To run a pay network or not to run a pay network that is the question.
I believe this is a personal choice for any Network Creator with many potential reasons & motivations regardless of their choice run a paid network or free one. I created this discussion to share my thoughts about it and possibly open it up for other people to share their thoughts as well. You don't have the read the whole thing if you don't want to. It's just an opportunity to get all my thoughts out once and for all.
I had been thinking about posting something like this for some time and recently a comment from a an NC spurred me on to finally get it out. We all have probably dealt with this issue in some way but even more so for NCs who were around when Ning was free (before they became a paid network).
1) There are no free networks or network creators who don't pay for them
This may seem obvious but it's really something I feel can get lost in the background. Every current network creator pays for their network. Every Network Creator. This means we all pay for a service and whether we realize it or not we consent to the idea that it is perfectly reasonable to pay for a service. Those who don't believe in this are not network creators because as I said there are no free networks or network creators who don't pay for them. If you don't believe in paying for a service and you are a network creator than you are not putting your money where your mouth is. Actually, what you are doing is putting your money in the hands Ning/Glam media or you would not be a Network Creator. Now, you may choose to pay out of your own pocket or seek the support from the community but either way we have monthly or yearly rent which brings us to my next topic.
2) The Big Choice
Do you offset the cost of your network by getting support from your community? Notice I didn't say "by charging your community." Charge, I feel, can sound more like taking without giving anything in return. Support is more of a mutual exchange because I feel the relationship between an NC & their members is one of mutual support. There is usually one NC addressing the need of hundreds if not thousands of members. It's much easier for the many to support the one because a group of many can more evenly distribute the burden a lone Network Creator has in running a network. However, some members might feel it is completely inappropriate for an NC to ask its members to help with the "rent" and yet ironically they are effectively occupying the space a Network Creator took time to create if they are a member. They may not even want to volunteer to help with chores or answer the door when mail arrives.
Paying for a network I am a member of, I feel, is a way of saying "I support a network because it supports me by what it offers to me and/or my community."
I also feel it is just as fair for someone to NOT pay a network they don't feel can support them and what they are up to. However, if you make a choice not to support why criticize an NC's choice to ask for financial support especially. If they have no intention of providing financial support why would it bother one so?. Why? To get in a few cheap shots? To look good in front of others?
What people who criticize like this DO have is freedom of speech and freedom of choice - a lot of which was exercised when Ning went from free to paid. However, some lean more towards freedom of speech about being upset about something they are not being forced to do rather than the more effective kind of speech that investigates the value of what is being offered which leads to a very simple choice of yes or no.
This form of speech poses questions to ourselves and/or hopefully to the person offering the service about its potential and intended value. This is key because without this we may be paying to much in not asking or missing out on a really good value by not asking the right questions. Instead some feel what is more effective is just question even asking for financial support at all.
3) Network Creators more often than not are individuals with other responsibilities.
I actually had a comment from someone who compared my pricing on a network to that of flickr. How do you even begin to respond to that? The mindset must be that a Network Creator running a network from home is somehow on par with a million dollar corporation providing a service run by a team of employees and programmers. Oh yeah that corporation is Yahoo! If anything the Network Creator should charge less than Yahoo? If they don't like the service in the first place why are they even discussing price? Are they a business consultant? Did I unknowingly solicit business advice when I asked for financial support?
I believe most network creators created networks in their spare time out of a labor of love. They also probably spend a lot of their own personal free time running a network or even multiple networks. I don't know how Jen does it and yet she as not been immune to attacks from people about the service she provides on occasion from people who have even been members of her network and used her tips.
I'll never forget talking with another network creator about the fact that if some NCs spend 5 hours a month trying to figure out something complex thing on their site. Now, if they calculated their hourly rate at $10 an hour (which is just a little above minimum wage) that this would be about $50 a month ($360/yr). Yet some would balk at paying $30 for an entire year. I know for a Network Creator to run a successful network it will absolutely take more than 5 hours a month. Time can easily be overlooked & not even considered for the valuable resource that it is.
4) If you can afford to not need the support your members . . (Karma)
If we can afford to not need member support for our network than we probably shouldn't be able to afford wasting time complaining about those who who do but then again maybe some network creators do. If one does ask for financial support from their members than they would be most likely be in the position to sympathize with someone who does the same. How can we as Network Creators ask members to support our network by contributing financially when we are not willing to do the same with Networks or services we want to support? "I want my members to support my Ning Network but I myself would never pay to support a Ning Network?"
If we don't support what we find of value then it may not be around anymore and the collateral impact is that we not be either as a result because of not supporting the things that support us. However, people are free to hate. It's just that it is a waste of time both for them and for us to address their attempt to tear down what we have spent so much time trying to build.
I created a network called Creator's University and i don't think it's a dirty word to call it a pay network. Ning is a pay network and I pay/support them. I think networks like mine are the best kind of network because its intent is to support other network creators in supporting their networks and in turn support Ning/Glam Media. This includes how to make money from our networks. In 2 weeks, I have covered my yearly plus fee from member donations. I also run another network which is a pro account and I have paid they yearly fee 2 year straight from member contributions so I know of that which I speak. I have been a network creator since 2008 and have contributed over 1200+ discussions/blogs/videos on Creators . I am a have contributed my financial support to both the Jquery Network and JenSocial.com so I practice what I preach. I run a pay network, a semi pay network and a completely free network.
I spend a lot of time working on my networks and coming up with ways to improve them. I have a lot to share and it takes time and effort and if it costs me more than I can responsibly devote to it I'll just fold up shop and focus on my networks. I have a day job and work really long hours. I am not courting sympathy as much as saying it may not be as easy as some may think to run multiple networks. I don't think I ask for much and sometimes question if I am asking for enough. If someone doesn't want to pay for any network or feel it's against their principles that's fine but if they want to take a cheap shot they may not realize is it's actually costing them and our community more than they realize.
All true, but we also need to be tactical about how we introduce to our networks the fact that (a) there are costs to run them, and that (b) we would like to ask for support from our networks.
I followed the Ning guidelines on how to gradually introduce a pay subscription system, and am using the voluntary payment system. Offering a free service is actually a raison d'etre for my network. End of January, existing members began to see the new subscription panel when they logged in to the network.
Yesterday I got an outraged email accusing me of running a spam operation, and false advertising. The member requested immediate deletion of account, and provided no explanation for the accusations.
I suspect it was the shock of being asked to support something they thought was free, and not realising that it is still free. When people see unexpected billing systems online they want to back out as fast as possible.
This was the first reaction of this sort in years of operation of my network, so I think it does mark a response to the subscription system, and I do think we need ways to better visualise how the subscription system looks to other people.
On a positive note, I have had a few supporters paying subs or making donations...enough to cover a couple of months of Ning time :-)
Thanks for sharing. I can completely sympathize with what you are saying here. I think there is a something for be said for handling these kinds of situations because you could be doing all the right things and it would not matter. You may still get a negative reaction and it may have nothing to do with what you did or didn't do. Thanks again for sharing.