If you want to charge for membership of your online community…

by Martin Reed on 28 February 2013 in Snippets

Do it from the very beginning.

Membership fees are but one way to monetize an online community.

Two main strategies here:

  1. Allow members to join for free and encourage them to ‘upgrade’ to paid membership.
  2. Charge a one-off application fee just to get in.

I recommend strategy 2.

If you charge someone to join your community you weed out everyone but the most willing and the most enthusiastic.

No more tire-kickers.

You get an immediate cash contribution and you get a member who is far more motivated.

An added bonus:

You get to spend time managing and developing the community, not ‘encouraging’ members to upgrade.

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TommyT March 2, 2013 at 5:02 am

Hmm interesting, but in this economic climate I’d be very weary of charging just to use the site, when most people these days can barely afford to feed themselves or buy petrol for their cars the last thing they’d be willing to spend money on is online communities?

I do have a subscriptions programme but it’s entirely voluntary and gives very little benefits to be fair, I wanted to avoid making my members feel it’s a ‘business exchange’. Those who subscribe do so completely voluntary because they genuinely enjoy the community. They get a coloured name, custom title, a few extra perks on the site and access to beta/unreleased features.

I am currently making another online community at the moment with more emphasis on relationships and online dating, where members will be able to read PM’s, but only send PM’s after subscribing etc which will be £9.99 a month. Won’t make hundreds but make enough to pay the hosting and a few pints for myself for the work put in :)

Martin Reed March 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

There’s still a lot of money out there. It’s all about the value you’re giving in return and how much demand there is for what you’re offering.

TommyT March 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

I have been thinking a lot about this lately – if you got a really niche community with a growing or potential market, did it really well and created real value for its intended audience a subscriptions-only community could work.

The problem with the huge internet now is finding that niche market or niche target of yours.. I’m researching all sorts of things right now, Googling to see what people really want, checking different search terms using Google trend’s tool, see what’s rising and what’s falling in popularity.

I’ll definitely keep this article in mind and make sure if I do try it, then charge from the beginning. Unless ya try ya never know eh?

Forellen June 9, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I agree, It would be nice to make a little money upfront, but I don’t see most people willing to do it. I have a hard time getting people to share facebook posts. Can’t even imagine how hard it would be to get people to pay. With all the ad blocking software out there we gotta make a buck somehow. :)

Dex March 6, 2013 at 4:07 am

I think that in order to be able to charge for any online community you REALLY need to create some value for its members. These days there are tons of all kind of communities online and if people have to pay then they may just go somewhere else….

Martin Reed March 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm

You community needs to have value to its members regardless of whether it’s free or paid.

TommyT March 10, 2013 at 3:47 am

Agreed! You’re still offering a service whether it’s paid or free.

Paid online communities would have one advantage. It would filter out the undesirables, and ensure you only have the most enthusiastic and loyal of members.

Tanja March 11, 2013 at 4:14 am

Very good article, indeed.

“You get to spend time managing and developing the community, not ‘encouraging’ members to upgrade” -> so true.

Another awesome thing about the membership monetizing model is the fact that your revenues will increase over time naturally as more and more people sign up. The customers automatically become recurring customers immediately!

Nice, short, quality article! Thanks for a good and fast reading!



Bill Westbrook April 2, 2013 at 3:46 am

It also depends on the type of community. For some communities, like gaming communities the first option is the only one.

Asif Khan April 10, 2013 at 11:57 am

Interesting but I would go the first way. i will open the site for all and then create a VIP area which will only be accessible by premium members. This would not only expose my site to evryone but also create interest in the free users about the VIP access. They might finally pay to access all that important stuff.

Alex April 25, 2013 at 9:32 am

As a customer, I’d have to say I’m way more likely to join places with option 1. I prefer to test out membership before paying anything.

Matthew April 30, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I know that when I run into the “roadblock” of having to actually PAY for content on the internet, I’m SUPER reticent unless the content is stellar. It’s pretty rare…I’m actually intimidated by my own skepticism…wondering if I can create that great content myself, or if I need to hire some of this out.
Thought provoking, thanks…

Johny May 4, 2013 at 8:45 am

I have plan to make a membership community on my blog, your tips very helpful for me… Thank’s a lot

Rick May 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Man, it’s hard enough to start a successful community let alone charge for it. Unless you have some premium answers I say try and pull in the dough some other way.

jeff May 8, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is a topic I am very interested it. I want to have my site be open, but also want some content to be “premium”…..working toward that anyways

John May 16, 2013 at 1:22 am

I get what you’re trying to accomplish with this, but wouldn’t this method severely limit your reach?

Dianne May 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

I have tried this, but after that reduced visitors… hence gave up and running it as service :( nways few things i learn from your article, let me think over and try out something new.. thanks

Savas June 25, 2013 at 11:57 am

I like the idea of charging members in my community. I intend to do a forum in the future that will have a subscription based membership, but the amounts I will charge will be very low, almost symbolic. People these days can have a hard time paying too much for anything. If you get thousand of subscribers a month and you charge 1$ a month for each, you already earn thousands of dollars a month. Of course, this is a happy situation. I base this idea on the fact that people today have many other “subscriptions”, such as bills and bank rates and they must be able to handle them all in this poor economic environment.

Peter Travel June 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Couldnt agree more, i hate when a free product that has grown a user base starts charging, if you started free and you are not offering something very new and with great value then stay free and look for other ways to get money.

Himel Ahmed July 25, 2013 at 3:54 am

I think if you want to charge a member for his membership to your community, you should provide them some quality services in free membership area. SO that they want to upgrade their membership.