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IMPORTANT: The forum is (not) closing down!

HuwHuw Administrator Posts: 7,087
edited November 2015 in Forum Operation
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
- Subscription
- Parts of the forum subscription (e.g. marketplace)
- Sponsorship
- 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)


  • alijoezacalijoezac Member Posts: 554
    Retain the forum - finance through subscription.
  • Pitfall69Pitfall69 Member Posts: 11,454
    Yes, it would matter!!! 

    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?
  • Coolguy5000Coolguy5000 Member Posts: 1,585
    I wouldn't  mind adverts as long as they weren't  pop up every second adverts. Perhaps  on first entering the site a pop up appears. I would  be  very sad if the forum was gone. It Has Stopped  Me Entering A Dark Age. 
  • brickmattbrickmatt Member Posts: 103
    I may not post much, but I am a frequent reader; it's really the only Lego forum I follow, and it's one of the best from what I've seen. I don't know if adverts shown to everyone would be accepted, but I would be fine with adverts if not signed in. I think a subscription for the market would work well as well.
  • BumblepantsBumblepants Member Posts: 7,634
    edited October 2015
    What about marketplace sales diverting a small portion of transaction to the Forum? Might be impossible to implement but could be an idea worth looking at. Perhaps to post marketplace ads a small fee would be required?
  • brickedinbrickedin Member Posts: 568
    I think the forum matters a lot to an awful lot of people. I think most would accept adverts, but equally a subscription would be entirely reasonable. The problem with a subscription is it would probably discourage new members who are not aware of the awesome content. 
  • PaperballparkPaperballpark Member Posts: 4,268
    Ouch, $500 a month is a lot! Is that just for hosting fees, given that the software is open-source?

    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.
  • YodaliciousYodalicious Member Posts: 1,366

    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.

  • romanstarromanstar Member Posts: 197
    Adverts.Some great people on here!!
  • TheBigLegoskiTheBigLegoski Member Posts: 1,437
    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. 
  • paul_mertonpaul_merton Member Posts: 2,967
    edited October 2015
    Self-hosting the forum would work out way cheaper.

    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 :)
  • FollowsCloselyFollowsClosely Member Posts: 1,332
    You should self host. One million hits a month is not that much really. One virtual dedicated server should be more than enough to host the forum on, $30-$60. I also see no problem with adds on the forum.

    If it where me I would macro set numbers to include a buy it now link that gets you paid.
  • Russell844Russell844 Member Posts: 2,420
    Ads. Subscription. I'm in either way.
  • superstarbeejaysuperstarbeejay Member Posts: 121
    I think looking to host elsewhere or self host is the right path. I don't post much here but lurk a lot and would be prepared to sub but that just reduces membership and will eventually lead to the death of the forum anyway.
  • monkey_roomonkey_roo Member Posts: 1,411
    I would have though the additional advertising would help, but would it be a stop gap? If site usage continues to grow as it has I would look at self hosting as a more sustainable option with the additional advertising revenue used to fund the transition and set up costs. A few tech savvy memebers might even help out?
  • SithLord196SithLord196 Member Posts: 1,161
    I could deal with advertisements. They seem like the simplest solution to me.

    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.
  • TheLoneTensorTheLoneTensor Member Posts: 3,937
    Huw said:
    The main site where most of the income is generated...
    I think you just identified at least part of the problem.  Since the big split of the forums a couple years back, I have looked at the main site maybe 20-30 times, which means I'm not seeing those link deals and such.  You could consider coming up with better ways to integrate the main site and the forums.

    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.
  • nexandernexander Member Posts: 908
    Not a fan of ads, more so when viewing on a mobile. I understand most people don't mind so how about ads or a subscription for no ads? Even team up with Bricks or and offer a joint deal? I would be up for that.
  • LegoboyLegoboy Member Posts: 8,827
    How about I reduce my daily hits by a factor of 10?  Would that help?
  • hoyatableshoyatables Member Posts: 873
    How about ads but you can subscribe for no ads?
  • Bosstone100Bosstone100 Member Posts: 1,431
    There is another forum I frequent where I pay $40 a year (I'm grandfathered in so it might be $60 for new members) but users have the option of dealing with the ads, etc. if they go the free option. I feel it is totally worth because I use that forum pretty much every day.

    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.

  • SumoLegoSumoLego Member Posts: 15,229
    My vote is for whatever keeps this forum financially viable, but also accessible to as many potential users as possible.

    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.
  • YodaliciousYodalicious Member Posts: 1,366
    I'd pay for the ability to "unsubscribe" from certain users. (WINK!)
  • Kevin_HyattKevin_Hyatt Member Posts: 778
    This is the only LEGO forum I actively use and I'd be gutted to see it go but not gutted enough to pay a subscription for it (being honest).

    Go for ads first Huw and see how that goes then maybe sponsorship or donations. A subscription would turn this into a ghost town.
  • FauchFauch Member Posts: 2,679
    brickedin said:
    Maybe lego themselves could sponsor the forum seeing as it generates so much income for them.
    that's what I thought as well. why put more ads, when the site is already a massive advertisement for Lego?
  • WallaceWallace Member Posts: 134
    edited October 2015
    Although I've been a member for a few years now I don't really post up a lot but read ALOT each day and I'd happily go for subscription over adverts. 
  • LobotLobot Member Posts: 1,029

    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!

  • SumoLegoSumoLego Member Posts: 15,229
    ^ Is it worth $6000.00 a year to advertise to an already captured market?
  • fourstudfourstud Member Posts: 1,370
    Wow, what? Absolutely not, I will be furious if this shuts down. Ads are fine, I've got Adblock, but I really don't want this to close down!
  • MattsWhatMattsWhat Member Posts: 1,643
    Subscription would be a much more viable route if lego choose to keep recognising LUGs after 2015. It would certainly make it it a very viable option for a lot of UK people on here who have pretty large lego budgets.
    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. 
  • FauchFauch Member Posts: 2,679
    SumoLego said:
    ^ Is it worth $6000.00 a year to advertise to an already captured market?
    I hadn't done the maths. don't know the usual prices for hosting but it sounds like a rip-off to me.
  • BACbrixBACbrix Member Posts: 655
    Definitely add the ads and if people hate them enough then do a 4.99 monthly subscription fee to get rid of ads.
  • wagnerml2wagnerml2 Member Posts: 1,376
    I second @SirKevbags.  I have no idea what technically is involved in such a manuever, but I would certainly be willing to pay a yearly subscription fee.  However, I would NOT want to dissuade people from coming to the forums who might not.  For them, perhaps ads are the answer.  

    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.  
  • bendybadgerbendybadger Member Posts: 1,139
    A subscription would pay for itself should you still get the AFOL day discount for being a member on here. I personally would donate to keep the forum alive in any case as like most on here it is more than just a forum it is a community that means a lot to so many.
  • stevemackstevemack Member Posts: 934
    Adverts over subscription any day, just not pop up adverts!  There's plenty of blue space to the sides of the forum page I don't mind seeing adverts in at all!
  • AdeelZubairAdeelZubair Member Posts: 2,704
    My heart also sank when I saw the title of this thread. Is it possible to do something similar to the main site where non-members see ads and when members are logged in they don't see them. As long as they are not annoying, I'll be happy. This is my favourite forum as it has a clean and simile layout unlike other sites, I would be unhappy with another host. #SaveBricksetForum
  • MattsWhatMattsWhat Member Posts: 1,643
    @bendybadger not sure this is a members only thread by the way. That's why I didn't explicitly say it. Might want to edit. 
  • oldtodd33oldtodd33 Member Posts: 2,696
    I would be willing to pay a subscription if I don't have to see ads. Besides, I can block ads and that gets you no where. A donation situation would work also. 
  • bandit778bandit778 Member Posts: 2,380
    I wouldn't mind adverts, and a wouldn't mind a reasonable subscription fee to have the ability to turn off the ads, or get subscribers only exclusive content.
    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.
  • AleyditaAleydita Member Posts: 952
    I'd recommend one of two methods.

    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.
  • KingDaveKingDave Member Posts: 974
    Self hosting will be far cheaper (if a bit more work) and my vote for extra funding would be sponsorship (TLG?) followed by adverts (for all, but not too obtrusive).

    Subscription I fear would put off new members and only lead to a slow death of the forum in the end.
  • HuwHuw Administrator Posts: 7,087
    edited October 2015
    Thanks for your feedback.

    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.

  • DeMontesDeMontes Member Posts: 745
    edited October 2015
    Like many others I think adverts within the blue space with an option to pay and hide would be my own preference. I personally don't mind adverts too much when they are static but pop up ads drive me nuts.

    For those who want it, they can pay for a lack of adverts and a sea of calming blue...

    Thanks :-)
  • 77ncaachamps77ncaachamps Member Posts: 2,442
    Talk to Vanilla.
    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.
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