Membership Site: Ever Considered Launching One?

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A few years ago membership sites were all the rage. Webmasters were setting up membership sites in every niche you can imagine. Some were good, most were horrible and I haven’t heard much about them lately. But I did launch a membership site myself so I’m happy to share my experience. I’ll apologize in advance for any foul language that I just know is going to pop up.

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What Is A Membership Site?

A membership site is a website behind a paywall. To access it, you have to subscribe and pay a fee. It might be a one time only fee or an annual fee, but usually it’s a recurring monthly fee – and there’s a reason for that.

One of the “tricks” for membership sites was to offer subscribers the first month free and then there would be a recurring monthly fee of whatever dollar amount they could get away with. The hitch was, the subscriber had to give their credit card information when they registered – even though they got the first month free – and the agreement was that the charges would automatically be deducted every month.

By the end of the second month, when it came time to start paying, most subscribers had already stopped visiting the site and forgotten they’d even joined. They also forgot that fee was going to be automatically deducted every month. And many people, believe it or not, never pay attention to those recurring charges. So membership site owners were raking in the bucks for months or years from subscribers who weren’t even visiting their sites anymore.

Now, what type of content were they putting behind those paywalls? In theory, it was content the subscribers couldn’t find anywhere else on the web. Video courses for Internet Marketers, PLR content for webmasters, and high-quality content and forums and such for other niches like dog-training or baby care or cooking. You name it, there was a membership site for it.

But two things happened. One, I challenge anyone to surf the web and find one piece of high-quality information that isn’t repeated somewhere else on the web. Not an opinion, mind you. A usable, valuable piece of information. There is no such thing as “something that no one else has ever said on the Internet.” So why should subscribers pay a fee for something they could easily find if they just Googled it up?

Two, the membership site owners might have been able to get around this little predicament if they’d invested the time and effort into creating valuable content, like real How-To Guides or real recipes, but most were just in it for the money. After all, if you can get people to fork over $19 a month forever because they’re too stupid to check their credit card statements every month, why bother creating quality content? Just build a really killer sales page and put up a few videos. They’ll forget about it soon enough.

Is There A Place For Membership Sites On The Internet Today?

My membership site was a service-based site. I didn’t supply content and a forum or vidoes or anything. I offered a service. Subscribers who paid the monthly fee were guaranteed my service each month, at a lesser price than I charged non-subscribers. In my opinion, this business model still works and I still use it, only without the clunky software of a membership site.

Putting content behind a paywall only works if you are the single and/or best source for that information, and if you can continue providing that singularly brilliant content on a regular basis. I belong to four membership sites right now:

  • Two are radio stations and I pay a monthly fee so I can access their archives and download podcasts when I don’t have time to listen to the live program. I’ve been paying for both of these memberships for years and I intend to continue.
  • One is a daily online podcast. I had to pay for three months and I’ve only listened a few times. The content sucks and they won’t refund my money.
  • One is a site I joined years ago when I first started blogging. I paid a monthly fee for the first three months and then I decided to pay a one-time-only fee for lifetime access. To this day I still visit this site and it’s always updated with fresh, high-quality content.

Honestly, I think the real value of membership sites is the attraction of “exclusive” content and you can do that with a newsletter that contains “exclusive” content for subscribers only. You can also set up password protected blog posts and only give the password to subscribers who join your newlsetter or mailing list.

Before you start thinking about launching a membership site, put some real thought into what you’re going to put behind that paywall. One of the biggest drawbacks is the constant turnover in members. They don’t all forget to cancel their payments and you’re constantly out there recruiting. Of course, if you focused on the content and found some way to offer something unique, then you won’t have that problem.

The best way to look at it is from your own point of view: If you were handing someone $99 a month, what would you want in return? And even if it’s only $19, do you think you could deliver consistently, over a long period of time?

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  1. Steve Curran

    Great article! Came across it on a tweet. I was thinking of adding a subscription to one of my websites and this gave me some great insight.



    1. Steve, that’s good to hear! Keep me posted with your results!

  2. Andy

    It’s one way to scale service. The challenge is that monthly-membership sites become a utility. And, you’d have to offer some seriously proprietary stuff to not have your utility quickly become a commodity with value=$0.

    Like, the Rolling Stones: exclusive membership site with live-streaming of their practice sessions. Can’t be duplicated. Highly valuable and fan-building.

    1. You nailed it Andy! That’s the key: providing value on a regular basis…

  3. Jack Durish

    I have been encouraged by friends to publish a novel as a serial. The first chapter or “episode” would be free. I have heard stories of some authors garnering paying audiences of 30,000 readers in this manner. Sounds interesting but I’m not convinced, especially since I have found one of those as yet. Any ideas?

    1. Jack, I think the only proof you need is checking what Amazon is doing for books… They let you read the first few pages and I guess that if they keep doing it, it must be doing wonders in terms of sales.

  4. Johanna Jansen

    I didn’t really think of a membership site, more of a subscription to my service. Written and recorded info is available for free to anyone, yet tailored information and coaching is available one on one, or at least in a high density service for subscribers.

    I haven’t worked it out and I am still finding my way, only started my blog a month ago, still designing the site and gradually adding content. Thanks Steven for your inspiration, I find your blog very helpful!

    1. Johanna, premium content and membership sites are 2 different things. Membership sites can (and should) include premium content. But you can sell premium content without having a membership site…

  5. Johanna Jansen

    Agree. Thanks

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