Our relationship with free content is changing. With the overwhelming abundance of stuff to read, watch and listen to, audiences are now seeking a more curated and bespoke approach. Tired of flashy pop-ups or inauthentic collaborations, people are increasingly willing to pay for quality and ad-free content. Subsequently, some publishers, platforms and creatives are charging their audience directly.
An obvious example would be a traditional media publication like The Times using a paywall, but this has had a ripple effect across all areas of content creation. Podcasters are moving to paid-for platforms like Luminary, newsletter writers are turning to Substack and books are being crowdfunded via platforms like Unbound. Patreon, a subscription model that allows creators to collect revenue from fans or supporters is one platform growing at a rapid rate with the company paying out $500 million to content creators in 2019.
Unlike platforms like KickStarter or GoFundMe which gather support for businesses or causes on a one-off, Patreon keeps running on a monthly basis. Creators set up a page on the site and set levels (known as ‘tiers’) which supporters can subscribe to. Each tier comes with its own set of benefits from simply supporting the freelancer’s work financially to exclusive content, behind the scenes access or direct contact with the creator and their community.
For freelancers in the creative industries, this gives them a chance to earn some sort of steady income. “The fact that I get a monthly ‘salary’ is a big advantage as a freelancer,” violinist Esther Abrami told me. “As a known and trusted platform, people are not afraid of signing up,” she added. During the pandemic this has proved a vital lifeline. “I received a very big peak of subscriptions when announcing my concerts were cancelled. A lot of my followers wanted to help support my music during this hard time,” she explained.
It has been a similar story for Sophie Gerrard, a documentary photographer who recently set-up a Patreon for Document Scotland, the photography collective she founded. “The arts are suffering. With fewer editorial assignments from newspapers and magazines we were looking at an uncertain future,” she commented. Setting up a Patreon with additional content is proving to be a successful way to gain much-needed financial support. “It’s very early days for us, but so far we’ve had such an enthusiastic response with over 80 patrons pledging from £1 – £50 a month,” she said. The support – both financially and psychologically – is galvanising: “We have a new incentive to do what we do and do it even better and we’re delighted that we now have a bit of help to keep doing it.”
Holly Wood, a social media and online business expert has operated a subscription model for a number of years but recently switched over to Patreon. She offers a three-tier system for her community of content creators, freelancers and entrepreneurs offering digital downloads, virtual tutorials, live Q&As, webinars and more. She has found moving to a mainstream site like Patreon has helped her expand her following.
“Previously, I found the growth of my community was limited as I had to focus on SEO and social media,” she explained. The bonus to Patreon? It’s a one stop shop. “I like that it offers simplicity in terms of marketing, additional reach and it manages the entire money process,” she noted. The biggest disadvantage for Wood? Patreon’s fees (normally 5% plus an additional transaction fee). Some creators might also not want to use a platform that technically owns any content you upload through the site.
Of course, freelancers can set-up their own subscription models too. Most simply via asking supporters to pay via PayPal. Similarly, there are other ways to garner financial support. For example, Buy Me A Coffee or Ko-Fi where freelancers can encourage their audience to buy them the equivalent price of a coffee. However, this tends to be a one-off basis not a regular commitment like Patreon.
Whatever way you choose to monetise your business as a freelancer, audience-funding is one avenue definitely worth exploring. Not only could it boost your bank balance but it could help foster the creative freedom so many freelancers crave.
How to set-up a successful Patreon
1. Consider if it will work for your business model
Not all freelancers are suited to monetising their content via a subscription model. Think about what you can offer and whether people will be willing to support your work financially.
2. Build you audience
It’s quality over quantity here. You don’t need huge numbers but you do need a committed and engaged community that’s willing to actually dig into their pockets.
3. Create exclusive benefits
Think carefully about value for money and how your paid-for content goes beyond the free alternative. How can you provide added knowledge or access to your community and tier them appropriately.
4. Set realistic expectations
Only commit to work you know you can create with the time and resources you have. Consistency is key to keeping loyal subscribers on a long term basis.
5. Keep up an honest conversation
Check in regularly with your audience about the content you’re providing and implement the feedback.