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MPA-IMAG 2009 Conference Coverage: 10 Lessons Learned from Taunton’s Membership Websites

With traffic and sales doubling in the past year, Taunton’s Janine Scolpino discusses some keys to membership website success

Traffic and sales have doubled in the past year for Taunton Press, demonstrating that resistance to paying for content is diminishing.

In a panel titled “Success: D-I-G-I-T-A-L” at the MPA-IMAG Independent Magazine Conference this week, Taunton’s new CMO reminded the audience that it’s not too late to start charging for content. “We are the professionals consumers value and trust. If we don’t believe that, how will our consumers and advertisers believe it?”

To attract an audience, she advised to first whet the appetite with free content. Then train the consumer to understand that the premium content comes with a price.

Here are the top 10 lessons learned from Taunton’s membership websites:

1. Content

Content is always king, this has not changed. Paid membership websites can’t just be a replication of a print brand. While archives are one of the most important features, video is a must-have. Video helps to make the proposition more valuable, as you can teach certain tips and techniques much better in video than you can in text. Video also helps to create a stronger bond between the editors and the consumers, as editors are usually the talent in the videos. Scolpino also noted that the proportion of free and paid content is very important.

2. Pricing

Three years ago when they launched Finewoodworking.com, they thought they could charge almost $90 for an annual membership. “Don’t get crazy (with your pricing),” warned Scolpino. They soon switched their membership website pricing to match their print subscription price and site sales took off. They currently use parity pricing for online only. Print subscribers get a discounted rate and monthly subscribers pay the highest rate.

3. Acquisition

Organic web ads and sales from Taunton sites account for 80% of membership website orders. They also do cover wraps and space ads to introduce the sites and build brand awareness. Pay-Per-Click conversions are not as good, but they do see spikes in orders after a PPC ad is run.

4. Email marketing

Scolpino demonstrated a test they ran and found that creative testing played a bigger role than offer testing. She showed a graphic-heavy email promotion as her control, and a more text-heavy, benefit-oriented email promotion as her test. The text version lifted response by 127%.

5. Conversions

Keep your order flows as simple as possible. One one of their order flows, they originally had 6 steps to completion. They tested reducing it to 2 steps and saw conversion rates go from 6% to 11%.

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6. Research

Never lose sight of how important it is to get consumer feedback on their level of satisfaction with your membership site.

7. Offers/Upsells

Taunton’s primary offer for their membership websites is a 14-day free trial. They tested a 14-day free trial vs. a hard offer and found that the trial lifted response significantly.

8. Vendors/Software

Scolpino reminded us of the importance in taking time to make sure all your systems talk to each other so that orders are processed and captured across all systems for reporting purposes. Easier said than done, but very much worth the time and effort required.

9. Retention

The average monthly membership term across the Taunton membership websites is 7.2 months. This is until annual conversion or dropout. They are seeing 55-72% of members renewing.

10. Consumers will pay!

Overall their membership base has grown from nothing to 80K. Their membership website revenue has gone from nothing to over 2 million. It is possible to go from free to fee!

Scolpino noted that the membership website that has the most content behind the wall also has the most members, further driving the point that consumers are willing to pay for valuable, edited, trusted content.

She sees the success they are having as a good indicator of the future success for the publishing industry as a whole.

More from MPA-IMAG 2009:

The Future of Publishing with Bo Sacks

August Home Publishing is a True Inspiration for Multi-Platform Publishers

Posted in Industry News, Subscription Website Publishing

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