VPS Bible: Do I Really Have to Charge?



vpsbible.com logo

vpsBible.com has been live for nearly a week.

It provides a niche home for the subject Setup Unmanaged VPS 4 Linux Noobs and I built it somehow to monetize the time it takes to produce these tutorials, while also giving Guvnr back its remit to produce content along the lines of Make the web, make more of it.

Not everyone is happy. Therefore, that includes me!

An email I received today sums it up. Naturally I've hidden the name of this chap who, let me say from the outset, has a valuable point:-

Setup Unmanaged VPS (4 Noobs!) ... with vpsBible
Secure WordPress. Properly. ... with wpCop, the platform's dedicated security website
Olly 'the_guv' Connelly's vpsBible.com site and 'WordPress 3 Ultimate Security' book.

Yo, Guv.

I used this tutorial to aid me in the setup of my own VPS, two or three times, and really liked it.

I come back today to check something out, and it tells me that I've got to sign in to see code, and that I have to pay money to sign up.

Is this an error, or are you really actually charging people for this now?

So here is an open response, because I know there are a lot of people thinking the same thing. And “open” also because I suspect there are a lot of content producers out there who, like me, are wracking their brains wondering how to monetize valuable content successfully but, for existing communities like mine here at Guvnr, without alienating website users with whom they have built up a trusting and really-rather-lovely online relationship.

… Bit of a toughie, huh?

Producing Content: Time & Material Costs

Let me quote a question from the FAQ at vpsBible.com:-

Why are you charging US$15?

To eat.

.. maybe this isn't the right strategy though. That's what I'm trying to work out. What I do know is this ..

When I produced the original VPS Bible, here at Guvnr, it didn't take just a few hours or even weeks. To hone it into a tutorial series that VPS and Linux newbies could follow comprehensively took months, not just writing but also researching and testing.

Then there was the paying up-front for the secondary VPS I used to test on (which Linode did give me “credit” for, after the event) as well as paying for the VPS the series was and is hosted on, my Linode (which I host other sites on too).

To support folks took more time again and is ongoing. Hey, I enjoy that though. Don't think any other thing!

On porting this series to vpsBible.com I remastered the lot, making it even more accessible, and am wanting now to sift the content again with more tips and tweaks I have learnt subsequently.

Tutorial Guides: Yet More Time!

I don't intend for the VPS Bible to stop there. It can't anyway, because technology moves forward and quality tutorial guides must be ammended accordingly.

This week, for instance, I'll be posting up a tutorial about exactly what to do to get WordPress MU & BuddyPress to work with Nginx, with the usual copy/paste code. That didn't take a few minutes, or even just a few hours to do.

There are other plans; a Joomla guide, a Drupal guide, a CentOS guide, benchmarking web servers, setting up your VPS as a proxy server, the list is endless. All directed at newbies. No Geek Greek! There is nothing like this, for the simple reason that poeple don't have the time to research and produce it.

“I come back today to check something out, and it tells me that I've got to sign in to see code, and that I have to pay money to sign up.”

I've not been backward in coming forward about this!

Despite knowing there would be those who would simply “lift” my work, I've blogged about this many times now, both in comments and with specific blog posts about my plans for vpsBible.com and including the need to somehow monetize it. When I decided to charge the $15 annual subscription, I blogged about that too, fed it by RSS & email, Twittered it and asked for comments.

… in itself, that doesn't make the $15 decision the right one though.

Here is another opportunity for my esteemed readers and followers of the VPS Bible to chip in and tell me what you think.

I would rather reduce the price and escalate the building of a cooperative newbie-VPS community. I am open to offers, to ideas .. and to criticism.

In an Ideal World: Donations

All my content would be open to all. I would have a donation button and if someone gained a tangible benefit from my how-to's they'd use it, or at least some would use it.

But the reality is that I did set up a donation button here at Guvnr a few months ago (see that $ sign up there), with this hope, and it has been used only once – by me for beta-testing!

Monetizing Content: Other Options

If I could make money indirectly and make membership free, I would. Else to cut the membership cost to the bone. But how?

Advertising

This is something to pursue. Adsense, in my experience here at Guvnr, is not worth the time it takes to set up. Maybe Amazon would be better?

If anyone can point me in the right direction on this, if you have any experience with advertising that doesn't dominate but pays, I'd love to know about it.

Affiliation Schemes

On vpsBible.com I have two.

The Linode affiliation, which I set up and blogged about about a month ago, pays no money but does give me 1 month's hosting credit for anyone signing up and retaining their Linode for three months. With 8 referrals to date, this looks like it will pay for my hosting – and for testing servers – and I'm grateful for that, and to those who have clicked a Linode link on this site or at vpsBible. (Damn, this is great!)

Maybe I should offer a free membership, else a reduced price membership, to anyone signing up to Linode through me? That sounds fair, although it also sounds like a bit of a bribe? I don't want to sound like a salesman, even though to whatever extent I am! Let me say though: I use and recommend Linode for one reason: it is the best.

A WishList affiliation, which is new. I scanned the various membership options out there and plumbed for them because they have the best product. Again, I am happy to recommend a product I use. Wishlist pays – can't quite remember! – about 30% of their $95 fee for sign-ups. I doubt, however, that many will sign up and use them through me because their service is not directly relevant to my subject.

Maybe I should think of more affiliation schemes to help subsidize my time? They would need to be services I would use happily, be best of breed and fit in with my content. Suggestions on a postcard please.

Indirect Paid Work

Of course I get work from Guvnr, and will doubtless gain work from vpsBible.com .. in fact the new site has already prompted an enquiry.

That said, I have a bunch of work anyway and could find more and turn down less if I wasn't spending the vast amount of time it takes to write specialist tutorials, so this is, well, not quite red but certainly a pink herring, at least in my situation.

Monetizing Content: Open up the Forum but Charge for How-To Guides

At the moment the forum at vpsBible is open only to subscribers. Maybe I should open that up to all. There would be more feedback and the community would grow more quickly.

Then again, my email sender above is still unplacated. Also, my support role remains unmonetized.

Open up the Content and Charge for the Forum (ie, charge for support)

This is an interesting idea.

I am certainly wondering if this is the way to go. Essentially, charging for support. If so, how much to charge? Or a donation to join the forum?

Charge for Premium Content

This is a common monetization strategy. Perhaps I should be thinking more about that.

I could open up to all, for instance, the basic VPS setup guides, and maybe the forum, else charge a small fee for that.

Then I could charge for specific integration guides – for WordPress, for MU & BuddyPress, for Drupal – and for advanced content such as setting up SSH or post-install VPS administration guides?

Don't think I like the sound of this idea though, really.

Oh What to Do?

What I do want is to nurture a friendly, mutually beneficial, cooperative community with a first rate knowledge base. For it to be worth my while, it has to somehow monetize my time.

How I do that, I don't really care.

Please, as I have said before about this transition of the VPS Bible, chip in and let me know what you think.

Whatever I do, here's a note to my current subscribers, to whom I am grateful, and a promise to anyone subsequently subscribing to vpsBible.com:-

If I reduce the fee to sign up, I'll refund you the difference.

30


About the Author:

Olly Connelly (yeah, that's me) blogs at guvnr.com, polices WordPress security at wpCop.com and helps noobs build web servers at vpsBible.com, so if you've got sleeping problems you know where to come.

Discussion

  1. the_guv  February 12, 2013

    @Christopher – sorry, just saw this so apologies. I guess I’m too late but you’re always welcome at Guv’s sister site vpsBible.com πŸ™‚ (The forums are free … they’re also pretty crap at the moment but I’m working to change that.)

    @ T Williamson – have to say, I rather detest Google Adsense. Crock of crap IMHO, as is your attitude, come to that.

    Have a nice day.

    @Mrinal – thank you. It’s a juggle, seems to me, between offering back what the open source community has given folks like me and earning a crumb to subsidise the time involved in that.

    This ‘must-I-charge’ (or how/how much to charge) is a quandary I’m still working on, and is pertinent for a new web security project I’m about to launch. For that I’m allowing the user to decide what the project is worth to them, which of course is a gamble … but then life is a daily gamble!

    Like your blog, BTW.

  2. Mrinal  January 29, 2013

    Never listen to people in matter of financial decisions. I ask all that what they would have done if they had created this stuff with their time and brains? 99% would be selling it (even if they don’t admit it).

    It’s your content. You can charge whatever you want. Period.

  3. T Williamson  November 17, 2012

    You really don’t get it! do you? By charging people money, they will NEVER BUY YOUR CONTENT! You could of made MONEY off of ADS using Google AdSense, and kept the content free.

    Plus you would get more hits! It doesn’t make sense to get a few hints and no one returns, and then your being DECEPTIVE! Modify your YOUTUBE videos to say that you have to pay to get the source code and tutorials. Otherwise you won’t EAT, but will be EATING SCRAPS!

    πŸ™‚ Have a nice day

  4. Christopher Jensen  October 25, 2012

    Hello i am having problem with my vps can you please help me out to do the setup and i will give you $15 please it is very urgent get back to me as soon as possible i just want my domain to be visible and the webmail to be working perfectly thats all i need and i will do the building of the hosting by myself and any other necessary stuffs thanks. you are one of the best.

  5. andrew  June 15, 2010

    yup, thought that alright but i was experiencing a weird thing there where if i was using browser normally then was getting the 502 whereas if i used an anonymous proxy server then everything was fine which was leading me to believe it was something local to me somewhere along the line…anyhoo, seems to be going again now. all a bit mysterious though

  6. Scott Kane  June 15, 2010

    Hey Andrew,

    A “502 bad gateway” error is a little like the Apache “Internal Server Error” message you may have seen from time to time. Definitely a server side error, and just like Apache, not always avoidable. Often a reboot resolves it, again like Apache.

    Checked the site and it’s running fine now. πŸ™‚

  7. andrew  June 15, 2010

    Sorry for double post, forgot to sign up for “notify me of follow-ups”…any assistance appreciated

    cheers

  8. andrew  June 15, 2010

    Hi there…i registered for the site months ago knowing i’d need the resource in the future and was looking forward to using it. that time has now arrived but when i go there all i see are 502 bad gateway errors? is this something on my side or the site’s?

  9. the_guv  April 20, 2010

    @Scott .. big cheers to you, appreciated Sir.

  10. Scott Kane  April 20, 2010

    Was delighted to pay the $15, was (am) delighted with the contnet. But then – I donate to WP and plugin authors too – which as has been pointed out over and over, few people bother to do.

    Keep charging. The value is first class.

  11. the_guv  March 4, 2010

    @Ian .. then again .. hey, PAX. Life’s too short, huh?

    50 years, we’ll all be dead!

    Like I said, want some advice, come pop by those forums.

    Now ciao πŸ˜›

  12. the_guv  March 3, 2010

    I agree, this is boring .. ciao!

  13. Ian Cheung  March 3, 2010

    *sigh* Olly, I don’t want to get into a comment fight but I really think you have gotten the wrong end of the stick, either that or you are becoming paranoid over protecting your ‘golden’ egg.

    I have no wish to steal your content, just asking you (not others) for a format that I use better. Last week, I paid 3 times what you’re asking for a 159 page pdf e-book on the spot, which I then printed out to read on the bus. Glad I did too, cause it saved me $69 a month. The only reason I haven’t joined your club, isn’t the $15, it’s because I am thinking of using apache instead of nginx. Yes, it’s slower but it is more compatible with other software packages, and I can write apache rewrite rules.

    Now because you’ve taken the original question out and read it your way, other people are probably thinking the same wrong thoughts. That’s really disappointing, and I’m starting to lose the respect I had for you.

  14. the_guv  March 3, 2010

    “the question was a serious one” .. what, can anyone help me with a spot of content theft?

    brazen, m8.

  15. Ian Cheung  March 3, 2010

    *shrug* don’t know what you mean Olly, the question was a serious one. or at least fix your print stylesheet? no hard feelings though. (publishing this comment is left to your discretion)

  16. the_guv  March 3, 2010

    cheers Ian ..

    sorry for lateness .. your cmt got spammed for links

    but I dunno what I can say that I haven’t already said. don’t like comparing myself with waht anyone else does .. do wish strobist the best tho. just know vpsBible couldn’t grow on his model. that was sadly proven.

    binned your last line cos it encourages scraping .. and frankly was ruddy cheeky m8 πŸ˜›

    no hard feelings I hope. maybe see you at vpsBible forums? might even give you the odd free tip if yer lucky …

  17. Ian Cheung  March 1, 2010

    Hi Olly,
    I must have caught you on a off-day or more likely I didn’t explain myself that well. As I said, I think $15 is a fair price, I think I even mentioned $30-35. I just didn’t know if you wanted the cash in addition to the referral fees. If you were wondering, I used your referral code not because of the comparision but because of the VPS bible.

    I think you are one of the good guys (and a fellow ex-pat brit to boot), that’s why I am taking the time to reply. To answer your question, no I can’t find a similar resource for VPS, but having said that, I am a keen photographer. About a year ago I got into learning flash photography using small strobes or flashes. This site http://www.strobist.blogspot.com/ taught me loads, it has a resource that took hours and hours of work, dare I say it more that the VPS bible, and it was and still is free. In doing so, David Hobby, the guy behind the site, has built a community of over 70,000 members growing), has multiple long term sponsors for his site, gives booked out photo workshops and has earnt the respect and friendship of other highly regarded photographers around the world.

    That’s what I was alluding to when I said, $15 a pop is a good short-term money-maker but maybe not the best long term strategy *or* the way to make the most money. But best of luck either way, and I am being 100% sincere here.

  18. the_guv  February 28, 2010

    @Dave .. thank you, it’s good to have you on board at vpsbible.

    @Giwrgos .. LOL .. maybe 1 day!

    @Pakija .. I appreciate your having used my affiliate link to Linode, but very likely this was a result of my unbiased recommendation and detailed guide into the 2 leaders in the market, IMHO – Linode and Slicehost.

    .. I say unbiased because I wrote the comparison about 8 months before becoming an affiliate.

    But look, here’s the rub. I make no money from Linode referrals, I simply get a $20 credit towards my hosting, 3 months down the road if the referral is still signed up. These pay for my hosting, yes, but also go towards me being able to test and improve the vps guides at vpsBible.

    I have to have a community-wide policy, that is only fair, and have implemented a system since writing this blog post, and further to feedback here, emailed to me and at vpsBible.com .. so here it is:-

    Irrespective of whether someone refers to Linode through me, I charge $15 for a year’s subscription to my documentation which is growing.

    The forum is now free. I’ve just binned the old forum – which I simply didn’t like – and now have a great place for vpsBible docs subscribers and free forum members to come and get, or give, some friendly advice.

    .. so please by all means come and ask whatever questions you have at the forum and I’ll try to help, whether or not you are subbed to the docs.

    All things considered, I think this is a fair policy and, most importantly, it allows me to spend a few days a week building great newbie VPS docs and supporting people in the forum.

    I know, Pakija, that this isn’t entirely what you want to hear but, then again, I hope you understand that this is the only way I can afford to fine-tune the original VPS Bible and expand it dramatically.

  19. Giwrgos  February 25, 2010

    since this is geek stuff, and we like to show-off why dont you sell big mugs or jockey hats, i would like to support you in that way plus i need a cool big mug to drink coffe at work. Also the 15$ as a one time fee to access full articles and provide support is fully acceptable, and if i had a full time job i would enjoy supporting you more. right now i am giving 15euro a month for my vps, and i recently found one with 12euros that i might give a try, so yes we spent money for hardware, why not spend them on tech knowledge and live support too!

  20. Pakija  February 24, 2010

    Hi Olly, I have already purchased linode using your affiliate link. I was planning to move on to VPS since few days back. I was getting more and more recommendation from different VPS users for linode. As I am not familiar with linux and VPS so I was first researching for good tutorial for VPS. I came accross your vps guide and loved. Immediately I signed up for linode using your referral link. If you want to confirm me whether I have purchased linode from your link or not you may ask me specific. I was hoping that I will be able to setup my blog using your tutorial but when I actually came to your guide to implement those code I found that I have to pay you to get those code. Will you allow your linode affiliate to use those code free of cost? Please mail me if possible.
    Thanks

  21. Dave  February 19, 2010

    My only question: Why didn’t you do this earlier?

    This guide has helped me save loads of time and money. I am more than willing to pay the $15!

    Dave

  22. the_guv  February 19, 2010

    @Ian .. it’s 15 bucks m8 – a few beers! – is updated and added to, and will save you hours at least.

    As for Linode, thank you .. that helps everyone, including you! I get a $20 credit, 3 months down the road – that credit gets recycled into tutorials.

    Tell you what though, show me a guide as simple, proven and well-supported to follow for a VPS/Linux noob and I’ll pay you $15 .. and pay for your hosting for a year.

    @ALL .. forums will be open to all from Monday. Just converting from SimplePress to bbPress .. hmmn, should have gone with bbP from the start.

  23. Ian Cheung  February 17, 2010

    First of all thanks Olly. Excellent guide and I understand your motivations for locking up it up behind a paywall. I’m not sure if it is the best way to make $ in the long term, but it probably is the easiest way in the short-term and $15 is a reasonable fee. A decent and non-updated book would cost $30-35 if you could find one.

    But just wondering, what about folks like me have used your linode referral code and signed up, and so sent you $20-$40 in hosting credit, will you charge them again? I should mention I only just signed up so you’ll have to wait for my referral credit πŸ™‚

  24. the_guv  February 17, 2010

    well folks, some interesting points, appreciate that.

    fact is, people are signing up and, frankly, if anything I feel pretty guilty that the launch has been sluggish, as well as grateful for the support.

    it’s not right that the signup fee is recurring. I’ll change that and ammend all existing accounts accordingly.

    i’m changing the forum from SimplePress to bbpress – and will write up the guide on how to do that on Nginx, as requested a while ago.

    the new forum will be open to everyone.

    .. but not the docs. they simply take too long and are too niche and singularly comprehensive to be simply given away.

    alistair .. with respect, for whatever reason, you are mistaken, though I appreciate the time it took for you to be so mistaken. (For a start, I am foremost a writer, don’t ask me to change career!)

    .. when did you ever buy a book about, say, jquery or wordpress that was free? online tutorials tend to be free (not always anymore, this trend has peaked), and then are quickly out-of-date (if accurate to begin with), and probably run maybe 1000 words. the original vps bible, not counting the server admin follow-up series, runs at about 15,000 words and has so far been re-versioned three times. it will be updated again to allow for Lucid Lynx.

    my modest fee is hardly irrelevant, as my Paypal account would testify .. it gives me the time to carry on with this series, and that is awesome. Right now I’m benchmarking Cherokee against Nginx .. tell me how many “experts” find the time for that?

    .. but you are right about one thing. we are all of us on this planet to some extent freeloaders. I am a journalist and the life of a journalist is to regurgitate content in a niche way. Few stories are original. And I give away content here at Guvnr, and at Twitter, all the time, to some thoroughly nice freeloaders.

    .. But thin strands of content don’t compare to the kind of content to fill a book and its sequel, (complete with magic type that updates on the page.)

    Sorry if I sound a little passionate about this. I am, adn am sure there are others online who feel similarly (other than just Rupert Murdoch!)

  25. Alistair  February 16, 2010

    Hi,

    I can appreciate your problem, but as Savoy pointed out, by charging you are providing a worse service – not a better one – that’s the Linux vs Microsoft paradox. For the consumer they are going from a good free service to a worse paid for one.

    Terms like ‘lifted’ and ‘freeloaders’ which get bandied about are pointless – we are all freeloading to some extent by using any Open Source software.

    By your own admission you are not an expert, you are someone who has admirably spent a lot of time trawling the net in order to find free information from experts so you can set up your own VPS rather than get a managed one, and then write up your experiences.

    By making your bible paid-for you stop these same experts ever checking your code and commenting (why would Igor Sysoev pay to look at it!) so when you make mistakes in the code (and you will as we all do!) who corrects it? Only you by asking Igor to answer your question for free on the Nginx forum.

    The Open Source ethos is just that – Nginx is free, Apache is free, WordPress is free, mysql is free, php is free, linux is free, phpmyadmin is free, etc.

    You want to be paid for this exercise (which is fair enough), but surely you are making money in the work you undertake and the fact that you don’t need to have someone manage your VPS – and you will get work from the site, if it is popular and you impress people with your integrity.

    Your charges might be reasonable or not that is irrelevant. If you begrudge the time, maybe don’t do it – many others will. Surely you are better off just offering a managed hosting service and use your expertise here (for every 1 person who uses the bible there will be many more who would prefer someone else to do it) or increase traffic and take advertising – seems to work for lots of other sites.

    Good luck with your venture.

    Alistair

  26. Matt  February 15, 2010

    As someone who quickly became a member, $15 is a drop in the bucket. It’s certainly worth a fraction of the cost of 1 month of VPS hosting at Linode to set up one’s VPS within hours (if not minutes) and doing it correctly.

    If you open the guides I think the amount of people just finding the content will just copy/paste until they get what they want and move on to the next blog that answers their questions. They probably won’t pay for support either. They’ll find other sites where it’s easy to ask questions and have some one assist them there.

    I think the other issue with that model was already addressed. For the people who actually are going to be helpful by offering suggestions and additional insight, you don’t want to charge them.

    I think charging for the guides and opening the forums is the way to go (if any way is to be chosen).

    The one exception is that you shouldn’t provide support in the forums unless the person has become a member. I think that is fair . If your subscribers can see who is also a subscriber vs not, they would probably hold true to that as well. After all, why should any of us help the freeloaders who won’t pay for the wealth of knowledge the bible provides when they can afford a VPS or dedicated server?

  27. Simon  February 15, 2010

    I’m guessing that most people who want to know how to set up a fast, secure, powerful server on a VPS are probably not doing it just for a small home page, they’re likely aiming to make money in some way (either through advertising, reselling, getting work, etc).

    Therefore it seems more than reasonable to me that you earn something from enabling them to earn. $15 a year is almost nothing, and I for one am happy to continue paying it.

    I also think that the other options (premium content or pay-for-forums) are also good models, but maybe you should wait six months and see how things go as they are before changing based on 1 or 2 emails?

  28. Moses  February 15, 2010

    I have no problem with paying, especially for the quality of content on here. $15 per year is more than reasonable, perhaps for some though the recurrence is turning them off? Could you offer $20 for 1 year or $15 recurring that can be cancelled at any time?

    Just a suggestion though, what if you offered your services for a ‘VPS Health Check’, charge some cash to look under the hood..

    Btw, like the e-mail follow up checkbox πŸ˜‰

    Cheers,
    Moses.

  29. Savoy  February 14, 2010

    By locking out your content, you are putting yourself in a position that will make it hard for the community to post and give feedback, especially correct errors or give alternative solutions to problems (which I’ve witnessed while the bible was still free..)

  30. Bob the Builder  February 14, 2010

    I’m disappointed to discover that this tutorial series that I found a couple of weeks back and hope to use in the near future has been put beyond my (free) reach.

    However to be quite honest I don’t blame you for charging for this content. I find it useful, informative, well put together and let’s not forget specialised. If it becomes more and more popular you’re going to have to fork out for more bandwidth and, I’d rather you keep making this content than have to make a living doing something else.

    It’s really a question of price point, how valuable is this content to me? Frankly $15 a year is reasonable; especially if you’re going to continually update it, make more great content (under the same subscription) and build a helpful community around it. I’m sure I’ll be forking out $15 in the near future.

    Bob

    Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood or missed anything, I tend to skim read websites.

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