Subscription Websites and Online Journals


What is the difference between an online journal or blogs and a subscription website?

This is a question we are often asked.

Our answer usually goes along these lines:

There are some similarities and many differences between online journals and subscription websites.

Let us start with the similarities:  

  1. The majority of online journals and subscription websites focus on a narrow specialisation, for example, fly fishing in Scotland or beer distribution in the US.

  1. Both are usually driven by an individual’s passion and expertise for their specialisation.

  1. Both involve writing about this specialisation and posting this information on the web in a timely way.

Now the differences: 

  1. Online journals are usually written by people wishing to share their opinions and expertise.

  2. Very few online journals make money.

  3. Even fewer allow their editors to do it as a full time job.

  4. Subscription websites are usually set up as commercial businesses. Their intention from the outset is to generate income from providing access to unique and expert knowledge.

  5. The single owner or small team are usually full time.

  6. An online journal usually gives their content away for free. Any revenues are generated from advertising revenues or referral to another business activity. Subscription websites usually require members to pay to get access to their premium content.

Today, there are around 50 million active online journals or blogs. It is estimated that less than 500 of these make sufficient revenue to give one or more people a full-time income.

There are probably less than 30,000 subscription websites on the internet, but we would estimate that over 80% of these are generating a full-time income for their owner or company. Some are making many millions of dollars.

For the more internet savvy, it is worth putting some numbers around the different revenue generation methods – Advertising vs. Subscription.

Assume a website publisher wanted to make $100,000 per year from their specialist content website. These are the rough sums:

An Online Journal with Advertising

The average revenue from advertising for an online journal is $3 for every 1,000 pages viewed ($3 per CPM). To achieve $100,000 in revenue, a site would have to have roughly half a million visitors every month, each viewing an average of four pages a visit (2.7 million page views per month).

A Subscription Website

For a subscription website to achieve $100,000 in revenue, they would need to have 834 subscribers each paying $9.95 a month.

Online journals need high volumes of traffic to generate advertising revenues. Subscription websites need a lower number of highly dedicated and committed members.

The type of content also tends to differ.

Online journals generally provide highly time-sensitive news and opinions about their niche subject. Successful bloggers often post multiple times every day. Their goal is to get readers visiting a little and often. This tends to generate the most advertising revenues.

Subscription websites tend to have a much more diverse range of content, including:

  • Directories

  • How-to articles

  • Applications (e.g., online investment portfolio management)

  • Forums

  • Events calendars

  • News and views


The objective of the subscription website publisher is to ensure their members renew their subscription every year. As a result, the content is created to have a much longer shelf life. It encourages member interaction and usually includes archives of longer feature articles that members can re-read.

Online journals tend to have just one stream of content in the form of a daily diary available to all visitors. This is usually scrolled on the home page and is frequently updated. Subscription websites tend to have multiple areas of content, including free and paid for, feature articles and news, forums and directories, etc. This depth and structure is again intended to create an environment where members want to spend their time learning and sharing with their peers.


Which is Right for You? 

At the end of the day, only you can decide.

Online journals succeed by creating daily content driven by news and opinion. They rely on traffic volume to generate advertising income.

Subscription websites succeed by creating a relatively small but strong community of dedicated members. The content tends to be more detailed and re-usable, and the sites rely on interaction with and between members to create loyalty.

Ask yourself which is more achievable for you: attracting half a million visitors a month, or recruiting a thousand paying members?