How to build a modern subscription site with only small tech

Back to basics, the modern way

Wilderness Living is a state of the art subscription site, complete with free and premium content (mostly videos), a subscription page, a newsletter, and a newsfeed. 

When they launched, they saw instant growth, generating many new paid subscribers in the first month. 

But what’s most remarkable is that they’ve done this with on a technical framework with no Big Tech providers. 

A point of principle

The publisher wanted to be able to control his own platform, protect his readers, and to keep the revenue he earned. 

Part of the publisher’s stated philosophy includes a heavy emphasis on personal privacy. This means finding alternatives for all the usual suspects in the site tech. 

Instead of Google Analytics, Wilderness Living is using Fathom, which focuses on gathering data without storing or exploiting personal information. (For publishers interested in Big Tech alternatives, Plausible is another analytics software.)

The other pillar of Wilderness Living’s website philosophy is no shared revenue. Which is why they switched from, a Patreon-style host, to the membership model of paid subscriptions, using Leaky Paywall as the gateway. 

The only big name Wilderness Living does partner with is Stripe to handle the payments. But Stripe is completely SCA and GDPR compliant, meaning it also protects the privacy of its users. 

A slick, modern website

Even with all this, the site is state-of-the-art. It’s a perfect example of a focused, consistent reader experience. It’s clean and sleek but still has everything a publication should.

The content all appeals to a specific audience and the experience follows that same appeal. The site is easy to use and clear on what it offers. 

Subscription experience

The site also has a well-designed path to paid subscriptions.

First, any attempts to access premium content lead to a good subscription nag with a summary of the benefits and a link to the subscription page.

Second: the subscribe page.The site has a simple but complete landing page for selling subscriptions, with a clear benefits statement, including Wilderness Living’s mission and why it needs paid subscriptions to support that. 

It also includes a button to direct people to its single, focused subscription option. (People love buttons.) That takes them to the final step: the registration page.

Wilderness Living also adds a few other incentives to subscribe: the premium content but also the ability to comment is limited to paid subscribers. 

The content is designed for people who are interested in learning or sharing survival skills. Having a forum to ask questions or encourage others in their shared pursuit is a powerful reason to join. 

And all of it is published on a platform consistent with the beliefs of the publisher and, likely, his audience: no Big Tech. 

Want to know more about building a small tech publication? Or just a publication that meets your readers’ needs and expectations? Let’s chat

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