I only visit two websites on a fairly regular basis. BPL and popupexplorer.com (PUX), which is a forum for tent trailer owners. There are some parallels I would like to share.
Today PUX has over 20,000 registered users and it is free. And it is only a forum, with a store, and a printed magazine that is fairly new to the site. I do not subscribe to the magazine. It also has a lot of ads on it, which is a pain but acceptable as it helps pays the bills.
Before PUX, there was a large tent trailer forum called Pop Up Times (PUT). In 2002, that forum went paid subscription. That was not a popular move, and a member left it and built PUX. Most of the PUT membership went over to PUX. Those who remained on PUT and paid the subscription, seemed to be somewhat "clicquish" and it was a strange forum to me. You could read the posts, but had to join to post. I was never a member of PUT. I joined PUX about 6 months after it was formed.
Eventually PUT removed the subscription, but it never regained its membership and is no longer in existence.
PUX is somewhat like BPL. There are those who camp in commercial campgrounds with full utilities, those who camp in minimal campgrounds like the NFS, and those (like me) who camp in remote dispersed sites. Sort of like Light, UL, SUL. What makes PUX work, like BPL, is the community. Subscription would kill BPL. Now tent trailers are a little different than BPing. Trailers are mechanical and members seek information on how to repair broken items, how to modify and improve their campers, how to negotiate new purchases, how to finance, how to get the right insurance, etc, etc. They get cost saving information on the forums, so one might think subscriptions would work, but as PUT found out it does not work at all. PUX members post trip reports, how to information and ideas, etc.
When I first joined PUX, it was to get some ideas on rebuilding my trailer. And I made some good friends; several I have camped with... my wife and I have made trips to Arizona and RMNP to camp with our new friends. I even made a trip to Ontario, Canada to camp with some guys. But like BPL, after a while there is little that is new, or not much of anything new to learn. I still visit PUX once or twice a week, just to stay in touch with some friends and acquaintances. And like here, the newbie questions really get repetitive, but I don't mind sharing or answering questions if I have something worthwhile to say.
The PUX store does not stock much merchandise. Most of it is stuff that is readily available elsewhere at a similar price, and PUX has the items dropped shipped. I have bought a few items from the PUX store over the years to help support the website.
The owner of PUX does not post much. Most posts are to get feedback on improvements to the site or on ideas for additional services. Also PUX is fairly heavily moderated. Discussions of the the 3 G's (god, government, or guns) will result in a locked message thread. "The Carbon Flame War" would have been locked before it ever made it to page 3. The heavy moderation doesn't bother me, it is up to the owner on how he wants to run his site. But threads there rarely get ugly, like here on BPL, because they get shut down.
The owner of PUX does not need to post, because the community self-generates longevity. The community is PUX. I don't see a problem with Ryan running a separate blog. A blog is more like a journal and you do not feel the need to monitor or answers question, as you would on a site you own.
What is missing from BPL is a clear mission. Without ads or other income it cannot be self-sufficient. And here is the biggest challenge. How does BPL stay viable? Charging for forum access would kill it quickly. The store failed. And the articles often contain little information that cannot be found elsewhere. I have found a few well written and useful topics, but they are few and far in between. I have learned more from Richard's Nicely's posts than from any article I have read.
I never would have purchased a yearly membership. Just wasn't much value in it. The discount in the store was minimal. I have purchased a few items from the store over the years and it was hit and miss. Beartooth merino hoody is awesome as is the cuben nano tarp. The thoroghfare clothes were awful for me. The BPL torso air mattress is a fair piece of equipment. I bought a few other small items, but only when I could bundle them with a larger purchase. I bought the M-Life membership because it was lifetime (should BPL remain in existence and should I remain interested), and it appeared that BPL was in financial straights and I had a rare charitable moment :)
The only thing BPL has going for it is the community, and BPL ownership has provided the opportunity for that. But BPL is nothing without the community. I do enjoy several people here... even the ones I don't always agree with. And should BPL shut down, I might go to another BPing site and run into them there. I do not visit any other BPing site. One thing I will say about the overall membership here versus PUX; BPL is more mature (tent trailer campers tend to be younger on average), BPL members are more likely to be "stewards" of our natural resources, and with a much higher average age are probably more educated and informed about current events. I am in no way criticizing the other forum, as I have been a member there for 8 years.
The forum software limitations are not a big deal to me. I don't need to search it often, and Google advanced search meets my needs. I hate it that you do not have icon buttons to automatically format text (e.g., bold, underline, or even quickly link to ULRs or pictures). Posting pictures on BPL is a giant pain in the rear.
So the real question is what does Ryan Jordan and the ownership want BPL to be when it grows up, and are they willing to put the effort into to it to ensure it grows and survives. But people are not going to spend a dime if it does not provide value to them. And most people are not going to spend money to join a community.
Just my 2 cents.