest/best hosting provider.
It would also offer more flexibility with regards to customisation. I installed it myself about a year ago, just to give it a bit of a security poke :)
If it where me I would macro set numbers to include a buy it now link that gets you paid.
I'd have to think a really long time about a subscription though. I like it here, but I don't know that I really post enough to warrant paying a subscription.
And if you're even remotely thinking about ads (which a) ugh and b) let's be honest, will be blocked by most savvy people anyway), why not have those "ads" be for the main site and the discount links and affiliate links and such, so that you can directly monetize the folks you have here.
With my businessman head on, I'd have thought the best bet is to find a cheaper hosting solution to start with, and then work out what sort of finances are needed to implement that.
Self hosting/virtual server I'd have thought is the way to go.
I don't mind ads, as long as they're not too intrusive - but I'd also like the option to be an annual donator. Perhaps annual donators wouldn't have to see adverts, or could opt-out of them. I must admit the main site ads already annoy me on my iphone, as I tend not to be logged in on that.
I think a subscriber only model would soon kill the forum as a whole, as many people just read, and new members would be discouraged from joining. They'd just go to the other free forums in the end.
If voluntary donations were asked for (and I'm sure lots of people would donate) I'd be opposed to having a little *donator* next to my forum name. I've seen this on other forums, as it does make people look like they're in a clique.
Bringing us the Brickset forums has enabled a community to be built that the main site alone couldn't. It's too good to lose.
I'd be more than willing to pay a subscription fee as long as I didn't have to see advertising. I use Brickset everyday so it's definitely worth it.
I don't mind sponsorships or ads. And the ability to donate directly. I think a pay wall or a percentage of trades/sales would be difficult to rely on, and would dramatically reduce participation in the forum.
Go for ads first Huw and see how that goes then maybe sponsorship or donations. A subscription would turn this into a ghost town.
I wouldn't mind advertising provided that it wasn't too invasive; on EB it's usually located at the bottom of each page which works well.
Also, would it be an idea to embed a few affiliate links to the top of the forum; I actually remembered to use them for my latest [email protected] order, but to be honest I usually forget!
My fear of a complete subscription model is that it would heavily restrict new users signing up. I doubt I would pay for a forum without being part of it first.
I'm only new and despite being here everyday would maybe not consider a subscription. The problem I'd have with the spend would be I could read everything for free and that still gets me a staggering amount of knowledge. Actually posting the little knowledge I have doesn't really help me in comparison to reading the genius of you lot.
Lastly, adverts of the form where it is the second post on each thread is pretty inoffensive, would bring a bit of money and easy to hide from members if you want to. Go that route regardless of your choice of hosting to help with keeping everything awesome.
I would go into a clinical depression if the Forum went away. This is far and away the best community of AFOLs on the net. Its a great balance of all aspects of the hobby. It means a lot to me and many others.
Would really hate to see the forum go even though I'm still relatively new compared to others here. It is the one place I check in at every day.
1) Send some usage logs (CPU/bandwidth at a minimum) to various hosts and ask for quotes. Makes sure to highlight that the peaks need to be catered for with some room for future increases. We did this a couple of years ago for a reasonably popular football forum (~250 users online at peak times sometimes increasing to over 400 at times) and a great company offered to host it for free in exchange for a short textual "sponsored by..." message. We also had many offers around the £30/month mark. I'd avoid the main players in the industry - most will offer the earth but have 'secret' restrictions which quickly come into play after a short grace period. It can be a long slog to get a refund.
2) Display adverts and ask for a small annual fee for a no-ad service. Casual users will be happy to put up with the ads but plenty will be happy to pay to support BS, while others will pay just to get rid of the ads. It needs to be small enough not to be a burden but enough to justify asking. For example, 50 users paying £20/year is £1k. It soon adds up.
Subscription I fear would put off new members and only lead to a slow death of the forum in the end.
I totally agree that self-hosting would be the cheaper option, probably much cheaper. But it comes at the cost of having to maintain it oneself which, for a non-expert, would most likely mean paying someone else to do it, so the cost could soon mount up.
Whatever revenue generation is used I would want not want a administration headache to come with it, which discounts subscriptions. DOnations I guess might be a possibility, although I'd have to ask my accountant what, if any, the implications of them are.
I suspect showing ads to non members and possibly enabling SkimWords (that turns merchant and product references in the content into targeted shopping links) would be enough to bolser the revenue enough to cover it.
In fact, I've just enabled SkimWords, let's see what it looks like. I might have a play with a few other things too. Don't worry too much if you don't like it, I probably won't either.
For those who want it, they can pay for a lack of adverts and a sea of calming blue...
Tell them that you are considering moving elsewhere unless they can give you a break.
Enlighten them as to the worldwide importance of this site.
Maybe they give in a bit.
If you were to do a subscription based forum, would you have enough paying members to cover the cost? You'd have to adjust the rate depending on the number of paying members since that would mean the page views would drastically be reduced.
While I acknowledge that the subscription format would help consolidate the higher users of the site, the life blood of any hobby - new and interested members - would probably not want to invest into a paid site since there are other free sites.
Find deals on sets I could not have otherwise afforded
Grab sets before EOL I would have missed out on
Trade/buy/sell Lego with a lot of fun folks
Waste time at work
Get connected with a LUG
Hear thoughts and ideas from other cultures on Lego (and tax law)
Stay connected with Lego community while living in a country without any Lego product
Get interested in themes I might have otherwise missed out on (modulars!)
Help others in need with via Lego (Fairybricks)
Just talk to other adults who don't think Lego addictions are weird
I could probably list more things if I thought about it longer but the point is, Brickset Forums need to stay! Also, I have myself mentally penciled in for the next Billund trip so that is another reason to make it last.