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Since the Internet began, some 40 years ago, most of its content has been free to access.

Today, that is still the case.

However, paid content is one of the fastest-growing areas of Internet business, generating more than $15 billion in revenues in 2009 in the US alone.

The question that thousands of experts, bloggers, publishers, and content creators want answered is, "If there is so much free content on the Web, what content will people actually pay for?"

Having been involved with launching more than 1,000 paid-content websites over the last few years, many of which are now very profitable businesses, I've concluded that the following are attributes that enable them to charge for their content.

1. They offer unique and exclusive information

The No. 1 reason that people pay for content is because they can't get the information they need elsewhere for free. Successful membership websites tend to be run by people deeply immersed in their subject, and they have access to certain sources, background knowledge, and informed opinion that creates sustainable advantage and value.

  • B2B: BeerNet (www.beernet.com) provides news, rumors, and job listings targeted at the ultra-niche US beer distributors. The target audience is less than 2,500 individuals, yet the site, through subscriptions and ancillary revenues (selling reports, running events, etc.), generates a seven-figure income.
  • B2C: HerbMentor (www.herbmentor.com) is a site about—you guessed it—herbs. The thousands of members from around the world learn and share information about herbs that can be used for health, nutrition, and cooking.

2. They "promise" wealth and success

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Miles Galliford is a co-founder of SubHub (www.subhub.com), a company set up to help bloggers, writers, and publishers commercialize their content on the Internet.