Last time, as you recall, I walked you through the steps of setting up an email opt-in program to help build up subscribers to your comic as well as building a database of users to negotiate with printers and conventions.  In this second part, I’m going to go over the steps I have taken over at 1977 the Comic to create and maintain a Member’s only area.  This one takes more work, but in the end you will have a set of readers who will annually lay down a small fee to gain access to exclusive works or offers.

Now, in my comic’s case, my readership wanted more pin-up drawings.  Since my comic’s theme is Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, they wanted a bit more of the sexy part.  This year, I offered exclusive Pin-up drawings of my characters, alternate versions of the comics that featured a bit more skin and exclusive PDF collections of the comic’s storylines.  This was very successful and I have a membership of well over 200 people currently.  At $10 per person, that’s $2,000 a year for what amounts to very little extra work.  Well, little extra work ONCE the Member’s area is set up.  Here’s how I did it.

Separate Website

The key to maintaining a Member’s Area easily is setting up a secondary URL under you current domain.  For example, I use http://www.1977thecomic.com/members as the URL for the Member’s website.  Today, WordPress is not difficult to set up in a sub-folder like the one I called “members”.  If you do not have experience in this, perhaps your Hosting Company can assist you.   Here are the basic steps to setting up a WordPress site in a sub-folder.  It is identical to setting it up in your root of your Domain, except all the files will go into a folder you create (thus the “members” folder I created).

  1. Create a folder in the root of your Domain.  I use FileZilla to manage my files on my website and it is a great FTP tool.
  2. Then simply go through the instructions that WordPress provides for copying all the files necessary for a standard WordPress install.
  3. The hard part of this process is setting up a second database.  Most hosting companies now allow you to have more than one database.  If you are not sure of this process, ask you hosting company.  I use DreamHost for my comic site and have had few issues with them and they’ve been very helpful in these types of requests.
  4. Once that is set up, you can install any WordPress themes and plug-ins you require. (Note: you do not have to necessarily use Comic Press with the Member’s area as you can post images on pages and/or into posts, so you’re not confined to that theme only)

WP-Members Control Panel

The next step once that is done is to install the WP-Members plug-in.  This plug-in controls access to content on the website.  By default, it sets up ALL pages and posts as restricted to Member’s only.  You can of course change those settings, but you will quickly see why it is important to set up the Member’s website under its own website.  If you try to create pages and posts on your comic’s primary site and THEN restrict them to Member’s only, it can quickly become very clumsy.  By having a separate website, you gain more control over the content and it will not confuse or frustrate your regular readers.

The only drawback I see to using the WP-Members plug-in is that currently there is no automatic way to register a user once they pay you the membership fee.  WP-Members uses the WordPress User’s panel to register new users.  So, it is a manual process at present.  This is a bit of a pain in the butt.  Here’s what I do is when a person pays the membership fee: I get a notice from PayPal of the sale, then I go into the User’s area of WordPress and manually create a user.  I give members a User ID of the date they joined.  For example, if they joined October 18, 2012, their User ID is 20121018a (I then increment the ending letter for each new member that joins that day).  This helps me track when they need to renew.  Once the user is created, WordPress sends them an email with their ID and password, which I then follow up with a thank-you email.

Side note: PayPal offers a subscription payment process, but I found it a pain to use as folks would get emails from PayPal about recurring subscriptions and of course they’d forget what it was for and cancel.  This way they only receive communication from us, the comic creator.

This seems like a lot of work and initially it is, but once it is set up, you simply add users and create the extra content.  I price my memberships at $10.00 per year.  For that they get the alternate comics, pin-ups of the ladies, desktops and the PDF collections.  These are things I would create anyway, but now I get paid for that.

The membership area has also increased my commission volume as someone sees something in the Member’s area and wants something customized.  Overall this has increased my income by over $5,000 last year and I didn’t have to attend a single convention or sell a single book.  It takes dedication to create the content, which I was already doing (like the desktops, etc.), but if you’re already creating a comic on a steady update schedule, then this extra content just becomes second nature.  It also helps you’re getting paid for this work.  That’s a great motivator!