In very simple terms, subscription website publishing is charging for access to premium content on the internet.
It is the digital equivalent of the traditional magazine or newsletter.
In practical terms, a subscription website has two parts.
The first part is the free area. This usually focuses on persuading prospects to become paying customers. The free part can just be a long list of benefits, or can be samples of premium content that visitors can read so they know what is in the members area.
The second part is the premium content, which is password protected and only available to paying members.
On subscribing, members receive a password that allows them to login to the private member area for as long as their subscription is valid. The length of membership varies from site to site. It can be as short as one hour or as long as a year. Very often, membership is sold as a rolling monthly subscription.
Subscription websites can cover just about any subject.
Within the membership area, there can be a wide range of content. It could be:
  • news and views
  • articles
  • a directory
  • software downloads
  • music or video downloads
  • hints and tips
  • special offers
  • games
  • digitised books
  • online radio stations
  • useful applications, such as sending SMS messages from a computer, specialist search engines, online diary, etc.
In this website, our main focus is the specialist information site, which is the equivalent of the traditional specialist print newsletter. The principles are the same for all of the content types listed above.
The best way to get an understanding of the range and types of subscription websites that are thriving on the web is to take a look at the examples listed below:
This website started as a place that preachers, vicars, and lay preachers could visit to get a weekly sermon rather than write their own. A very simple, but engaging idea. In 2003 the turnover was over $400,000.
This is a great example of how a hobby can be turned into a lifestyle and a successful business. It shows how a niche subject can attract enough loyal members to enable an individual, in this case Michael Challis, to pursue a hobby that he is passionate about. The site charges $29 per year. A similar car membership website for T Bird fans can be found at
Beer Net is more of a business-focused website. It demonstrates how a very niche target audience can become an extremely good income stream. This site is aimed at beer distributors in the US, of which there are a total of about 2,000. The site has 1,500 of this target group as subscribers. They pay around $380 per year, which gives a subscription income of $570,000. If you add the additional revenues from running seminars, selling directories and industry reports, the site makes almost $1 million a year.
This a community site for fire fighters in the US. It is aimed at both firemen and their families to share experiences, thoughts and information. It also attracts many members by having a thriving jobs section. They charge $23 a year for access to the website, or $40 a year including a print magazine.
Another hobby turned into a subscription business. Photography is a very popular hobby. This site reaches across all the different types of photography and techniques. There are many opportunities to create niche subsets of the photography sector, for example, digital portrait photography. This site charges $4.95 per month or $50 a year for access.
Sometimes, a person’s job gives them an inside track into how an industry really works. This gives them the knowledge to get the best deals, privileged treatment and benefits not available to the general public. This is exactly what Matthew Bennett has done and he shares these secrets via his website. He charges $24.95 a month or $97 a year to learn how to make the most of first class travel.
I’ve been studying the subscription website market for several years now, but even I’m sometimes surprised by some of the success stories I come across. The Pattern Review website reviews and allows members to review sewing patterns. They have thousands of paying members and even more free members. The paying members pay either $16.50 for 6 months or $29.95 for 12 months.
  •  Erotic Writing
I only use this example to show you how a niche subject – writing short stories – can be successfully sub-divided into a very niche area and still generate a good income. James Barnes charges $89 for his writing course.
Whilst reading this website, you will be directed to dozens of other example sites. Reviewing these sites will be an important part of building your understanding of the market, the opportunity and what types of websites are doing well.