Taiwanderful, Forumosa and Revenue Sharing

This entry was originally written in 2007. Since then, Taiwanderful has changed significantly and my initial misgivings no longer apply. The site no longer emphasizes monetary considerations on its front page, I believe it now shares 100% of blog post earnings with the authors of those posts, and most importantly the pop-up ads are gone!

A while back, I noticed that Forumosa, the largest community site for foreigners in Taiwan, had a new guide for Taiwan. It’s called Taiwanease: The Knowledge, and it’s a wiki, which means that anybody can add articles to it and edit it. This sort of site usually takes a lot of work to get going, but once it’s big enough there will probably be quite a few people volunteering their time and knowledge to make it a better site. The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, which has grown into an absolutely gigantic, non-commercial online encyclopedia.

Unlike Wikipedia, though, Taiwanease: The Knowledge is commercial. There are ads on every page of it that I’ve seen, and if it ever gets the kind of traffic that the Forumosa forums get, it will be a money making machine indeed. A money making machine largely built by the community, that is. It’s largely for that reason that I haven’t felt very compelled to write or edit anything for the site. That and the fact that the top level navigation is broken (it uses Javascript rather than standard HTML links, breaking the middle-click to open a tab functionality of modern browsers). I like the Forumosa guys, and I contribute to the forums on occasion, but I don’t think I’ll be writing articles the that particular wiki.

Recently, David and Fili have made another site with similar aims, called Taiwanderful. It’s run on Drupal, the same CMS as the Taiwan Blog Feed. It is also very commercialized- not only does it have prominent advertisements on every page, but it is also set up so each book in its “Online Store” links to Fili’s Amazon.com affiliate program. Like Taiwanease: The Knowledge, Taiwanderful encourages users to build content for the site. What makes it different, though, is that they will share some of the revenue such content generates.

If I were to write an article for their site, the revenue of half of the ads displayed on my article would go to me and the other half would go to David and Fili. At first glance, one might wonder why anybody would ever write an article there rather on his or her own blog, where 100% of the Google Adsense earnings would go to the author. There are a couple of possibilities. If the site grows very large, then the traffic to its articles would be more than twice the traffic to the potential writer’s personal blog. Another reasonable strategy would be to simply cross-post articles and get revenue both from one’s own blog and from the site.

Still, I have some misgivings about the system. Is it really necessary for David and Fili to take half of the revenue each article generates? Any article posted to Taiwanderful will make Taiwanderful a bigger and more useful resource, and bring in more traffic to the site over time. Also, as I noted above, the site is already filled with ads on pages other than those for specific articles, and it makes use of the Amazon.com affiliate program, too. I’ve been asked to write for the site, but it’s a little bit hard to considering that every article I might write earns David and Fili more than it earns me, and that it helps build their business in the process. It would feel almost like being their employee.

Bandwidth isn’t that expensive. Community sites aren’t that difficult to build, either. It would be really nice to see a Taiwan community site that took the idea of revenue sharing and didn’t try to take such a huge cut for itself. If somebody made one, I’d love to contribute to it.

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  1. Hi Mark,

    This is a very insightful post and you’ve made some brilliant points that I hadn’t thought of until now.

    Obviously, one of the things that attracts me to Taiwanderful is that they do have revenue sharing. I think it’s a great idea and I hope that users won’t be discouraged to contribute.

    I haven’t had enough time to delve deeply into the mechanics of Taiwanderful, so I wasn’t aware of the facts and figures you’ve presented here until now. I agree, 50% is a large cut. I would like to see it reduced, but I also respect the caveat that business as business. They provide a service and it’s up to the user to deem whether they can live with the terms or not.

    However, what I do know is that the content that David and Fili provide on Taiwananderful is top-notch. David has written some amazing articles on Taiwan. I’d like to be a part of it eventually. Lately, I’ve been hanging back, waiting to see what happens before I jump on the bandwagon.

  2. Ah.
    The old revenue sharing thing.
    There are lot to say about it. But remember this, revenue sharing it based on hits and clicks. Most pro bloggers get a few thousand hits and more to be able to live off their blogs. The reach of Taiwan blogs is limited, because of the number of foreigners who read them. Most of them are from Taiwan. I remember reading something about this from Michael Turton a few months ago.

    Though I have not seen the numbers on forumosa.

    Though Google has never revealed their adsense pay scheme, I get the idea that to make some interesting money out of it, you need to have a global reach.

    Personally, I love David’s blog. The only problem I foresee is that he will have less time to blog on his main site, so that will be a downer. Running a few sites can get hard on your time.

    As a blogger, I enjoy community driven sites, but rarely participate in them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I have been around the internet since 1994 and have had my chatting, forum and IM phases. But at some point, it just got too much.

    Right now, I do read quite a few blogs. I do comment as well, but most of the time, I try and produce content. It’s an ugly way of saying that I write.

    Writing takes time. And I prefer to leave my copyright with myself, instead of cross-posting and making money for other people. There are other ways of generating traffic.

    Then again, this is only my opinion.

    A while ago last year, before I moved, I was really trying to monetize my blog. Since then, I have set those urges aside.

    It is the dream of a lot of bloggers to just quit their day jobs and blog fulltime. I do confess that I wanted to that as well last year.

  3. Well, if you’re going to blog a lot, you might as well try to get paid for it. If I were going to try to make money blogging, I would definitely seek out people that wanted to do a collaborative blog. I would probably split the money according to the ratio of hits that a person’s articles were getting vs those of the other contributors. For instance, if my articles only got 10% of the hits, I would only get 10% of the revenue, even if I wrote 90% of the content. That sort of system seems the most fair to me, since it rewards people for making content that produces more traffic. I would be interested in such a project, perhaps, but first I’d need to find the people to work on it with me, which is not as easy as it sounds.

  4. Thanks, Mark, for your detailed opinion about Taiwanderful and Forumosa. I find a discussion about Taiwan communities and information important because there’s so little information about Taiwan, and although Taiwan is small and not at the center of international attention, I think it also has to do with Taiwan’s lacking presence in the English web.

    I disagree, naturally, with most of the points you’ve made about Taiwanderful. I trackback-replied to your points here :
    Web2.0 and the Taiwanderful community
    Taiwanderful for Taiwan bloggers

  5. I agree with you Tom, that sounds about right.

    However, in my opinion for it to be successful, it would need to include a bunch of different interests, for example traveling around south-east Asia in general, with topics for each country covered to interest the most people.

    In such platforms, it’s necessary to have wider topics so that you can get to the most people.

  6. Could foreigners write something in Chinese of interest to that huge China market? If so, what kind of topics do you think would attract interest? I know how to set up a blog (I don’t have one, though), but I don’t know how to get ads from it. How do you do it? Forumosa gets lots of traffic, yet they run banners begging people to donate via paypal. Why can’t they make a profit? Or do you think they’re being dishonest? Mark, how much do you make from the few ads you put up? Lastly, what kind of topics over at forumosa get the most hits? Do certain posters at forumosa consistently get more hits? If so, those are the posters Taiwanese and Taiwanderful need to enti$e over to their sites.

  7. Tom, I agree with you completely.

    V, I can’t give you specific numbers, but I’m sure Forumosa and Tealit are raking it in. Just the earnings from what Tealit charges for classified listings is far more than enough for someone to live off of comfortably.

    And my blog? It’s on pace for about $30 this month. It certainly wouldn’t be enough to justify writing so much purely for the sake of my adsense earnings, but on the other hand, it pays for hosting and a pizza here and there. I’m sure I could earn much more from ads if I wanted to display them prominently on the front page or something, but I really don’t want to annoy users with them.

  8. V: probably, but it’s easier for foreigners to write something in English to attract other readers from other places in the world.

    Tapping the Chinese market is something difficult. Tapping the English market is easier.

  9. Thanks for your comments. Naturally, I disagree and see things differently.
    I fail to understand how anybody in the web2.0 and ads-oriented web would feel like what you’re describing, but I accept that some people see online communities differently.

    A more detailed response can be found here:
    Web2.0 and the Taiwanderful community
    Taiwanderful for Taiwan bloggers

    I hope that others will see the added value of the Taiwanderful community and will appreciate the work and effort David and I put in.

  10. I’m just saying it the way it feels to me. I guess it’s natural for anybody to feel like their own creations, whatever they may be, are valuable. Just as you value the time and thought you’ve spent setting up a website, I value the time and thought I put into my writing. I know I’m not the only one.

    I am glad to see that you’ve raised your sharing rate by 5% now, so that writers will now receive 55% of the revenue their articles directly generate. Still, I stand by the last paragraph of my post.

  11. Too bad. I believe this approach will cause you to miss out on some amazing tools and communities out there.
    Just to clarify – nothing was changed, writers receive 50% and the members who referred them receive the additional 5%.

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  13. I think I agree with Mark and the others. The 50% with-holding by Taiwanderful seems excessive. I like Tom’s idea: divvying up the loot based on who gets the most hits. Seems fair to me.

    And Fili, I don’t think [Mark’s] approach will cause anyone to lose out on anything, unless you’ve developed the best product. Maybe someone will come along with a better business model. The marketplace will decide that.

  14. V, I’ve spoken with Taffy, the editor of Taiwanese: The Knowledge. According to him, the Forumosa Group is actually running at a loss! He didn’t know all of the details, but he did say something about paying a hefty hosting fee due to the sheer size of the Forumosa database. It really is a labor of love.

    Maoman, if you’re reading this, I really suggest you check out Dream Host. I’m getting 1.7 terabytes of bandwidth and over 160 gigabytes of storage for only 8 bucks a month.

  15. Mark,

    Dreamhost is good for limited shared hosting, but the problem with those isn’t the bandwidth or storage limitation but rather the CPU and RAM limit, which for a site running an open-source CMS (like Drupal, Joomla etc.) can be a mess with over 2000 visitors a day. If you’re only running a blog or a very small-size website (with caching), then you should be okay.

    If you’re doing more than that – no matter how good your caching is, and how well optimized your DB is, you will be required to move to a VPS or a dedicated server which will bring up costs to 39-150US$ per month (and that’s hard to cover with ads). Excessive server resource usage on shared hosting could cause account suspension without notice.

    Biggest problem with Dreamhost is that they only respond to queries by email, and sometimes only after more than 24 hours, and it wouldn’t be wise to run a serious site with that kind of service (I do like their referrals model, though).

    Just my 2 cents.

  16. Of course, they’ll need more hardware than I do. I’m still surprised they couldn’t cover it with ads, though. I put pretty minimal ads on here and make about $1 per 10 daily visitors per month. At the moment, that’s $30/month and I’m using less than 1% of my allocated space, bandwidth, CPU, or anything else. Keep in mind that this includes the fact that I run several sites with no ads at all, including the TBF, which runs on Drupal.

  17. It’s funny – I didn’t think of Taiwanease: TheKnowledge as a commercial website. There are indeed ads – Google Adsense and a banner zone – but the banner zone has been inactive all this time. And if you took a hard look at how we’ve priced things, I think you’ll agree that we are most interested in breaking even than anything else

    It didn’t occur to me that someone would refuse to write in a wiki because we run our sponsors ads on it. This gives us something to think about – it isn’t the first time we’ve set up a wiki (actually, it’s the 3rd time), but it doesn’t seem to have taken hold.

    In case anyone is interested, the following is our story about our costings that I have told many times – I used to have it on our blog but it’s archived now since we are changing our banner rates.

    We were a DreamHost shared host website once upon a time (our blog is still on DreamHost btw). But they actually forced us to choose – get our own server on their network or leave. Forumosa was slowing down their other shared accounts – this was 3 years ago.

    At the time, we didn’t think we could justify the jump to their dedicated-server plans, so we left for inexpensive hosting at ServerBeach. But I missed DreamHost’s support. When we made the decision to upgrade our server to handle our needs, we planned to go back to DreamHost at $500 a month – and by then, we were sure our sponsors would support the move.

    At the last minute, we took a bid from our present host – HostExpress.com – who offered us a little bit more for the same price. We’ve been pretty happy ever since – and haven’t had the downtime problems that have plagued DreamHost of late 🙂

  18. Gus, I’m not very knowledgeable about the finances of Forumosa or any of its holdings. I do know that high traffic websites that use Adsense can easily earn more than it costs to host them, though. I would be shocked if the forums weren’t earning significantly more than they cost to host.

    Can you elaborate a bit more on the downtimes that have been plaguing Dreamhost? I’ve been reading Sinosplice every day and haven’t noticed any disruptions so far.

  19. When we were on DreamHost, as our forums grew, there were slowdowns that ultimately caused them to ask us to upgrade or leave. But since then, I’ve noticed a number of downtimes since I have other personal websites still on DreamHost – this is why they have http://www.dreamhoststatus.com – devoted to informing DreamHosters what the status is of their servers. Check it out – it’s (unfortunately) a busy blog

    Last month, there was a particularly bad spell. The new Control Panel I have on DreamHost was preceded by a major outage that lasted 2 or 3 days. It was fascinating reading the comments of DHers whose businesses depend on uptime – some were second line web hosts (resellers) left completely in the dark. I recalled what it was like when we were one of these guys, wondering, waiting, hoping, and thinking, “this simply ain’t worth it”

    We learned the hard way that discussion forums are terrible Adsense income generators. Search phpBB.com and discover this for yourself. We only did after scratching our heads why the Forum traffic wasn’t translating into Adsense clicks.

    In our experience we had Taiwanted (then known as the Forumosafieds) and Forumosa running Adsense ads the same time – Forumosa was receiving 10x (TEN TIMES) the Adsense exposure as the Classifieds, yet where was 90% of our Adsense income coming from? The classifieds. It was a very powerful differential – we figure that those who use Forumosa are mostly there to read what is there (they don’t want to click away to another website), and those who use Taiwanted are mostly there to browse around. It sounds pretty obvious now. So if you want to advertise your stuff on the Forums, design your message as something that will add to the reader’s interest, or give them something they can use inside Taiwan (90% of our readers are based inside Taiwan)

    Today, we are in the midst of changing the HTML templates of our forum to accomodate more ads. We’d rather use put ads to Taiwanted than Adsense on the Forums. It serves Forumosans much better since these are more relevant. It doesn’t make us any extra money, but that was never what Forumosa was all about. And besides, Adsense in phpBB is negligible.

  20. I think it’s a good idea, and it probably will make you more money eventually. The more people that use Taiwanted, the willing schools will be to pay for teacher ads.

    Thanks for sharing so much about the technical side of what you’re working on. I’m also going to have to think hard about whether if Dreamhost is the best place to be or not. So far, my experience with them has been great. But, I’m still in my first month of using them.

  21. Oh, you have only been there for one month? I haven’t looked over your blog, but I assumed you’ve been there since 2005.

    I’m still a fan of DreamHost. I wouldn’t keep my personal projects and family websites there if I wasn’t a fan. And I missed their technical support A LOT when we were at ServerBeach. We are getting more personal service from HostExpress because I think its a smaller business, with a much smaller user base. But overall, DreamHost rocks

    Now, if I can only understand what it would take to get people like you and other bloggers to contribute to our wiki. We are renaming the wiki Infomosa.com – we haven’t activated the forwarding yet, but we figure to see if it will/can stand on its own outside of Taiwanease. We originally we were going to use the MediaWiki platform for all of Taiwanease – but this proved unwieldy and unnecessary.

    I’m still a believer in Wikis and I use Wikipedia all the time (as a reader, not a contributor). But I haven’t had any success getting on for Taiwan to take hold

  22. Gus, one thing that might be useful is to try to think of what it would take to get people like yourself to add to wikis. You said you love Wikipedia and use it all the time, but that you aren’t a contributor. Why not? What would motivate you to contribute? Maybe the same thing would get others to add to your Taiwan wiki.

    Oh, I used to use Hostgator. I had a fairly mixed set of experiences with them.

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