Sites like Disney’s Club Penguin and Webkinz are charging for content: CP directly through explicit subscription charges (though part of the site is free) and Webkinz indirectly through stuffed animals and charms that translate into characters/avatars and Webkinz cash. (However, now Webkinz is starting to show ads too.)
According to the Google Zeitgeist, Webkinz and Club Penguin are among the fastest growing search queries on a global basis. Those queries mirror the increasing popularity of the sites themselves. Club Penguin was acquired for approximately $700 million and Webkinz, if considered a social network, may be worth billions.
According to this eMarketer compiled chart of Nielsen data, Webkinz has seen dramatic growth in a compressed time frame:
I’ve seen the “virality” of Webkinz in action with my daughter and her circle of friends. However, kids are fickle and the hold of these networks on children is more tenuous than their more grown-up counterparts. Nonetheless the subscription model is successfully being employed here.