Choosing The Right Membership Software

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately…

You’ve probably already heard how profitable owning membership sites can be. You simply setup the membership site. Add content. And sit back and watch your client list grow month, after month, after month, ad infinitum without any extra work required of you.

Plus you could even package and profit from your unique knowledge by selling your knowledge to non-competing companies through a membership site for big profits.

What could be difficult about that?

Setting up membership software!

Setting up membership software can be very very time-consuming. And in the end if done wrong, could end up costing you time and money. Not making you money.

So I posted my review of a handful of membership programs below.

Please keep in mind these reviews are written from a ‘techie’s’ point of view. So what appeals to me (self-sufficiency and detachment from 3rd-party control as a major objective), might not appeal to you.

I lean strongly towards self-sufficiency.

I feel I have greater control and direct influence on the outcome of my business. But that approach brings with it some headaches. Mostly having to take time away from marketing and building my companies to put out fires and deal with technical difficulties when software stops working correctly.  I understand this isn’t right for everyone. In those cases hosted membership services, companies that handle all the setup, configuration, security updates, etc etc can make sense too. The downside is hosted services always cost more money out of pocket in the long run than self-sufficiency. But what you give up in cash, you gain in freedom.

I do not have experience using the services of any membership service providers. But my friend and joint venture mentor Habiba Abubakar, The Profit Diva has. Once I get a link to her recommendations I will add them. For now though, if you are just starting out I recommend staying away from hosted services. They set the decisions for the direction and performance of your company. Plus they cost more.

There are a lot of points to consider when choosing a membership system. Here are just a few:

  • Initial purchase price
  • Server compatibilities
  • Ongoing support
  • Who will handle install and setup i.e. you, your tech, or the vendor?
  • How you plan to market the site – seo, affiliates, hard-tp-refuse discounts offers, or some other marketing method
  • Support for backend/one-time-offers
  • Supports Tier levels
  • Protect product access
  • Likelihood of positive ROI

Since I don’t know your specific objectives for setting up a membership site, nor have any idea how you plan to promote your membership site, please don’t contact me asking which of these software programs is right for you. I can’t give you specific recommendations for your circumstances. Contact the individual vendors instead. That’s what they are getting paid for :-)

The Products:

http://www.russellwreynolds.com/imb/ also sold as www.memberfire.com (site now offline as of 9-28-2011)

At a glance: JUNK!!! Don’t buy it!!

Price: $37 WSO reseller. $20 retail purchase.

Review: This is a windows desktop app. It creates your site for you. Requires your ftp username and password.

Warning: the escape key closes the app without confirmation. So if you typed in half the details and accidentally hit escape you will get annoyed. Also tabbing from one field to the next didn’t work for me. Must use the mouse to go from field to field. Lame if you type 80+ wpm and have to stop to grab the mouse to move to the next field over and over again.

Cut and pasting, insert and delete were disabled too. Backspace worked though. Annoyance that slows entering data quickly when info is identical.

No save feature. Once you close the app your data is gone.

"Create new" isn’t the link to click after you’ve entered all your details. That immediately clears the screen w/o confirmation. Another annoyance. You must click the ‘create membership site now’ button at the bottom of the screen when done.

If you block the app from connecting out to that ip address you get ‘the page cannot be displayed’ in the software’s main screen and it goes nowhere else. Just dies.

Oh. If you get an error trying to ftp into your software there is no feature to go backwards and correct your mistakes. You must click the ‘create new’ link and wipe all the fields and start over.

So what happens when you finally do connect?

You get a screen saying ‘this software has been outdated’ and a link to upgrade to the newest version at http://www.membershipease.com. So, the author continually gets upgrade fees but the affiliate/reseller only gets front end commission from selling outdated software that folks will probably request a refund for buying outdated software. That’s lame :(

No clue if that is by design or not but if so that is pretty scammy.

Ok. This is ‘officially’ the most pain in the butt software to deal with of any kind I’ve ever come across so far — and I’ve been working with computers since the early 80’s!!

The lack of a save feature, inability to go back to the setup screen without re-entering your data from scratch again and again, inability to cut and paste your info into the fields (especially complex ftp login combinations), the lame ‘outdated software’ msg to get buyers of the reseller product to upgrade to a newer version that’s apparently NOT available as a reseller or affiliate product, and the software’s refusal to login to any area other than the root of your server makes this a pain in the butt to deal with.

That means if you get an ftp typo error you got to exit or create new and start over from scratch retyping your info again and again and again. grrr.!

I eventually got it installed and limited to a specific folder on one of my domains by creating a new ftp user account that was limited to a specific area and left the path field blank in this software. That way it doesn’t gain root level access to my domain. You NEVER want anything that phones home to gain complete control of your domain. Even if the software developer is legit there’s no way to know if future exploits will allow others to hack your site.

Oh. There’s a file named temp2007.cgi that gets uploaded to your server during the install which in turn uses < form name = "ftpform" method = "POST" action="http://www.me.marketersgiveaway.com/cgi-bin/memlite.cgi" > to handle data processing at the server level — from your domain. If this is not just a file the author forgot to delete, this post method tells the author exactly where the software is installed and gives the author your user name and full ftp account login, since that data is parsed on his end.

But, if this temp file was something left behind by mistake then no need to worry. But I doubt it.

I don’t recommend using this software. Maybe test a future version, as this product matures. But for now the security risk is just too high. If your server permissions are misconfigured anyone can type www.yourdomain/cgi-bin/imsc/temp2007.cgi and get full access and see your admin settings. You may as well give your login details to the public because hackers will exploit this.

Oh. It looks like this software had been sold as private label rights under multiple names. Russ Reynolds and MembershipEase.com are two different people selling the same software but different versions and with different product names. The level of ‘sucky-ness’ is the same though.

http://www.7dollarsecrets.com/

At a glance: of the paid products, this one is the cheapest in terms of purchasing price. But don’t let that fool you. This product offers lots of support despite the low price. Why they do that, I have no idea. But heck, why look a gift horse in the mouth? Just accept the support.

Price: $7

Review: Dirt cheap price. Has OTO feature. Controls digital product delivery and protects non-buyers from reaching your downloads.

CONS: Not a true membership system. No built in mailing list or cms system. You’ll need to integrate your own.

Also, can cause LOTS of problems when newer, undetected browsers are released. Sends automated "fraud" threats and threats of reporting your buyers to PayPal for fraud violations – even when there are no fraud attempts. Really ticks off valid users who’ve done nothing other than try to buy your products or join your membership program with a browser the software doesn’t detect properly. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.

Actual harassing email sent to valid purchasers:

"Firstname,

Our system has caught your attempt to purchase [product name] for [price] instead of its actual purchase price. Be assured that you will not be receiving a download link.

Also, the product owner has been notified of the fraud, and will very likely report you to PayPal’s fraud department.

If you feel you have received this message in error, reply to this email stating your reasons for believing this is not the case.

This message was auto-generated by $7 Secrets Security"

These emails damage relationships big time. I’d be annoyed at being accused like that too.

This error has only happened to me umpteen times :(

To be fair though, it has only happened after new browser releases or major upgrades to browsers. I hear this issue has now been fixed and won’t happen again. Won’t know for certain until a new version of internet explorer is released. So for now, weigh the cost of using this yourself. If you are selling simple product access and an oto (or multiple OTOs), it might be worth the risk. Heck. It’s only $7.

http://www.gootix.com/  (site is dead)

Price: Product no longer available

Review: This was a nice plugin for WordPress. It allowed you to set-up your WordPress blog as a very slick membership site using PayPal. The version to get is "WPB-PayPal 2.1"…if you can even find a copy anywhere. It is the predecessor to the new product named ‘PayBox’ plugin.

The difference between the two?

Nothing. Well, almost nothing. The publishers decided to charge an annual license fee and rename the product to ‘PayBox’ (which incidentally, doesn’t work because of the junky licensing code they added to the pay-by-year version). Other than the addition of annual licensing code and a new annual pricing, the product itself is the same.

The standalone gootix version worked fine with WordPress blogging system. WordPress is an awesome content management system that the search engines LOVE.

The new PayBox version is http://www.getpaybox.com/ and HIGHLY DISCOURAGED. I’ve read many reviews stating something in the ‘phone home’ membership script will take your entire site offline when this crazy plugin fails to connect to their validation server. The stand alone product is the better choice…if you can find it.

http://membershipsitescript.com (no longer exists)

Price: Too many prices to list

Review: This has tons of nice features.

PROS: TONS of features. [database corruption error damaged article] a single price-point of I think $67. I gave up trying [database corruption error damaged article].xpensive compared to many other products as a stand-alone license. Not the most expensive though.

Cons: Unfortunately though, within the past month or two the author added multiple price points, instead of a single price point — all for the same product. A lot of people will be confused and instead of buying, will likely buy something with more straight-forward buying options.

This didn’t install for me back when it was set as a single price-point of I think $67. I gave up trying. Wasn’t worth the hassles of struggling with it.

http://viralmembershipsites.com

Price: $37

Review: This is probably the easiest to setup and most straightforward to install and use membership script available.

Pro: Super super easy to setup.

Cons: There isn’t any real protection to keep thieves from downloading and accessing your membership materials. Once anyone finds a valid login, they can simply share all of your private content with anyone else, without the need for passing login info to the stealers. That’s because this doesn’t ask for a username or password when someone goes directly to web addreess of your membership materials. As proof, I accessed the demo site, saved the download links to notepad, logged out, opened firefox instead of IE, pasted in the download links into firefox– and gained complete access to all the content despite not logging in. There is absolutely no protection whatsoever to keep people from ‘sharing’ your stuff. :-(

Also, the company recently posted they are going out of business completely. So, if you need an easy membership system and you don’t need to protect your membership content from thieves, this is probably the best option of all.

http://bluesome.net/post/2006/01/01/121/#comment-194369436

Price: FREE

Review: Disclose-Secret plugin for WordPress. The Disclose-Secret plugin only shows WordPress articles to users if the user meets certain access criteria.

Pro: FREE is almost always appreciated :)

And it doesn’t hurt that this plugin works with wordpress (my preferred cms).

Cons: Unfortunately you’ll likely need to go through some ‘hoops’ to get this working. Here are the details for you:
http://blog.achille.name/wordpress/hot-fix-for-disclose-secret-plugin-wordpress/s/ess/The downside to free is a lack of direct support. You are on your own. Plus this isn’t a true cms system. It lacks multiple membership tiers, payment processing, etc. that you’d expect in a real membership program. But if you are keen on wordpress, you know there are plenty of free plugins to make up for the lack that exists in this free plugin.

http://www.butterflymarketing.com (currently off the market)

Price: $797 and rising…

Review What can I say? This was the leader of the OTO membership products. Filsaime released the first commercial membership product of its kind — and made millions doing it!

This is the market leader. The trendsetter. The product everyone else is trying to follow — and knock off. Very small script. Takes up very little room on the server. But is expensive. Is one of the most expensive of the bunch. And can be incredibly buggy. Latest version claims to fix previous bugs. Not tested the latest to know if is true or not. If you are looking to go with a product leader and trendsetter this is the product to choose. But if you are looking for the most stable software of the lot, this isn’t the option to go with. My preferred membership product is more stable.

http://www.launchformulamarketing.com/.com/

Price: $297 when released. Then shot up to $997.. now has $2,000 retail price tag.

Review This is my second best recommendation. Everything the best product (mentioned below) leaves out, this puts in.

PROS: Tons of features. Straight-forward install. Nearly everything you’d want in a membership program is in here.

Cons:Expensive. More expensive than any other reviewed product.

I don’t like the admin interface. Too many screens to navigate to do simple things.

Some users have reported LFM is not compatible with their webhost. Basically, if your web host uses a modified or non-standard php.ini configuration, you’ll get php errors when trying to access LFM’s admin area. Only way around this is to either edit the php files of LFM, or move your site to another host. Both options are a hassle if you are new to setting up membership programs or editing php files.

If this membership system included support for discount coupons it’d beat my preferred product, in terms of a complete out-of-the-box membership system. If it weren’t for the steep price, navigation annoyances (comments below), and lack of coupons…this would be my product of choice.

Biggest negative is… I didn’t grab my own copy when it was only $297. Waaahhhh!!!!! :-(

http://www.amember.com/.com/ * * * * *

Price: $179

Review: This is my recommended membership software for serious membership sites. Stable. Secure (when installed correctly). And fast. Anyone serious about running a membership site should consider aMember as a first option. Lots of features. Payment processors. Access control. Coupon control. And tons more. See full list of features here: http://www.amember.com/p/Main/Features

Ok, since I love this product so much, what are some of the negatives I’ve experienced? What don’t I like about it?

Cons: Expensive. Requires separate license fore each site you own. At $179.95 a pop that can add up quickly. Especially if you have dozens or hundreds of sites. A work-around is to use a single, generic site of your own to handle payment processing for all of your sites. That is not a viable option though if you want to manage access to content on the various sites you own. Amember cannot control access on domains aMember is not installed on.

No built in one-time-offers (yet). There are free 3rd-party solutions though that require editing php files within amember system. If you can edit html you can edit these changes in aMember.

No membership tiers. Can’t set graduated,membership access levels such as silver, gold, platinum, bronze, etc. [there are additional plugins to add similar features]

Can’t set ‘trickled’ content on a monthly, weekly, or other time-based bases. It’s all or nothing. [there are additional plugins to add this feature]

No integrated blog or forum. You will need to integrate phpbb, WordPress, or some other content management system into aMember if you wish to operate a true membership site. There are several plugins to make the process seamless to your users. Each plugin requires additional setup from you though — and usually additional pricing. [there are additional plugins to add this feature]

If you need more features than aMember offers, but are on a budget, buy aMember now. Then later upgrade to Puddy’s Launch Formula Marketing after earning enough money through aMember to justify the $2,000 LFM expense. There’s less risk of earning back your cash that way. $2,000 is a lot of money to shell out and risk on the frontend, in hopes of earning the money back later.

The New(est) Kid On The Block…

On a final note…there is a new membership system that looks promising. It’s called, John’s Little Script and is available at http://www.littlescript.com/.

John’s Little Script promises secure member access, 30-days free support, and a simple password-protected membership system.

I’ve yet to test this one, so I can’t give my two cents on its performance. The one thing I don’t like is that the software is protected with zend optimizer – a standard software protection scheme.

What’s wrong with that? There isn’t any way to know what the software is doing behind the scenes while running from your server. A ‘smart’ programmer could use zend’ed software to send or relay spam. Collect confidential site performance data. Steal identities of your buyers. And more. All without your knowledge.

About Andre Bell
Andre strives to help marketers discover the near-immediate impact of honest ethical marketing practices. He has advised hundreds of business owners on how to keep their dignity as they implement direct response marketing methods that work. Andre is one of only a handful of remaining professionals who can boast having become an online marketer a decade before the World Wide Web came into existence. And as a serial entrepreneur Andre launched his first direct mail business around the age of 12-years old. He has been building and advising ever since.

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