(Translate this site)
There's some important logistics involved here though. For instance, you may want to slap some protections on the premium content pages, such as restrictions on saving them to disk, viewing the source code, and dis-allowing copies and pastes.
All the above protective measures are optional. But one must-have restriction is a possibly cookie-based log-in requirement. Having the cookie in the mix could allow known subscribers to enter the premium area without logging in, for convenience sake, or at least prevent them from having to log in more than once in the same session to see multiple premium pages.
However you set it up, you want the system to be as convenient and error-free for paid subscribers as possible, while totally secure so far as casual surfers are concerned, and pretty secure in regards to lightweight to medium weight hackers and script kiddies (know-nothing (or little) amateurs armed with cracking utilities created by real programmers).
The most secure of free/low cost/relatively easy to set up systems may be done via a pretty straightforward method using options built-in to software like Apache servers-- but doing it yourself means there'd be quite a bit of manual work involved, and new subscribers would have to wait until you got around to updating your client access list after they paid for their account. You'd also be responsible for removing clients as necessary from the list. Such constant maintenance requirements and the inconvenience for your customers makes this option troublesome, no matter how appealing it might be from other angles. Thus, this might be best again for relatively small and exclusive clubs or groups whose membership rolls don't change very often-- or commercial client lists with similar characteristics, plus perhaps required credit or background checks which tend to delay member acceptance anyway, regardless of other logistics (and so the customers would not necessarily view initial access delays as unusual).
The very best balance of site security and user management convenience for both the web master and site users might well be a programmable database solution, such as PHP and MySQL. Such software is available free, with even more powerful versions available for a fee, should a site become extraordinarily successful.
However, even where the software is free, this solution does not come at low cost-- for substantial time and effort must be invested to learn how to use the software/programming language, or else hire someone else already trained in same. In my own experience becoming truly savvy with a new programming language from scratch may require close to two years of nearly full-time involvement. You could likely implement crude versions of your desired site upgrades with the software within 90-120 days of half to full-time efforts-- but I'm sure you wouldn't feel entirely comfortable or satisfied with your code until around the two year mark was reached.
There's also 'turnkey' or canned packages of such stuff available, costing anywhere from free to many thousands of dollars, and likely ranging in quality from total vaporware to slick mediums which run like a dream come true. In general, the pricier the canned solution, the better its quality and ease of use is likely to be-- but for specific instances you may find it scary and tough to choose what package to go with. There appears to be little or no credible independent reviews or comparisons of such wares available anywhere circa late 2002, with only a smattering of individual customer opinions here and there to go on for your decision.
A great many of the costlier packages are priced far beyond what a small-time site can afford to pay-- like thousands of dollars.
Besides the huge uncertainty in quality, functionality, and performance, and the sometimes heart-stopping price tag, there's also the possible installation headaches. You can often try installing and configuring these things yourself, and it appears in some instances that might not be a biggie. But in other cases it will be, and you may have little choice but to have the vendor install it for you. Sometimes installation will cost extra. I would expect that if the vendor does the install you'd also have to give up to them sensitive security info regarding your site, such as your access identity and password(s). Of course you can change certain items among these after the fact, but that wouldn't prevent an unscrupulous vendor from leaving themselves a 'backdoor' in their installed software that would allow them to get around your security measures if they wanted. To make all this fuzzier still, a really good and professional vendor with nothing but your best interests at heart might also embed backdoors in their software simply to make it easier to fix the worst problems that might arise later, such as recovery from a disaster that was due to factors other than them or their software.
With all this uncertainty, the unluckiest of us might find ourselves thrashing about in the marketplace, buying a succession of packages of ever higher price tags, which for one reason or another don't satisfy our needs, and going through install after install after install, along with learning different software interfaces, and transferring info between different databases or formats, and maybe having the entire mess cause problems of various sorts for our site visitors/customers as well, over months or years, until we can get it all finally straightened out. YIKES!
There's also the elements of disaster recovery and site upgrades, backups, transfers, and mirrors to consider. The more complex your whole set up is, the harder and costlier it'll be to get back up and running after a catastrophe, back everything up, or to make substantial changes to your site or its supplements. You'll also be 'in the dark' as to how exactly your turnkey software works if something goes wrong or you want to tweak it, and would often have to pay extra for an expert to come in to do the job.
After learning all this, and realizing I'm personally unlikely to have the free time necessary to create and maintain a do-it-yourself PHP/MySQL solution anytime soon, plus wanting to avoid the churn of multiple trial and error turnkey solutions, as well as the potential inconvenience to site visitors and lost business such churn might entail, I decided to examine another possibility:
Replacing my premium content onsite with just the appropriate abstracts and table of contents, and a pointer to how/where to buy the complete package. Then publishing the full information in e-book form (with possibly a print-on-demand option as well).
It appears there's some viable and easy to set up and maintain e-commerce channels for such practices, through Paypal and others. As of late 2002 I'm studying those options for my own site.
10-7-03 UPDATE: Early in 2003 I came across some interesting new alternatives for password-protecting select portions of a web site for premium subscription purposes, with little or no geek expertise and practices required of the web site author.
These alternatives basically allow you to add your site to a roster or association of sites which altogether charge a periodic subscription fee for access to part or all of their site content. One example might be a user clicks on a link to something restricted on one of these member sites, then encounters a notice that it's subscriber-only, and an invitation to buy in, plus a list of everything they'll get for subscribing, including a list of all the member sites currently in the group. Paying the sub fee will allow the user to then access all the premium content on all the sites on the list, for the duration of their paid subscription.
The monies from these subs might be sub-divided up amongst member sites based on their individual traffic or member sign ups, etc., etc., less a percentage for the user management organization running the sub practice itself.
There's much to like about ideas like this in theory. Especially if they are robust and reliable, require no geekiness on the part of individual site owners to get working, and offer some reasonable ways to divide up revenues, with a modest fee going to the service provider itself.
As of early 2003 though, such services did not seem ready for prime time (or at least the ones I'm aware of at time of writing).
Later on a slashdot posting led me to Clickshare Service Corp. - Federated Authentication - Identity Management. Clickshare Solutions and Benefits is another useful link here. If I recall correctly, ClickShare had a pretty impressive list of web sites (such as well-known newspaper sites) already participating in their network. Plus they offered a much more flexible system of subscription/payment options than Qtik.
Unfortunately, Clickshare requires a web site owner to download and install software into their host server, which gets into various geek matters lots of authors might need help with. I also had a hard time finding out what their cut of transactions would be. One thing I've learned from experience is that if someone hides the price of their services, they're probably prohibitively expensive. I plan to investigate Clickshare more thoroughly when I get the chance.
A new contender for this sort of thing may be BitPassLearn; find out more at BitPassLearn FAQ.
Selecting which content to charge for can be complicated. If you make the whole site premium your traffic will likely go off a cliff instantly-- so fast that you might never get a significant number of subscribers. About the only exceptions to this would involve pornography sites or cases where you yourself are a well-known celebrity or expert of some kind.
Plus, you've got to have some sample stuff available for visitors to see for them to even consider signing up for the unseen stuff.
In general you might leave your old stuff free as promotion for the fee-required matter. In some cases your content itself and its primary purpose in life might delegate its place in the free or fee bins. For example, if I were implementing a premium content subscription model, it wouldn't make sense for me to put pages like J.R.'s Dirt Cheap PC and Killer Deals, J.R.'s Clearinghouse of Used Mac Ware Sources or How to Live Well on Very, Very Little behind a subscription barrier. Likewise the WebFLUX Store pages of my site. Several of these pages already act as revenue channels for me in one way or another, and would only do worse behind a subscription wall, rather than better. Plus, several of those pages rank as philanthropic efforts on my part, of one scale or another. And so making people pay to see them would largely or wholly defeat their reason for being in the first place.
Premium content should also be something in fairly high demand among your visitors, or potentially extra useful to them in some way, perhaps possibly providing them with an extra competitive edge at work or play, or some form of much sought after escapism (such as entertainment fiction), or ideas for novel recreations. Don't try putting hum drum stuff behind a payment gate. Paid for content might also best be more timely than free content. For example, if something like my timeline site had portions fenced off as premium content, it would seem best to fence off only portions relating to the very near future rather than the past or far future.
Of course, if your content is primarily fiction, that makes all this still more problematic, because of the law of supply and demand. There's simply too many fiction writers chasing too few fiction readers out there, for the vast majority of fiction writers to find success in the site subscription model. Throw in the fact that real talent among fiction writers may also be pretty scarce, and the chances that the average fiction writer might succeed with this model get still smaller.
No, detailed how-to info, current product and service reviews, and other forms of non-fiction works offer a better chance for success as premium content for the average writer, than fiction. But even these pose significant obstacles.
OK. What's the most exclusive and potentially valuable content a web author can possibly offer their visitors? New content they haven't yet created or published-- stuff that's still in the author's head.
Now, what's a pet peeve of many web site visitors-- especially the regulars to a particular site? Lack of frequent and significant updates to their favorite page(s).
Hmm. Looks like a potential supply and demand issue there that could use a transaction model to benefit both groups.
So I've whipped one up, in the form of creative page sponsorships. You can examine the model for yourself at Choose which site pages are updated!
Keep in mind you can always tweak the specifications of the model to better fit your own site and concerns.
Yes, this is essentially a service, doing stuff you'd likely do for free if and when you got the chance. But getting paid to do it legitimizes and prioritizes your content efforts in relation to other demands on your time, thereby freeing up the resources required to make your site bigger and better faster than might otherwise occur.
This service also allows your site visitors to have a much greater say in what content you update or expand upon on-site. So it's a win-win for both of you (so long as you're careful about what pages you offer up for such paid updates).
This model is basically the reverse of the usual premium content subscription. Because ALL site visitors potentially benefit when ONE person buys one of these. For the resulting content is fully accessible to all! I love that! It's sort of 'open source' philanthropy in action!