E-BUSINESS SECRETS: How to get paid online subscriptions

E-BUSINESS SECRETS: How to get paid online subscriptions


I was a moderator at last month's Global eSubscription Symposium in Salt Lake City, sponsored by Sandlot, an e-commerce service provider. I'll reveal to you the best information I learned from my private conversations with the symposium's featured speakers.

One of the best stories is provided by Tom Stockham, president and CEO of His business has some 20 million people who've registered for free, and currently has 700,000 paid subscriptions from 450,000 unique users. helps people conduct research on their family tree, also known as genealogy. The company sells subscriptions to four large databases of information:

1. The American Records Collection, which is subscribed to by the largest number of customers, is a mammoth database of births, deaths, marriages, and the like.

2. The Census Product contains images of government census records going back to the 1700s.

3. The UK and Ireland Records Collection is primarily of interest to families with backgrounds in the British Isles.

4. The Historical Newspapers Collection allows researchers to find references to specific times and places.

Access to one database costs $US79.95 per year, billed quarterly or annually. Once you've subscribed to one database, the others can be added to your subscription for another $29.95 to $39.95 per year. is getting better at both converting visitors into registered users and converting registered users into paying subscribers. Stockham says growing the number from 500,000 to 600,000 subscriptions took 100 days. But the most recent 100,000 took only 60 days to acquire. attracts visitors to its main site as well as the sites of its subsidiaries, and Once a visitor completes the free registration form, the company sends the person five e-mail messages in relatively quick succession to urge them to subscribe.

If the individual doesn't become a paid subscriber after receiving the initial round of messages, the e-mails slow down to "a couple of times a year", Stockham says.

To attract new visitors, pays for almost no advertising offline, such as in newspapers or magazines. Instead, it advertises online in pay-per-click venues such as and The company pays for very few online banners, preferring text ads. But banners are prominent on the site itself to encourage visitors to become free registrants.

These "internal" banners must work well, because 14 to 20 per cent of new visitors sign up for free registration on a typical day, Stockham says. This high conversion rate, turning anonymous Web site visitors into registered members, is key to the business model.

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