How to Choose the Best Subscription Model for Your Website

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Subscription models come in different shapes and sizes, each allowing companies to find the fit between their brand, their product and their market. This is why we’ve come up with this list of important factors to consider when choosing the best subscription model or paywall for your website.

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Different factors come into play when choosing what business model best fits your brand, from your target audience’s needs to your website’s history and playing field. In China for example, customers appreciate a margin of flexibility in how they consume their online content. As a result, companies are adopting the Micropayments business model to meet this market’s demands. Much like you would leave a tip at a restaurant, consumers get to “praise” authors after reading a piece of content by paying anything between 5 Yuan (less than USD 1$) to 200 Yuan (around USD 30$), depending on how relevant they found it.

So before deciding on a subscription model, it’s necessary to take a moment and reflect on:

  • Your content’s value
  • Your brand’s reputation
  • Your marketing strategy
  • Your audience’s pain points
  • Your capacity to evolve your website’s user experience


1- The importance of having free content

Free content can help you build a base audience and test the waters. It’s like handing out free samples of your product in order to measure your audience's response and adapt your product accordingly. Consumers like to test out a brand before they commit to paying for it. In return, you benefit from gathering insights on what your target audience reacts best to. Another advantage is that free content is unrestricted, and can be easily shared online, which will help with your earned reach. Content that’s behind a Hard Paywall isn’t shared as much as readers know that their network of followers and friends will probably not have access to it.

Undeniably, the more your content is shared online the better your SEO rankings and the wider your reach. Nonetheless, it seems that Google will be more lenient with websites that use a Hard Paywall. The company has recently announced that they will be replacing their First Click Free policy with the Flexible Sampling model. This promises to affect these sites’ SEO rankings positively.

2- Your content’s value should determine its price

Pricing is a sensitive matter and assessing your content properly is key to gaining and retaining an audience. If you overprice your content, you might deter potential subscribers. On the other hand, undervaluing and underpricing your content might result in financial losses, as you will need a higher number of subscribers in order to break even.

A couple of factors that can help determine your content’s value are:

    • Exclusivity: live broadcasts and pay per view content tend to sell better than content that is readily available for everyone.
    • Evergreen status: content that is useful and doesn’t lose value over time is held at a higher esteem than something that is only valuable temporarily.
    • Quality & format: long form and in-depth content that is backed by a hefty research has a higher standing than frowned upon clickbaits.

3- Your brand’s reputation and current content offering will come into play

Before setting up a paywall, take a moment to assess your website’s authority. A well-established brand has more ease transitioning behind a paywall. The more people trust your brand, the more inclined they will be towards subscribing to its content offering. A newly launched website that hasn’t yet proven its worth within the industry will need to think of smart ways to get people to sign up.

Another point to factor in is your content archive. If you are planning to transition towards a Freemium model, is your current free content offering enough to convert your regular visitors? Or will you have to use part of your new “exclusive content” as an added bait? Think of your content as your ammunition, you want to keep enough available to hit every possible target.

4- The paywall you choose will dictate your marketing strategy

The severity of the paywall you set limits the proximity between you and potential subscribers. As previously mentioned a Hard Paywall leverages a company’s reputation and notoriety. A Metered Paywall interacts with its users by revealing content under certain restrictions. Showing too much may deter potential subscribers as they would have already gotten what they are looking for whereas not showing enough may put them off altogether. On the other hand, a Freemium model takes on an approach that focuses on finding the proper balance between what content and what features should be free, acting like a primary hook, and which harbour enough incentive to be priced.

To put matters into perspective, let’s look at Slate magazine which adopts a Freemium model. Slate offers its users free access to a big part of its content, however, readers must pay a yearly fee of $35 to access, Slate Plus. Slate Plus’ exclusive content is marketed as the story-behind-the-story, cultivating the in-depth value of this paid offering. Users get special features, like extended ad-free podcast sessions, sneak peeks to exclusive content, audio versions of written articles, and ticket discounts to events.

5- Examining your audience’s affinities and pain points will help you structure your offer

Will your audience be consuming your content across several devices? Then you need to think of creating packages that take “on-the-go consumption” into account. If your offering consists of different media types, then giving your users the possibility to decide which formats they want to sign up for, à la Media Line model, will serve both of your interests better. Is your content meant to be widely shared and discussed? Then maybe settling for a Metered Paywall instead of a Hard Paywall will help promote this discussion.

Another deciding factor is the sector you’re operating in. If your content is targeted at other businesses, then you can aim at creating corporate packages. This can help you close bigger deals, while making the life of business owners simpler. For instance, online political journal Politico, charges USD 10,000 for an annual subscription to Politico Pro. While individuals can choose to opt in, bigger companies get a better deal from this site license as all of their employees gain access to the content with one single payment. By adapting its subscription offer to its audience’s needs, Politico now sites over 1,800 institutional customers.

6- Your website’s user experience should be on par with the subscription your offering

When users pay for a subscription, they expect to get their money’s worth. As previously mentioned, this takes into account the value of the content but also trickles down to your website’s user experience and customer service. For instance, what’s the benefit of granting a visitor access to your extensive library of content if your search engine constantly crashes. Robust payment gateways and download modules are also essential factors to keep an eye on. You will also need to invest in a reactive customer service team to put out any fires. The moral of the story here is that the real work starts after a customer has finally signed up because these returning subscribers will be your bread and butter.

Your capacity to continuously improve your offering is what will help build coveted long-term relationships with your audience, and set you apart from the crowd. After taking a look at all of the above points you will be able to come to a sane decision. With that being said, It’s important to remain flexible by continuously testing new approaches and gathering customer data. After all, subscription models are not a life sentence, as your business changes and grows so will your content offering. Letting your consumers’ demands lead you in the right direction will help you ensure they keep coming back.

To find out more about other subscription models,

check out the first two articles in our subscription series:

Karl El Hitti

Karl is a Creative Media Strategist at Bookwitty. His expertise lies in content marketing and original content. Karl also helps build marketable narratives around rising musicians as part of The Studio Keeward Music Residency Program.