Hmmm, it looks like getting people to pay is a bigger problem than I realized. ;)
Haven't tried it yet rogerd. I'll let you know when I do. :)
I am actually doing the opposite right now: paying for potential posts by running adwords ....
Hmmm, and then you could offer to eliminate the ads for paid members. ;) Actually, although "ad elimination" is bandied about as a member benefit by some forum owners, it seems to me that you need a more persuasive motivator to get people to pull out their credit card.
I've heard of other schemes, like more private message storage, bigger avatars, etc.
I've seen two approaches to this recently.
One offers 3 levels of membership, ranging from $25.00 to $100.00. Members get special tags on their posts and some other goodies.
The other allows paid members to make commercial posts in the forums.
I didn't investigate either of them very much. I don't even recall the name of the second forum, but I did notice the option.
No idea how well it works in either case.
AdSense works wonders for us in a couple of forums.
I wouldn't look to monetise a forum only site in any other way, unless you're large enough (like WW) to run Pubcons and request member support etc.
If the forum is just part of a larger community site, there are plenty of options.
Forums on their own are very tricky.
People will pay for a forum if they know they are going to get value out of it and the price is reasonable.
There are a couple of things to remember though:
1. Your forum must provide information they can't easily find on another forum/website for free
2. The price should be low enough so it doesn't require much thought about whether it will be worth it (I think $5 to $10 per year is reasonable)
3. Potential subscribers need to have a way of seeing what they will be getting before they will be willing to pay for it. I've seen a few forums that allow you to read threads, but charge you to make posts. On others, you must pay to do a search.
Was a member of a very active CRPG-oriented forum, hosted free on Delphi. It had a few unobtrusive ads, and we all (appx 100 regular posting members, probably over 200 members including inactives) "lived" there for about 3 years, had fun, no problems.
Then Delphi "offered" to give us "more" stuff if we "subscribed" for $4 US/month or thereabouts. Since none of the "more stuff" was anything any of us wanted, we "opted out". Until the "offer" became the "stick" - you WILL pay us, or your basic functionality will be GREATLY reduced....
We left. EOS.
Except for very specialized, high-value forums, it seems like continuing to offer most forum content and features for free is essential. Forums really work only when they have a critical mass of participants, and forcing paid membership is almost certain to drop the number of participants dramatically. I don't have any stats from such a conversion, but I'm guessing that even a very popular forum would have difficulty converting more than 10% or so from free to paid. Obviously, this depends on the price and the perceived value, but just getting the member to pull out a credit card, even for a dollar or two, is a big hurdle.
I have subscribed to some services. They've offered things I couldn't get elsewhere. And I wanted it then and there. People seem to want what they can't have, like gmail. Offering premium content is what people probably value most. Anything else won't matter too much. I've seen forums where they won't let you search without paying. So there are a ton of repeat posts because people aren't going to look through every page for a similar question.
I'd be careful about offering limited options to non-subscribers. WW is successful because it has a huge member base, which builds up tons of valuable content. If you stop some members from posting or fully enjoying your site you will be limiting the value of your forum.