Patreon for Podcasters: Best Practices & Who’s Doing it Well

Want to make money with your podcast? Patreon helps you do this and more. 

Patreon is a membership platform that helps creative people fund their projects. Over the past ten years, they’ve helped over 200,000 people embark on or change creative careers.

Currently, Patreon boasts over 8 million patrons funding their creative members. They’ve become synonymous with subscription monetization in the same way that Kickstarter has become a synonym for crowdfunding.

Now, Patreon has re-branded with a new logo, colors, and competitive features. Let’s take a look at Patreon for podcasters, the benefits, risks, and some provisos so you can find out what you need to know before you commit.

What is Patreon, and How Does It Work for Podcasters?

On its surface, Patreon is pretty simple. A creator makes a page on Patreon’s website, where patrons can subscribe to the creator’s content. For podcasters, this can take many forms: audio, video, blog posts, images, and even physical merchandise. Patrons can consume this content through Patreon’s website or app. Podcast supporters can also use their subscriber-only RSS feed to listen to private podcast episodes in the listening app of their choice.

For centuries, being a “patron of the arts” was a hobby of the very wealthy. Now, anyone can support artists and get exclusive art, music, ideas, or experiences in exchange for a few dollars a month. In turn, artists can receive a monthly income stream through Patreon and other platforms like it.

Patreon’s Podcasting Tools

Patreon provides podcasters with a unique RSS feed feature to share audio with their patrons. You can either use Patreon’s RSS feature or their Acast RSS feed. Your supporters can get the episodes on Patreon’s website and app and many different listening apps.

This private RSS feature has been vital to the success of Patreon and podcasters alike. Podcasters can use this to share ad-free episodes early, bonus episodes, or behind-the-scenes content. For a while, Patreon was the only simple way to offer private podcast episodes.

Since Patreon handles payment processing, podcasters don’t have to worry about currency conversion rates, expired credit cards, or the intricacies of different payment platforms. Patreon’s Support articles offer tax information and forms as well.

Patreon’s new rebranding allows for community chat and selling products publicly, not only to your patrons.

A feature for all creators, not just podcasters, is Patreon’s A Clubs. These accountability groups help Patreon creators with camaraderie, idea generation, strategy, and navigating the details of the Patreon platform. These creator-led groups can lead to collaboration and cross-promotion opportunities.

Patreon’s Creator Hub is a system with tools, apps, and other resources to help grow and sustain their Patreon, with integrations from clip art and music to tax prep and legal advice.

Patreon for Podcasters: The Benefits

Patreon’s subscription model can provide recurring revenue for artists. Plus, Patreon has tools to make a private podcast, and build community.

Customizable Support Tiers

The varying tiers mean you can charge what you feel your content is worth. You can provide outtakes for $2 a month, bonus episodes for $5 a month, and send a basket of fresh fruit and homemade cookies for $200 a month if that’s what you feel your time and effort are worth. Just make sure your deliverables are deliverable.

Communication and Community

When a new patron subscribes, Patreon automatically sends a thank you message, which can be text and/or video. You can also write a personal thank-you note to them through the platform. Since many creators like to give physical perks, you can also communicate via postal mail if the patron provides their address. Every post you make on Patreon can be open for comments.

Patreon helps podcasters build a community of fans. You can create polls to ask what kind of content your audience wants. In the Patreon mobile app, community chats allow for threads, emoji reactions, and photos. These community chats have internal safeguards, such as reporting and moderation. Members can’t message each other directly. When you maintain a safe space for your patrons to communicate with you and give you honest feedback, you’ll sustain a loyal membership.

Free Patreon Membership

A free membership tier may seem counterproductive. But, when a creator publishes a new public post, the free members get notifications. Plus, since their information is in the system, Patreon says it’s easier for you to convince those free followers to upgrade.

Selling Digital Content

Some people don’t want a recurring membership, but want to buy and download individual music albums, videos, or audio files. Patreon lets you sell digital products, hosted on their site. This might make Patreon a competitor for Bandcamp, but since Bandcamp includes a media player, it might not.

Patreon for Podcasters: Risks and Challenges

Like many tech startups, Patreon has been a company where the expression “we’re building the plane as we fly it” applies. Not only has the cost of Patreon membership fluctuated, but so have the company’s policies. Podcasters who aren’t dependent on their Patreon earnings for income might not mind this, but many artists need a more reliable system.

Patreon’s Fees

Patreon’s platform fees have varied widely over the past decade. When they added sales tax and payment processing fees, patrons pulled their support, and creators expressed their outrage. But, it’s unsurprising: more payment methods, more processing fees.

As of May 2019, Patreon has three creator plans and fees: Founders, Pro, and Premium. The Founders plan is unadvertised: it’s for creators who joined before May of 2019, use USD for payouts, and have not changed their plan or currency since.

Founders pay 5% of their Patreon income for monthly subscriptions, membership tiers, and analytics.

Pro creators pay 8% of their income for monthly and annual subscriptions, community engagement tools, and analytics.

Premium creators pay 12% of their income and get everything at the Pro level, plus a dedicated partner manager, a team account, and merchandise for your membership.

On top of the percentage Patreon charges, creators pay payment processing, currency conversion, payout fees, and sales tax/VAT.

These fees and taxes vary by payment type, currency, and country. Patreon’s Help Center has a chart showing all of the charges. Navigating these fees is like Theseus blindfolded in the labyrinth without the ball of string, and the Minotaur’s got night-vision goggles. Yes, Patreon takes a chunk of your earnings, but you wouldn’t want to calculate these fees on your own every month.

Some of Patreon’s past fee changes have shaken members’ trust. In December 2017, Patreon announced they would charge service fees to the patrons rather than out of the creators’ income. For example, a $1 pledge would cost the patron $1.38. Patrons started to pull their financial support over the change. CEO Jack Conte apologized to patrons and creators and announced they wouldn’t roll out that change.

Patreon + Spotify

In August of 2023, Patreon integrated with Spotify “to drive membership of their Patreon where they can directly engage with fans to build community.” The idea is that podcasters create public content in their Patreon feed to publish exclusively on Spotify, enticing people to tap on subscription-only episodes and see a “Get Access” message. This is intended to invite the user to support the podcast. How enticing.

Apparently, linking the Patreon and Spotify accounts comes with its own set of bugs, as any new integration will. One Patreon creator who spoke with me on condition of anonymity said that delivering a member-only podcast feed with Acast was easier and more reliable than Patreon’s RSS feed. The Spotify integration only uses Patreon’s RSS feed, and won’t accept the Acast RSS.

The Subscription Treadmill

Some of the risks and challenges of Patreon for podcasters have little to do with Patreon and everything to do with monetizing through subscription. The subscription platform model means consistently meeting subscribers’ expectations every month to get paid. If you can produce your podcast for the same number of hours every week and release a new episode every week or month, then yes, you’ll have content to post, and you can charge your patrons for it. But, this treadmill can be hard to sustain.

Patreon’s Silicon Valley Maverick Reputation

Patreon’s CEO and co-founder, Jack Conte, embodies the “creator-first” part of their branding, and his pop band frontman persona lets him play the role of the creative iconoclast, in contrast to co-founder and CTO Sam Yam. This loose-cannon routine has surprised markets and creators in different ways over the years. These surprises have included a data leak followed by laying off the security team, abrupt content policy changes, and switching the billing from California in the US to Dublin, Ireland, resulting in loss of income for many members. Patreon has had issues with insider trading, sexual discrimination, balancing the site’s proportion of adult content versus any other content, and mismanagement.

Patreon creators have to keep themselves updated and stay flexible. This means not only that you have to read every blog post and announcement Patreon produces but also that you have to keep your eyes on podcast news sources. Patreon has tended to move first and announce (or apologize) later.

Case Studies: Examples of Patreon Pages For Podcasters

No two podcasts are alike, and every podcaster Patreon has a different approach. Take a look at these and see if they give you ideas for your crowdfunding tactics.

Chapo Trap House

No article about whether or not Patreon is a successful tool for podcasters would be complete without mentioning the democratic socialist comedy podcast, Chapo Trap House.

This podcast started in the spring of 2016 and started their Patreon the following May. Within a year, Chapo Trap House surprised everyone by earning over $57K monthly. Their minimalist approach to crowdfunding made delivering perks easy. Each member pays no more than $5 for a weekly premium episode and the podcast’s entire back catalog. Since members pay a reasonable rate, they have more patrons (over 42,000 as of this writing), which collectively adds up. Their allure is an acquired taste. It’s a testament to what podcasters can do with their niche and relationship with their audience. 

A Paranormal Chicks

Some people like true crime podcasts. Others like shows about paranormal activity. Many folks enjoy hearing stories from a funny, smart woman with a Mississippi accent. A Paranormal Chicks (say it out loud: you’re welcome) combines all three. Their audience is so loyal that some of their fans have tattooed themselves with their podcast art. With that kind of loyalty, the Paranormal Chicks Patreon feels like when your cool aunt visits, bringing mysterious shopping bags and a perfumed hug.

Their Patreon’s basic level gets you stickers in the mail, digital content, and access to their Discord server. The middle tier gets you the same and more digital content, plus the opportunity to record an episode introduction. The Paranormal Chicks’ top tier gets you everything from the previous tiers, plus discounts on merchandise and a free mug.

The perks start out digital with a little bit of tangible, then digital, tangible, and participatory, and finally digital, participatory, and tangibly habit-forming. When the coffee mug you reach for in the morning to fuel up or relax in the afternoon has your favorite podcast on it, that’s a deep relationship.

What Podcasters Need To Know Before Committing to Patreon (or Jumping Ship)

Patreon puts a ton of effort into making themselves look like a glamorous lifestyle brand. But, just like anything else, they’re a business, and creators are the product.

Patreon’s 2023 rebrand makes it look like a luxury lifestyle brand, but that doesn’t mean you should lie back in your fluffy plush bathrobe and not pay attention to the details.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Podcast monetization requires more than one income stream. Don’t expect Patreon to be an app for “I talk in this, and money comes out.” You have to promote your Patreon page; they don’t promote you.

Make a reading list on Feedly or Instapaper of Patreon’s news blog, along with podcasting news topics. This way, if something happens, you’ll have more than one side of the story.

Communicate with your followers frequently and clearly. A simple public text post on your Patreon page on a Monday morning never hurts. As superficial as that may seem, it keeps the relationship with your followers alive.

Use a link shortener tool to direct your audience from your episode to your Patreon page. Patreon gives you a short link: followed by your podcast company’s name. But, when you use your own short link, you can change where that short link points, which instantly updates every link in your previous episodes, show notes, and CTAs.

This means that if Patreon ever lets you down (or goes out of business!), you can move to one of many Patreon alternatives and point your link there instead. A link shortener tool we trust and recommend is Pretty Links. In fact, we trust it so much, that link is an affiliate link.

Educate yourself on Patreon and crowdfunding platforms in general, as well as the technology they use. Read Patreon’s help center articles and product updates. This way, you understand what’s happening and can communicate clearly with your audience.

Patreon For Podcasters: Should You Trust Them?

Patreon, for podcasters, has been a household word, like Kickstarter or Photoshop. But just because it’s a brand many podcasters know doesn’t mean it’s the most reliable.

For a while, Patreon was the only platform most podcasters knew of where they could charge their audience to consume their content. Now, Apple Podcasts offers subscriptions and there are plenty of crowdfunding platform alternatives. Acast+ has a subscription platform similar to the original version of Patreon on top of hosting. Patreon isn’t the only game in town anymore.

Patreon looks like a set-it-and-forget-it way to make money in your bathrobe or while skateboarding (or both). A lot of hard work goes into making Patreon seem that way. All their branding and copy make it seem like they take care of all the pesky details while you pontificate off the cuff into a huge microphone. And, it would make a lot of sense for Patreon if you don’t think about the details.

In reality, like any aspect of podcasting, creative people have to read the fine print. If you want to use Patreon to monetize your podcast, you need to plan ahead, check your updates, watch your back, and be flexible. If there’s one key takeaway here, it’s to avoid putting all your eggs in one Patreon-shaped basket.

Originally posted on October 17, 2023 @ 1:24 am

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