From what I’ve heard, it’s often hard to make money from a forum. Like other websites, the owner of a forum has two options to make money – find advertisers who want to reach out to the same group of people who visit the forum or sell the forum once it’s active and has a strong membership.
From my little experience running a niche forum on one of my sites and also from my participation in various forums, the owner needs to get people to contribute regularly, moderate inappropriate or threatening comments, stay on top of software updates, and prevent spammers from taking over. It’s a lot of work to manage a forum, and it seems that only the biggest and most successful can really earn a living from advertising.
The second best option is the sale of a forum, but that means the owner needs to find someone just as passionate about the topic to evenhandedly moderate and communicate, while not alienating the members who participate regularly. This person not only has to be passionate, but also has to have the capital to make the acquisition and keep it running smoothly.
It seems to be quite a job to manage and monetize a forum, and my gut says many of the small to medium sized forums, despite being active, aren’t monetized very well.
I just read a MarketWatch press release today put out by a company called Crowd Gather to announce its acquistion of Writers.net, “an Internet directory of writers, editors, publishers and literary agents“, which was supposedly founded way back in 1994 (despite its 1995 Whois creation date). It’s a very good domain name and the acquisition shows there is a market for forums.
CrowdGather owns and operates a network of forums, which may be of interest to those of you managing a forum. According to the release, “CrowdGather has created a centralized network to benefit forum members, forum owners and forum advertisers. CrowdGather provides a highly interactive and informational social network for members, a management and revenue-sharing resource for third-party forum owners, and a largely untapped advertising network for marketers worldwide.”
If you happen to want to sell an active forum, you may wish to get in touch with CrowdGather.
I was debating on starting a forum for a pop culture site, then decided to go with a blog and it has been pretty successful. I have a few good paid advertisers and traffic is continiung to soar.
So if there are a ton of forums on the topic you want to start, one should consider doing something else
I like blogs because generally visitors can comment and/or participate without having to sign up or join a community. It’s much easier to post comments on a blog article than in a forum.
I have found that it is much easier to grown and monetize a social network over the imho outdated forum scenario.
If members are willing to take the time to create an account and comment you might as well give them many more tools to create engagement.
I run two communities one with 40,000 members and a newer one with 11,000 members.
ning.com and socialengine.net are great platforms.
Before selling a forum I would explore the option of turning it into a social network
I own a few forums and I’m interested in purchasing more. I think forums are powerful tools and if you have a critical mass in a given vertical, it isn’t too difficult to monetize with affiliate programs, ad networks, and direct ad sales.
It is exceedingly difficult to make money with forums. You are very unlikely to make any kind of reasonable advertising dollars and a “pure” forum is unlikely to be sold for any kind of reasonable amount as well. That said, a forum can be very valuable, but I believe its value is by being part of something else. A website with a popular forum makes a forum quite valuable because it adds to the “life” of the overall site and forum visitors can be better monetized when they use other parts of a site. But a standalone forum – that’s very difficult to monetize. As you say, the best forums are highly moderated, which takes time and effort. And advertisers are reluctant to pay anything but rockbottom ad rates on forums due to absymal clickthrough rates and also the fact that there are a large number of pageviews per unique visitor on a good forum.
CrowdGather is indeed an option for someone who wishes to sell a forum, but far from the only option. In many, if not most, cases it might not be the best option either. I have sold a forum to them, a couple year back. I’ve also bought and sold several dozen forums as well as assisting others in buying and selling forums. Not to knock on CrowdGather, but it could make a huge difference to someone who’s selling their forum to find someone with the right connections to help them through the transaction.
Also, the concept that forums don’t make money is obsolete in many ways, and is really only true with general topic forums and gaming forums. It really depends on the audience. I work with some forums that get well over $10 CPM. I’ve also helped people to make money on their forums, one guy for example I started working with last November, he was losing money on his popular forum and could hardly afford hosting, when he started working with me his forum has a new server and he gets a four figure check in the mail each month. You just have to know what you’re doing.