PointBuzz (Guide to The Point) and CoasterBuzz have been with me now for almost two decades. The early days were a lot more fun because of the wild west nature of the Internet. It delivered on the promise that anyone, anywhere, could create something with somewhat limitless potential, as long as they could pay for the cost to host it. That was a challenge for sure, in the early years, even when at one point I was hosting stuff on a T-1 to my house on my own servers, but that eventually gave way to rented servers, and then to the cloud. But even now, it's definitely not free, especially if you want to do it right.
The path to doing this was always advertising, which was generally lucrative enough to pay the bills, and during the recession and layoffs, enough for me to pay my mortgage as well. When Doubleclick (then an agency that sold ads on behalf of publishers) dropped me in 2001, it would have been devastating if I didn't start the CoasterBuzz Club, because my hosting costs alone in those days were over a grand. Fortunately, people didn't expect everything on the Internet to be free, and they stepped up.
Things have changed a lot. Before you even get to the issue of financing a niche community site, there's the fact that people aren't that interested in niche community sites in most cases, or at least not if it isn't a really big niche. People are content to use Facebook for most anything. Original content isn't valued very much. Attention spans suck too, so discourse on the Internet has largely been reduced to 120 characters of stupid by the likes of people like the president. It's all very discouraging. For years I've watched more individuals come to CoasterBuzz, but spend less time there.
But the money problem is worse. Google and Facebook own more than half of the ad market, and of that, obviously Facebook ads only appear on Facebook. That leaves scraps for the various small players, and few of them service small publishers like me. While Google has actually improved its CPM's for our sites, they aren't filling all of the ad inventory. That by itself wouldn't be that big of a deal if it weren't for the fact that all of the secondary ad providers have either shriveled up and died or pay so poorly that they're not worth using.
This year I'll technically take a loss, because I count my travel expenses to the business, and rightfully so, as those are largely a function of maintaining the relationships I've built over the last few decades. There's still some room to squeeze out more savings from the hosting, but not very much.
And here's the pisser: Google has been reducing my payout by as much as a third after the end of the month, attributing it to "invalid traffic." Mind you, there's no human who you can call to ask them about this... I'm just out a couple grand with no recourse. It's infuriating.
I don't know how many more years I'll be up for that. Ironically, the same company that's fucking me and the ad business is also the one that provides a ton of organic traffic. There are 80,000 pages indexed on CB alone. It's just that the traffic isn't worth much these days.