Alex Case asks whether the free ESL site has a future as a business model after some gloomy conversations with site owners. I know I was one of those doom mongers as I had a drink with him a few weeks ago, but it appears that there are others who are gloomier and things aren't looking good in some areas.
I think the Dave Sparts are likely to be disappointed- the big sites are likely to weather the recession. People have been writing obituaries for Dave's ESLCafe for a couple of decades now and still it rolls on. Small sites are also likely to be able to continue- with minimal or no costs, there's little to lose even in a tough recession, the recession may well mean increases in traffic as people look for teaching jobs and as students look for free sites, and advertisng could cover any expenses.
I think that the squeeze is likely to affect easily medium size sites, which may find themselves saddled with costs for hosting, etc, that cannot realistically be supported out of their pockets but unable to generate the revenue to cover them.
Freemium is currently being touted as the next financial saviour, and it is undoubtedly true that some will do well on it, though it is not a new idea, just a new coining. However, this is the reverse of Buy one, get one free and I worry that many will find that with an internet that is knee-deep in free ESL materials, there just aren't that many people willing to subscribe.
Sean Banville's Breaking News English
is probably the most successful independent site for ESL materials, one that certainly moved the goalposts, but he says his pdf book sales barely cover his hosting costs. Karenne of Kalinago English
put her weekly sales
at what a teacher can earn in an hour, and offers coming in from outside have been more profitable. These are both established, well-known and respected sites, but so far there haven't been queues of people wanting to shell out cash.
I'd love to be wrong, but I do doubt that freemium is going to turn ESL websites into a goldmine. There are a very small number of sites making decent money, a fair few doing reasonably well, and many are struggling. Freemium may work well for some, and I hope it does, but I think many will find it a non-event, just as many bloggers did advertising.
None of this means that setting up a site can't be an immensely rewarding thing, but it makes for a very tricky business plan.