Over half of the websites we build for our clients have a membership element, where the site visitors have to pay if they want to get access to the premium content.

Most of these sites are doing very well with growing membership and high renewal rates.


This raises the question "why will people pay for content on the internet which they could probably find for free?"

The answer is people won't pay for information which they can easily find for free. 


Nor will they pay for great content if they can easily find free content that is almost as good.

This is the problem that is being encountered by the big national newspaper websites such as NYTimes.com, FT.com and Telegraph.co.uk. They are publishing high quality content written by professional journalists, but they can't get people to pay for it. Why? Simply because there are so many news sources on the internet, web users can always find free alternatives for general news.They don't even have to look very far as the aggregation news sites pull it together for them.

So what content will people pay for on the web?

In our experience of working with many membership site owners, these are the most common reasons that people will pay:

  • Access to unique and exclusive information

The number one reason for people joining paid membership websites is to get access to information that they can't get elsewhere. This can be research, scoops, insider reports or data from a unique source. The latter can include the personal opinions of a respected and recognised industry expert


  • Time is money

Searching for information on the internet takes time. People will often prefer to pay someone else to do this work and compile the results in a comprehensive and easy to consume format


  • Getting to the truth

You get what you pay for! A lot of the free content on the web is inaccurate. Paid-for sites are perceived (usually correctly) as having more honest and accurate information


  • Becoming part of a community

People who are passionate about a subject like to mix and talk with other people who have the same level of passion. They will pay to be part of a community of peers or fellow enthusiasts 


  • Exclusivity.

People pay for exclusivity! They get pleasure and value out of having access to information and people that other people don’t. It is a similiar phenomena to private member clubs in the offline world


  • Feeling of exclusion.

People who are not within a community often feel excluded. They want to know what they are missing and are often prepared to pay to get rid of the ‘pain’ of exclusion


  • Peer pressure.

Successful subscription websites often grow through word of mouth. People put pressure on their friends and colleagues to join the community


  • Association with a ‘celebrity’.

People enjoy being associated with and having access to celebrities in their field of interest. Subscription websites often allow direct access and even live events with the site owner


The increasing willingness of people to pay for access to content is borne out by the growth in the market. From revenues of just $0.7 bn in 2001 the market for paid content has grown to over $5 bn in 2007. And this growth rate looks set to continue.



People won't pay for content on the internet if they can easily find free alternatives. It does not matter if the paid content is professional and well written, if the free alternatives are almost as good.

However people will pay for content if it is exclusive, has added value, includes community and is perceived as being the best in a particular niche.