WELL Users Buy Influential Virtual Community from Corporate Owner -- Could Second Life Users Do the Same?
After a lot of negotiation and planning which I've written much about before, a corporation founded by users of the pioneering virtual community The WELL (where I happen to host a couple conferences) have bought the conferencing system from its owner, Salon Media Group. (New York Times story here, official .pdf announcement here.) "The Well Group, Inc. consists entirely of long-time WELL users with an average tenure exceeding 20 years," as the report explains. "The purchase marks the first major online business taken private by users of the business itself."
But it's certainly not the only online community that might want to claim its ownership back from the company that owns the technical infrastructure. Specifically, Second Life and Linden Lab. A number of insiders and community members have openly voiced the idea, which roughly goes like this: Since revenue keeps slipping, and the company is adding new projects, wouldn't it be better if active Second Life users form a company of their own, and buy the world and its infrastructure from Linden Lab?
I'd say it's potentially feasible, but not right now. Here's why:
There's still a fairly good chance that Linden Lab can firm up SL's revenue base, especially if it earns a new following on Steam. And right now, the world is still earning $75 million or so a year, about $15-20 million of which (I'd estimate) is pure profit -- still quite a lot. But if gross earnings fall to $50 million a year, and all hope of growth is extinguished, I'd say Linden Lab's board would start looking for a buyer -- with an asking price of, say, $150 million. Then the second hypothetical question becomes, could the users form a corporation, WELL-style, and offer buy it? Well, for the sake of argument, let's assume there's 100,000 highly passionate SL users. That means if each invested an average of $1500 -- which is a lot less than many of them are paying Linden Lab per year in land tier -- that would be enough.
Just some very broad speculation at this point, but it's a nice scenario to think about. Add your own thoughts in Comments below.Tweet