Paid Membership Sites Vs. Giving Away Free Content

Publishing awesome content on the Internet for profit can essentially be broken down into two broad categories. This is true whether you’re talking about written content, audio podcasts, videos or whatever else you might have.

On the one hand, you have the content that is given away for free. A prime example would be this blog. It doesn’t cost you a dime to read these posts; John makes his money on the back-end through advertising and other means. And then, on the other hand, you have paid content. An example would be a Kindle ebook that you sell on Amazon. If someone wants to read that ebook, they have to pay for it. You make your money directly from the person consuming the content.

But can you give away your content for free if you also want to run a paid membership site? There are a few different ways you can approach this question.

The Hard Exclusive

In the absolute strictest sense, you can have a pure paid membership site. Absolutely nothing is given away for free, aside from the occasional promotional offer you might have. You want people to pay for access, either as a one-time fee or as an ongoing subscription. The content is exclusively available to paying members and no one else. This has the potential of maximizing your profits, since you eliminate the problem of cheap leechers, but you run the risk of scaring away potential customers before they even see what you have.

The Full Teaser

A different approach is to give your potential customers a taste of what you’ve got. A recent example that comes to mind is the Blunt Talk television series starring Patrick Stewart.


Naturally, the goal here is to hook you onto the show so that you’ll be willing to pay to watch it moving forward. The particulars are a little different from the world of Internet marketing, but the fundamental principles are the same.

On the Starz channel website, you’ll find a page with free episodes of Blunt Talk for you to watch. There’s no catch and these are full episodes in roughly full resolution and quality. An equivalent system might see you giving away the first chapter to your e-book for free, hoping that people will want to buy it. Another example would be giving away the first module to your online training program for free, enticing these people to sign on for a full subscription. The bulk of the content remains exclusively available to paying members.

The Timed Exclusive

Perhaps one of the more interesting approaches I’ve seen to this problem is the one taken by Cross Counter and the Excellent Adventures series of online videos.


It’s interesting in that there is a paid subscription model in place — $4.99/month after the 2-week free trial — if you want to watch the new videos as they are published onto the site. However, for people who are patient enough to wait, the entirety of these video sets are eventually uploaded to the YouTube channel to watch for free.

What this means is that paying members aren’t gaining access to exclusive content, per se, as much as they are paying to watch these videos before the non-paying fans. Some people might say that Cross Counter is shooting itself in the foot with this approach, while other people will argue that the YouTube channel becomes an amazing marketing tool to reach an ever-growing audience base.

And growing that audience base can have the additional benefit of growing a potential customer base for other revenue streams. You can buy Cross Counter merchandise, sign up for Street Fighter training with Gootecks and pay for a subscription to the Cross Counter Twitch channel too. That’s diversification.

Value for Money

As with so many other questions in regards to making money on the Internet, how you approach the problem of free content and paid memberships will really depend on what works best for you and your situation. At the end of the day, customers want value for their money. If they feel like their money is well spent and you’re effective in earning their hard-earned cash, then everyone wins.

How To Make 6-Figure Monthly Online Income! Download John Chow’s New eBook!