Building an entire premium community!

Shawn Gossman

Tazmanian Master
Joined
Dec 16, 2005
Messages
8,161
I think premium membership is the potential money maker for forum communities.

The old click ads are just not as good as they once were and they're always changing rules and requiring this and requiring that and making it harder for people to earn.

So we got premium membership features! Premium membership allows you to earn all the revenue without a middle man. Most forum software has this feature built in and those that don't, you could easily plugin for it or even have a manual system that makes it easy.

But the days of premium members such as custom user title, username color and extra PM-space died with the early 2000s...

I feel now we should be creating entire communities on top of our original community but made for premium members. Boards, content and features just for them mimicking what non-premium members are getting but with some kind of premium upgrade about it. Maybe that is even just it being "private" and exclusive to premium membership only. I feel like the premium community should be at least as big as the regular community. It might mean extra work but that could mean extra profit, too! Something as robust as that could be charged monthly rather than annually.

How do you all feel about such an idea? Any further ideas that you'd along with it?
 

vikvaliant

Enthusiast
Joined
Oct 21, 2014
Messages
101
I had a third tier that was in between free and paid users. I researched the most common stats that popular members shared and created a user group that gave them many (but not all) of the privileges of a paid member, plus some unique ones, like being able to soft-ban spammers that recently sign up. It was a combination of time, posts, and reputation. A new user who did not want to wait and put in the time and effort could pay and get premium content and privileges straight off. In video games, some call this pay-to-win 🤑

Depending on the site's topic and the size of the community, you can come up with some unique pay schemes. I read where a large forum allowed members to pay $25.00 to ban another member for one day and they were able to generate thousands (so they claim) per month from that one paid feature alone.
 

ThornInYourSide

Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2021
Messages
120
How do you all feel about such an idea? Any further ideas that you'd along with it?
I think it's an absolutely horrible idea, the bane of the web and a big part of what's driving people away from forums. I will never, under any circumstances pay any fee of any kind for any forum.

It's one thing to ask for donations if you're having a hard time paying the bills, but no additional right or privileges should be attached to those members that do.
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
Joined
Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,499
I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, I think it's a far better way to generate income than ads -- more reliable and allows those who wish to contribute to do so without inconveniencing those who don't. Of course you have to have something of value to offer to those contributors.

On the other hand, I don't want to end up in a tiered internet, where the quality or quantity of content you get is proportional to what you're willing to pay. If this becomes the norm for forums and other sites, we will see less and less good content offered to those who won't pay the price. It would be almost better to simply put the whole site behind a pay wall, at that point.
 

NYCGuy76

Fanatic
Joined
Jul 1, 2006
Messages
1,222
I suppose it all depends on what your forum has to offer. If you offer incentives or something that's really worth paying for I say go for it. Something like this wouldn't work on most general forums.
 

ThornInYourSide

Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2021
Messages
120
I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, I think it's a far better way to generate income than ads -- more reliable and allows those who wish to contribute to do so without inconveniencing those who don't. Of course you have to have something of value to offer to those contributors.
The big problem I've seen is that some of those who pay and get a badge or flag or whatever showing them as a premium member or subscriber will often look down their noses at some of those who don't. 'You haven't paid, so your opinion isn't as worthy as mine'.
 

cdub24

Enthusiast
Joined
Nov 12, 2015
Messages
156
I think it's an absolutely horrible idea, the bane of the web and a big part of what's driving people away from forums. I will never, under any circumstances pay any fee of any kind for any forum.
My main site is completely member supported without any ads and we're making at least 5 to 10 times more than what we did with ads.

The forums are free but there are some rarely used private ones for supporting members.

What's driving Supporting Memberships are exclusive data access and bonus articles (main article is free but bonus second part isn't)

Paid membership for a forum isn't going to cut it. Paid membership for exclusive access to bonus content or an app or data has been working on my case.
 

vikvaliant

Enthusiast
Joined
Oct 21, 2014
Messages
101
On the other hand, I don't want to end up in a tiered internet, where the quality or quantity of content you get is proportional to what you're willing to pay. If this becomes the norm for forums and other sites, we will see less and less good content offered to those who won't pay the price. It would be almost better to simply put the whole site behind a pay wall, at that point.
Unfortunately, this trend has already started with news sites and online magazines. Primarily the ones with a long print history that aren't part of a TV or cable network and generate their own content in-house rather than aggregate news and content from other sites or resources like the Associated Press, Reuters, United Press International, etc.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, The Atlantic, etc. are all subscription sites now. Some will allow you to read a limited amount of articles for free. Most of these sites have comment sections as well.

The battle is the cost of providing a constant stream of quality content and paying employees vs the revenue stream to pay for it.

Personally, I offer users a third option, where users do not have to pay if they contribute-- since contribution is what drives forums. The site/forum I run that model on averaged around $25,000 per year during peak years (online since 1999).

The tiers are:

- Content lurkers can access without logging in
- Content/privileges you can access by logging in
- Content/privileges you can access through participation (mostly the same as a subscription)
- Content/privileges you can access through subscription (mostly the same as participation)
 
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AdamD

Devotee
Joined
Oct 21, 2007
Messages
2,901
I think there would need to be significant offerings in order to get people to sign up, to be honest.

Perhaps tacking on a hosting account would entice people or access to premium apps or content etc.
 

cdub24

Enthusiast
Joined
Nov 12, 2015
Messages
156
The tiers are:

- Content lurkers can read without logging in
- Content/privileges you can access by logging in
- Content/privileges you can access through participation (mostly the same as a subscription)
- Content/privileges you can access through subscription (mostly the same as participation)
Can you break down some examples of how people gain access to features?
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
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Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,499
The big problem I've seen is that some of those who pay and get a badge or flag or whatever showing them as a premium member or subscriber will often look down their noses at some of those who don't. 'You haven't paid, so your opinion isn't as worthy as mine'.
I agree there's a risk of that happening. It's been a problem for years, where members with high post counts, lots of likes, or just long membership can sometimes start to feel a sense of ownership over the forum. Some good admin practices can really help out with that.
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
Joined
Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,499
Unfortunately, this trend has already started with news sites and online magazines. Primarily the ones with a long print history that aren't part of a TV or cable network and generate their own content in-house rather than aggregate news and content from other sites or resources like the Associated Press, Reuters, United Press International, etc.
I can understand the practice in those cases. Those are commercial sites with paid professional staff. The worry is if every Joe running a hobby forum thinks they can make some money by hiding the best content behind a subscription or extort donations to see more than the surface of the forums. That really will be the death of forums.

I think the ideal is to accept donations but not to close off parts of the forum. Instead, you could offer something as a thanks -- something that doesn't take away from the forum for anyone else.

i like your idea for contributors, since that is the lifeblood of forums. However, I suspect in most cases, it's the ones who contribute a lot that are most willing to donate.
 
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vikvaliant

Enthusiast
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Oct 21, 2014
Messages
101
Can you break down some examples of how people gain access to features?
First, let me say that every site is different, so you have to tweak to your site's niche, demographics, and size. This site has over 45,000 members.

I broke down the traffic of what everyone was doing on the site, not just how they got there. What the lurkers were mostly looking at, my 'best' members, my 'worse' members, members who hardly post or don't post at all, etc. I found that besides the obvious site content there was an entire ecosystem of drama, cliques battling each other, and even members meeting up off-site. The lurkers would spike when drama spiked and so on.

So, for example, I'd require a login to access some of the forums that generated the most internal site drama and some "hot topic" forums. I also made the privileges that generated a lot of the internal drama a 'work-to-access' (1a or 1b) or subscription (2). Features like...

private messaging (1 or 2)
private chats (1 or 2)
creating personal chat rooms with moderator privileges (1 or 2)
bouncing users from the general chat (1b)
poke functions (1 or 2)
ability to soft-ban new users who are spamming or troublemakers (1b)
no ads (1b or 2)
more time to edit after posting (1 or 2)
blogs (1b)
custom signatures with their ad (2)

Access to VIP forums:
- internal affairs (1b)
- bug reports and testing (1)
- scheduled for deletion (1)
- quarantine (1b)

* Plus many add-ons that came and went over the years, like arcades, had privileges that benefited users in groups 1 or 2.

Members could also move up and down (or across) user groups based on the number of posts, time spent on the site, and reputation. And they could give or take reputation from each other that affected whether they landed in 1a or 1b. There is also the user-groups 'restricted,' 'lockdown,' and 'banned.' Members in 1b and subscribers could leverage their status or subscription as bail for a member that go into lockdown (negative rep)-- which is pretty much banned but with read-only access.

A regular 'registered' user can either work their way up into 1a/1b through posts + time (6 months/1 year) + reputation or pay and get access to most of it right away.

Of course, you also need fair, balanced, and consistent moderation to make it work.

Hope this wasn't confusing.
 
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vikvaliant

Enthusiast
Joined
Oct 21, 2014
Messages
101
I think the ideal is to accept donations but not to close off parts of the forum. Instead, you could offer something as a thanks -- something that doesn't take away from the forum for anyone else.

i like your idea for contributors, since that is the lifeblood of forums. However, I suspect in most cases, it's the ones who contribute a lot that are most willing to donate.
When I looked at some of the news sites I listed, some of them do allow access to everything and only request you donate or subscribe at the end of each article to support more quality content. Others give you a few views before you cannot read any more articles, and some will make a few of the articles free, and the rest subscription only.

For contributors/subscribers on the forum. My experience has been that the ones who pay just want access to privileges immediately, and only about 20% of them will stay long-term (maintain a recurring subscription). To be honest, my most cherished members were the ones who did not pay but stayed long term and contributed good content without causing issues. So I set things up that they'd benefit as much as subscribers plus a few more trust-based privileges. They're like the protagonists in a movie or book. The antagonists on the site would float in and out of lockdown and frankly seemed to enjoy it. And the lurkers would take it all in as entertainment.
 
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ThornInYourSide

Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2021
Messages
120
I've never seen any content on any website I would pay for. I don't subscribe to news sites, I don't stream music or videos. I don't do cam girls. I certainly can't imagine anything on any forum worth paying for.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
Joined
Sep 9, 2013
Messages
2,704
I've never seen any content on any website I would pay for. I don't subscribe to news sites, I don't stream music or videos. I don't do cam girls. I certainly can't imagine anything on any forum worth paying for.
Are you aware that what you’re saying is that literally everything you do consume online is so worthless you wouldn’t even donate a cup of coffee to its creator?

If it’s so worthless, why consume it?
 

mysiteguy

Migration Expert
Joined
Feb 20, 2007
Messages
3,441
I do ongoing work for a forum that is 100% member's only. Everything is behind a paywall, that includes simply reading the content. While it works well for them, they have a unique audience. It is not a model that will work for most sites.

My own sites do well with an advertising and Amazon affiliate model. Over the past decade, every year has been better than the previous, except two years on of the sites. 2021 was another good year!
 

FTL

Adherent
Joined
Nov 4, 2021
Messages
320
The main problem is the catch-22 of getting the forum to have lots of active members first. This is critical as no activity means no premium paying members, who will always be a very small minority of the userbase.

Once the forum has been built up, the premium features should be compelling enough for people to be willing to part with their money. On top of that, the "benefits" mustn't be engineered so that people just feel like they're being manipulated into paying for what they feel they should have anyway and the amounts should be reasonable.

In short, charging for your forum is very tricky indeed and quite possibly a non-starter in most cases. I think it's far better to have a Patreon page set up and rely on the goodwill of members to donate. That's not easy either, but making money never is unless it's a scam and I don't recommend that.
 

HighlanderICT

Neophyte
Joined
Aug 21, 2009
Messages
6
My forum has always been free (for 28 years! yikes!) ..... Its a niche forum for a football team (soccer for those that prefer to use that term). There are paid options on the site but I have kept those primarily for users who either want to voluntarily support the forum or who want to have no ads when they view the forum. Other than removing ads, I give them additional perks from the configuration like being able to change display name more often, more space for personal messages, higher quotas for files/images and such like ... but the rest of the forum (the content) is the same whether you pay or not.

We sometimes have/had other paid items available but that's really for add-on / external features not related to the forum functionality - eg. A group to sponsor a player where funds raised went to the club because its expensive for an individual to take on that cost, a group for overseas users to join together and pay for a VPN connection for multiple users, a group for users to book space on buses for our first ever tie in Europe where we organised this in conjunction with club and supporters club .... all things that drove users to the site for additional features without making the core features into premium ones.

We have a small core of regular users (maybe 2-300) with spikes when something good/bad happens and this approach has seen us tick over for the last 28 years. Google is not making us rich, but seems to allow us to break even on our hosting (VPS), forum fees (Invision), domain costs and the odd plugin here and there where needed.
 
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Oh!

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Oct 1, 2020
Messages
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I think premium membership is the potential money maker for forum communities.

The old click ads are just not as good as they once were and they're always changing rules and requiring this and requiring that and making it harder for people to earn.
I agree!

I would like to send you a PM, but it seems that you block them. Would you consider unblocking me or send me a PM? It is related to the subject of this thread.

Thanks.
 
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