A friend of mine has a growing audience on his real estate investment blog. He specializes in buying vacant land, sight unseen, at deep discounts, but he also does income properties and other investing. Last night, he called to ask for some advice on how to start a paid membership forum in connection with his blog, to give his most devoted readers the chance to learn from and interact with him and each other more extensively.
Of course, this project is also motivated by the prospect of increasing his income. However, whenever the subject of “pay walls” (or paying for digital content in any way) comes up, there are certain segments of the internet population that have extremely negative responses. They not only won’t pay, but seem to be incensed that anyone would have the gall to ask them or anyone else to. I happen to disagree with this outlook, but that’s not what I want to discuss.
There are also those who, when the topic of something like a paid membership forum comes up, are not hostile but rather just dismissive. “Why would you pay for access to a forum?” I have to admit, I sympathize with this position. This is likely due in part to the strong sharing culture in the software community, but also due to our reference points. For instance, which is superior, StackOverflow (free) or Experts Exchange (paid)? I can’t even imagine a professional developer paying for access to Experts Exchange anymore.
However, this dismissive attitude misses an important point: I am not everyone. For one, I’m a software developer, so right away I probably think about things very differently from your average real estate investor, just because of our vastly different daily lived experience. But also, there are (apparently) still people who pay for access to things like Experts Exchange, in spite of my inability to conceive of it. A non-zero number of people out there are getting enough value out of it to make paying a monthly access fee worthwhile. It may not be nearly as many people as visit StackOverflow each day, but that’s not really the point. My friend who wants to start a paid membership forum isn’t expecting to dominate the entire global market for online real estate investing content. He’s got his little niche, and just wants to expand it a bit and make it more profitable. Instead of being skeptical or dismissive, I had to remind myself that:
- He knows his audience much better than I, and
- I am most certainly not representative of his core audience
So, it’s not for me to decide whether this venture will be successful. Instead, it’s for me to help him figure out the best way (from a technical standpoint) to try. More about that later.