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What makes a compelling consumer online membership package?

Many media businesses who publish content online for free are investigating subscription or membership packages as a way to drive revenue from their online content.  It’s a bit easier for b2b publishers who can build research reports or databases or workflow tools, and are also dealing with businesses with a defined budget for information, research or lead generation.  So is anyone succeeding in consumer markets?  I’ve found a few examples, and identified five key elements that appear to be adding value to membership packages.  What unites them is that online content alone is not enough.  And discounts on products and services are expected to be offered as part of the deal.  So here’s some ideas for how to add real value to the package:

1. Exclusive searchable data

If you have exclusive online access to info that otherwise consumers would have to pay for in print or other media, you are onto a winner.  A key element of the membership package for Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages (£69 pa) is exclusive online searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine (£40 for the book) and the World Atlas of Wine (£19).  Members also gain access to Jancis’ 45k database of tasting notes - not available elsewhere.

2. Tailored or customised content

Runners World ask subscribers and registered members for information about their interests, and then use this to customise the content they see on the site and the emails they receive.  Birdguides allow members to specify the species and regions they are interested in, and then they only get email/text alerts about sightings that are relevant.  Saving customers time to search for specific topics clearly has a value.

3. Convenience: info anywhere, anytime

Consumers may want to access information when not at their computer screen. Birdguides offers mobile text alerts and mobile web access to its premium subscribers.

4. Privileged tools

A key facility on the Runners World website is the online event booking for key races.  Free registered visitors can see events 2 months in advance; and subscribers can see events 12 months in advance - and book onto the most popular events online.  Subscribers to K9 magazine can book online at pet-friendly hotels.

5. Members only events and forums

Jancis Robinson runs a popular, convivial and expert forum for members - they do not want to make it open to all.  Guardian Extra provides an impressive range of members-only events allowing exclusive access to journalists, authors and experts.

If you have any other examples of successful online membership packages in consumer markets that go beyond online content and offers and discounts, then please comment below, or join the discussion on the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in and swap your thoughts with 300 other specialist media owners.

See also previous articles on this topic:

http://www.penmaen-media.co.uk/index.php/2010/02/what-online-content-will-people-pay-for/

http://www.penmaen-media.co.uk/index.php/2010/04/5-reasons-the-times-paywall-wont-work/

http://www.penmaen-media.co.uk/index.php/2009/11/subscriptions-v-micropayments-which-way-forward-for-online-publishers/

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.

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