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The five most profitable subscription website business models by Peter A. Schaible, executive director of the Subscription Website Publishers Association.

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 website.

Our research shows at least five successful models for subscription website topic selection. These include:

  • Existing newsletter topics
  • Trade association
  • Career advancement
  • Personality based/insider tips
  • Downloadable product library

Following is a brief discussion of each of the five subscription website models.

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 potential subscribers.

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 are:

  • 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


Subscription Website Models ... coming up with the right topic for a successful subscription website is usually the biggest stumbling block ...

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 well.)


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 subscription revenues.

Successful career advancement sites usually focus on a very specific niche topic related to earning a living or bettering one's career or business.


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 and opinions.

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 subscription revenue.

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.

My recommendation is to visit Bill Myers Product Developers Website. A*


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