In it’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (see page 14 ), Salon says that the community is expected to generate around $500,000 in revenue in the year to March 2006.
Current membership fees at the Well are $120 a year for an “essential” membership and $180 for a “complete membership”. If all the users of the Well were on the lesser membership, that would equal $480,000 per year in revenue. But surely a lot of members, enticed by some additional functionality and a prestigious email address (the well offers complete members the use of a firstname.lastname@example.org address), have taken out the complete membership. There’s also advertising on The Well and, with it’s good demographics (wealthy, educated, well connected), I’d imagine that it’s charged at a premium. I find myself wondering how many of the reported 4000 current users, down from 6000 when Salon purchased the Well in 1999, are free accounts given to influential oldtimers to try to keep them as users. Surely if all, or even a high percentage of, accounts were paid then The Well would have higher revenues than reported in the SEC filing.
So who will buy this once influential 20 year old community? The Well could be sold to a commercial concern like several other community websites, including Craigslist (to ebay), MySpace (to Fox), and Flickr (to Yahoo) have been sold in recent months. What would the reaction of Well users be if they were swallowed up by Amazon or Google? How about Newsweek? What if it was Shell Oil or the Republican National Committee? And that’s part of the problem. The Well’s members aren’t likely to go along with it’s sale to just anyone.
The best hope for the future of the Well, at least if it is to retain it’s current membership and feel, seems to be for the current members to band together and each stump up the cash they’d need for a one year membership and purchase The Well themselves. That way The Well can become a non-profit community owned and run by it’s members – a somewhat novel situation these days.