I Recently conducted a small, limited sample survey on some of our members to look at general views regarding subscription memberships to niche community sites. The findings weren't exactly unpredictable, but were insightful in the power ferocity with which views were expressed.

When asked how members felt about being asked to pay for something they originally were receiving for free, the response was fairly unanimous -
"it would be an extremely poor choice to charge for a fledgling service that was once free. rupert murdoch is proposing to start charging for internet news sites to make them cost effective. with the plethora of sites available for free he is just guaranteeing that his customers seek alternatives - damn it where is spellchecker!"

"think the difficulty with charging for an online community like ***** is that people can get the same stuff and same services elsewhere for free- with twitter, facebook etc etc. I probably wouldn't want to pay a subscription for it as I feel like with a bit of research I could find the stuff on there myself..."

"I would unsubscribe"

But when asked how they would feel about paying and receiving MORE (more being left open to interpretation) the tone changed a bit:

"the benefit would have to be tangible and almost universally attractive to each customer regardless of preference. any fee no matter how notional creates a barrier between the customer and the provider that is hard to overcome. when supermarkets charge for carrier bags, albeit only a penny, people will prefer to save the money and carry their goods. it is not the actual cost as it is miniscule, rather the knowledge that one is spending more than they need to. in poole town centre a £1 shop opended. several months later a 90p shop opened opposite and the 99p shop actually closed as all their customers sought the cheaper alternative."

"Of course, that is better but again it would really depend on what I would be getting and how frequently I would use it."

"I would be interested to find out what the value of the subscription would be, it would have to justify itself."

So the challenge is, if you are considering moving to a "freemium" model or subscription based service, to clearly distinguish between what is for Free and what has enough perceived value and use to be deemed chargeable. Not only is it about quality though. Timing is key, as timing could be the difference between a commodity or an item of great personal relevance, value and demand.

Interestingly, when asked what types of things people would perceive as Premium upgrade benefits, i.e. something worth a subscription fee, a high percentage (73%) voted for "exclusive discounts", whereas 66.7% voted for Free Stuff. This demonstrates, while not a significant difference between the two, that there is an inherent propensity to buy (with discounts) over getting freebies, largely due to the realistic idea that you get what you pay for, and what you don't, well frankly, it's hit and miss.

In fact, many of the comments about freebies were mixed - people like to receive a nice surprise for sure, if it is relevant and of intrinsic value to them personally - TIP: put someone's initials or name on something and it immediately becomes personally valuable, otherwise it ends up as landfill and the hidden environmentalist within us surfaces and attacks the freebie giver for their wastage. Ungrateful so & so's. No not really. It is easy to litter the planet and pepper valuable members of communities with free guff and people know this, so you must adhere to the three R's - Relevant, Relevancy, Relevance.

Is it a sign of the economic times that the members view on using subscriptions to raise money for charitable causes is not entirely supportive (<20%). Or is the question mark purely over the medium of collection - lacking creativity and inspiration? An interesting side topic.

And so how much is a "sensible" amount to charge for a member subscription? A significantly high proportion in comparison with any other suggestions, was £1-3.00 per month. This may not seem like a lot, and in reality, it probably isn't. It does signify the mental barrier you have to get over to move a free member to paying subscriber, not to mention the amount of comparable value to must deliver month on month, year on year, in return for this.

Is it worth it? It depends. It depends obviously on the size of your community. If you've got a half decent sized community, you're probably looking at 100,000 members. So that's £100,000 - £300,000 per month in revenue. That's a solid mainstay of cash every month which not only can you reinvest, spend, keep your bank manager happy with, but you can also borrow against such a solid revenue stream. This may hinder your growth, however, if you are not of a suitable size and you have limited capital to spend on promotion, marketing and member recruitment.

Perhaps you should consider other options for obtaining revenue directly out of your members, such as tip jars - a way to reward content providers, virtual or synthetic currency systems, or even affiliate partnerships where your community benefits from the spending habits of your members.

My favourite is the virtual currency and tip jar methods, and we are going to look at implementing that on Fidgetstick/ If you've got any tips on that, let me know!