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Subscriber-Based vs. Free Content

Q: The most successful sites seem to be those that do not require subscriptions. What are the pros and cons of subscription-based Web sites?

A: We spent a great deal of time researching this issue and debated long and hard about all the issues...pricing, feasibility, user acceptance etc. The result of all this was that there is no single answer. For every argument we would read about how it would never work, the next day there would be another arguing the opposite. Online subscriptions are a tough game. You have to contend with all the other information out there, and you have to convince people that it's worth shelling out money for something that they don't get physically.

We have been offering subscriptions for about five months now and have met with some moderate success. I will give my observations, but I would like to premise it by saying that we are obviously a trade association and not a publishing house and therefore have almost no money to spend on marketing. We rely heavily on word-of-mouth and luck.

    1. People are willing to pay if your information is unique. We found that if it is information that people need, they don't have a problem spending the money.

    2. Half of our subscriptions come from outside the United States. While the U.S. is really connected, other countries long for information. If you can provide something useful to them, your customer base really increases -- and they are willing to pay.

    3. Niche is important. Trying to provide a broad based publication is too much effort and has too much competition.

    4. The people who find it the most useful and spread the word are people looking to save time. A resource that they can turn to and quickly find the answer they are looking for, or the place to find that answer is very useful and worth the money. [Fred Hoch,]


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