If you're a writer, researcher, subject matter expert, enthusiastic
hobbyist, or an authority on almost any topic, there has never been
a better time to start your own subscription website or online newsletter.
And if you're already publishing a hobby website, now is the ideal
time to convert at least a portion of the content to fee-paid access.
Smart website owners are now realizing just how valuable their
hard-earned knowledge is to others. Much of the information that
used to be available for free to anyone and everyone on the World
Wide Web is moving behind closed doors, accessible only to paying
Savvy writers and publishers are not giving it away anymore. They're
setting up profit-driven, members-only websites and building online
communities of subscribers who value their knowledge. Perhaps surprisingly,
resistance to paying for content is gradually melting away.
The end of free
This trend away from websites offering free information and toward
a subscription, or pay-for-access business model, has several causes.
First, only a few websites operated by big companies can afford
to provide valuable content without being compensated. Some of them
can do it for the public relations value, but they are the exception.
The rest of us can't be so generous. And trying to recapture our
expenses by selling advertising on our websites has failed to pay
the bills. Online advertising and click-through rates are on the
Second, many people are now more than willing to pay to learn what
you already know, as thousands of online publishers of subscription
websites have already proven.
Why subscribers are ready to pay
The Internet has enabled people with similar interests to find
each other and form online communities. Whether your interest is
in politics, gardening, or model railroading, the Internet enables
you to connect to others who share your enthusiasms and values.
But in the current political and social climate, there is heightened
anxiety and concern about privacy. If you previously contributed
to public online discussion forums, you may now be feeling vulnerable.
You never know who is lurking and reading your comments, or gathering
information about you. One frequent concern: what spammers are harvesting
your e-mail address?
However, in the seclusion of a subscribers-only website, you feel
more protected. You can share ideas with an affinity group of like-minded
people with less fear of ridicule or repercussions. The publisher
moderates the forum and promises to honor your privacy.
These concerns are not diminishing over time, they are intensifying
as people perceive the world -- and cyberspace -- as an increasingly
dangerous place. The result has been a proliferation of private,
members-only, subscription websites and online newsletters covering
literally hundreds of diverse and specialized topics.
Finding the right subscription business model
Coming up with the right topic for a successful subscription website
is usually the biggest stumbling block for those wanting to get
into this business. Choosing your site topic is a serious issue,
as the topic you select pretty much dictates your chances of success
with a subscription website.
Research by the Subscription Website Publishers Association (www.SWEPA.com)
shows at least five successful models for subscription website topic
selection. These include existing print newsletter topics; trade
and professional associations; career advancement, personality based
or insider tips; and downloadable product libraries. For details
go to here.
As the Internet changes, it is creating moneymaking opportunities
for people who like to write, teach and otherwise share their expertise.
Your years of study, hands-on experience, and tried and true wisdom
could be worth a hefty income when turned into an online community.
Online communities bring together people who are interested in
a common topic. They create value by providing insiders' secrets
that the group is eager to learn about. And best of all, the members
are willing to pay money to join.
Why having a subscription website on the Internet is so
As the publisher of a subscription website, you have an almost
unfair advantage over other print publications that don't operate
on the Internet. Consider the benefits:
Low cost of entry -- a computer, minimal software and Internet access
are all you need.
No or low rent -- work from home.
Low overhead -- production and distribution costs are close to zero.
No employees -- do it all yourself.
Operate from anywhere in the world.
Access a worldwide audience.
Reach a well educated, affluent market.
Offer a visually rich website, with text, images, audio or video.
Sell and deliver digital information products instantly.
Build loyal communities through discussion groups, online events.
The next phase in the subscription website evolution
Information is increasing in value. Over the next several years,
the trend to information provided on the Internet by paid subscription
A two-tier model for the dissemination of quality content is emerging.
Successful online publishers provide samples of their wares for
free, either on the public portion of their website, or through
a free, opt-in e-mail newsletter.
But to get down to the most valuable data -- the premium content
of secrets and the insider's tips ands techniques -- subscribers
are learning that they have to pay. Information seekers are getting
accustomed to the change, just as they have learned to pay for premium
content on cable and satellite television.
The most successful online publishers will be those who can strike
the perfect balance between free and fee. The time to get started
with your own subscription website is now.
Peter A. Schaible is executive director of the Subscription Website
Publishers Association (www.SWEPA.com).
SWEPA exists to support online publishing by providing education,
training and industry recognition. Our goal is to help members build
successful, profitable subscription websites.
Copyright 2002 Subscription Website Publishers Association. Permission
to reprint is granted provided the references and hypertext links
The five most profitable subscription website business models
by Peter A. Schaible is executive director of the Subscription Website
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