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E-Business Secrets
Brian Livingston
Five rules for selling subscription to online content

I reported in last week's E-Business Secrets about the Web's top five paid-subscription sites, as compiled by Anne Holland of Yes, paid subscriptions can make a site profitable, Holland says, noting that, a genealogy site that had 400,000 subscribers at $49 and $59 as of her last survey in September, passed the 500,000-subscriber mark just last week.

To complete my series on subscriber-based sites and newsletters, I'm summarizing here Holland's five guidelines for attracting paid subscribers:

1. Offer a free newsletter. Holland says you may convert 2 percent to 10 percent of your free subscribers into paying customers for your premium content.

2. Don't give away free trials. Sites with the highest conversion rates have almost no freely visible content and never give free trials, Holland says, with two exceptions. These are (a) unusually valuable or highly perishable information, or (b) you have a time-tested marketing conversion program in place already.

3. Try offering a premium with each subscription. The print periodical world uses this method effectively, and you can too. Perhaps an e-book or white paper related to your core topic would attract the most subscribers.

4. Set your pricing based on the competition. Analyze your competitors' pricing, or that of similar brick-and-mortar businesses if no online site is comparable. Don't automatically choose the lowest price, because it's easier to service 1,000 subscribers at $100 each than 10,000 subscribers at $10 each.

5. Survey your readers frequently. Holland says almost none of the 150 online content providers she's registered with have ever sent her a readers' preferences survey. That's surprising because the Web makes it easy. If you don't want to do it yourself, she recommends, which is so confident of its service that it provides links to its 35 competitors on its Pricing page!

A good example of a subscription service that's followed most of these principles is The site runs "fantasy baseball leagues" online and charges players $5 to $15 a month to manage their own teams.

SportsMogul President Clay Dreslough says the site already has 450 subscribers even though paid subscriptions began only in October. These players represent $3,000 of revenue per month, more than enough to pay for the bandwidth of the site's T1 lines. By the 2nd quarter of 2002, Dreslough expects to have 3,000 subscribers, making the site profitable and financing future expansion.

The service sprang from a CD-ROM game that sold more than 100,000 copies. With about 2,000 e-mail addresses sent in by interested players, SportsMogul enrolled about 1,000 people in an August-September beta. More than 250 players converted to paid subscribers when the beta ended. The site is attracting growth by advertising through Burst Media, Link Exchange, and

WATCH THIS SPACE NEXT WEEK: I'm planning to follow some of Anne Holland's advice with my own semi-annual reader survey. This has been in planning for quite some time and will appear on Dec. 20 in my final E-Business Secrets of the year. Everyone who e-mails a response will receive a free gift, so watch your inbox next Thursday!



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If you never seem to have a camera on you when that perfect shot appears, the solution may be the new L'Espion, a tiny digicam that you wear like a bauble on a keyring.

Since I've written in this space recently about the new, giant 5-megapixel cameras, it's quite a pleasure for me to describe the features of this miniscule device:

-- Holds 20 shots at 352 by 288 or 80 at 176 by 144

-- Makes 10-second silent movies at 8 frames per second (fps)

-- Also operates as a Webcam at 16fps

-- Size: 2.3 inces by 1.6 inches and only 0.6 ince thick

-- Weight: just 1.4 ounces plus 1 AAA battery

At this size, the camera has no zoom lens and its LCD only shows status information, no preview images (but this does allow the device to have good battery life). You transfer its images to a PC via a USB cable.

I haven't found a U.S. source for the L'Espion, just its British maker's Web site, At about $65, someone should really put this goodie on an e-commerce site for the American consuming public.


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1. Greeting card sites start charging for the holidays

2. RocketCash allows kids and the cardless to e-shop

3. Failed Web designs infect multimedia DVD menus

4. Traditional companies using more e-mail marketing

5. Ebay, Amazon, others balk at Microsoft's P3P code

6. How the "9 States" proposal would affect developers

7. Should Web designers always use the W3C standards?

8. HTML tips: Sort table when a column head is clicked

9. Google search page as read by Muppets' Swedish cook

10. An explanation of the above (see "bork" at bottom)

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston. Research director is Ben Livingston (no relation). Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets:


Windows 2000 Secrets:


Win a book free if you're the first to send a tip Brian prints.

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