Newsletter vs. Membership Websites – What’s the Difference?

Many publishers refer to a Newsletter Website as a Membership Website, but the truth is that Newsletter Websites stand on their own.

Misunderstanding the characteristics and attributes of a Membership Website compared to a retail-based Newsletter Website is a common misunderstanding when publishers are launching a paid-access-only website.

Newsletter Website: Newsletter Websites are generally set up for subscribers to a print newsletter with access to back issues in either HTML or PDF form. The site also sells subscriptions to the newsletter.

Membership Website: A Membership Website provides a library of information of a specific topic or cluster of topics of interest, which members pay to access. Its two-pronged business goal is to acquire and retain members. There are two types of Membership Websites. The first is paid for by a donor, the second is paid for by the member.


The Difference Between a Newsletter and Membership Website

A Membership Website is an online medium—a destination—in and of itself. It may be structured as a “pure-play” site, which does not depend on a primary relationship to, or experience with, an online or offline product. Or it may be structured as a “companion” website, which does relate to an online or offline product. Either way, “members” or “subscribers” register and pay to access information, organized library-style by topic of interest, or research information or find answers to a question.

Subscriber-access-only companion sites like Newsletter Websites are more correctly defined as retail sites, where the subscriber can access or download PDF versions of the related publication. The Motley Fool’s six print newsletters, for example, all have related subscriber-access-only Newsletter Websites. They do not meet our definition of a Membership Website, because they are not destinations. Rather, they are companion retail subscription websites, where newsletter subscribers can download PDF versions and non-subscribers can purchase a newsletter subscription.

Unlike a Membership Website, which is content-based, a Newsletter Website is commerce-based with an overall objective of increasing product sales and providing customer service to existing subscribers. A Newsletter Website includes, for example, a customer-service functionality to manage the ongoing relationship with the subscriber; it might also allow the user to download back issues, perhaps for an additional price. Most importantly, the organization of information on a Newsletter Website is by issue date, not topic of interest.

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