Of course you can charge people to attend your webinar, but is it practical?
It's often small businesses that ask me for advice and assistance with setting up fee-based web seminars. These may be consultants and service professionals who provide valuable knowledge and experience to their clients. They get paid when they go to a customer site and consult. They hold local room-based training classes and charge people to attend. It seems perfectly natural to extend their reach over the internet and offer that same professional value in a webcast.
Unfortunately, what seems reasonable in theory turns out to be fraught with difficulties in practice.
The first big problem you hit is crowd psychology when dealing with internet-delivered content. The public has come to expect information to be available for free on the internet. The same people who will buy a business book or pay to attend an in-room lecture balk at paying for content on the Web. The ubiquity of search engines, community forums and wikis, and free business collateral and product information have made the internet a virtual soup kitchen... All you have to do is show up and someone will fill your bowl with nutritional content, no charge and no questions asked.
The second problem arises in dealing with the webinar technology vendors. It's extremely rare to find a webinar vendor that has payment processing built in as an off-the-shelf solution. Vcall from PrecisionIR is one web conferencing product that offers fee collection as a registration management option. But the registration management costs extra. Several vendors will design and integrate payment processing as a custom professional services project, but this is seldom time and cost effective for small businesses trying out the idea to see if it will work for them.
The third problem with charging for webinars is administrative. Most of the big webinar vendors have a way to assign a password to an event. Only people with the password can attend. But if it's the same password for everyone, you can't stop an unscrupulous person from registering and passing on the login information to others. Secure login for a paid event should verify each attendee individually to make sure they have paid and are logging in only once. What do you do about people who don't attend? How about those who have technical problems or simply feel the content wasn't worthwhile? Are you prepared to offer refunds? Will you still have to pay your technology provider for those registrants?
Both Business Expert Webinars and Brainshark Content Network act as portal operations to give businesses a way to try out fee-based presentations... They manage the technical side of things and you submit your content as a provider. Of course you don't have the same control you would have in putting on your own event and you have to do some fee sharing with the portal company. They can also choose to reject your content if they deem it inappropriate for their audience or standards.
KRM Information Services produces fee-based webinars as a steady business, concentrating mostly on special-interest events targeted at associations and affinity groups. And there are a few companies out there that provide registration management as a separate technology offering, allowing it to be integrated with various web conferencing products. Corvent AMP, EventBuilder from Encounter Collaborative, and MeetingOne's EventPlanner are examples.
But there is a niche waiting to be served for low cost webinar technology that includes self-service registration management with payment processing and appropriate event security. Get busy, vendors!
UPDATE: Please read Part Two for more on this subject. Many people seemed to read things into this post that I never intended.