These are two sites whose creators hoped they could hire an “enthusiast-in-chief” to attract readers, let users contribute the rest, and build a niche community and, ergo, a business. Steve Outing, one of the founders, says they’re throwing in the towel because user-generated content has a bad habit of not generating much readership.
What happened with us is that we did attract a core group of regulars. Folks who we categorized as “super-enthusiasts” did join in the spirit of our sites and participated frequently. I saw them recommend our sites to their friends, and some of them showed up. While a few of those people stuck around, many more participated a little bit, then faded away. Our growth in traffic was slow and steady, but unremarkable, and not enough to sustain a business.
In hindsight, I think we tried to rely too heavily on user submitted content. Even though a lot of it was really great, the overall experience was weak when compared to, say, reading a climbing or a mountain biking magazine filled with quality professional content throughout.
We believed that having a core level of professional content –- from our site editors -– would be enough to attract a loyal following even if the user-submitted content wasn’t enough on its own. But I think we didn’t have nearly enough of that. If I had any money left to throw at the business, I’d hire more well-known athletes and adventurers, so that the core was a larger pool of professional content — and I’d mix that in with the best user content.
Steve says his mountain biking site got about 75,000 page views a month. If you sell ads it works out to about 10 bucks a day per ad. Now if you were living in rural Zimbabwe you might be able to live on that, though finding a high-speed connection might be a bit of a challenge.
I wrote about these sites in September 2006 and had a conversation with Steve in which he argued that mountain biking and climbing had better business prospects than, say, hiking, because climbers and mountain bikers are more passionate about their sports.
Maybe they’re nuts about ’em, but they’re not nuts enough, it turns out. I feel sorta vindicated that after being told, in essence, “well, we just don’t think there’s enough audience to justify a ‘Your Hiking’ site.” Turns out there weren’t enough eyeballs for their ideas, either.
The challenge with making a go of “user generated” content is that any user good enough to create stuff people want to see will already have a day job doing the same work, and giving it away online without a paycheck attached just reduces the market value of their work.
I can rationalize having a hiking blog because there’s no market demand for this content anyway. I’m taking time away from chasing down free-lance writing and editing gigs, but paid gigs require much more effort (and thought, but you knew that).