Well, it's an indication of the state of the industry, innit? Obviously the revenues are trending the wrong way. Ad revenue is surely in a crunch, for a couple of reasons: ad revenue is in general getting crushed on the internet, and the photographic enthusiast market is on a brisk downhill slope as well. I dare say it's getting ugly out there.
Michael tends to over-inflate Lula's place in the universe a bit, but it still seems to be in the top ten most visited photography web sites. 330,000 unique visitors a month, which probably translates to somewhat fewer actual people (I probably count as somewhere between 2 and 5, depending on how alexa.com's analytics are counting me), and still fewer regular visitors. I am comfortable with 10,000 to 100,000 as the count of humans who regularly visit.
They've made some missteps. Michael, as I read it, hired a friend of his, so now the payroll includes three guys, at a time when revenues were about beginning that inexorable slide. The content, frankly, has suffered. Most of the front page articles are terrible fluff pieces, and they did a site conversion which left the archives of useful historical stuff in a bit of a shambles. They have too many staff, and too little web site. With all due respect, I have no idea what on earth they do with three staffers. So, there's trouble in River City. They gotta do something.
A paywall is a Hail Mary pass, there's just no other way to put it. You either start an inexorable death spiral, or you don't. Most of the time, you do. There's a short interval in which things look good, it's a joyful private club, everyone feels smug, and now if we can just get another 2x or 3x signups we're in fat city, and then people stop renewing and the new signups slow down because things are kind of dead in there, and after a while it's time to turn off the lights.
It's entirely possible that they did some research, I don't know. I'm an active member, and they didn't reach me with any kind of market research, which certainly doesn't mean they didn't do any. It's a datum, though.
Also worth noting is that, based on a handful of comments in their forums, they're tweaking the model to make the forums free. If this is genuinely the basis for the change, they're insane. They have, at a bare minimum, 10,000 regular visitors, and those are the people they need to persuade to part with hard-earned lucre. Just because 4 or 5 or 10 of the self-selected cranky jerks (I include myself in that number) who infest their forums say something doesn't mean it's true or even relevant. In fact, it almost certainly is not relevant, these are by definition outliers. You've got to figure out how to reach that silent majority and find out what's going to make those people part with cold, hard, cash.
Anyways, it's tough out there.
If you're running a popular web site, and you're wondering what to do to solve your money problem, watch LuLa closely, it's gonna get interesting. While you're watching, think about these ideas a little:
- Launch a Patreon. Running simply on donations with an organized approach is a lot like a friendlier paywall. It can work.
- Launch a market research firm. Get some books out of the library, read up, and start gently leveraging your subscriber base. Work out a way to compensate them for their time, for their information, in a way that doesn't cost you much, Premium content. Negotiated discounts from useful vendors.
- Sell T-shirts and other merch. This can produce surprising amounts of revenue.
- Do you sell anything else? Workshops, prints, videos, whatever? Launch a business helping other people generate and sell similar content and services.
- Own up to vendor relationships and leverage them. If you like Nikon, or Tamrac, or Lytro, or whatever, ask them if you can be a spokesman. There's no shame in being a paid pitch man for products you like. Just don't lie about it.
- Etc. Just think a bit, you'll probably come up with more businesses.
None of them are going to be all wine and roses. The trouble is that the pundits and players in the web-o-sphere don't want to do the hard parts. They want to fool about with cameras and write uninformed blog posts (I know that's what motivates me anyways) and they would very much like to get paid handsomely for their goofing off (well, me too, but I'm more of a realist than that). If you just want to play around, you can't expect to get paid a lot for it.
Some people have gotten paid a lot for it, but that was an anomaly, in an anomalous time, which time is now over.
Time to get to work.