Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creating a Sustainable Blog Subscription Model With Patreon

This year makes 12 years since I began a blog.
In the summer of 2002, the fans of the genre of animation and comics I was chronicling numbered in the dozens, perhaps hundreds. I began a blog, called Okazu, using a niche tool to discuss a niche form of entertainment.  It wasn't, I thought, going to have more than a few readers.
12 years later, it's been a heck of a ride. Okau gets about 2500 readers a day, I've published books, lectured around the world, interviewed stars in the field, written thousands of reviews, fielded tens of thousands of comments, met many amazing people and built a whole family of reviewers, readers and creators.
The one thing we've never managed is to create a sustainable business model. It's all well and fine being a completely unique information source on the Internet, it's an entirely different thing to maintain a consistent pace of content creation without selling out to advertisers and ad networks. To make matter worse, some of the content on the blog is adult in nature, because the creators, writers and readers are adults, but the ad networks are not. There is nothing explicit on our blog, but even a hint of skin on the cover of a review item was cause for alarm at most ad networks.
Affiliate links work great when you're selling weight loss products or have a readership of millions. Okazu makes use of affiliate links, of course, and they are a nice way to supplement the purchases of the items we review, but again, not a sustainable business model.
Well, how about crowdfunding? This is an exciting new field and is being used successfully by a number of creators.  There's one real downside to crowdfunding - most crowdfunding sites are project-based. This is terrific when you're working on a book, or a movie, or an art exhibit, but when the premiums are shipped and the book is done, it's back to the drawing board. A few creators have used the established systems to try and raise money to support themselves while they do their work, but these campaigns have not been successful - and they raise the ire of other creators and potential patrons for not being centered around a specific project.
Over the years at Okazu, I've done a few game theory-inspired forms of engagement-raising. People sponsoring reviews, for instance, receive a badge to show their level of support, and they are listed on the Home Page under our Hero Roll. When I rolled out the Hero badges program, it took off so quickly that we had to hustle to find items to put on the blog Wish Lists. This campaign allowed engaged readers to be more involved than just read. We also provide special badges to people who send in news items for our weekly news roundup. 
The blog was less like a single project, however, and more like a magazine, with 3-5 review articles and one news report posted per week. Content is constantly renewed and we have special features like InterviewsEvent News and ReportsHistorical analysis and Opinion pieces. Would people subscribe to a blog as they did to a magazine?
Enter Patreon. "Patreon enables fans to give ongoing support to their favorite creators." Readers become patrons through a subscription-like model, paid monthly. Creators can look at their work as an on-going project, with goals to attain, as well as rewards to provide patrons. And so, I launched the Okazu Campaign on Patreon.
 For rewards, I went with what worked - we offered the Hero and Superhero levels we'd already been using and added a new level for the campaign. Long time readers who have been able to enjoy the content for more than a decade could pledge whatever they could to help the blog grow.
The readership of my blog will never be in the millions. But my highly engaged readers - the readers that make up the Okazu family - jumped at the chance to support the blog.
Patreon's system is simple to use. It's easy to communicate with patrons, upload videos, provide updates and new content on a regular basis. Payment is monthly, minus reasonable fees. More importantly, your patrons aren't supporting a work, they support the work of creating content.
Patreon might be the sustainable business model we've all been waiting for. Here's to another 12 years.

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