How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch

Online content libraries are a great way to bring in recurring passive income each month. 

Subscribers join your library for a monthly fee, have ongoing access to all of the resources, and you receive a steady monthly payout - all without doing too much extra work, other than adding a couple new items each month.

Online libraries are also a fantastic incentive for people to subscribe to your list if you’re hoping to give the content away for free.

But as with any new digital offering, it can be a headache trying to figure out how to set  up a new content library from scratch.

I remember all too well. Three years ago I setup my own online subscription library (creatively named The Library), and here’s exactly how I did it. 

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

1  |  First, choose a platform to host your library

I suggest hosting your content library right on your website, whether your current website is on Squarespace or Wordpress.

Not only is it easier for current and potential subscribers to access, but driving more traffic and having more pages on your site increases your SEO. 

2  |  Then set up an unlinked landing page for your library

You’ll create two distinct pages for your library

  • A sales page where people can subscribe to your library
  • And a landing page where subscribers can access your content

Your sales page needs to be easy to find on your website, but your landing page shouldn’t be linked to the main navigation or anywhere else other than your sales page.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

We’ll work on creating your sales page in step #5, but first we’re going to focus on creating an unlinked landing page first. 

In Squarespace, you can create an unlinked page by clicking Pages in the main menu, clicking the + icon at the top of the Not Linked section, and choosing Page from the menu.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

From here, you can design your library landing page. 

A couple tips for making your landing page as helpful as possible for your subscribers:

  • Write a simple welcome message for new subscribers
  • Encourage subscribers to share how they’re using the content on social media and create a specific hashtag to generate engagement
  • Create a space to highlight new additions
  • Focus on simplicity; subscribers should quickly and easily be able to find the content they’re looking for

I kept my landing page very simple at first with a header, some text on what the Library is and how to use it, and a section to highlight the newest addition, and then I added the contents below so everything was all on one page.

But as I added more content, the page became longer and longer and the time it took to load all of the content (and upload new content) was way too long, so I recently created separate pages for every category of the library and linked to them on the landing page.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

Each of the category pages are also unlinked…

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

...and the Squarespace template I use (Hayden) allows me to group them together and create a navigation menu on the left side for easy navigation.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

3  |  Create preview and promo graphics

On Squarespace, you can directly link your images to downloadable files, which is super helpful for setting up your library.

So I design preview images for each Library item that can be clicked on to access Adobe Illustrator templates, workbooks, etc.

I created some templates in Adobe Illustrator to make this step of the process quicker and easier.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

And this week I added some customizable preview graphics into the Library to help you with this step!

Click the image above to access the Adobe Illustrator templates by either logging into to the Library or subscribing (and see the Library for yourself!). 

4  |  Set up a Paywall

Now that your preview graphics are created and your landing page is all set up, it’s time to set up a paywall to protect all of your premium content.

The paywall will pop up when people click the link to your library’s landing page and prevent non-subscribers from accessing the contents. It also allows those who’ve already purchased a subscription to sign in.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

There are several different paywall options out there, but I started with Tinypass (now called Piano) and I’ve stuck with it for the past 3 years. 

Piano is great for several reasons:

Security - While I had a few issues with people bypassing the paywall with Tinypass, I haven’t had any trouble since the business was bought out by Piano. My content is secure and only accessible by those who pay to subscribe.

Multiple subscription options - The Elle & Company Library is $6.99/month, but Piano allows me to offer multiple subscription options for those who want to access the Library for a designated period of time. When the paywall window pops up, potential subscribers see three different options at 3 different price points

A quick preview of the content - Before the paywall pops up on the screen, potential subscribers are able to get a sneak peek at the landing page for a couple seconds. It builds a little bit of trust with them and piques their curiosity without letting them see and access everything for free. 

Gift options - This is a neat feature (and a fantastic gift idea!). Friends and family of those who are interested in the Library can give a subscription as a gift. The different subscription options also come in handy for this option. I talk about client gifts fairly often in regards to my design services, and, I may be a little bias, but a Library subscription for 3 or 6 months as a parting gift to your client will help them begin to get familiar with creating graphics on their own by using my library templates! 

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

Fairly quick payouts - Piano doesn’t automatically send payouts, but you can request them whenever you feel like it. The money can be sent to your PayPal account or you can request it to be sent as a check. I always request the payout in PayPal, and it usually takes a couple days for the request to go through.  

No extra subscription cost - Piano does take a percentage out of each transaction, but there aren’t any extra monthly costs involved.

Easy installation - Once you setup your paywall in Piano, all you have to do is click the “Embed code” button, copy the code, and add it to the HTML of the header of your landing page and your paywall will start appearing.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

Piano is also well-designed and easy to navigate. 

But if you’re interested in other paywall options, consider looking into MemberSpace, GoPaywall, Member wall, and Memberful.

5 | Create a sales page for your new library

Now that your landing page is setup and protected with a paywall, it's time to set up that sales page I mentioned a little while ago.

You can drive traffic to this page to highlight the features and benefits of your library and invite people to subscribe by either paying for a membership or entering their email address if you want to use your library as a content upgrade.

How to Create an Online Subscription Library from Scratch | Elle & Company

A couple things to consider when you set up this sales page:

  • Create a prominent call-to-action that links to your paywall-protected landing page
  • Share some examples of what’s included in the library
  • Add a login button or link somewhere on the page for current subscribers

6  |  Send updates to your library subscribers

You’ll be able to collect emails when people subscribe to your library or pay for a subscription, so consider sending them updates about new additions once a month (or each time you add something to the collection). 

This will increase engagement and bring people back to the landing page on a regular basis.

Setting up an online content library isn’t as difficult as it seems. 

All you need is a landing page, a paywall, and a sales page (and some content to fill it up!).

Once the hard work of building the subscription library is over, you can let it run and make updates to it every so often. Piece of cake!

Do you have an online subscription library? What paywall platform did you choose to set it up with?