Would you pay to post?
October 25, 2009 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a web forum. Should I charge users?

The forum will focus on a popular topic which should draw many people. I'm thinking hard about charging a nominal fee ($5) for registration. That would prevent spambot signups and discourage the casual troll from ruining everyone's fun. You know, like we all did when we signed up here. There are two potential disadvantages: 1) I would have to spend lots of time dealing with new registrations (I'd get over that), and 2) it might discourage some people who would otherwise register and be productive members. What do you think? Bonus question: if I do go with paid registration, how do I make it happen on phpbb3? Many thanks.
posted by bryon to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let them in for free for several years, then, if it turns out to be popular, start charging.
posted by box at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know of very few popular forums that charge for membership, and those that do instituted the fee only after the community was well established. The membership fee is a gigantic barrier to signups and frankly that's not what you want when you're starting a new forum and trying to build a community, is it?
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:05 AM on October 25, 2009

Imagine strolling down the street and seeing a sign posted outside a house that said: "PARTY IN HERE."

You go up, and there's a bouncer at the door asking you for $5. You glance over his shoulder. The house is empty, except for one guy sitting in the corner eating chips by himself, and a lady watering a house plant.

"But there's nobody here yet," you say.

"It's going to be very popular eventually," says the bouncer. "A great party. Five dollars please."

Do you pay him or leave?
posted by meadowlark lime at 11:16 AM on October 25, 2009 [20 favorites]

Preventing spambot sigups, one way or another, is essential. 95% of the signups on the forum I run are entered by spambots. I don't make the users pay, though; I just require them to send me an email, when they sign up, that proves they're not a spambot by telling me about their interests that relate to the forum, and then I hand-approve their accounts. Occasionally some of them choose to make a paypal donation, anywhere from $5 to $50, and some of them place orders through the affiliate links on the site, in order to help support it.
posted by Ery at 11:17 AM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm starting a web forum. Should I charge users?

Key word is "starting." Do you really think your forum will be impressive enough from the very beginning that it would be worth any money for people to register for it, when the vast majority of online comment forums are free?

Here's a Slate article about what kinds of websites people are willing to pay to use. To oversimplify, it only works for the rare website that offers something really special. What makes your website so special?
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:20 AM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know, like we all did when we signed up here.

Metafilter only started charging $5 after it had been around for more than 5 years. By that point it had an established user base, thousands of existing posts/content, and a throng of people willing to pay for accounts. It would be shooting yourself in the foot to charge from day one, because there is just no value proposition to "pay now for something that might be good later but who knows."
posted by Rhomboid at 11:25 AM on October 25, 2009

If you're starting a new web forum nowadays, you probably have to PAY users $5 to join.
posted by smackfu at 11:44 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My anecdotal data point is that I never would have considered spending $5 on Metafilter if I hadn't been reading it for quite a long time when the signups were closed and saw it as a proven value. A popular topic is not near good enough to me that I'd blow a fin on a community: the value in a community comes in its members, its technical management, and its moderation. I'm a huge William Gibson fan but I wouldn't consider paying to post on his home page forum, I just don't value it despite my passion for the topic of his books. And in fact I have known a few people state outright that they would not join Metafilter because they will not pay to join a forum on general principles.
posted by nanojath at 12:24 PM on October 25, 2009

In my experience in paying to use a forum, the owner had to do that because it was getting popular and thus really expensive for her to maintain on her own. I second the post by meadowlark to some degree, but the point wasn't originally for the site to make money. It just got too frigging expensive to keep up after several years.

I'd say to wait to charge until you HAVE to charge or else the site will die. Just starting up a forum? Man, don't bother, and enjoy it being low cost on you while you can.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:38 PM on October 25, 2009

I'm an active participant in a couple of special interest forums which have been around for a long time. They're both heavily moderated and because of this posts are nearly always on topic.

At some point (not simultaneously), both moderators set in place a very simple system to collect voluntary donations.

I'd have never donated to either had I not had four or five years to ascertain the value of these forums to me.

I was glad to make a donation to each.

I've only been on metafilter for a year or so, but I willingly paid my $5.00 because I've always assumed that it was the price of participation that kept this forum from turning into something like reddit or 4chan.

Not that there's anything wrong with reddit or 4chan if that's what you're after...
posted by imjustsaying at 1:51 PM on October 25, 2009

I payed 30 bucks to join a dodge dakota forum, best one on the internet and was totally worth it. Helps me fix my truck all the time.
posted by nuke3ae at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2009

No. be a great moderator, bring on terrific new mods as needed. Facilitate great content. Make money on googleads.

I doubt Metafilter is making a lot on signups. With tone of pageviews, and good content, ads should be generating good revenue.
posted by theora55 at 2:13 PM on October 25, 2009

I suggest reading Matt's article on How Ads Really Work (as in mathowie, who runs this very site) for some good ideas on monetizing and fees and such.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:51 PM on October 25, 2009

Pinboard.in had a fee that increased with each new member that joined. And yeah, it was there to prevent spambots, as I understand things. The thing is, that service worked well from the get go. With a web forum, who is going to pay to sign up to a forum without any members and any discussion taking place?
posted by chunking express at 8:17 AM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: The nays have it, and the bonus question is moot. Ery, I'm going to adopt your e-mail method of checking for real people; thanks for the idea. And thanks to you all for such great responses.
posted by bryon at 9:24 AM on October 26, 2009

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