Subscription Websites: What’s Your Minimum Information Unit?

The Holy Grail of Revenue Generation for many successful online content marketers, producers and publishers.

Wooden block house on handHow many types of websites are there on the world wide web of sites?

At one time we were watching new ones popping up every day. But in the past few years, we’ve identified a solid nine subscription website archetypes for publishers to consider, depending on their business goals and their content. I’ve posted about all of the six premium (paid) models in the past few months.

And when I say the model you choose depends in part on your content, I’m talking about the Minimum Information Unit in your content – the MIU. Do you publish articles? Data and records? Profiles? We often write about repurposing and recycling your MIUs – articles become chapters in books, excerpts become blog posts, and so on.  That’s because your MIU is the golden egg of your business. And you must deliver it to consumers in a way that’s simple, functional and convenient for users – and that drives revenues and satisfies your business goals.

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Nine Subscription Website Archetypes and their MIUs

All nine subscription websites revolve around their specific MIUs. Six premium (paid) archetypes require users to at least register to gain access to those MIUs. These are the club, newsletter, reference, periodical, magazine and application archetypes. The three affinity (free) archetypes are the portal, the community and the blog. The MIU for all three is a post.

Any or all of these are frequently combined with one of the six premium (paid) websites to drive traffic and keep users engaged.

The six premium subscription websites are:

As we’ve noted before, there are dozens of other website models that publishers form by combining one or more of the premium subscription website archetypes. Morningstar.com, for instance, is a reference website that also includes an application. Combining website archetypes functions most smoothly when, as at Morningstar, both archetypes center on the same type of MIU.

Here’s how the MIUs stack up for the six premium website archetypes:

Membership Websites: The MIU is a profile of, or content created by, a member. TheLadders.com, Match.com and SSWUG.org are benchmark sites for the membership website archetype. All three require registration and payment for full access. At The Ladders, the profiles are of jobs and job seekers. Match.com offers profiles of individuals seeking relationships. And at SSWUG.org, a B2B website, the MIU is the professional expertise and advice offered by paid members to help each other.

Newsletter Websites: At these sites, the MIU is an article. Investing Daily’s Personal Finance newsletter and Golf Odyssey.com are the benchmark newsletter subscription websites. Like all newsletter websites, the articles are contained in a newsletter, and the site’s sole function is to sell subscriptions to that newsletter. There’s no other content on the site, unless it’s aligned with one of the free archetypes, besides a sales letter for the newsletter. Like the magazine website (below), content is organized by issue.

Reference Websites: The MIU is a record – data, articles or lessons, among others. Unlike most MIUs, this MIU is rarely updated, and when it is, it’s behind the scenes.  While simple sites may rely solely on HTML and PDF files, many more robust sites also incorporate still photos, audio and video in the MIU. For some sites, an audio or video lesson or episode may be the primary MIU. ConsumerReports.org and Lynda.com are benchmark sites reference website archetype. Both require registration and payment for full access.

Periodical Websites: The MIU is a news article, and the website content is organized by topic. Adding photos, audio, video or other documents may enrich the post. These sites are also called news sites, online newspapers, online magazines, online newsletters, online journals and blogs. The Wall Street Journal Online and The Economist are benchmark sites for the periodical website archetype. All three require registration and payment for full access, and feature constantly-updated content.

Magazine Websites: The MIU is again an article, and the magazine containing the articles is available to subscribers on the site for download or to read online. LEDs Magazine and Make Magazine were early benchmark sites for the magazine website archetype. NewYorker.com and Wired.com are recent entrants. While all require registration for full access, LEDs Magazine (PDF edition) is free to qualified subscribers. All four also include free website archetypes, such as portals and communities.

Application Websites: The MIU here, as with reference websites, is a record that users pay to access using a software application. Hoovers.com is a pure application website, that is, it has no content available to non-subscribers, and offers software to research records on thousands of companies. Morningstar.com and Wine Spectator.com are reference websites (organized by topic) that include applications to assist in researching those records. Morningstar’s applications feature records on stocks, and Wine Spectator helps users buy, sell and organize fine wines.

As I mentioned above, most real-world subscription websites combine two or more of the above to create hybrid subscription websites, which when done well, leverage the mix of functionality to create user benefits that are more than the sum of the parts.

We’ve been writing about the nine subscription website archetypes a lot recently. But have we missed something new? Please let us know in the comments if you think there’s another archetype out there. And feel free to share your experiences with the archetype/s you use.

This article was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly.

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