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Pricing Model Options for Membership Sites: Find the Best Fit

Introduction

One of the most important decisions when launching a membership site is choosing the right pricing model. The model you select can make or break your ability to attract and retain members.

With the rise of membership sites across industries, more creative pricing options have emerged beyond the standard monthly subscription fee. Models range from completely free access to annual commitments and pay-per-use credits.

How do you determine which pricing approach is best for your membership community? This comprehensive guide explores popular pricing models, their pros and cons, and key factors to consider when selecting the optimum structure.

By understanding pricing model options in depth, you can confidently craft a membership fee strategy aligned to your business goals, audience and value proposition. Let’s dive in to the various models available for monetizing your membership site.

Free Membership

Offering free membership gives users full access to your community with no paywall. Revenue comes from advertisements placed throughout the platform.

Pros

  • Removes barriers to entry and attracts members quickly.
  • Allows you to build an audience before monetizing.
  • Ad revenue can outweigh subscription fees over the long-term at scale.

Cons

  • Difficult to implement ads without degrading user experience.
  • Must build to massive scale for ad models to work.
  • Provides little revenue in early stages.
  • No guarantee members will convert to paid tiers.

Best For

  • Communities focused on rapid user acquisition first.
  • Niche sites unsure of revenue viability.
  • Platforms with trafficked content that appeals to advertisers.
  • Developers lacking resources to support paid plans initially.

Freemium

Freemium provides a forever-free membership tier with limited access plus advanced paid tiers with premium features.

Pros

  • Removes barriers for new users to register and look around.
  • Allows sampling of core offering to demonstrate value.
  • Provides smooth upgrade path to convert free members.
  • Can upsell members over time as new paid tiers are added.

Cons

  • Free users cost money to support without generating revenue.
  • Must continuously add paid features to incentivize upgrades.
  • Difficult to restrict content access technologically across tiers.
  • No guarantee free members will ever convert to paid.

Best For

  • Communities with tiered levels of membership.
  • Businesses with large audiences to upsell.
  • Sites with content easily restricted into free/paid sections.
  • Users not yet ready to commit to paid plans.

Tiered Subscriptions

With tiered pricing, members pay a monthly or annual fee to access one of several membership levels, each with its own features.

Pros

  • Appeals to diverse needs and budgets.
  • Lets members upgrade plans as they engage more.
  • Higher tiers attract premium sponsorships/ads.
  • Can test pricing and features through tier experimentation.

Cons

  • Complex to explain structure and differences across tiers.
  • Setting tier levels and benefits is challenging.
  • May encourage downgrading if value perception declines.

Best For

  • Large communities serving distinct segments.
  • Sites able to segment content/tools into tiers.
  • Members open to paying based on usage level.
  • Existing members to upsell over time.

Pay-Per-View

With pay-per-view, visitors purchase access on a per piece of content basis instead of a recurring subscription.

Pros

  • Allows bite-sized purchase with minimal commitment.
  • Provides flexibility to consume varying amounts.
  • Optimized for one-off educational/informational content.
  • Fully pay gate restricted content.

Cons

  • One-time purchases only – no recurring revenue.
  • Must produce lots of content to generate sales.
  • Visitors may feel nickel and dimed.
  • Poor fit for community-driven sites.

Best For

  • Niche educational or entertainment content.
  • Creators producing content at high volumes.
  • Users looking for quick answers or entertainment.
  • Audiences looking to minimize commitment.

Bulk Content Credits

With bulk credits, members purchase a package of content credits upfront to redeem over time as they consume content.

Pros

  • Provides flexibility similar to pay-per-view.
  • Encourages purchase of credits in bulk for discount/convenience.
  • Simpler to redeem credits than enter payment each time.
  • Guarantees future revenue from credit purchases.

Cons

  • Complex credit system can feel restrictive.
  • Need a large content library requiring credits to access.
  • Hassle if credits expire before member can redeem them all.
  • Doesn’t work for community-driven engagement.

Best For

  • Sites with vast libraries of premium content.
  • Members who consume content sporadically.
  • Users who prefer to pay upfront vs. repeatedly.
  • Those seeking flexibility in consumption amounts.

Membership Bundles

Bundling combines membership access with physical products, services or events. The bundle enhances perceived value.

Pros

  • Increased perceived value justifies higher pricing.
  • Bundles encourage longer membership retention.
  • Serves as additional revenue stream atop subscriptions.
  • Opportunity to partner strategically with complimentary offerings.

Cons

  • Members may only want access without bundled items.
  • Challenging logistics fulfilling physical products/services.
  • Needs substantial inventory or partners to bundle with.
  • Difficult to align bundles to match membership terms.

Best For

  • Established sites with strong existing value.
  • Businesses with other offerings to pair access with.
  • Members open to committing to premium bundles.
  • Niche communities that collaborate with strategic partners.

Peer-to-Peer Subscriptions

With peer-to-peer payments, members directly sponsor each other’s access in a “pay it forward” model.

Pros

  • Fosters a stronger member community.
  • Focuses on giving value, not extracting fees.
  • Highly scalable without overhead costs.
  • Avoids billing complexities.

Cons

  • Members may be reluctant to pay for others.
  • Difficult to manage and enforce sponsorships.
  • Low barrier of entry could attract freeloaders.
  • No way to guarantee revenue generation.

Best For

  • Small, niche communities.
  • Members passionate about “paying it forward”.
  • Sites focused on fostering philanthropy.
  • Users turned off by traditional fees.

Hybrid Models

Combining multiple models above can optimize benefits of each. Popular hybrids include:

Freemium + Paid Membership

Offers both forever free and paid subscription tiers with differing levels of access and features. Allows sampling before committing.

Pay-Per-View + Subscriptions

Gives option to purchase subscription or pay per piece of content accessed for maximum flexibility.

Credits + Subscriptions

Grants a base amount of credits for a monthly subscription fee. Users can buy additional credits a la carte.

Bundles + Subscriptions

Subscriptions provide membership access. Bundles package access with extras like products, events or services.

Pros

  • Balances the strengths of multiple model types.
  • Broadens appeal to diverse preferences.
  • Smooths transition from entry-level to paid commitment.
  • Evolves monetization strategies over the membership lifecycle.

Cons

  • Increased complexity managing hybrid models.
  • Difficulty explaining structure clearly.
  • Discount bundles can erode subscription revenue.
  • Clunky technology integrating multiple access models.

Best For

  • Large mainstream member audiences.
  • Sites monetizing access in multiple ways.
  • Users across the commitment spectrum.
  • Maximizing revenue from various member segments.

Evaluating the Model Fit

With so many potential pricing models to pick from, how do you select the right structure for your unique membership site? Walk through these four steps:

Clarify Your Goals

Your pricing model must support your core goals. Are you focused on maximizing revenue, user acquisition, engagement or retention? Your priorities will point you towards certain models.

Understand Your Audience

Consider details like your audience size, demographic profile, needs and willingness to pay. The model must align with what they will find fair and valuable.

Gauge Your Value Proposition

Analyze what makes your membership offering worth paying for. Are you providing high-value content, tools, access to a community? The model must match the core value you deliver.

Examine the Competition

Research what pricing models similar membership sites use. Determine if you should align with competitors or differentiate your model as a positioning strategy.

Popular Membership Pricing Models

Now that you understand the options at a high level, let’s examine some of the most popular pricing models and the kinds of sites suited for each.

Flat Rate Subscriptions

Flat rate subscriptions charge a fixed monthly or annual fee for ongoing access to member benefits. This simplicity makes them a popular choice.

Pros

  • Predictable, recurring revenue stream.
  • One simple decision vs. complex tiers.
  • Easy to communicate to members.
  • Fits as an add-on purchase if priced low enough.

Cons

  • Limited flexibility to adapt model over time.
  • Hard to optimize or raise pricing.
  • Not aligned to usage levels.
  • Can be a barrier if price is too high.

Best For

  • Clear, fixed value propositions.
  • General connections vs. niche communities.
  • Sites with minimal overhead costs.
  • Users who just want in with no frills.

Examples

  • Professional associations offering access to research.
  • Alumni clubs facilitating school spirit and networking.
  • Panels surveying members to provide data and insights.
  • Cause-based activist organizations mobilizing supporters.
  • Book clubs granting access to special author events.
  • Creator fan clubs with exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

Subscription Tiers

Tiered memberships set pricing levels based on access and features granted at each tier. Typically includes a free or low-cost entry level.

Pros

  • Appeals to diverse needs and budgets.
  • Naturally upsells members to higher tiers.
  • Rewards members’ loyalty and engagement.
  • Allows testing pricing and positioning at each level.

Cons

  • Complex pricing can confuse members.
  • Hard to restrict premium content to upper tiers.
  • Members may downgrade and hurt revenue.
  • Significant tech investment to manage tiers.

Best For

  • Large mainstream member bases.
  • Sites able to gate some content and tools.
  • Users with ability and willingness to pay more.
  • Members who engage more over time.

Examples

  • Online course marketplaces with free, pro, and premium tiers.
  • News and entertainment sites with exclusive “insider” access.
  • Platforms with pro tools or certification prep.
  • Networking groups with greater access for higher tiers.
  • Service marketplaces screening providers by tiers.

Bulk Time Credits

Sell credits members can redeem to access services or content over time. Volume discounts incentivize larger packs.

Pros

  • Flexibility to use credits at their own pace.
  • Bulk discounts drive higher purchasing.
  • Guaranteed future revenue from larger packs.
  • Fully restricts access to purchasers.

Cons

  • Complex redemption system.
  • Credits may expire before use.
  • Limited applications beyond 1:1 service access.
  • Carry inventory management overhead.

Best For

  • Services allowing self-scheduling through credits.
  • Sites providing set packages/modules of premium content.
  • Users who prefer to prepay for flexibility.
  • Members with fluctuating needs over time.

Examples

  • Learning platforms selling course credits.
  • Lawyers selling retainer credits.
  • Gyms selling packs of fitness classes.
  • Coaches selling credits for time slots.
  • Counselors selling credits for appointments.

Hybrid Subscription Bundles

Hybrid bundles combine the power of memberships plus associated products/services. Discounted vs purchasing separately.

Pros

  • Increased perceived value justifies premium pricing.
  • Sticky retention with combined offering.
  • Attractive packaging for gift-giving.
  • Additional revenue stream atop subscriptions.

Cons

  • Challenging logistics and inventory.
  • Customers may only want access, not extras.
  • Partnerships and revenue shares complicate.
  • Hard to align auto-renewals if terms don’t match.

Best For

  • Sites able to bundle digital downloads.
  • Businesses with products/services to package access with.
  • Niche communities that partner strategically.
  • Members highly engaged in offerings.

Examples

  • Dance community bundled with classes, wearables, events.
  • Cooking community bundled with recipes, meal kits, tools.
  • Outdoor community bundled with gear, trips, coaching.
  • DIY community bundled with workshops, materials, blueprints.

Pay-Per-View Content Sales

Sell individual pieces of content, documents, videos or resources for one-time access.

Pros

  • Low individual prices open to impulse purchasing.
  • Content easily segmentable from rest of platform.
  • No membership required lowers barrier.
  • Content highly consumable without ongoing engagement.

Cons

  • One-off purchases only, no recurring revenue.
  • Must market each piece of content individually.
  • Buyers may feel nickel and dimed.
  • Not suitable for community-driven sites.

Best For

  • Highly consumable, one-off informational content.
  • Content easily segmented from rest of platform.
  • Visitors attracted to specific topics only.
  • Users wanting to minimize commitment.

Examples

  • Single online courses or tutorials.
  • Downloadable templates, checklists, guides.
  • Virtual seminars or workshops.
  • Premium research reports, stats packages.
  • Archived legacy content libraries.
  • Standalone videos, podcast episodes, presentations.

Tip Jars and Voluntary Support

Rather than set pricing, you allow members to voluntarily decide their own contribution level.

Pros

  • Fosters community goodwill and support.
  • Low pressure, open ended payment amounts.
  • Highly scalable without increasing costs.
  • Low barriers to enter community.

Cons

  • No way to predict or control revenue.
  • Few members may contribute without set pricing.
  • Some may take advantage of free access.
  • Difficult to restrict member benefits by contribution.

Best For

  • Small, niche communities.
  • Users averse to paying mandatory fees.
  • Sites focused on philanthropy.
  • Members intrinsically wanting to give back.

Examples

  • Enthusiast forums and groups.
  • Spiritual and wellness communities.
  • Open source project and hobbyist sites.
  • Expert networks focused on sharing first.
  • Local service referrals and review communities.

Conclusion

The right membership pricing model aligns to your business goals, audience, and value proposition while maximizing revenue. Consider your options, from fully free access to hybrid bundles and more. Combine pricing innovation with outstanding membership benefits, and your community is sure to flourish.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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