The five most profitable subscription website business models ...
by Peter A. Schaible is executive director of the Subscription Website
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 choose
pretty much dictates your chances of success with a subscription
Our research shows at least five successful models for subscription
website topic selection. These include:
Existing newsletter topics
Personality based/insider tips
Downloadable product library
Following is a brief discussion of each of the five subscription
1. Existing newsletter topics. If you already
publish a successful print newsletter, it is probably a good candidate
for a subscription website. Placing your newsletter content, archives,
and resources online in a 'subscribers only' website usually enhances
the perceived value of your print newsletter to both current and
Most print newsletter publishers who open a subscription website
continue to deliver the printed version, also making it available
online. The main benefits of having the online subscribers site
Current print subscribers get added value from
the online site
Current subscribers can search back issues online
Current subscribers can renew online
New customers can find the site and subscribe online
Those print newsletters that don't have an online presence may
find much of their potential audience slowly drained away by competitors
that do have online sites.
2. Trade association. A 'members only' website
is an ideal extension of the services provided by a trade association.
Having a members area inside the association's Internet site can
deliver a wealth of benefits to members, and at the same time, provide
an incentive for non-members to join.
One of the more recent trends is for trade associations to exist
only on the Internet, through membership-only websites. One such
site that we're familiar with boasts over 85,000 paying members!
Surprisingly, many trade associations do not have an interactive
Internet presence. Some have 'billboard' sites, with one or two
promotional pages and contact information, but very little content.
(This may be why new Internet-only trade associations are doing
3. Career advancement. Perhaps the most common topic for
successful subscription websites is career advancement. This includes
sites that provide advice, tips, how-to's, resource libraries, etc.,
about specific professions or business skills such as management,
marketing, business start-up, making money, and the entire gamut
of business opportunities.
Subscription prices to sites like these range from free to well
over $5,000 a year. Some of the most profitable of these sites charge
$295-$495 a year, and have 1000-5000 subscribers. Several sites
in this category gross well in excess of half a million a year from
Successful career advancement sites usually focus on a very specific
niche topic related to earning a living or bettering one's career
4. Personality based/insider tips. Many successful
subscription websites are built around a well-known or respected
person who provides subscribers with personal insights, tips, advice
In most cases, the person behind these sites has built a solid reputation
and developed a following of people wanting access to the information
this expert provides.
One of the most successful personality/insider sites charges $2,400
a year, and currently has over 1000 subscribers. This particular
site is operated by a well-known stock market pro, and subscribers
to his site get his daily stock marketing trading advice. (His track
record is amazing!)
At least two successful personality-based sites were started by
individuals who were basically unknowns, but used their sites to
promote themselves into being 'well-knowns'.
5. Downloadable product library. One of the more
interesting subscription website models is based entirely on providing
subscribers a large library of downloadable products, usually computer
programs, scripts, pdf files, audios, videos, tutorials or other
materials that can be delivered digitally.
One successful example charges subscribers $195 a year for unlimited
access to the site's large library of ready-to-use Power Point display
templates. The site targets those in the corporate world who frequently
need to build professional Power Point displays. By gaining access
to an extensive library of ready-to-use, easy-to-modify templates
(specifically designed for the corporate world), subscribers are
able to significantly reduce the time required to complete a task,
while at the same time producing professional looking results.
Our research indicates the site is quite successful. 5000+ subscribers
pay $195 a year, which generates close to $1 million dollars in
A repeating pattern
When you charge a fee to access the content within a subscription
website, the site needs to provide specific and immediate benefits
to your subscribers. The five models shown above are examples of
exactly that (especially the last two on the list).
Peter A. Schaible
Peter A. Schaible is executive director of the Subscription Website Publishers Association -Unfortunately this society has been disbanded, but as the article is very useful I've kept it up.
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"Why this is the perfect time to start charging for
website subscriptions" by Peter A. Schaible of SWEPA
- Subscription Website Publishers Association.
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