Advice on transitioning to paid

I write a hobby website. I moved from WP to Ghost to enable paid subscriptions and easier site management and a better writing experience. I’ve achieved the last two, but am looking for advice on transitioning to a subscription model.

I’ve written for a decade, ~600 weekly posts, ~4000 subscribers (50/50 US and UK) and ~75% newsletter open rate. Everything is currently free, supported by ‘Buy me a Coffee’ which generates £250-600/month. I now have more time to write, want to write better articles and want to dissuade some of the scalpers from simply lifting my content and using it elsewhere … but mainly the first two.

I’m considering:

  1. Announcing a paid tier, and then writing 1 post per month paid, moving over 6-12 months to 2-3/month paid. Some popular legacy material will be updated and moved to paid. Other new material, and many legacy posts will remain free.
  2. Imposing a paid-only subscription model for 75% or more of the posts - new and legacy - immediately (which my partner favours and we argue about!)

Option 1 feels like a safer bet and one less likely to alienate my loyal readership. Option 2 is undoubtedly simpler, but I fear I’ll be writing for 40 readers, not 4,000.

Three final points. Overall readership of the site is 10-30k/week with most traffic arriving via Google. There’s considerable ‘churn’ in readership with ~25% new per year, and 25% leaving (it’s a hobby, and everyone starts with enthusiasm, but not all continue). Most hobbyists are middle class, middle income or better, so non-affordability is not an issue.

Personal experience advice, or pointers to articles would be most welcome. With many thanks.

I am subscribed to a few memberships that are run on Ghost and the decision to “buy” has always been pretty similar for me:

  • I was already a happy reader (either via newsletter or RSS)
  • I wanted to support the person behind the project

For me personally, the “additional material” never really played a big role when subscribing, though I learned to appreciate it once I paid for it.

So, from that perspective (and keeping the churn you mentioned in mind), I would go with the first option. The free posts are the “lead generation” for your paid tier, in my eyes. Making the majority of the site paid will reduce the number of people that subscribe for free and then upgrade further down the line.

Also, knowing your site, I could imagine that putting most of its content behind a paywall could actually impact traffic from Google. I am not an SEO expert, so happy to be corrected about that :smiley:

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Thanks Jannis … the subscriptions I make are for similar reasons. I read the stuff, want to continue reading it and want to do my bit to try and ensure it continues to be written.

In re-reading my Q I realised it could be interpreted that I was going to write extra premium material. That isn’t the intention … the goal will be to make a proportion of what I currently write premium, with the legacy material and the continuing ‘free’ stuff enticing subscribers to actually subscribe.

I know little or nothing about SEO and just want to write and be read :grinning:

Cheers
David

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I’m brand-new to Ghost but have been writing for decades, some quarter-million words that have been published, unpublished, lost in folders, refound… I have some work to do to get them all in one place…

That said, my very simple approach is this:

  • all written material is free (no subscription required to read)
  • newsletter and commenting requires a free subscription
  • anything that requires more of my time than writing will be paid on a “project” basis

I have thought long and hard about this, discussed it with many people and the attraction for me is that it measures stages of commitment on the part of the reader:

  • reading, no commitment required
  • want it in your inbox or the ability to put forward your views, price is your email
  • want more personalised advice / consulting services, a fee is required

You have levels 1 and 2 covered, maybe a personalised advisory service could work for you, given the demographic you described??

Hm, I’d give it a go with that option.

Worst case, if you end up sending the “premium stuff” to only a handful of people, you can always revert quite easily (also compared to the second option, where you’d need to edit ALL the posts again).

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Interesting, but I feel that this devalues my writing … it might take them no effort to read, but 3000+ words a week (over a million ‘in print’) takes significant time and effort to produce, and is clearly - from comments I receive - valued. What I’d like is for more readers to demonstrate that value.

The other thing about consultancy-type responses is it introduces an element of time constraint. I can write whenever I want - middle of the night, when travelling etc - but I don’t have to write to fulfil a contract of any sorts. If they’re paying for a service, they have every expectation the service will be provided in a timely manner.

However, you make a good point about the ‘consultancy services’. My contact form attracts almost nothing other than “help me with this problem” enquiries, which I’ll place behind the paywall. Technical issues with the site go to a different - and freely available - email address.

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I agree with you about the effort required for writing and the ease with which it can be read. Paradoxically, and this affects all of us, by offering our writing for free we are telling our readers how much value we put on it… one of life’s cruel ironies.

Before the internet, there were only books (paid for or in libraries) or snail mail newsletters. The effort required to learn has been eliminated.

But your contact form is telling you what your subscribers are wanting. And, presumably if they value your writing they will be willing to pay for individual help… As a strategy consultant once said to me, “Anyone can develop strategy, the big money is in implementation.”

Consultancy does not need to be synchronous, it can be adequately covered by email or “group coaching” (plenty of people offering courses on how to do that) that uses a combination of private forums and one-to-one email contact with you. You can still write responses at midnight ;-)

Further thoughts:
You could move to a full-subscription model by giving adequate notice to your current readers. For example, announce that in, say, six months time, all future posts will be paid subscriber only (leave the existing posts as free access). Then give “Early Bird” pricing opportunities that gradually increase until you reach your desired price at the flip-the-switch date.

This will tell you two things:

  • if your readers truly do value your writing
  • who among your readers you are really writing for

To flip your desire to write for 4000 rather than 40, perhaps consider also that, commercially, writing for 400 paying subscribers would be better than writing for 4000 free readers (and 400 is but 10% of your current subscriber list).

As always, it is the tension between wanting to be read as widely as possible and needing(?) to generate an income…

Hey @fatshark, great to have you onboard and getting away from WP. Like you, I did it for similar reasons plus some technical ones. And the result has been a better experience for everyone.

From a subscription perspective, we are similar in a few ways. I have roughly the same subscribers, some of mine are paying now. I wouldn’t make anywhere close to the same amount of posts per week though. We have ~4100 posts.

What I have found worked for me was to provide a blend of free, subscription, and paid only posts - the majority being in the first two tiers. This ensures that I have a way to transitions people along the way and to not upset those who aren’t here for a long time.

Not sure if that’s helpful or not.

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This is by far the best option in my mind.

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Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for my sanity) I write about a fundamentally practical subject where ‘help and advice’ usually means rolling your sleeves up getting stuck in … the solution depends upon the quality of the information provided (and it’s never better than seeing/acquiring it yourself) and bitter experience shows that getting this from a different time zone, different geographic area, different climate and end-user who uses different equipment and different terms for the same equipment/tools is at best frustrating and, at worst, impossible.

And, it changes the dynamic … I write about what I want, and I’m fortunate to have thousands of readers who appear to want to read what I write. If I acted as a consultant I’d have to write about specific problems raised by individuals, that might not be of interest to the majority of the readers … or relevant, because of the time zone, geography, climate, equipment etc differences mentioned above.

It would make me reactive, not proactive … yes, it might increase my income, but at the cost of writing different things I was possibly less interested in, and getting frustrated about the entire process. I’ve got some experience of this as I’ve done “ask the expert” (Ha!!) sessions on Reddit and they can get mind-numbingly repetitive and uninspiring.

I’ve activated paid subscriptions this afternoon and have a couple within 10 minutes of the post going live … wish me luck!!

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Yikes … how many posts did I say I made? It’s been one per week, for a decade. The prospect of reaching 4,100 is a bit overwhelming … by my reckoning that’ll take me another 67 years. I’m rather doubtful I’ll achieve that.

Actually, it’s an impossibility :wink:

The “free subscribers” only is something I’d forgotten about. That might help drive “brand loyalty” or whatever it’s called.

Thanks for your comment (and the follow up). I’ve pressed the ‘go’ button on paid subscriptions this afternoon.

Cheers

Fantastic!

Out of curiosity, what’s your website?

theapiarist.org … a site for beekeepers

Cheers
David

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