Diet Site’s New Year Resolution: Ad-Supported

Online diet site SparkPeople.com has begun offering its premium services for free. The site plans to bring in advertisers rather than continue to charge membership fees.

Membership for the four-year old weight loss site was $1.99 per week. The four-year old site’s goal is to give away what would have been $100 million worth of online services under the paid model to users in 2006 as it moves to an ad-supported model . The company aims to bring in what it calls “quality” advertisers.

“We really want to work with quality advertisers, it has to be something that fits our philosophy in trying to help people reach their goals,” said SparkPeople.com founder, Chris Downie. “We’re probably giving up some revenue in the short term, but in the long term I think it will make us more attractive.”

Ads will be sold by an undisclosed company the diet site recently partnered with to provide advertising on its partner site, BabyFit.com. Downie said SparkPeople.com will likely have fewer ads than BabyFit.com, though he will not limit the types of ad units the site will offer.

The slow rollout is enabled by the company’s lean structure. SparkPeople.com runs with a staff of about 15 employees to competitor eDiets.com’s staff of over 140.

“I look at Craigslist as a model, they have done an incredible job with 18 employees with little paid advertising,” said Downie. “We keep our expenses as low as we possibly could and that lets us stay in operation.”

SparkPeople buys cost-per-click advertising for the site. It also sees an increase in site visitors from word-of-mouth.

Introduction of free membership is timed for the start of 2006 and its corresponding New Year’s resolutions. It’s a time of year when competitors such as WeightWatchers.com and eDiets.com promote themselves heavily.

“By coming to SparkPeople you can work on two resolutions,” said Downie. “Losing weight and saving money.”

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