Written September 30, 2013 – Updated: May 13, 2015
What is your mobile app’s revenue model? Free with paid in-app advertising? Freemium? Premium? There’s another revenue option that with a bit more work and some creativity could be a major revenue stream for developers of mobile utility-based apps – membership site subscriptions.
What is a Membership Site? Here, we are talking about a web site where people pay for access – to other people, specific information, instruction or training, and sometimes for things like a trade association or possibly for matters of prestige. There are membership sites for everything: celebrity fan clubs, for fans of rock-n-roll bands, for sports teams, churches, hobbies, and online games, too.
Even WordPress can be used to make a membership site. Many membership site platforms provide a few different levels of membership at different subscription rates for different levels of access. The benefits of these platforms is that they are mostly “plug-n-play” – all the features are there, most importantly with integrated member and billing management. Membership sites are usually very feature rich making it easy for the “average user” to add their own content – articles, pictures, videos and other files, conduct live stream events, maintain an event calendar, make it easy to share across social media, and usually a LOT more.
Why would a Membership Site be useful for a Mobile App Utility? This requires seeing the big picture and where you and your app fit in it. If you have an app that is useful for people in a particular profession – both you, your professional/social network and your app/s have a place in that profession. You have the basis to potentially offer and be paid for far more.It is helpful to look at what you do as it relates to both products and services – and see that frequently “services” have greater value than “products” – and that providing products is a great way to promote services. Tax preparation software, for example, is a great way of promoting tax preparation services.
It is appropriate to see providing access to subject matter expertise from subject matter experts as a service unto itself. Depending upon the individual profiles of those subject matter experts, intangibles like trust and prestige can come into play – and to an extent, their own “social-professional connectedness”. If, for example, you are preparing to graduate from college and are looking for a job as a tax accountant – developing relationships with other established tax accountants can make it a lot easier to get into a good company. Another example is your local golf course – odds are it probably has a membership club.
How much work is a Membership Site? Honestly, setting up and managing a membership site can be a lot of work. Much depends upon how you structure it for the long-term, but one can expect a fairly intensive 30 – 90 days of content development and structuring it for your membership. Thereafter, you can settle into a schedule of periodic updates.
A few things deserve to be pointed out. First, you don’t necessarily need to do this yourself. If you have an experienced colleague interested in some side work who knows your app, you could enter into a partnership with them. Second, the more you encourage and reward membership participation, the more the site will tend to “manage itself”. While about 90% of your membership is likely to be fairly passive, the other 10% will be happy to take on an active role because they will see and understand doing so helps others while simultaneously advancing their own interests.
What can this do for you continued app development?
As can be expected, a membership site effort would require producing high quality, industry-specific content, news and additional services. Obviously, this would expand your role well beyond the scope of mobile development. Consider the following advantages:
This combines your mobile app – a unique product, with a nearly unique service. The core features of a membership site involve a combination of specialized content, expertise coupled with low level consulting services, community, opportunities for members to network with others (B2B and/or B2C), in some cases – prestige.
Consider how much you make selling each copy of your app. Compare that to what you might make through subscriptions. While heavily relative to the market, it is not uncommon for a web site monthly subscription to run $5 or $50 a month or $50 to $500 per year, or more – per subscriber. Some financial and investor related sites run in excess of $300 monthly. The variation relates to matters of expertise, exclusivity, prestige and target size. Celebrity status (yours or that of your core members) can influence this further.
Structuring Membership Levels – Most platforms offer several levels of membership – like: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold or even Platinum. As an example (and a recommendation), it is good to always have one free option – basic – letting people access some of your content, sign up to your newsletter, so that you have their contact information. Bronze or Silver levels add access to content on a paid basis – perhaps at just a few dollars per month or $10 – $25 per year. Gold and Platinum levels are reserved for the “major movers” – and those who want access to special services – whether some consulting, one on one time, or perhaps advertising capabilities, often for much more. The pay structure needs to fit your market.
Additional Revenue Streams. Having a membership site for a specific trade/industry/interest can facilitate corporate sponsorships and advertising. For some, corporate sponsorships can be the greatest source of revenue. In one case, a site focused on electric-powered vehicles made more through advertising than all other sources of income combined.
This may require more marketing savvy and greater effort but your ROI relative to base app sales is potentially much greater. You are not precluded from adopting multiple marketing and promotional efforts. You can still feature your app on stores just like you can promote your site through your app.
It’s not a decision to be made lightly or without research. It requires an honest appraisal of what you can do, the quality and usefulnes of your apps, and a long-term commitment to a specific niche or industry. That can extend to who you know and what they are willing to do, too. Most importantly, a successful membership site requires a deep understanding of your position within the industry and a long-term, persistent effort to improve it.
Frequently, to make what you do most profitable requires doing a lot of other things. Properly approached and developed, however – you can leverage the interests and activities of your market to substantially augment your own efforts. When your “network” becomes a hub or attraction within your industry, others will be looking to increase their position within it, too.