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6 Types of Membership Sites Explained

Membership sites have become a popular and effective way to generate recurring revenue by providing exclusive content or services to subscribed members. If you’re unfamiliar with the different models of membership sites, we recommend checking out our article on membership models for a more detailed overview.

Membership sites hold immense potential for anyone looking to create a sustainable and predictable income stream. But it’s essential to understand that building a successful membership site is not something to undertake lightly. It requires careful planning, the right tools, and a clear strategy.

For those interested in the technical side of things, we have comprehensive guides on creating a WordPress membership site and choosing the right membership plugin or platform. These resources will help you navigate the complexities of setting up your site effectively.

When it comes to creating a membership site, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is choosing your niche. However, equally important is deciding how you’ll deliver your content or services to your members. This article aims to demystify that process by showcasing six profitable types of membership sites. We’ll explore their key features, advantages, and provide real-world examples to illustrate each type.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of which type of membership site aligns best with your vision, helping you take the next steps with confidence.

How to Choose the Right Type of Membership Site

If you want to create a membership site, it’s crucial to determine the type of membership that best aligns with your goals and capabilities. There are some basic factors that can help you understand which type of membership to choose.

Consider the Value You Will Provide

The most important step in choosing the right type of membership site is to consider what type of value you will provide to your members. Ask yourself: What problem are you solving, or what benefit are you providing? Most memberships fall into one or more of the following value types:

  • Exclusive content: Access to specialized articles, videos, courses, or other resources not available to the general public.
  • Exclusive services: Offering members-only services such as personalized coaching, consulting, or special deals.
  • Community: Creating a space where members can interact, network, and support each other.
  • A combination of these: Many successful membership sites offer a blend of content, services, and community engagement.

Questions to Guide Your Decision

To further refine your decision, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you excel at creating valuable content or rather in creating a supportive community? If you have a knack for producing high-quality, informative content, a content-driven membership might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you thrive on fostering connections and engagement, a community-focused site could be ideal.
  • What are your long-term goals for the membership site? Are you looking to build a passive income stream, establish yourself as an authority in your field, or create a vibrant community around your passion? Your goals will influence the type of site you should create.
  • Who is your target audience, and what are their needs? Understanding your audience is key. Conduct market research to learn what your potential members are looking for, what problems they face, and how you can address those needs.
  • What content or services can you realistically offer on a regular basis? It’s important to be realistic about your capacity to produce content or deliver services consistently. Sustainability is crucial for maintaining member satisfaction and retention.

By answering these questions, you’ll gain a clearer picture of the best type of membership site for you, aligning your strengths and goals with the needs of your intended audience. This thoughtful approach will help ensure your membership site is not only successful but also fulfilling for both you and your members.

The 6 Types of Membership Sites

There are six main types of membership sites we’ll explore, with examples of each, below.

6 types of membership sites

1. Content Library

A content library membership site is a highly popular model where members gain full access to a curated collection of high-quality content upon paying a fee. This type of site can include various formats such as blog posts, video tutorials, templates, e-books, and more.

Content libraries are:

  1. Straightforward to Implement: Setting up a content library is relatively simple compared to other membership models. Once the content is created and organized, the site can run with minimal ongoing effort.
  2. Scalability: This model scales well. As more members join, the cost of content creation is spread across a larger user base, increasing profitability.
  3. High Perceived Value: Members often see significant value in having access to an extensive library of resources, which can justify higher subscription fees.

But they can also require:

  1. Time-Consuming Content Creation: Building a substantial library requires a considerable upfront investment of time and effort to create high-quality content.
  2. Continuous Content Updates: To retain members, you must consistently add new content to keep the library fresh and valuable.
  3. Content Protection: It’s essential to implement measures to protect your content from unauthorized access or piracy, which can add complexity to your site management.

Cooking and Recipe Membership Sites

Cooking and recipe membership sites are prime examples of content library membership sites. These sites offer exclusive access to recipes, cooking tutorials, and tips from professional chefs, providing immense value to culinary enthusiasts.

Why this type of membership site is a great idea:

  • High Demand: There is a consistent demand for new and exciting recipes and cooking tips.
  • Engaging Content: Cooking tutorials and recipe videos are engaging and highly shareable, helping to attract and retain members.
  • Diverse Offerings: These sites can offer a mix of written recipes, video tutorials, meal planning guides, and more.

Examples:

  1. America’s Test Kitchen: This site provides members with access to thousands of recipes, instructional videos, product reviews, and cooking techniques. Members benefit from expert advice and a vast library of content to improve their cooking skills. America’s Test Kitchen
  2. NYT Cooking: This membership site offers an extensive collection of recipes, cooking guides, and how-to videos from The New York Times’ culinary experts. Members receive personalized recipe recommendations and access to a community of fellow home cooks. NYT Cooking

Downloadable Resource Membership Sites

Downloadable resource membership sites specialize in providing members with access to various downloadable materials, such as templates, stock photos, workbooks, and printables.

Why this type of membership site is a great idea:

  • Wide Appeal: Downloadable resources cater to a broad audience, from business professionals to teachers and hobbyists.
  • Convenience: Members appreciate the convenience of having a one-stop shop for high-quality, ready-to-use resources.
  • High Perceived Value: These sites offer significant value by saving members time and effort in creating their own resources.

Examples:

  1. Creative Market: This site offers a wide range of downloadable resources, including graphic design templates, fonts, and stock photos. Members benefit from a vast library of high-quality assets that can be used for various creative projects. Creative Market
  2. Teachers Pay Teachers: This membership site provides educators with access to thousands of classroom resources, such as lesson plans, worksheets, and educational printables. Members can find materials for all grade levels and subjects, making it a valuable tool for teachers. Teachers Pay Teachers

2. Online Training & Courses

Online training and course-based membership sites have become a cornerstone of the digital education landscape. While some membership sites are centered around online courses, it’s essential to note that online courses can also exist independently. For a deeper dive into the differences between online courses and membership sites, you can consult this comprehensive article: Online Courses vs. Membership Sites.

Elements of an Online Course

Online courses can include a variety of elements to enhance learning and engagement:

  • Video Lessons: High-quality instructional videos that guide members through the course material.
  • Downloadable Materials: PDFs, worksheets, e-books, and other resources that complement the video lessons.
  • Quizzes and Assessments: Interactive quizzes and tests to help members gauge their understanding and track progress.
  • Discussion Forums: Spaces for members to ask questions, share insights, and support each other.
  • Live Sessions: Webinars or live Q&A sessions for real-time interaction with instructors.

Drip Content Model

One effective strategy for course-based membership sites is the drip content model, where content is released gradually over time. This approach has several benefits:

  • Member Engagement: Regular content updates keep members engaged and coming back for more.
  • Content Creation Flexibility: You can start selling memberships before creating all the content, allowing you to gauge interest and adjust based on member feedback.

Personal Development Membership Sites

Personal development membership sites are highly profitable due to the ever-growing demand for self-improvement. These sites offer courses on a variety of topics, helping individuals enhance their skills and improve their lives.

Possible Niches in Personal Development:

  • Time Management
  • Communication Skills
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Stress Management
  • Goal Setting
  • Mindfulness and Meditation

Examples:

  1. Mindvalley: Mindvalley offers a wide range of personal development courses covering topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, mindfulness, and health. Members have access to video lessons, downloadable resources, and community support. Mindvalley
  2. The Chopra Center: Founded by Deepak Chopra, this site provides courses on wellness, meditation, and self-improvement. Members receive guided meditations, video lessons, and access to a supportive community. The Chopra Center

Professional Skill Membership Sites

Online courses focused on professional skills are another excellent niche for membership sites. These sites provide high-value training that can help members advance in their careers.

You might create a membership around:

  • Coding and Software Development
  • Digital Marketing
  • Data Analytics
  • Project Management
  • Graphic Design
  • Financial Planning

Examples:

  1. Pluralsight: Pluralsight offers courses on technology and creative skills, including software development, IT operations, data analytics, and more. Members benefit from video lessons, assessments, and certification preparation. Pluralsight
  2. Coursera: While not exclusively a membership site, Coursera offers subscription plans that give members access to a wide range of professional courses from leading universities and companies. Topics include business, computer science, and data science. Coursera

Test Prep Membership Sites

Test prep membership sites specialize in helping students prepare for standardized tests, offering a structured approach to mastering exam content.

What They Offer:

  • Comprehensive Study Materials: Access to practice tests, study guides, and instructional videos.
  • Expert Guidance: Tips and strategies from experienced instructors.
  • Progress Tracking: Tools to monitor improvement and identify areas needing more focus.
  • Interactive Elements: Live classes, Q&A sessions, and discussion forums.

Why This Type of Membership Site is a Great Idea:

  • High Demand: There is a consistent demand for test prep assistance, particularly for high-stakes exams like the SAT, ACT, GRE, and professional certification tests.
  • Value Addition: Providing structured and strategic preparation can significantly enhance students’ performance and confidence.

Examples:

  1. Khan Academy SAT Prep: Khan Academy offers free, comprehensive SAT prep courses, including practice tests, video tutorials, and personalized study plans. Their partnership with the College Board ensures high-quality content. Khan Academy SAT Prep
  2. Magoosh: Magoosh provides affordable and accessible test prep for a variety of exams, including the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, and SAT. Members receive video lessons, practice questions, and email support from tutors. Magoosh

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3. Community-Based Membership Sites

Community-based membership sites revolve around providing members with exclusive access to a thriving online community. The primary purpose of these communities is to connect like-minded individuals, enabling them to share ideas, support each other, and build relationships. These sites work well because they foster a sense of belonging and provide value through networking and shared experiences.

Challenges of Community Membership Sites

While the concept is powerful, starting and maintaining a community-based membership site comes with its own set of challenges:

  • Constant Engagement: Keeping the community active and engaged requires continuous effort. Regular updates, interactive events, and active moderation are crucial to maintaining high engagement levels.
  • Content Creation: Providing valuable content that sparks discussion and interest is essential.
  • Member Retention: Ensuring members remain engaged and renew their subscriptions involves offering ongoing value and a sense of community.

Micro-Communities

Micro-communities bring members together over very specific shared interests, such as watercolor painting, woodworking, or birdwatching. These niche communities can be highly engaging because they cater to passionate individuals looking to connect with others who share their enthusiasm.

Examples:

  1. Watercolor Academy: This membership site is dedicated to watercolor painting enthusiasts. Members gain access to tutorials, live classes, and a forum to share their artwork and receive feedback. The focused nature of the community fosters deep connections among members. Watercolor Academy
  2. Wood Talk Online: A community for woodworking hobbyists, Wood Talk Online offers forums for sharing projects, discussing techniques, and seeking advice. Members benefit from the expertise of seasoned woodworkers and the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts. Wood Talk Online

Classified Membership Sites

Classified membership sites function as online marketplaces where members can buy, sell, and trade items. These sites are valuable because they create a trusted environment for transactions among members with similar interests.

Examples:

  1. Reverb: Reverb is a marketplace for musicians to buy, sell, and trade musical instruments and gear. The site offers a members-only section where users can access exclusive deals and connect with other musicians. Reverb
  2. Fred Miranda: This site caters to photography enthusiasts, providing a platform for buying and selling camera equipment. Members also have access to forums for discussing photography techniques and sharing their work. Fred Miranda

Fandom Membership Sites

Fandom membership sites unite fans around a specific media or particular interest, such as a popular TV show, sports team, or musical artist. These communities thrive on shared enthusiasm and offer members a place to celebrate their passions.

Examples:

  1. The Leaky Cauldron: A fan site dedicated to the Harry Potter series, The Leaky Cauldron offers forums, news updates, and exclusive content for members. Fans can connect, share fan fiction, and discuss their favorite moments from the books and movies. The Leaky Cauldron
  2. Red Sox Nation: This membership site for fans of the Boston Red Sox provides exclusive content, merchandise discounts, and access to special events. Members can connect with fellow fans and stay updated on team news. Red Sox Nation

4. Product Combo

The product combo type of membership site offers a unique blend of physical products and exclusive online content. Unlike other membership models that focus solely on digital content or community access, product combo sites provide tangible goods as the primary offering, complemented by online resources. This model is particularly appealing because the online content typically enhances the value of the physical product, often serving as training or a “how-to” guide.

Subscription Boxes

Subscription boxes deliver a variety of curated products to members on a regular basis. These boxes can cover a wide range of interests, from fitness to beauty, and often include access to exclusive online content that complements the products.

Examples:

  1. FabFitFun: FabFitFun is a popular subscription box that delivers a curated selection of beauty, wellness, fitness, and lifestyle products each season. Members also get access to FabFitFunTV, an online platform with workout videos, cooking classes, and other tutorials to enhance their experience with the products in the box. FabFitFun
  2. BarkBox: This subscription box is designed for dog owners, delivering a monthly assortment of toys, treats, and chews. Members also gain access to exclusive training videos and tips on the BarkBox website, helping them make the most of their dog’s new goodies. BarkBox

Personal Styling Services

Personal styling services within a membership site combine the concept of subscription boxes with personalized fashion advice. Members receive curated clothing items and accessories, along with access to online content that offers styling tips, fashion advice, and personalized recommendations.

Examples:

  1. Stitch Fix: Stitch Fix provides members with a personalized selection of clothing and accessories delivered to their door. Each item is handpicked by a stylist based on the member’s preferences. Members also have access to an online platform where they can view style guides, receive fashion tips, and provide feedback on their items. Stitch Fix
  2. Trunk Club: Trunk Club, a Nordstrom company, offers a personal styling service where members receive curated clothing items based on their style profile. Members can access online content including style advice, trend reports, and the ability to chat with their stylist for personalized recommendations. Trunk Club

5. Serial Content

Serial content membership sites offer exclusive access to ongoing content, which is released periodically over time. This model has gained immense popularity because it keeps members engaged and eagerly anticipating the next installment of content, whether it be articles, videos, podcasts, or fiction series. The continuous nature of serial content helps build a loyal audience that values consistent updates and high-quality material.

While serial content membership sites can be highly rewarding, they also come with significant challenges:

  • Consistency: Maintaining a regular release schedule is crucial to keep members engaged and satisfied.
  • High-Quality Content: Consistently producing reputable and high-quality content is essential to retain members and attract new ones.
  • Resource Intensive: This model requires ongoing investment in content creation, which can be resource-intensive both in terms of time and money.

Entertainment Membership Sites

Entertainment membership sites focus on delivering serialized fiction, podcasts, or video content. These sites thrive on storytelling and engaging multimedia content that captivates audiences.

Examples:

  1. Patreon: Patreon is a platform where creators can offer exclusive serialized content such as podcasts, videos, and written stories to their supporters. Members subscribe to their favorite creators to receive regular updates and access to premium content. Patreon
  2. Serial Box: Serial Box offers serialized fiction in both written and audio formats. Members can access new episodes of their favorite stories on a regular schedule, much like watching a TV series. Serial Box

News Membership Sites

News membership sites provide members with access to in-depth articles, detailed analysis, and exclusive interviews. These sites cater to those who seek comprehensive and high-quality information on current events, market trends, or specialized industries.

Examples:

  1. The New York Times: The New York Times offers a premium membership called “Times Insider,” which provides access to exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights, and special events. Members can read in-depth articles and interviews that are not available to non-subscribers. The New York Times
  2. The Wall Street Journal: The Wall Street Journal offers a membership that provides detailed market analysis, financial news, and exclusive interviews with industry leaders. Members receive in-depth reports and access to a wide range of premium content. The Wall Street Journal

6. Professional Services Sites

Professional services membership sites provide members with access to ongoing coaching or specialized services from professionals. These sites can focus on any in-demand skill, such as marketing, SEO, tutoring, coding, graphic design, and more. Members benefit from personalized guidance, support, and expertise, which can be especially valuable for personal or business growth.

Online Coaching Service Sites

Online coaching membership sites offer personalized coaching plans and ongoing support from experts in a specific field. This model allows members to receive tailored advice, track their progress, and achieve their goals with the help of a professional coach.

Examples:

  1. Precision Nutrition: Precision Nutrition offers a membership site that provides personalized nutrition and fitness coaching from certified trainers. Members receive customized meal plans, workout routines, and ongoing support through one-on-one coaching and an active community forum. Precision Nutrition
  2. Coach.me: Coach.me offers a platform where members can access personal coaching for various goals, including fitness, productivity, and habit formation. Members can choose from a range of certified coaches and receive personalized plans, regular check-ins, and progress tracking. Coach.me

Freelancer Networks

Freelancer networks are membership sites that connect businesses and individuals with freelance professionals for ongoing services. These platforms allow members to hire skilled freelancers on a retainer basis, providing consistent access to specialized expertise.

Examples:

  1. CloudPeeps: CloudPeeps is a platform that connects businesses with freelance professionals for ongoing services such as marketing, content creation, and social media management. Members can hire “Peeps” on a retainer basis, ensuring they have continuous support for their projects. CloudPeeps
  2. The Virtual Hub: The Virtual Hub provides access to a network of virtual assistants who offer administrative support, social media management, and other services. Members can hire virtual assistants on a monthly basis, allowing for consistent and reliable help with their business tasks. The Virtual Hub

Creating a successful membership site requires thoughtful planning and a clear understanding of your audience’s needs. By exploring the six types of membership sites—content libraries, online training and courses, community-based sites, product combos, serial content, and professional services—you can choose the model that best aligns with your strengths and goals. 

Each type offers unique advantages and challenges, from the scalability of content libraries to the engagement demands of community sites. By considering what value you provide, the needs of your target audience, and your long-term goals, you can build a membership site that not only generates recurring revenue but also fosters a loyal and engaged community. 

With the insights from this article, you’re now equipped to decide which membership model is right for your vision, paving the way for a thriving and sustainable online business.

Lacy Boggs

Lacy Boggs is a content creator with AccessAlly, author of the bestselling Kindle ebook, “Make a Killing With Content,” and the mastermind behind the podcast, “Ace Stone, Marketing Detective.”

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