Association’s Content Strategy: Free or Fee?

Published by Dan Loomis | Topics: Content Strategy, Online Publishing

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Every week I talk with association executives, publication coordinators and meeting planners about their online content strategy.

The conversations always include whether content will be monetized or free. Some associations have a solid direction with how their content will be accessed online, while others are curious to know what other associations are doing.

Accessing Association Content

When it comes to selling content or providing it for free, associations are split as to which model to provide to their members or audience.

Associations who support Content for Free models suggest…

  • Access to online content should be provided as a member only benefit.
  • Free content is a basic expectation of membership. Without free content, members would become dissatisfied and discontinue their membership.

Content for Fee advocates suggest…

  • Access to valuable online content should be sold for a fee just like the printed proceedings, handouts and educational publications.
  • Free content models cannot sustain long term.

4 Questions to Analyze Your Content Strategy

Both models work. Some associations even choose a content strategy that combines some free content as well as other content that is sold for a fee. In order to make a good decision about content strategy, associations must evaluate what’s in line with their association’s objectives as well as the expectations of their community and members.

Four questions to ask may include:

  1. How do members utilize the association’s content?
  2. What are members’ expectations regarding accessing content for fee or free?
  3. Can an association’s content provide value to non-members?
  4. Can an association capitalize on a revenue opportunity by selling some content?

Fee or Free? – It’s About Your Members

Whether you decide to provide access to content for free, monetize it or provide it as a member only benefit, you have to consider the community you serve. What’s right for one community isn’t always right for the other. Give some careful thought to your content strategy, but don’t let the difficulties of the decision making process prevent you from taking action.  The key is to GET STARTED! You can always change your model after you get some experience and feedback from your community and member base.

3 Content Strategy Resources and Discussions

To help you get started, here are a few other blogs posts that talk about content strategy. Including one from association media and publishing site that talks specifically about having content as a members only benefit- as you’ll read you’ll see not everyone agrees on this topic.

  1. Map Out Your Content Strategy
  2. Most Content Should Be For Members Only
  3. More on Content Strategy
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About Dan Loomis

When Dan Loomis took over as a Product Director, he aspired to be like his new role model… Santa Claus. “There’s no one more skilled in fulfillment than Kris Kringle,” Dan more

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October 28th, 2011Diana Long says:

I don’t think content can be all paid, you definitely need some content for free to keep potential customers coming back. There is nothing wrong with keeping some content (for example: video interviews) as premium content as long as you give customers a “taste” of what they are looking for.

What is important to remember is that if you are going to charge for content your content must be something that people can’t get easily for free anywhere else. For example, I have paid for video tutorials when I started learning certain software programs. This was important to me, and the standard way of reading free content wasn’t working. A combination of well laid out tutorials (in text) as well as video was what I needed. I received the 1st few tutorials for free and later signed up.

The next thing is that you have to be consistent. If you provide content on a daily basis and have a few days without any new content you will have upset customers and with today’s social media that will be negative advertising for you. If you are going to charge people for content you have to make sure you give more than what they expect.

Some people are worried that people will take premium content and share it for free, but it is such a small percentage of people that I wouldn’t worry about it. The main point is to give people quality content that they can’t get elsewhere – otherwise you are just wasting everyone’s time.

Twitter: 1776broadway


October 29th, 2011Dan Loomis says:

Diana – Thanks for the GREAT comments. Your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. I concur 100%.

As I mentioned in the article, the key is to GET STARTED. The number of content views or sales will quickly tell you if your members or others feel you have premium content.

Twitter: Dloomis1


November 1st, 2011James Parker says:


Excellent blog post. You are so right that the most important thing is for organizations to capture their content in the highest possible quality and then partner with a company to help them distribute that content in numerous different ways. some content should be pushed to community websites for free and other content should be available for purchase.

Thanks so much for all of your efforts in helping organizations understand the value of re-purposing their content.



November 1st, 2011Dan Loomis says:

Thanks Jim

Just trying to do my part. Glad you enjoyed the article!

Twitter: Dloomis1

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