Do You Have Enough Content for a Membership Website?

Lots of content doesn’t always equal valuable, useful content

2011 is coming soon, and that means that many publishers will be updating their business models and adding new products. Are you launching a membership website? Have you considered it?

Every story that a publisher has ever published in its magazine or newsletter or book series is an asset. And the question that every publisher must ask is, “How can we best monetize that asset?” If the publisher monetized the asset in the past by selling advertising, it’s highly likely that the economics favor an ad-driven online publishing strategy.

Therefore, think about the economic history of the existing print publishing business. Regardless of the amount of available content, the way the organization is set up to make money and the economics that have worked in the past are what matter.

A Membership Website is valuable to its members—and, therefore, to the publisher—only when the site is structured as a comprehensive reference source. A Membership Website may seem like a good idea simply because an archive of five, ten, or 20 years worth of articles exists.

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“Let’s throw them up online and charge $20 a year to access the archives,” a publisher might say.

While that may, on its face, look like a simple way to increase revenue, bringing an information library online can be a very bad decision for publishers who don’t have that information organized and searchable by topic.

On a Membership Website, content is tagged and structured in a topic format. This results in a completely different information architecture, one that requires the reorganization of the publisher’s entire archives—whether that’s one, three, five, 20 or 50 years of magazine or newsletter issues—into a library system arranged by topic, not issue date.

That’s a huge undertaking that often requires the services of a dedicated information architect and a team of content specialists who can properly categorize each article into the right categories (the categories, in which, an average user will expect to find them).

A Membership Website is, effectively, a massive encyclopedia on a particular topic. It requires a robust amount of online content—perhaps 5,000 to 8,000 pages at launch, climbing into the tens of thousands of pages as time goes on. If the publisher doesn’t have access to a ton of evergreen content that is valuable, searchable, and organized in a library-like fashion, then that publisher probably shouldn’t even be thinking about launching a Membership Website.


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