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Membership Programs for Directory Publishers

Membership Programs for Directory Publishers

Consumers are finally warming to the idea of paying for premium content, and directory publishers are capitalizing on the sea change. Like news organizations, a growing number of directory publishers are launching membership programs for their most frequent visitors.

Similar to subscription packages, premium memberships offer incremental revenue for directory publishers who’ve grown tired of the month-to-month fluctuations in display advertising.

What’s most important for directory publishers to understand is that membership programs are a beneficial tool for leveraging an existing platform. The strategy itself also fosters better relationships between publishers, readers, and business advertisers. When digital publishers launch directory membership programs, they decrease their reliance on online advertising and business sponsors.

How Do Directory Memberships Work?

One of the most successful revenue models for directory publishers is the paid membership. Paid memberships are driven by readers, which means publishers that go this route can dedicate themselves to meeting the needs of readers without having to spend time catering to the needs of advertisers.

Website visitors who’ve found value in the directory can purchase premium memberships for special access to content and other exclusive benefits. This works similarly to a subscription, where premium content is reserved for visitors who pay a regular fee.

Membership packages are generally paid for through self-service portals on the directory website, with new members being encouraged to pay on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Some programs offer reduced prices for members who pay annually. From that point, memberships are billed automatically through the publisher’s chosen payment gateway. Memberships may be considered tax deductible, depending on the publisher’s tax status.

Once readers have become paying members, they are given login credentials to enter each time they arrive at the directory. Entering these credentials unlocks content that other visitors don’t have access to, such as enhanced listings and reviews. Directory members may also receive special benefits, including things like:

  • Access to private Facebook groups
  • Free admission to members-only events
  • Members-only emails
  • Branded tote bags, t-shirts, and other swag

Publishers who have created membership programs for their online directories will often introduce tiers or levels. Readers who purchase lower tier memberships get fewer benefits, while those at the highest levels get special “benefactor” status, in addition to more discounts and swag.

Which Directories Have Successful Membership Programs?

While it is true from a technical sense that any online directory can create a membership or subscription program, the reality is that this strategy works better for some publishers than others. The greater the competition in the publisher’s niche, the less likely a membership program is going to be successful. You’re less likely to see a paid membership program for a local business directory (which has competition from the Yellow Pages, Yelp, and many other websites) than you would for a directory that’s focused on a niche topic.

Publishers with online directories focused on certain hobbies tend to have the greatest success in cultivating the type of dedicated fan base that’s required to have a successful membership program. For example, trade groups will often create membership programs to go along with their online directories. People who become members of the trade group can access premium listings in the directory, or they themselves can be listed, depending on the types of services they offer.

Backstage.com offers us another example of a site with a popular membership program. For $99 per year, performers can become Backstage members and add their own talent profiles to Backstage’s online directory. They can also sign up to receive instant notifications when new job listings go live, and they have access to listings that other readers can’t see on the website.

Why Do Directory Publishers Create Membership Programs?

Membership programs help loosen the reliance that directory publishers have on digital advertising and business sponsorships. But unlike subscriptions, which simply involve website visitors paying a fee for access to premium content, membership programs offer a greater sense of belonging.

Website visitors who sign on to become members of their favorite online directories feel like they are in an exclusive club, and they are more likely to promote the directory to their friends and to support the directory publicly in other ways. Some membership programs allow only a certain percentage of website visitors to become members, creating greater demand for the membership, while others use private Facebook groups and Slack channels to bring their members together under one roof.

What’s most important here is that creating a membership program makes readers feel like they belong to something valuable. It’s more than just a financial transaction. That’s the real reason why publishers decide to setup membership programs instead of traditional subscription packages.