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Website Subscriptions Succeed With High-Value Content

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Website subscriptions work well with sites that have something special to offer people who are willing to pay a monthly fee. Otherwise, a subscription model is likely to fail.

What is that “something special” that attracts subscribers? The list includes:

  • High-value content that they can’t get on the free version of the website.
  • Content that they can’t get elsewhere.
  • No or limited advertising, which is intrusive and slows page load.
  • Unique services, such as discounts on other products, forum postings and access to archives.

For many years, the great majority of online newspapers that attempted paid access failed to sign up enough subscribers to make it worthwhile. Even today, they keep trying with subscription rates as low as one dollar a month. A few reasons for these failures are consistent.

Website Subscription Challenges

The typical Internet surfer visits more than 100 websites in a month according to research sources. Who wants to subscribe to 100 websites?

Likewise, if people are already getting free access, it is difficult at best to persuade them to start paying for it.

Finally, any website that starts charging for subscriptions is giving the competition that doesn’t charge an advantage. For example, a local newspaper with paid website access is encouraging its audience to go to local TV news websites that don’t charge for it and that offer similar content.

Does a paid model work at all? A handful of newspapers in outlying markets with low competition claim to have some success. But the key is the lack of competition.

Any website publisher who is thinking about charging for access is running a major risk of losing customers, ad revenue and market share.

Subscription Models That Work

The New York Times is famous for making its subscription model succeed. It has done so for a simple reason. It offers a tremendous amount of high-quality content to its subscribers.

Sites like the Times are linked to traditional, offline media companies that have built content uniquely for their websites or have taken archived content and republished it online.

Other sites offer no advertising. Still others have special services like the ones mentioned early in this article that are available only to site subscribers.

Newspapers in particular offer discounts on website subscriptions for anyone who subscribes to the print newspapers.

Sites that fail make one more major mistake. They charge too much money for access. When they fail to get enough subscribers, they have to lower their prices or offer discounts to attract more. But by then, the damage is done.

The lesson: start with a small monthly fee or a deep discount for anyone who pays for access for an entire year.


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