Required Reading: blog.brewadvice.com - Revenue Ideas
Joel has posted a bit about the future of StackExchange.
I own a web development firm, so my initial take was to say "build your own". The truth of it is, though, that it would cost a bit to built an app that works this well. I have to admit, I was going to ask you where you got the app because it works so well that I wanted to use it for some clients...
I would gladly donate to this site. But from my experience, that stream dries up pretty fast.
I had an online community at uglybassplayer.com for a long time. With around 1000 unique visitors/week I was getting around $50/month in Google Adwords revenue from it, at the best times. But still, with a little work and some networking, affiliate programs can bring you some cash. If you could become an affiliate of a big online homebrew supply shop like William's Brewing or Home Brew Mart and get kickbacks on referrals, that would likely pay your bills and let you keep this great software.
The site's UI is what sold me right away. The software you're using is important.
BrewAdvice has the clear advantage over all the other sites in the arena of direct question & answer. Homebrewers are a great bunch of people; willing and wanting to share their opinions, ideas and designs. However, because the software does not have other features, such as recipe sharing or friending, it will likely always be a small player.
Obviously, I like the site. I have put a lot of my time into it. In order of least liked to most liked, here are my opinions. My suggestion is to find a combination of revenue streams.
Sufficient advertising revenue is directly dependent on the number of users & quality of ads. Can we reach a point funded solely by ads before the founders run out of spare cash? I use ad-block+, a firefox add-on, so I usually don't see the advertising.
This has the potential to get more revenue than passive ads. It will be more work since we have to find a way to drive users through to the affiliate site. One way to do this would be to post-process questions & answers for keywords (like keg and chiller) and forcibly link them to the affiliate site. I'm loathe to suggest it, but it could be quite powerful.
This has worked for the Homebrew Digest since about the dawn of time (Oct '88). Their expenses are likely much lower than ours - it is an email list and some 1980's-looking web sites.
Cheapest, cash-wise. Most expensive, time-wise. I know the founders are a couple of capable young guys. StackExchange is a great platform and we, as users, would have to put up with a less featureful site while PJ & Taylor build something from the ground up. It did not take much time for BrewAdvice to hit a sufficient number of users that they were happy to turn over "control" to us, so once the two of them (with help from others here) get a working site BA will quickly be back to full-strength.
$1600 a year is a small amount for any large homebrew shop or brewery. There is already good content here, making the pitch to potential donors easier. B3 and Northern Brewer have sponsored the Brewing Network and would be my first place to look. Many microbreweries consider themselves "teaching" breweries and would be open to fostering beer knowledge growth. Get a good pitch, show them what we are doing for the community and the money will come.
It's been said before: BredAdvice lacks some features to make it a one-stop-shop for brewing information. By partnering or integrating with other sites, like the recipe-sharing site HopVille (and makers of BeerCalculus) or a "real" wiki like BrewWiki, those shortfalls can be overcome. With more to offer, users will come back (and click on your ads).
I hate to be the one to rain on the party, because I like BrewAdvice. Please understand that I say this with the intent to help.
If this software is going to run you better than a c-note a month and only going to get more expensive as the site grows, then you need to ditch it.
I know, I know, I like the functionality too. But that being said while there is great advice up here its duplicated and more on at least three other free message style boards that I can think of just offhand. From a competitive standpoint, you do not have an advantage in knowledge. (When I say "compete" I don't mean money. I mean users and community)
To me, the competitive differentiator that makes this site unique is the software and the format for answering questions and voting. But, the people who make this software are going to make it too expensive to continue to run it. I hate to say it, but that leaves you without a lot of choices. Its clear to me you can't continue to use this software at the rates they are charging.
People are not going to pay for information they can get for free from other sites, even if those sites are in a "message board" format. That fact will mean your only revenue will be donations from a few hard core users and the site is too young, too new to have enough of those to keep you afloat all year.
So, with all of this negativity, let me make a suggestion: Create the ultimate brewing wiki, using free wiki software and the knowledge of the fine people who frequent this site. You can even do it with a "question of the day" that gets moved into the wiki itself after being answered.
That format will give you the competitive advantage of accessibility. Other sites have brewing wiki's, but you could make yours the best. It would take time, participation and hard work. But you have the knowledge basis before you in the answers on the site right now. That will let you compete and have a chance of success.
Because I'm a sucker for slick design and simple functionality (the definition of the StackExchange platform), I would be willing to pay a subscription fee to use the site. Yes, have a free trial and/or limited access for folks to check it out. HBT has a lot of great information and resources but I can't seem to get over the layout and "old school" forums. When I'm Googling something and a HBT thread comes up, no problem - I'll check it out. But I have a terrible time searching and it's just not pretty.
I'm against ads. They're ugly and I never click on them. And it seems like that has brought in nil thus far for BA (that's Brew Advice, not the other BA).
I really like the sponsor/partnership idea! That could definitely go somewhere.
I like the premise of the site thus far that I have interacted with it. I think its novel and different from other forum formats. Not quiet sure if it will really catch on like the other big forums have. The back and forth discussions you get on an idea or concept don't happen here. It sort of does in comment format, but its not the same. Like it or not people do like getting credit for those posts too.
Lastly, as a homebrew blogger myself the thing that really drives traffic is recipes. This site doesn't really lend itself to recipe posting and discussion. I don't really want to see a bunch of questions that say. "Hey what do you think of this recipe?" There is no answer to that in this format.
As you already know, you need ALOT of traffic to get google-ads to really make you anymoney in the homebrewing cyber arena. Mainly because there are very few homebrew only ads. Based on the few months the site has been up and the # users registered here from an outsiders view, there isn't alot being done to get the traffic here. But I don't know what your statistics really are so my observations are somewhat moot.
This is an interesing topic. One that I am sure many beer and brewing bloggers are even lurking on.
I'm thinking something like a "Sponsor Question of the Week", where a sponsor can ask the community something and gets to promote a product at the same time.
Say you pay $200 ($500 for 3 months) to become this month sponsor and you get:
The idea is to use the sites features to actively connect the users with the sponsoring company in a "non-disturbing" way. But also to create long term value for the company with user generated content.
This requires some involvement from community, but I think it could become a nice feature for the site, as well as keeping it operational.
I think most web users are OK with ads so long as they're not obnoxious. Banners are pretty well accepted. Flash-over ads are despised. Furthermore, if you could approach well-targeted advertisers about putting banners on this site, they may well bite. I'm thinking places like Midwest Supply, Austin Homebrew, etc would be willing to sponsor ads. Even LHBS's could advertise and it could be targeted to visiting IP addresses from the area they serve. Google ads are usually pretty non-obnoxious, too.
What about some sort of affiliate purchasing program?
We could team up with a few sellers and form partnerships where we bring good, focused business, and in return members get a discount and the site gets a kickback (just enough to pay the fee).
This could include a popular equipment seller and a recipe kit seller.