How much does it cost to run a message board?

How much does it cost to run a message board?
Hundreds per month?
Tens of thousands?
I have absolutely no idea how a message board, or any web site, functions financially.
How does running a site compare with running a regular business?

A mom-and-pop business has expenses that I can understand: pay rent, buy inventory, pay salaries, pay advertizing, and then hope the cash register fills up enough each week to make a profit.
But how does a message board operate? What are its expenses?
I suppose you need a computer that is just a little bigger than my laptop :). But how much bigger, and how much does it cost? I have no idea…(Also, as an aside, how big is the computer physically–does it sit on a shelf?.. fill a whole room?..And why is it called a “server” instead of a computer?)

How many people do you need to operate the site? (other than our mods- God bless 'em:) )
I assume huge organizations (like the airlines)have big departments dedicated only to keeping the web site functioning. But what about a smaller buisness? For example, I sometimes buy pet supplies from a site called It’s a business that has only one brick-and mortar location, and sells thru the web, too…but it’s hardly a famous site. Do they need a huge staff of IT techies to keep their site functioning?

The marginal cost of allowing one more post is practically zero (the cost of disk space and the electricity to move the disk heads to write). In a perfectly competitive market, price equals marginal cost. This is the problem with pricing in the digital age.

What you’re asking about are fixed costs and sunk costs.

Yes, I realize this doesn’t answer the question, but it helps to have the question, and the consequences of the answer, framed well.

I have often wondered about this, too - particularly in relation the SD, and their current difficulties.

Several (small) boards that I visit sometimes send out requests for contributions. One example:

Is this typical? I assume that the SD is a bigger operation, and its costs are higher, but how much income can you get from advertising? What other revenue streams are available?

chappachula: I don’t mean to hijack, but I’m curious about this, too.

Obviously, a lot depends on the number of users and the bandwidth requirements of the message board. At the low end, you can find hosting for less than$6.00 a month and install vBulletin (the software used to run the SDMB) for $180. Or, there are many free, open-source message board setups you could use.

As your bandwidth requirements increase, so will your hosting costs. A dedicated server at Rackspace starts at $383 a month, but presumably, by the time you reach that size, you’ll be able to recoup the expense with advertising.

To be honest, this doesn’t help (me) at all. What on earth are sunk costs? The price of what equals the marginal cost of moving disk heads? Surely it isn’t just down to one post moving disk heads? The more posts (and posters) means more Mbs or Gbs or something which means that someone’s going to charge you more, doesn’t it?

As is obvious, I know nothing about this, but I’m even more confused after your post, I’m afraid

Message board software often comes free with web hosting. The whole package including a web site and e-mail services among other things can be had for $5 a month or so. Even the expensive packages are often about $10 a month.

If you want to do a message board as a hobby or just a side part of a regular business, it is practically free and you could have a very basic one in less than 4 hours from now with no experience. You just order a package that includes it online from someone like GoDaddy and their computers set you up almost immediately. They host and worry about the actual servers with this.

Of course, this doesn’t include lots of things. If the message board gets to be a huge hit with thousands of users, you are going to need lots of maintaince that you may not be able to handle yourself then you need moderators and administrators but those can be technically free as well.

It really isn’t about money but it is about organization and the headaches that go with it.

We have a single brick and morter store. We also sell some of our products online. It costs very little. We paid someone about $4k to set it up for is (that included the cost of the store front itself, which seems to cost the average joe about $2000, but I think the people we bought it from get it cheaper…anyways). After that we pay $40/month. That covers hosting, SSL certificate, owning the domain name (and anything else like that) as well as a small amount of tech support for the store front. All said and done, it doesn’t cost that much for us. Oh, there is only one web/IT guy…me. For something as small as our site, it doesn’t require anything more then one person to keep it maintained and pull the orders off of it.


Sunk cost: costs that, once assumed, cannot be recouped (even at a loss). Buying a car is not a sunk cost: you can sell a car (at a loss, usually). Writing a book is a sunk cost: you can’t convert your time and effort back into time and effort, even at a loss. Once you’ve written it, you’ve written it, and all the time and effort amount to squat. (This usually makes people squirm. Arguments against considering sunk costs are outside the scope of this post.)

Fixed cost: costs that don’t change relative to output. If I put my business in a building, the cost of turning on the lights is a fixed cost: I have to turn the lights on whether I produce 15 or 50,000 things that day.

Variable cost: costs assumed in producing something. If I produce 10 X-Box360s today, the cost of the case is a variable cost, as I need a case for every unit I produce.

So, roughly, I mean there’s more than one way to examine cost, and what you’re interested in, ultimately, affects what should count as a cost.

What’s the aim in asking about cost? If you mean, how much could I charge posters by setting a unilateral price, then your question involves marginal cost (the cost of allowing one more post) and it doesn’t matter what the bandwidth is (it is not an especially variable cost) or what it takes to buy a server.

If you mean, “Is it worth it to buy the SDMB?” or “What costs should I consider in buying the SDMB?” then you’re asking whether the investment in bandwidth, vBulletin, a server, and etc will make it worth it, given what you can charge customers. (And then it is important to ask who your customers are: advertisers, to whom you sell ad space, or posters, on whom you impose a cost of posting.)

I disagree. As the forum continues to grow, money does become a factor in terms of bandwidth and hardware costs. As your forum gets really popular, you’ll discover that the “unlimited bandwidth” terms on your hosting package aren’t truly unlimited. Similarly, you’ll outgrow shared hosting (where you forum is hosted on the same server as countless other websites) and get into pricier dedicated hosting – one computer dedicated to nothing other than running your forums. Continue to grow from there, and you’ll have multiple servers all dedicated to the forums which is both an administrative and financial headache.

So yeah, organization matters like you said, but money becomes a bigger part of the picture, too.

erislover: Thank you. Consider ignorance fought. Your point about whether your customers are advertisers or posters is very good, I think.

In that vein, generally, are boards (like the SDMB) sellable. Do they have a marketable value?

You can probably get something going for less than $20-40 (more bandwidth and traffic = more ) a month, at first. Just find a hosting plan who supports PHPBB3 (an alternative of VBulletin). If you want to buy VBulletin it’s $180 for an owned license and can also be a month to month. I’ve never worked with VBulletin so I’m unsure whether or not it’s easier to run than a PHPBB forum. It may have different options and all.

As for setting it up this will take time. Be sure to plan everything out before starting. Know what you will name your forums and what there discriptions will be. You’ll need to set permissions, colors, set up extra features and options, etc… there are thousands of things you can do with a forum. I myself am an amateur, though. Also, people will not just come flocking to your forum, it takes time for material to build up so different discussions can be made. Unless of course you had 5,000 people just waiting to sign up…

Once you’re up and running you personally should have no problem running the forum alone for a little while. But once your clientele becomes larger things will happen and your members will want you to take different actions. This is when you’ll need more support such as administrators, moderators, and such. It works like a business in a sense.

Now that business is steady you will want to make consistent back-ups of everything. I can’t give you details here because this is where me being an amateur comes in. You need to do this just in case something happens and data is lost. Hackers, etc. Basic security functions should come with your hosting though.

Over-all I’d say just a handful of people can run a forum like this one as long as there is always someone on watch. If this was a full-time job for everyone you can figure paying out anywhere $20,000 a year to $40,000 a year, or whatever the heck you want to pay your employees. That’s up to you. For income you have your clickable keywords, promotions, banners, popups, subscription fees, fees for extra features, etc.

Now, if you want to get into purchasing your own servers, and doing it the real way… you’re looking as spending a lot more money. As this point you want to do everything professionally. You can figure spending $5,000 or more for your website to be designed and around that same amount or more for the equipment. Then you have your maintenance fee’s on top of that. While these things would be under warranty, you can’t just ship your server in to have it fixed… You’d have to fix it right away because you don’t want your site to be down for extended periods of time.

Go the easy way first, learn the ropes, then if you are successful purchase your own equipment. It may take a long time before it’s actually necessary. Forums aren’t the easiest thing in the world to make populated with consistent traffic.

FWIW in my experiences doing this.

I have no idea. I’m sure it is sellable in the sense that there’s no law against it, but I can’t say much more than that.

Were I interested in the SDMB, I’d want to know what the attrition rate was in switching to the pay-to-play model a few years back, how many users returned when lifting that, what ad revenue is, etc. I don’t know how much of this is available.

I’d also like to know what the SDMB substitutes are. This information may not even be available at all (we’d ideally like to ask every poster that left what they did, but it may turn out that they did things that aren’t actually substitutes for the SDMB).