Category Archives: Business

Business With Content: Selling Info Products

This is the fifth article of the series “Business with content“. To read the previous one click here.

The good old method of selling info-products is still alive and vital. And it remains one of the best ways to do business with premium content – because of the high perceived value of info products. It’s not an exception to see a good e-book sold for $97 for example, while at the same time you’d rarely pay the same dollars for paper book (which is odd and funny, don’t you think?).

Before diving into the main advantages and disadvantages of selling info products let’s dive into what an info product is. The main thing that makes it different than most other methods is that info products are not subscription based. You may offer different parts on sale, upsells and so on, but you charge once for each of them. The buyer downloads it and owns it forever (or until their hard drive crashes and they have no copy). Ideally you’ll allow some kind of member’s area where buyers will be able to re-download the product at least several times.

FMSC Distribution Partner - Ghana

What can be an info product:

  • An e-book. This is still the most common info product. E-books that help people make money, get laid, be healthy or improve themselves are always hot and can make plenty of profits.
  • A video or audio guide. Or usually a set of videos. Very often combined with some kind of an e-book.
  • A whole course. While this sounds like LMS, it’s not. To call a course “info product” it must be downloadable. So this is typically a set of e-books, reports, videos, etc that the user can download to study. Sometimes it can be on CDs or DVDs shipped by mail, but with today’s fast internet such method of delivery quickly gets outdated.
  • Some combination of the above.

While some folks would call everything info-product – including newsletters, membership sites etc, I prefer to make the difference between service and product.

The Advantages

Selling info products is one of the oldest methods of making business with content. And there are reasons for this:

  • It’s well accepted. Even a high-priced e-book or course is just one time payment and doesn’t scary buyers like an ongoing subscription.
  • It’s lower commitment. People can buy your course or book and read it when they want (sometimes never). It’s not like joining a subscription site or LMS where they are expected to commit to studying the material long term.
  • It doesn’t require complex technical infrastructure. In fact if you go through a service like e-junkie you need not be technical at all. Or, using WordPress you can sell your info products through WooCommerce or a similar and simpler plugin. It’s easy either way, just upload and sell.
  • Requires less investment. I know people who make business of 200 pages e-book. This is much less investment than building a membership site or e-course with fifty lessons and videos in it.
  • One leads to another. Most sites selling info products use the upsell technique: one product recommends another one (typically more expensive). Since buyer has trusted you once to buy from you, and provided the product they bought was good, they are very likely to buy the upsell too.

The Downsides

As with every business model, this one has some  downsides too:

  • Piracy. Since info products are downloadable and typically unprotected (DON’T focus on protection to make it hard for your buyers to use the product) they quickly end up on pirate download sites. And the more popular your product is, the quicker it will end up there. While piracy isn’t as big problem as some make it sound, it is still a serious problem not to be underestimated.
  • Typically short life. Because of piracy and the popularity effect of social networks etc, most info products have a peak after their initial release and quick drop in sales after that. There are only a few that continue selling for years. In most cases you should make a new product at least once every year to survive in this business.
  • Huge competition. Everyone and their grandfather wrote an e-book. And then a second one. It’s not easy to stand out in this crowd.
  • No organic traffic. Unless of course your info product is so great that you get natural inbound link. Most aren’t so they don’t get much organic traffic from search engines, if any at all. One solution to this problem is to make a blog and use it as a way to demonstrate your knowledge and sell the info-product from the blog. This may also give you traffic from search engines. But, as you guessed, it can be a lot of work and is no longer one-time effort.
  • One-time payments. The advantage to the buyer is disadvantage to you. You sell once and don’t make money of this customer again unless you have other info products to upsell.

Next in this series we’ll review another old but gold business model – paid newsletters.

Business With Content: Partly Public Membership Sites

This is the fourth article of the series “Business With Content“. Click here to read the third one.

A Big Problem With Most Membership Sites

There is one major issue with most membership sites and many of the e-learning projects. They get very little, if any, organic traffic from search engines. This is obvious: since their content is protected behind a pay-wall, search engines cannot index it.

So you may have tons of super-advanced unique content and yet no one is going to find it easily. Pity. You’ll have to advertise it somehow which usually means spending money.

Public Footpath

The Possible Solution

There is a solution to this: partly public content. And many sites use this model with various strategies. The overall idea is that you put some of your content accessible for the search engines while the other is protected. Some sites even go beyond this and share all their content with SEs using technical tricks. Let’s explore the strategies:

  • Some articles are free, some not. This is a good approach. You can put your basic content for free with public access and charge only for the more advanced articles. This will still give you some organic traffic and inbound links, provided that your basic content is good. Or you can give the first 1-2 articles from series or course for free, then charge for the others. Imagine this series had the first two articles for free: some readers would be OK to pay for the rest, while we would still enjoy some organic traffic from the first two.
    Another approach to this is to make part of each article accessible, and put the rest behind a paywall.
  • Intro article / course description is free. If you are building an e-learning site you can keep course descriptions to public (default setting in Namaste! LMS for example) while keeping your lessons protected. The course description can be very detailed and include links to all lessons, thus giving you some chance for organic traffic. It’s also a good method to draw some of the interest of your potential subscribers as it’s always easier to sell when you have provided enough good content for free.
  • Articles are free, videos, audios and tools not. If you have tools, videos or audios, they often provide enough incentive to pay for access. At the same time text performs best in search engines so you can combine the best of both worlds.
  • Forums are free, articles not and vice-versus. Membership sites often have members only forums or other discussion areas. Sometimes they can be very important part of the site (for example if the forum provides the only way to connect with other members, do business together or mate them etc) and users will happily pay for access to them. OkCupid is one of the sites best known with similar strategy: they provide amazing content for free and gain a lot of links and organic traffic, but their “discussion” (mating) area is paid. Sites in the dating and adult industry use very advanced techniques for partly public content: do explore some of them, you’ll learn a lot.
    The opposite is also possible: keep all your content protected, but the discussion forum accessible in read mode by everyone. This has two benefits: everyone will see that the forums contain a lot of useful content and references to articles. But to write in the forums or read the linked articles, they’ll need to subscribe. Of course, to have some use of this you need to attract and build a community first.
  • All articles are accessible by search engines. This concept requires a technical setup that will limit the access to a given reader to say one article per day, 10 articles per month etc. This can be done with cookies or sessions, or even by IP address while keeping things accessible to search engine bots. This is not a secure protection: many readers are knowledgeable enough to disable cookies or clean them up. But don’t worry: most won’t bother and won’t want to cheat. This method is surprisingly efficient because ALL your content is accessible to search engines and can bring a lot of visitors from them. It’s still good to provide more power to your subscription offer by giving access to e-books, videos and tools that can’t be accessed otherwise. Again, don’t worry that much for cheaters. People who cheat may ask for refund or do a chargeback anyway. Rather than being paranoid, put a small barrier like a cookie and it will be enough for most users. Of course this varies from niche to niche and from country to country.

Partial content access is the silver bullet in this business because, let’s be honest, many of us won’t do well without search engines. And more: subscribers themselves are a lot more inclined to pay for access if they can read some of your content and figure out it is really good. Small previews and long sales letters won’t do the job so well.

The next article is about selling info products. Go ahead.

Business With Content: E-Learning

This is the third article of the series “Business with content”. Read the second one here.

You may call it online university. Or virtual classroom. Or interactive learning environment. Online coaching. Whatever. It does not matter. This is a business where you or your team are teaching your customer some stuff. On a topic you know better than them.

E-Learning Chalkboard

This is in essence a subscription / membership site with slightly different operational logic.

What are the main differences to the typical subscription sites?

  • E-learning sites usually have some linear structure. A given course will have some kind of start and end, not necessarily time-restricted. The start would be some introduction to the topic, the end – some wrap-up. And between them you will gradually teach your users the topic. The typical membership sites are usually not that linear – they just give the user access to the protected content and the user can choose the order of reading it.
  • Homework / assignments. Most e-learning sites include some kind of assignments and exercises to help the users study the matter. This is not a hard requirement, and often typical premium content sites may also have them.
  • Test / exams. Usually you will want to assess users or let them self-assess themselves to figure out how well they learned the material. Some (most) LMS-es will let you tie-up the completion of a course or lesson to successfully completing a quiz.
  • Certification. Although not a requirement, most e-learning sites will issue some kind of certification or badges to let others know that you have completed a course. The certificates can be issued in internal format or for example as Open badges etc.
  • Charging is typically per course or per module rather than recurring (per month). But you can sometimes combine both approaches.

So in general, e-learning has a bit of more formal structure and puts some emphasis over assessing users and confirming they have learned the subject they have to learn.

Based on how linear your premium content is and how much of an authority you are in the subject you are teaching you may choose to create an e-learning site rather than a typical subscription content site.

But there are other things to consider: the advantages and disadvantages from business point of view.

Advantages of e-learning

Or why would you want to start an e-learning site rather than a recurring subscription site? One reason said above is the structure of your content, but it is a reason, not an advantage. Why would you want, from a business point of view, choose this option if your content does not require it?

Believe me, there are reasons:

  • Higher one-time revenue. While subscription sites are typical priced under $50 per month, it’s not an exception to have online course priced at $99, $199 or even $999. Yes, it’s one time fee but you can then offer more courses to the same person and earn even more.
  • People are more inclined to sign-up. Because typical e-learning sites charge per course and not recurring, your customers are not afraid of long time commitment and recurring costs. So often it could be easier to get sign-ups than for a subscriptions site.
  • Higher authority. Of course this is just perceived authority (usually). An e-learning site with tests, badges and certificates is usually perceived as higher authority than just some site with protected content. Even if it’s just a single person behind it. Of course, as with all membership sites, your content must be really good.
  • You can start with less content. With typical subscription sites you really need a lot of content to start charging a monthly fee. On the other hand, you can start an LMS with a single course, get some revenue and then gradually add more courses or modules.
  • You can upsell. Customers who have completed a given course and liked it are very likely to buy another more advanced course on the topic, or a course on a related topic. As long as you can produce great content the opportunity to grow is nearly unlimited.

The downsides

  • No recurring revenue. In a typical e-learning site you sell a course and once completed, the user does not need to pay more. Compared to a subscription site that charges per month this *might* mean less revenue from a single customer.
  • You need authoritative and focused content. Subscription sites can go with less organized, less focused content, a few tools here and there. If you are selling a course on the other hand you need to have clear objective: what are you going to teach and what will the customer will learn when they finish the course.
  • More complicated to organize. Related to the above, a typical course site is more complicated technically and organizationally. You have to plan the course structure, you have to create assignments, tests, certificates etc. Or at least some of this.

The technical side

As already said in the previous articles, we are a company focused on WordPress development so it’s natural for me to recommend building your e-learning site on WordPress. But this article won’t be objective if I don’t mention Moodle as the de-facto standard in e-learning. My opinion on Moodle vs WordPress has already been stated here. Which does not mean you have to agree. If you have a very complex e-learning site in mind and can manage Moodle’s complexity, and know for sure you’ll need features that only Moodle has – go ahead with it.

In most cases, the 99% probably, WordPress and a good LMS like our free Namaste! LMS or Sensei (just to name a few) will do the work very well.

You may also want to add (if not already included):

  • A plugin for tests / quizzes
  • A plugin for email marketing
  • Some interactive content plugins depending on what you are going to teach
  • A community / forum plugin like bbPress or BuddyPress

You may want to prepare some kind of certificates, become an Open Badges issuer, or even integrate your e-learning system with SCORM or Tin Can (this really depends on how official and technical your subject is).

One important problem with both subscription sites and premium courses (e-learning) is that all your content is private and not visible to visitors and search engines. This means you need a sound way to attract traffic (visitors) and make them sign up for your site. This may involve paid ads, affiliate programs and what not.

But there is also another way to sell content. Read on in the next article.