Subscriptions vs Membership: Which is Right for your Business?

Jordan Sternberg

By Jordan Sternberg - Published December 01, 2023

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In the evolving landscape of digital commerce, understanding the nuances between subscriptions and memberships is crucial for developing a strong business model. While often used interchangeably, these models offer distinct benefits and cater to different business strategies. This article delves into the core differences between subscriptions and memberships, helping you decide which is most suitable for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Subscriptions define the incoming revenue to a business. By definition a subscription has a recurring billing cadence - often weekly, monthly, or yearly. There are a range of industries that utilize subscription services including home services (lawn care, pool cleaning, etc), automotive, pest control, digital newspapers, streaming services, etc.

  • Memberships often have a subscription component for dues, products, or services, but also include a community or group component. Some common membership examples include group fitness classes, gyms, rewards programs (e.g. credit cards, airlines), large retailers (e.g. Costco), and studios.

Understanding Subscriptions

A subscription is a financial agreement where customers pay regularly to access a product or service. This model is prevalent in various industries, from digital news platforms to monthly box services. Subscriptions focus on providing continuous value through a steady stream of products, content, or services. For instance, a magazine subscription offers weekly or monthly issues, ensuring a consistent engagement with subscribers.

Key Characteristics of Subscriptions:
  • Consistent Delivery: Subscriptions guarantee regular provision of services or products, like monthly deliveries of gourmet foods or access to online software tools.

  • Revenue Stability: They provide a predictable revenue stream, essential for financial planning and business growth.

  • Customer Convenience: Subscriptions offer convenience, allowing customers to receive products or services without repeated transactions.

Understanding Memberships

Memberships, on the other hand, emphasize community and belonging, and typically have a subscription component. They often provide access to exclusive content, discounts, or services, but their core value lies in the sense of community they foster. Memberships are common in organizations where peer interaction and networking are significant, such as group events, professional associations or clubs.

Key Characteristics of Memberships:
  • Group Based: Different than subscriptions, memberships always have a group component where many individuals make up the collective membership base.

  • Community Focus: The primary appeal of memberships is the community and network they offer, often seen in online forums or member-only events.

  • Exclusive Benefits: Members might receive special perks, discounts, or access to exclusive content.

  • Engagement and Loyalty: Memberships drive engagement and loyalty by fostering a sense of belonging among members.

Comparing Subscriptions and Memberships

While both models involve recurring payments, their strategies and customer engagement methods differ significantly.

  • Engagement Level: Subscriptions focus on providing a product or service, whereas memberships emphasize community and interaction among members.

  • Value Proposition: The value of a subscription lies in the consistent quality and delivery of a product or service. In addition to this, memberships derive their value from the community experience and exclusive benefits.

Which Model Suits Your Business?

Choosing between a subscription and a membership model depends on your business goals, the nature of your product or service, and your target audience.

  • Product-Based Businesses: If you offer physical or digital products that require regular usage or replenishment, a subscription model might be more appropriate. This model suits businesses like software providers, book clubs, or grocery delivery services.

  • Group or Community-Oriented Services: If your business thrives on group events, referrals, word-of-mouth, networking, shared interests, or collective experiences, a membership model could be more beneficial. This model is ideal for professional associations, studios, gyms, boutiques, fitness clubs, or online learning communities.

Implementing Your Chosen Model

Once you decide on the model that aligns with your business strategy, consider the following implementation steps:

  • Define Your Value Proposition: Clearly articulate the benefits and unique offerings of your subscription or membership.

  • Set Up Payment and Management Systems: Use reliable tools to manage recurring payments and customer interactions.

  • Foster Engagement: For memberships, actively cultivate a community through events, forums, or exclusive content. For subscriptions, ensure consistent quality and timely delivery.


Understanding the difference between subscriptions and memberships is key to selecting the right model for your business. While subscriptions focus on regular product or service delivery, memberships build around a sense of community and belonging. By aligning your business model with your product, service, and customer needs, you can create a sustainable and thriving business.

Here, at Growthware, we've built a platform to enable small business owners across industries to begin offering subscriptions and memberships to their customers. This is done with easy to use subscription management and payment options along with a customer portal to allow your customers to easily manage and view credits, previous and upcoming appointments, payment methods, and more.

Chat with our team to learn more!

Jordan Sternberg

Article by

Jordan Sternberg

Technology executive with experience in a multitude of disciplines ranging from marketing to product development, sales, and beyond. Jordan is a renowned leader and small business expert who is currently serving as EVP of Strategy & Business Development at Growthware where he is one of the cofounders.

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