When you run a paid membership site, you need to find the healthy balance between free and paid content. Your free content is the bait that attracts new users to your paid membership site and you can’t do without it but your paid content is the stuff that (supposedly) makes you money. How do you decide which content goes into the free section and which is only for paid members?
This could be a tricky question – you need to know where to draw the line. While there are no rules fixed in stone, here are some basic principles to keep in mind when deciding how to separate your free and paid content.
If It Is Really Precious, It Ought to Be Paid
Your free content must be valuable but it obviously shouldn’t be more valuable than the paid content. This is easy in theory but in practice you might frequently have problems to sort what goes where. Needless to say, your paid members deserve the best, so you’ve got to keep the tastiest bites for them. But how do you this while still keeping your free members (and would-be members) well fed?
First, you need to decide which is the most valuable part of your content. This varies from site to site and from one business to another. For instance, a client of mine used the following strategy with his ebook site: he had a pair of ebooks for each topic – a 20 page one that was free to download and the full version (100+ pages) for the paid members.
The shorter book was a standalone product and you could benefit from it even without getting the 100+ page one but the thick book was where the secrets were hidden and the strategies that were just briefly mentioned in the short one were discussed in more detail. Essentially, the 20 page book was an abridged version of the full edition and even though it was valuable in itself, the really precious stuff was in the larger book.
The Bait Is Free
The example in the previous section is just one of the many strategies you can use to stimulate the interest of your users. However, if you feel you need a real bait, you need to modify the strategy a bit.
If we continue the example in the previous section, we could have done this. Just list the Table of Contents (i.e. the points that constitute the solution of a problem) and add that the real advice isn’t free. However, this isn’t much of a bait because your users aren’t getting a preview of what the real advice is and they are right to think you are just making promises you may or may not keep.
This is why it is best to modify the strategy a bit. You can give parts of the 100+ page book (i.e. Chapters 1 and 2 in their entirety) for free and mention that the rest is for paid members only. It goes without saying, that the quality of the rest of the book must be the same or even better than the quality of the bait; otherwise your paid members will feel scammed.
If you have more than one membership level (i.e. paid membership, free membership, and content that is generally available to everybody online), you can make the following division. For instance, if the membership site in question is a job board, you can have the first one or two paragraphs (without the name and the contact info of the employer) of the ad visible to everybody (and indexed by search engines, of course), the rest of the job ad (i.e. the requirements and the compensation but not the contact info) visible to free members and the full text (with the contact info) visible only to paid members.
This feels fair because everybody can see what you have on site, register for free, if interested, and upgrade to a paid membership to contact the employer, if he or she meets the requirements and wants to apply.
If You Can’t Sell It, Give It for Free
This isn’t exactly the situation an owner of a paid membership site dreams of but since it is not an uncommon scenario, the best you can do is take advantage of it. In other words, when life serves you lemons, make lemonade. If you have good content that despite your efforts and all the promotion you are giving it still doesn’t sell well, consider using it as a promotion tool and start giving it for free. If you are lucky, it could go viral and bring you many more visitors.
However, you need to be cautious with this because if you are doing it on a regular basis, this can seriously cut your profits. In a sense, it gets similar to discounts at stores – if you discount good recent stuff, your customers will soon learn that if they wait a bit they can get it for a fraction of the price or in your case – for free. Therefore, use this strategy only occasionally, otherwise it will turn against you.
Once you become more experienced in managing a membership site, you will learn what works for you. Till then don’t fear to experiment to discover which content you can sell and which content you’ll have to make free – either as a bait, or as a promotional resource.