Creating Paid Membership Websites

By Eric Hammer

Paid membership websites can be a great way to make money. The key is to actually create a web site that people will want to pay for and to differentiate yourself from the crowd that already exists.

In most cases, paid membership websites open up some of their site to the public at large and wall off a section of the website, offering "premium" content only to paid members. So for example, dating web sites may allow you to view the profiles of people who are on the site in advance, but they will require you to pay in order to contact someone whom you find on the site that sounds interesting.

It pays to consider also what kind of websites people are willing to pay for. News websites for example have traditionally been a very tough sale, with even large newspapers such as the New York Times having quite a bit of trouble finding a formula that will allow them to charge for content while actually keeping readers. Dating web sites by comparison often charge for access, however the competition is fierce so you need to either find a specific niche which is unserved or underserved (large gay men in Northern Europe for example, or devout Mormons in South America).

Informational web sites are a mixed bag. If the information you have on your web site is truly valuable and unique, then you may be able to create a successful paid membership site. Keep in mind however that information is easily replicated and it may not be long before someone else recreates the information on a free web site and competes based solely on advertising.

How Much Can You Make?

It is all but impossible to answer this question regarding paid membership sites. The amounts they charge literally run the gamut from sites that collect micropayments of around $1-$3 a month to sites that charge as much as $100 per month. It depends on the content you are offering and how much of a market there is for that content.

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First and foremost, keep in mind that if you identify a market that would be a good candidate for paid membership websites and are successful, you will attract copycats who will try to undercut your prices. There is nothing you can do except be first with an idea and continue to keep your web site updated and fresh to offer your customers the best experience possible.

It also pays to start out the first six months to a year with teaser rates which offer a very low threshold to entry. Generally however, starting out completely free is a very, very big mistake. Once customers get used to something being completely free, it’s extraordinarily hard to convert them into paying customers. You are much better off charging a small fee and then raising prices, perhaps offering "one month free to try out our service" than simply offering the service free to all comers for a limited time. Even if you were to specify that the free service is available for the first six months or a year, you’re likely to face a user revolt once you start charging a fee.

Also, keep in mind that there are thousands of things that people will pay for. Popular examples include dating sites, subscription music services, movie and TV download sites and some kinds of premium news sites (the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs Magazine for example offer a limited amount of content for free and then charge for access to the rest of the site). Pornography web sites are of course also popular paid membership sites, though not everyone is comfortable with that kind of material.

Keep in mind also that you can easily earn additional income from advertising on your web site, especially in the free areas of the site, though advertising should be kept to a minimum in paid areas.

Qualifications / Requirements

Bottom line, you need money to make this work. You’ll need to hire a killer web designer who can come up with a slick looking web site that truly grabs the visitor from the start and gives them a very good reason to stay.

Be prepared also to pay to get content for your site, at least at first. If you are running a dating web site, you’ll need to spend heavily to advertise to get your first customers to sign up. In this case, the first month free is often a good idea. Some web site owners also pay companies that specialize in seeding material on their web sites (the idea being that no one wants to be the first one at the party).

If you run a site with other kinds of content that people might pay for, make absolutely certain there is content and a significant amount of it available which is worth paying for. If you are offering videos for download for example, 50 or 100 videos is not going to cut it. You need to open your doors with several thousand and keep adding regularly. It goes without saying that you’ll have to license that content from the copyright holders or your paid membership website will have a very short life.

First Steps

Start with plenty of research. Whatever topic you are going to offer on your paid membership website, hunt down your competition. If there is no competition, ask yourself why there is no competition (is there a market for this? Maybe the idea of starting a dating site for Eskimos who want to meet Israeli women wasn’t ever done because there simply isn’t that much demand for it). Check how much other sites similar to yours are charging and offer cheaper prices while being sure to match their user experience (nobody will pay $5 per month for your dating site which has 15 people on it when they can pay $10 per month for another with 20,000 people on it).

Finally, as noted previously, hire a killer web designer to make sure your site really pops. Do not skimp on this or on your content. These are the two things that will be critical in attracting members.


Apple: Start a Paid Membership Site Podcasts – A couple of interesting podcasts showing how this is done.

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Every Way to Make Money | Creating Paid Membership Websites