Thursday, 30 September 2010

Website Funding - The Creeping Site Killer.....?

One of the biggest personal responsibilities that goes with owning and operating any website is paying for the hosting fees as and when they occur; monthly, quarterly or yearly.

So anyone asking me, and probably any of the many 'WebMasters' that have owned and run a site for over 10 years continuously, for the first piece of advice before they set up their own site will no doubt be told that - certainly by me, anyway. There, that was simple, wasn't it? You buy, you pay.

Well, actually, No, it isn't quite that simple.

Every website on the World-Wide-Web can be set up and run from any personal pc from their back-bedroom, den or laptop and to do this their are a number of free download, cheap or expensive website building programmes available; you take your pick according to the type of site you wish to build and operate. Either way, it's all there for you to use and there are very few costs or other problems associated with those. Indeed, the programme that I purchased for SEAWINGS eleven years ago I still use today. Good value, I'd say. However, that isn't the big issue. It's what you then have to do with your burgeoning site that has become the biggest single problem facing Webmasters today; the hosting of it on the web. Every website built has to be up-loaded onto the net, that place we all know as the World-Wide-Web. To up-load is relatively easy and cheap; it just involves another programme to use or indeed some website building packages have an upload system built in. But where do you up-load it to?

And thereby hangs the snag...........Hosting.

There are companies that own and run servers that your website is uploaded on to, where it is held as a copy of the one you see on your local pc or laptop, and thus it is then available to anyone and everyone anywhere on this planet that has access to a pc and the Internet and can log onto it. They are called Wesite Hosts.There is no other way to do this, least not that I've ever heard of. This hosting company provides the method by which your website is held 'up-there' so that everyone can see it. They come in many, many diferent forms, big, small, private, global, commercial - indeed there seems to be as many different varieties as there are websites; all offering different packages and deals and all in competition with one another. Some of them have become 'house-hold names' in this field, some of them are good, some are bad; most actually fulfil the hosting part satisfactorily, it's usually the service that's offered where you can tell the men from the boys. 'Support' is what they call it and it is here that the costs start for to provide that support you need staff sitting available at the other end of a pc or phone ready to answer your urgent call for assistance when something goes wrong. Can you see where this is all heading yet? Costs. Their costs become our hosting bills with a profit margin - usually very healthy - added on.

After hours of reading customer or user reviews covering literally hundreds of individual companies you then choose a hosting package that suits you and you sign up and get on with site building. However, what thought has been given to how popular your site is likely to get, how big it is likely to grow and how often it requires to be up-dated to feed the masses that are eager to read the next article. The answer to that in our non-commercial world is simple; none.

When I started SEAWINGS eleven years ago from a new pc in my den, I had absolutely no idea how big it would get. I didn't give it a second thought. How could I possibly know? All I had to hand was the material that I had at that time to form the basis for the site. I never, ever dreamt that like-minded flying boat enthusiasts from all over the Globe would latch onto the site and become correspondents, sending in mountains of reference information that was looking for a home to go to. You could argue that that was why it was started in the first place, and you'd be correct; it has been the sheer amount that has totally surprised me. That brand new pc was 2Gb in hard-drive size. Today, SEAWINGS's capacity on the web is 8Gb alone! There is another 300Gb sitting on my HD to work with.

So, you build your site, pay your initial hosting fees and off you go. And it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Each quarter or half-year you have to purchase a bit more server or 'hosting' space to hold it all and the bills rise; slowly at first , but as you really 'kick-in' with the building -  and especially when the site is photograph image 'heavy' as SEAWINGS undoubtably is - then the space required rises at a far faster rate. And, so do the costs. All of a sudden, a bill comes in that wakes you up; it's the size of a commercial companies website bill. How can that be? After all, your site is a 'home hobby' site isn't it? Not anymore it isn't.

Take a look at the top 6 model websites today; we all know which ones they are so I won't go into names. (Incidentally, I have picked this genre as I have the information from some of them to hand - I think they are all great sites and resources and I don't have a 'bone' to pick with any of them, so please don't take it that I'm having a 'dig' at them - I'm not) Take a close look and see what they have now, that they never used to. Answer? Adverts. Why? To pay the ever increasing hosting bills. Other types of sites, such as model review websites, carry something else; a Donation request. Why? Because these are the ones that are not 'commercially viable'. If you are a pure model making website you are able to attract potential customers and the kit manufacturers or the book publishers have realised that and will pay a fee to have an advert running. Or, they will sponsor a section of the site; sponsorship is purely a posh term for donations. Either way, money - funds - will come into the site to off-set the hosting fees (mainly, but there are other 'hidden' costs such as Domain Registration fees, as well). The sites that are not as commercially viable have to inevitably and eventually proffer the 'begging bowl' and ask for donations to keep it running. This is exactly the situation I found myself in two years ago when I got to within nine days of shutting the whole thing down. The day was saved by the very people that enjoy the site sending in enough donations to cover the costs. Phew! That was close.............

But, things do not change. Without regular secure funding sites such as SEAWINGS will always have a strugle to survive, I fear. SEAWINGS is about flying boats, great! But there are hardly any flying boat operators that exist today so no flying company is going to pay for an advert to attract passengers; it acts as a repositery for information but no fee is charged to use it; it does not make anything it sells so no decent profits will ever arise from sales in the SEAWINGS Flying Boat Shop; it hosts The Flying Boat Forum which currently has nearly 200 registered 'official' members/users who pay no fee to be so and thus it does not contribute (and, incidentally would be lost for good if SEAWINGS ever went down) and believe it or not, and here is the bit that really rankles with me personally, I get asked every week for a link, or an advert or similar to be placed on the front page by some organisation or other, a commercial organisation such as a model plane manufacturer, museum or charity organisation, an individual with an on-line webshop or a personal book to sell - whatever. Either way the common denominator is that thay are in some sort of business making a profit (we assume) and they want to promote themselves or their wares, on my site. Great chances for me! So, after the prolog, I inform them that due to the excessive hosting fee's and that the site is funded mostly by me, I levy a (very) small fee for what they ask - only to be expected in the commercial world - and then I get every excuse under the Sun as to why they cannot possibly afford to pay such a fee (and we are talking sums of £5.00GBP per month, or $10.00USD or €12.00EUR dependent on what is required) but, No, they cannot possibly do that. "Sorry, my budget for this year is all allocated" said one company just last week - this from a company that lists 100's and 100's of individual products and all of them are priced in the $100's dollars each - and all they were asked for was $10.00 per month. After PayPal fees etc thats commutes down to around a fiver - a lousy £5.00 per month. Not enough to replace a single printer cartridge from a Pound Store.

Charities are another source of annoyance, they want everything yet give nothing back. I have had every Chairman under the Sun on at me to promote their website and charity organisation and yet not ONE of them has ever accepted that they should pay a small fee for the service, especially when I have to usually make up the advert for them and spend my valuable time working on their behalf. Rude?  Boy you had better believe it -  when the conversation eventually swings away from the hour spent on the phone with them telling me how good they are and what a service they provide and how they enjoy priviliged funding through the charity status and how difficult it was to obtain, but how they can benefit now with all sorts of things bought and paid for, BUT as soon as I mention any form of payment, no matter how small it is I get an earfull of how I should be supporting THEM and they cannot possibly provide the fee that I was seeking. The Commitee would never sanction that as every penny has to be spent on the charity course. OMG..! What about supporting ME..?? Museums are somewhat similar, even the other places that harbour some form of interest in flying boats, just will not part with a sensible fee. Yet, they all contact me and expect me to simply roll over and fill my pages with un-paid for adverts promoting them! Christ, I don't even get the offer of a free ticket to go to the damn museum for my trouble.

The strange thing is there is a link between all of the aforementioned; everyone of them has a connection with flying boats; they make models of them, they act as a historical resource for them, they display bits of them - or in some cases the real thing - they are all connected with flying boats and see SEAWINGS as a number one target for promotion. It is after all the largest flying boat reference website on the Internet. Yet, still they will not pay for that promotion and to keep SEAWINGS there for them to use in the future. But they value it highly enough to contact me regularly, indeed some consistently, yet always with the same cop-out when it comes to paying for it. What am I missing here? What have I done wrong? Why is this happening?

They say in a reccession that the first thing to go is the advertising. But, I'm still being asked even today (which sparked this posting) and I know that if I contact the aforementioned 6 model websites and enquire about advertising (I know this because over the years I have done exactly that) , firstly I will be 'checked out' to see that I'm not 'fishing' for information so that once I know 'what their rates are' I can under-cut them, or something silly like that. When I do convince them I am serious about promoting my site I eventually get sent the list of advertising fees charged, usually in a series of "if you have a box type advert so-and so- big, it will cost you this per month" and then the sizes are presented on a rising scale thereafter. Good God Almighty! Is THAT what YOU charge.....for this...? is usually my thoughts having read their fee listings. I have certain lists in front of me now and you would be staggered to know what the charges are. They run into multiple $100's if you take out a 6 month or a 12 month 'booking' - but of course you get a discount for booking that amount of space........

Then there is the sponsorship - donations by any other name - for the promotion of a companies wares and their business, on your site. Nothing wrong with that if you can get it and don't mind that a certain amount of editorial 'control' - for want of a better term - is lost. After all, what the Paymaster wants, the Paymaster must get within reason. Usually it's nothing too sinister, an advert placed on every page or a dedicated place for them to promote their wares but far larger area than a normal advert. That's ok too as far as I'm concerned. But, try getting sponsorship for a site that has no real commercial value - and there hangs the 'rub'.

SEAWINGS has no real commercial value in todays world. Right..? WRONG..!! Very wrong. The value of SEAWINGS is, and always will be, to offer flying boat reference material, photo's, plans, documents, forums, exclusive flying boat goods to sell, information, details - indeed anything connected with the flying boat era. There is nothing like it on the Internet; sure there are sites that feature flying boats and there are sites that feature old flying boat squadrons, but there is nothing like SEAWINGS where it all comes together and has room to continue growing and expanding. The Flying Boat Forum contains some of the most knowledgeable flying boat people on this planet, there ready and willing 24/7 to answer any question, research anything connected with the history of the men, companies and machines of the genre, it acts as a repository for scale modelers who could not possibly afford to travel the world viewing all the remaining restored and preserved flying boats in museums and private collections, yet with one click they can have available to them a multi-photo close-up detailed walk-round of the 'boat in question, right in their living room, just as if they were looking at their own pictures taken during a visit, they can have acess to historical documents that they would have had to have spent some serious money on - like flight maunals and the like - right there in-front of them, lists of books, types, models, so much stuff....and all for free.

And here is another thought for you; in the whole time that SEAWINGS has been up on the net, now in its 10th year, for all of that time NOT ONE PERSON has ever asked for a fee from me for the provision of their material. No one has ever asked for a fee, or levied a charge, for photographs sent in (and the walk-rounds can climb to well over 100 individual images each) or for anything else ever sent in. Not even a hint of an 'ask'. Nope, it has all been donated completely free of charge. Amazing..! And very unique I feel. I am so grateful to all those correspondents that make this site possible. I'll say it again, not one person has ever wanted anything in return. Wow...!

That makes those charities, museums and other commercial concerns mentioned earlier look a little 'red-faced', doesn't it? Mind you, I'm sure there are plenty of charities, museums and commercial concerns 'out there' that would feel it quite a good deal to spend a small amount on an advert on SEAWINGS to reach so many interested parties; it's just that they havn't contacted me as yet.

I live in hope that they will....................and soon.

In the meantime, SEAWINGS has to live on donations I'm afraid together with whatever I can afford to keep it running, all a bit 'shakey' especially in this world where costs always seem to rise, never go down. So, I have once again proffered the begging bowl and the call is being answered; in the past five days 9 individuals have very kindly sent in a donation. I am extremely grateful to them, and they know that because I make a point of thanking everyone personally at the time. But, here's a thought for you; how many individuals view SEAWINGS in the course of a year. I can tell you that because I have a programme that records the numbers: over 29,569 unique viewers in th epast 12 months!!. I receive 20+ emails per week telling me how good someone has found the site to be for them. Yet, each time the donation comes in it's nearly always from the same very small set of 'hard-core' usual suspects, that very unique band of supporter, friend, fellow enthusiast, the sort of chaps that, if you turned up on their doorstep cold, wet and tired you would be fed, watered and given a place to sleep - all without question. To these guys, all the viewers owe a great deal so far; but, they can't keep doing it.

So far in this present 'campaign'  to now I have received 9 individual donations.................

Now, if everybody donated just a £1.00 each..............that would be a different story.


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