I'll be the first to admit that I don't have the first clue what it costs to run a website but in all honesty I don't especially care either. Vengeance is talking about it being potentially very cheap, almost neglegible in cost, I've heard others talking about Jeff shelling out thousands to build and maitain this site, again I don't know what it costs. That's not my role to worry about that, I'm the consumer.
The way I see it photohosting and ad space are things that will get people to go to the trouble of registering but not much more, which is why this site has 3,000 plus members and only a handful pay for the extra photohosting. Don't get me wrong here, this is the hands down best herp site there is but there is no way there would be anywhere near the same number of members if you couldn't join without paying. It's like television, you can have a successful show with lots of viewers like Friends, but it wouldn't be that successful if it didn't just show up on the TV, if you had to pay for every episode it would fail, Courtney Cox just isn't that hot (or naked for that matter). This site is like Courtney Cox, if it's free you'll have an audience but that's only half of what it takes to keep the show on the air or the site online.
The other component, the other half of course is money. Courtney don't come cheap but the whole thing fails if you expect the audience to keep it going. Why would they do that when there are so many free shows out there? Think of the biggest, most profitable sites out there: Yahoo, Hotmail, any music sharing site... any of them, how much do they cost for you to use?Nothing!
This is where advertising space comes in. In TV-land the bigger the audience a show attracts the more companies have to pay for ad space during that show (it's about $50,000/ second during the SuperBowl). The same should happen on a website that draws an increasingly bigger membership or audience, the ad space should cost proportionately more because the ads reach more people and generate more revenue for those businesses that advertise there.
Television has shown this is the only way to draw an audience and pay the bills at the same time. Expect the audience to pay everytime they watch the show and the show will invariably fail, the same thing will happen to a website if it tries to draw it's revenue from the wrong source.
I personally may drop the $20 or whatever it is just to be able to show off my pics but if I do that is the only reason I will do it, not because I feel I'm taking advantage of anyone by coming here and being part of the audience that gives the ad space value. I hope the owners make a fortune off this site because they deserve to for making the best site around but if they do make money it will be because they have the business sense to know where the money is and I gotta tell you that it isn't in my pocket.
I feel a little light headed... maybe you should drive...