There comes a time when some websites must decide whether they must charge users to increase revenues or close up shop due to insufficient funds. This is particularly true for many non-profit websites as they just do not bring in enough advertising dollars to sustain the cause. But when a website with 150,000 members, whose reach is 60,000 (daily) and one that boasts 1.8 million targeted photographers on a monthly basis decides to switch to the pay-to-play model, operationally, something does not measure up.
Nikonians.org, one of the largest single online community of photographers, has been around for many years and have garnered a loyal group of users. Unfortunately, many of these users will no longer have access to the content they have contributed or even access to their profile to change an email address. I must say that I am quite irritated at this whole situation.
Nikonians.org Is Now Charging Users
As I needed some new gear, I was actually referring back to a previous post where other users and I had discussed that topic at length. To my surprise, I received a message asking me to pay for a membership when I tried to log in. Having been with the community since 2003, I was granted charter membership when the website underwent membership level changes some time ago so I was shocked to find that a fee was now required to access Nikonians.org. I could not believe that I needed to pay to access content that I had contributed to the forum!
Not being able to log in, I emailed Nikonians.org and received confirmation that yes, it is indeed now a paid-only site. I was provided with this information:
Nikonians is operated as a not-for-profit community. All capital generated through our operations (The Nikonians Community, The Photo Pro Shop and the Nikonians Academy) is reinvested to sustain it and its growth.
Only approximately 13% of our costs are covered by paid memberships.
For the past eight and a half years the community’s policy has made it possible to offer free of charge content, enabling members from all countries, all social backgrounds and economical status to interact on the provided platforms at no cost. But, the community must also receive enough funding to be able to sustain itself, meet the demands of a growing membership and create reserves to face contingencies out of our control.
Something Does Not Add Up
Based on the above, I can only draw my own conclusion that Nikonians.org isn’t simply turning to the paid model to try and make more money but instead needed to generate more revenue so that it can continue to keep its doors opened. If this is indeed the case, then something is definitely not right. Hearing that a website is receiving almost 2 million (targeted) visitors a month and not being able to sustain operations through advertising revenue is shocking.
For a not-for-profit online organization to receive that amount of monthly users and not being able to sustain itself just does not add up – at least not in my calculations.
In my opinion, any website (for profit or not) with 2 million users a month should be able to generate enough revenue to hire full-time employees to keep it going without being forced into charging membership fees. Who knows what kinds of administration fees are in place currently to keep the site running but at the end of the day, either revenue is too low or expenses are too high (or both). Again, something just does not add up.
Offer to Help Not Taken Up
At one time, I was a heavy user of Nikonians.org. It was where I learned a lot about photography and contributed content to help other users as well. In fact, I enjoyed the community so much that I started a conversation with one of its principles offering to help Nikonians.org generate more online revenue at no cost to them. Volunteering my time and expertise is one way I contribute back to the communities (online and offline) that I am active in. If memory serves me correctly, I remember a conversation where I learned that Nikonians.org was serving up 9 million pageviews per month and the principal was excited that he was putting in a system to start selling a truck load of ad inventory. A few emails and private messages were traded but he never took me up on my offer.
Nikonians.org is not the Place for Pay-to-Play
There are situations where paid websites make sense but Nikonians.org is not this place. The community grew because it was a useful resource and it was free. With the recent change, it’s no longer useful or free (even previous content is no longer accessible unless you are a paid member). I am guessing that there will be many more ex-Nikonians then paid members from here on. Here is a Flickr conversation about this very issue.
What’s Next for ex-Nikonians
I am actually sympathetic to the principles of Nikonians.org. It’s never easy running a business let alone a not-for-profit that is not generating enough revenue. It will be interesting to see if the move to paid membership is the right one for one of the largest online photography communities. There are even predictions that Nikonians.org may one day revert back to the free model. Even if they do, it will be too late to regain lost trust from previous users.
In the meantime, if anyone (ex-Nikonians or otherwise) has suggestions, I need to find a high quality (& free) photography forum to connect with other enthusiasts. All recommendations are appreciated. If anyone has taken this as an opportunity to start a free forum for Nikon owners, do share! Now that actually sounds like a good idea!