5.16 Webzines

Webzines are online magazines, usually with commercial content. They have been overtaken by blogs and social media sites, but still play a role with small companies selling research material that visitors are willing to pay for: investment advice, betting tips, insider information on prescription drugs, etc.

Approaches

The problems companies face in getting a webzine launched are common to all Internet companies with limited resources. They have to:

1. Provide enough free content to be popular with visitors and search engines.
2. Encourage visitors to sign up for the pay-to-view sections.
3. Keep the content appealing and up to date.
4. Restrict access to the pay-to-view sections.
5. Prevent the pay-to-view sections being stolen and sold on.

More than is commonly realized, all the above can be difficult to achieve. The content itself has not only to be worth paying for (and Internet users dislike paying) but to hold its own against material in competing sites that are heavily subsidized. Free content has to satisfy visitors and achieve a decent ranking in the search engines — or any ranking at all — but not so much that customers won't go on to subscribe. Often the company will provide examples of the subscription content that are enticing but not actually useful: past financial forecasts, a table of contents, testimonials, etc.

Making the Sale

Advertising copy is written to certain rules. However crude the techniques, they work, and cannot be ignored.

Keeping Up-To-Date

As with blogs, content has to be kept up to date. If the author has contracted to provide 4 racing tips every day, that is what he has to provide. But less topical matters also have to kept current, even the likes of 'Tips for a Better Garden' or 'Getting the Best Pension Deal'. In short, a sustainable format has to be devised for the ezine, and a realistic publishing schedule. Issues have to be written and proofed well (generally months) in advance, advertising issues agreed upon, and sufficient time found for researching webzine contents and answering customer queries.

Restricting Access

Viewing can be restricted to subscribers by simply placing the content in a password-protected folder, a facility available in most hosting packages. To protect the content, and prevent subscribers copying and selling it on, some companies go to the further length of encrypting their web pages: an Internet search will locate several programs that do the job cheaply.

Getting Paid

The simplest way of charging is doubtless to password-protect a directory (easy with cPanel), solicit payment by check, and then email subscriber with the password once the check has been cleared. But it's hardly elegant, and involves much manual labor and record-keeping when circulation figures climb into the hundreds.

A more professional approach is to employ a subscription service offered by Internet Payment Service Providers that will automate payment, maintain records, supply receipts for you and the customer, and take a small percentage of receipts for their trouble. Subscriptions can be paid by credit cards, additions to phone-bills, or by online checks. The provider generally supplies a snippet of code to be pasted into each HTML page.

Alternatives, in terms of increasing sophistication and cost are:

1. Add a plugin to blogs or social media sites: commonly supplied as a one-off purchase or monthly rental service.

2. Purchase scripting software to run a proper subscription service: commonly requires PHP and a MySQL database. Scripts cost some tens to some hundreds of dollars, but the required PHP and MySQL databases come free with most Unix-based hosting services. Some popular choices at the cheaper end:

Program/Service

Amember

EasyMember

Sitelok

WP-Ecommerce

Ning Paid

Access

Type

Perl script

+ PHP

Perl script

+ PHP

Perl script

+ PHP

Wordpress

plugin

Ning

plugin

Requirements

PHP + MySQL

database

PHP + MySQL

database

PHP + MySQL

database

Wordpress

PHP + MySQL

database

Ning hosting

Payment

processor

links

Clickbank

2Checkout

WorldPay

Clickbank

2Checkout

Authorize.net

Paypal

2Checkout

Paypal

Google Checkout

Payment Express

+ 7 more

Paypal

Price

$180

$147

$40

$0

$20/month

3. A subscription service hosted on the provider's server. Costs are some tens to some hundreds of dollars monthly, depending on services offered and the number of subscribers.

Questions

1. Explain how you would set up and market a webzine.
2. How could a webzine be made to pay its way?
3. Investigate subscription services available from Internet payment service providers. What looks best with 15,000 overseas subscribers?

Sources and Further Reading

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