Good to Bad –

Nikonains - free to paid - good to bad 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., 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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. is not the Place for Pay-to-Play

There are situations where paid websites make sense but 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 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 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!

Ian Lee
Work from home dad, marketer and photographer. Fallen in love with basketball all over again as I coach my daughter's team.

15 thoughts on “Good to Bad –”

  1. Hi Ian,

    I am a volunteer administrator at a free Nikon related photography site (url in the ‘website’ field) that has been active for 4 years. You are welcome to come visit the Nikon Cafe!

  2. Thanks Chris,

    Thanks for chiming in. I am already there and received a warm welcome. Appreciate your note here though!

  3. Ian,
    Thank you for your kind comments on Nikonians.
    The economy has drastically changed and Internet is by no means saved from its effects.
    Nikonians simply saw the writing in the wall some time before it was publicly admitted by anyone and we acted on it.
    To illustrate the point, here are some facts recently published on one of the most successful Internet sites of our times.
    Analysts of well respected world-class financial institutions have estimated that YouTube may have revenues of some $350 million USD in 2009, despite its size.
    In contrast, its costs are projected at $700 million; and these figures are part of the optimistic scenario.
    The main difference between Nikonians and YouTube is that YouTube is owned by Google and may therefore be allowed time to weather it. cannot.
    We feel very fortunate that new members keep coming in and staying at a larger rate than before.
    We will continue to work in making Nikonians a unique photographic and personal experience, not a simple reference site.
    Again, thank you very much for the mention.
    Have a great time!
    Nikonians Founder and Administrator

  4. @JRP, thanks for dropping by with a note. It’s really too bad Nikonians, despite the large number of users and pageviews it was receiving, was not able to keep its doors opened without charging a membership fee. I am shocked actually. The worst part is that users are now locked out of content that they had originally contributed, me included. It’s truly a sad day when the very users who had helped build a community is now denied access to it.

  5. Nikonians has higher costs than other sites, as it uses (and maintains) custom forum software rather than benefiting from the economy of scale by using widely deployed, well-supported software like phpbb, vbulletin and so on.

    Although most people think of Nikonians as the forum, its actually trying to do many more things (and not well) – a blog site, a shop, a picture hosting site, etc. Again, with custom software. Its unable to compete with better-supported alternatives (flickr or smugmug for hosting; wordpress, livejournal, blogger et. al.) The shop is also limited by its commercial ties to a particular manufacturer of ballheads (Markins), so the selection is limited and mainly oriented around tripods, plates and so on.

    Lastly and more seriously, Nikonians is very bad at listening to its (paid) users and over-moderated.

    Having locked out the users that provided its content, people are moving to alternatives like NikonCafe or NikonGear and this is likely to increase as the content ages. The number of registered users at Nikonians continues to increase, because people need to re-register to get another 30 days access, but the volume and quality of posts has noticeably declined.

    After two years of being a paid subscriber, I am unlikely to renew when my subscription runs out; better content contributed by a wider range of Nikon enthusiasts is available at other sites, which continue to allow read access by everyone.

  6. @Chris, thanks for stopping by and sharing a your user experience of Can you elaborate more on:

    “The number of registered users at Nikonians continues to increase, because people need to re-register to get another 30 days access, but the volume and quality of posts has noticeably declined.”

    I am not sure I follow why renewals have a 30-day period associated with it. Thanks in advance.

  7. “The number of registered users at Nikonians continues to increase, because people need to re-register to get another 30 days access, but the volume and quality of posts has noticeably declined.”

    This just means that:
    1. Nikonians keep a tally of registered members, whether they’re active or deactivated. This is false advertising on their part. They should not consider deactivated members into the total count.
    2. After your 25-day or 30-day free membership expires, you can sign on with another ID. Doing so increases the number of registered members yet again.

  8. As an amateur photographer, and an owner of a Nikon D80, I was an occasional surfer of the Nikonians website. I found it to be useful and informative. As a casual user, I did not find it compelling enough to actually pay for it, as there are too many free sources of digital photography information out there on the web today. BTW, no one actually mentioned just how much Nikonians is charging now…what are they charging?

  9. Sorry, J. Ramon Palacios – Nikonians Founder and Administrator.
    If you think I’m going to pay for free information from other users! you are crazy.
    Well done “Ian Lee” lets move to free web sites.
    …” Esta LOCO Ramon “…

  10. After a popular Nikon mailing list in the 90’s passed away I found Nikonians when I was looking for an alternative. While I did enjoy the site I missed my mailing list. After a while I found So, when Nikonians went pay for play I was not as sad as I might have been because most of my information was coming from D1scussion instead.

    Web address in the Web Site link.

  11. As valuable as Nikonians is to people that are new to digital photography (and it is) I will not renew my $25 subscription when it is up. Indeed the daily forums are so sporadic in their delivery they should be an embarrassment to the organization. I have received ONE delevery/message from Nikonians this week–and when you bring it to their attention the administrators ignore you. Nikonians 200,000 members, and at $25 a pop that is a $5,000,000 annual budget that should be better spent.

  12. I too am disappointed about the charge for but choose to continue with it and pay the fee. A small price to pay for everything I’ve learned their.
    However, my biggest disappointment with is the lack of any customer service. It’s just gone on this site. You would think after collecting fees that someone would be on board at [email protected] when problems occur.
    Many people try to get a human response from anyone at and it never happens.

  13. I am a webmaster running a forum of 5,000 members. I only spend 100 USD in hosting/domain fees per year. I can imagine with 150,000 members and a higher traffic, costs would rise maybe 30 times? If that’s the case, we’re talking maybe about 3,000 USD per year. You can get a dedicated server with 600GB storage and 2000GB Data Transfer for that price.

    Therefore, I don’t understand why 25 USD are mandatory to cover a forum costs (?) Because the forum part is what the people is interested about, isn’t?



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