How To Start A Paid Subscription Based Publication?
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How To Start A Paid Subscription Based Publication?

A step-by-step guide to starting your own subscription based publication.

The content industry is witnessing a major shift towards subscription-based publication and online creators stand to reap immense benefits by adopting the subscription business model for their content. Creators, across the world, are finding it much easier to generate a consistent source of income, developing a deeper connection with their audience, and creating quality content through cultivating an audience that is willing to pay for the content.

So, how can you join in and start a paid subscription-based publication yourself? Let’s beak it down.
1) What is a subscription-based publication?
2) What are the benefits for the creator?
3) What are the key aspects that a creator should keep in mind?
4) How do you roll it out?
5) How much should you publish?
6) How can you succeed?

1) What is a subscription-based publication?
A subscription-based publication is essentially a pay-for-access model of content publication. The traditional form of publication like newspapers, books, and magazines were the forerunners of this model as you needed to buy a physical copy to access the content inside. In the digital age, it is the digital content that is being monetised in a similar manner wherein the access to the content you create can only be gained through paid membership.

Some of the leading digital publishers including The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal have already opted for subscription based models while video content publishers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, etc., were already developing their businesses through this method. 

At the very core of subscription based publication lies the idea of providing a great user experience while generating revenues for the creator. The user gets to access high-quality content without the interference of ads and can choose to pay for the content they would like to consume. The publisher, or the creator, in turn, gets a steady source of income without worrying about degrading the quality of their content.

2) What are the benefits for the creator?

Starting a subscription-based publication provides direct benefits for the creator in a number of ways. To begin with, it generates a steady source of revenue for the creator as the payments are recurring in nature. Secondly, the creator gets to focus on creating extremely high-quality content as they do not need to produce content in bulk to generate the same kind of revenue vis-a-vis ads. 

Thirdly, the mailing list of subscribers belongs to the creator which means that the creator has a direct connect with their audience and can interact with them through emails. The fourth benefit for the creator is that they are at liberty to request a subscription which they deem fit, unlike revenue through ads which is not in their hands. But most importantly, it is an extremely simple business model to initiate and sustain as the transaction is simply the exchange of money for access to content.

3) What are the key aspects a creator should keep in mind?

Before you start a subscription based publication there are certain things you should be aware of and a few things you should be mindful of, in order to succeed.

a) Provide Quality Content - A subscriber would only pay for content that is of high-quality, relevant, and of value to them. As a publisher, if you wish to roll out subscription based content, then you need to know the exact needs of your audience, understand your competitors who are producing similar kind of content, and find a way to develop your own voice that speaks to your readers. Unique, insightful, well-developed, and well-structured content of high-quality is the key to a successful subscription based publishing.

b) Develop A Mailing List - Your mailing list would be your biggest asset in this publishing model. As you start publishing content, request your readers to subscribe to your website (even for free content) as they would be your potential paying members. It has been observed that approximately 10% of the mailing list could usually be converted to paying subscribers if you manage to keep the content quality high, and frequency consistent. Further, a mailing list also ensures that your content reaches every one in your audience and is not lost in the sea of content over-availability.

c) Price It Right - It is very important to set the price right as it would determine how many of your members become paying subscribers. For example, if you are publishing highly technical, professional, or niche content not meant for the masses, you could probably set a higher price, say $7 a month. If your audience belongs to, say, the corporate class and they could justify a higher payment then you can charge $10 a month. But, if your content could be consumed by anyone in general, then it is a good idea to keep the price slightly lower, say $5 a month, to attract more subscribers. You can experiment with the pricing a bit but this is usually the approach to set the right price.

d) The Numbers Matter - Content publication requires a bit of number crunching for sure but the subscription model ensures that even a modest set of audience provides a greater return for your efforts. For example, if you produce content in the personal category (say parenting, gardening, cooking, etc.) and are charging $5 a month for your content, then you stand to earn $5,000 a month with just a thousand subscribers. This, in turn, means that a mailing list of about 10,000 people would help you get good returns per month on a steady basis. And if you are producing professional content, then you can simply change the prices accordingly and cut the subscriber numbers in half and still get the same returns. As you can see, even a small audience can be helpful if the content and pricing is right.

e) Best Work Should Be Made Freely Available - As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you should allow your best work to be accessible for free. The logic behind this argument is that your best work would attract more people, it would be more popular, and hence, it could act as hook for potential subscribers. When you showcase your best work for free, more people get to discover you, follow you, and eventually subscribe to you.

4) How do you roll it out?

Rolling out of subscription based publication should be done in phases, preferably the following three:

a) Preview - Think of this phase like the release of a movie trailer. They showcase some of the best scenes of the movie and are available for free. This creates a buzz around the movie itself. Similarly, start be consistently releasing your content for free. Create good work and spread it on the internet. Share your homepage URL. This could be an extended period of 2-4 months when all content is free. Get people interested, talking, and signing up for your mailing list.

b) Announcement - Once you have gained the attention of your audience, let them know about your intentions of placing some of your future content pieces behind a paywall. You can send out an email to them explaining the reason behind your decision, your prices, and clearly outline the benefits of becoming a paying subscriber. Give your audience a reason to invest in you.

c) Release - The first two phases may take some time as you build your audience but on the date you set for yourself, release the content pieces meant for paid subscribers only. Following this, send out another email to let your audience know that you have rolled out this feature and how you plan to move ahead with it.

5) How much should you publish?

Quality and consistency are the two most important factors in determining your success. If we assume that you have already managed to control the quality, then let us take a look at how you can schedule your posts and maintain their frequency. Yet again, the eventual decision would be yours based on your experiments and publishing capabilities.

a) Preview Phase - It would better to publish a slightly larger number of posts during this phase as you are looking to attract and build an audience. One post per day or perhaps 5 in a week could be good number to begin with. This, however, would depend on the quality of the post itself and the time it takes to create one.

b) Release - Once you have rolled out the paid content, begin with approximately 2-3 free posts and 1 paid post per week. Continue with this number for 3-4 weeks and gradually shift towards more of paid posts.

c )Sustain - Once you have settled down with the change, it would be ideal to have 2-3 paid content pieces per week along with 1 free post. This would help you to keep getting new followers while the people who pay for your content get privileged access to more of exclusive content from you.

6) How can you succeed?

Success in paid publishing depends on 3Ps (Provide, Persist, and Perfect)

a) Provide - Generate high-quality content consistently which generates value for your audience.

b) Persist - Have patience. As you persist with your effort the results would start revealing themselves. Slowly but steadily, your audience would build and they would repay the value of your content through money.

c) Perfect - Perfect your content through getting continuous feedback, experimenting, and improving your skills to become a leader in your content domain.

Subscription based publishing is, in fact, the future of content and as digital content publishers, you can find success through this model by creating, improving, and steadily moving forward in your publishing journey.