Patreon is launching a free membership tier — and will let fans buy things, too (2024)

Patreon built a user base with creators who wanted to charge a fee for the content they create. Now, the company is pulling down the paywall, allowing fans to subscribe to their favorite creators for free.

It’s the first time Patreon has offered a free subscription option for creators who want to give fans a taste of their content before having them pay for access. Patreon’s expansion into free content comes at a time when other platforms like TikTok and Instagram are increasingly adding paywalls and subscription features — with the idea being that, eventually, the free audience might level up and start to pay.

“There’s a lot of interest from fans [with paid membership], but subscribing to the paid membership right out the gate is a pretty big barrier,” Julian Gutman, chief product officer at Patreon, says. “We’ve seen when the barrier is lowered in some way, that leads to a really good pathway towards conversion.”

Patreon has billed itself as a creator-first platform where fans can financially support the writing, audio, and video they love directly, and the people making content can earn real money. A free subscription option — which exists on other platforms like Substack — could help creators cast a wider net for their audience and bring in people who are interested in the content but not yet ready (or able) to pay.

Creators will be able to share publicly available content like text posts, videos, or podcasts and will have access to Patreon’s suite of tools including native video hosting and analytics. Patreon says a free option makes it the “all-in-one” platform removed from traditional social media outlets where creators can promote their work and connect with fans without having to use a patchwork of tools to share content and monetize it.

In addition to a free tier, creators will also be able to sell one-off digital products like videos, podcasts, or other downloadable files. If a creator wants to sell a tutorial they recorded but wants the rest of their content to remain free, for example, they’d still be able to monetize their work. Patreon will take a 5 percent cut from all transactions.

Patreon already gave fans the option to chip in as little as $1 to support their favorite podcaster, artist, writer, or videographer on the platform without signing up for a full subscription — though these micro tips didn’t come with any additional subscriber benefits. Creators who offer a free subscription can later turn on paid membership, too. If a creator decides to add a paid level, Patreon will take an 8 percent cut, the same as the Pro plan it offers. The old Lite plan that taxed earnings at 5 percent has now been scrapped, and Patreon directs creators to its Pro plan. Users who were on the Lite plan will be converted to Pro but will get to keep their 5 percent rate, Gutman says.

It’s generally difficult to make money by simply posting content — even the most popular creators have trouble making a living through creator funds or rewards programs based on metrics. In recent years, more platforms have introduced premium content that followers can pay to access, from 20-minute TikTok videos behind paywalls to subscriber-only Instagram Reels and posts. Twitter, too, has the option to post paid, exclusive content to subscribers.

Gutman insists that Patreon — even a free version — is not meant to replace other social platforms for creators, nor does the company want to. Even as other companies add more premium content features, the ability to nurture a deeper connection is hindered by creators trying to game a recommendation algorithm or abide by platform-specific rules and aesthetics.

“They’re not built to really enable creators to have direct relationships with their fans to host these deeper communities and to enable creators to truly monetize directly,” Gutman says. “I think that’s why most of these tools that we’ve seen launch over the last couple of years, whether it’s from Twitter or from Instagram, Facebook, etc., are not really that successful because it just goes against kind of the grain of those platforms.”

Digital purchases is a feature Gutman says the user base has wanted. Some creators were already hacking together an e-commerce workaround, like creating “tiers” that came with specific digital content they wanted to sell and then pulling it after the sale had ended. Now, creators will be able to have free membership but sell downloadable and streaming content, offer discount codes, or give products away for free to select subscribers.

Patreon creators can join the waitlist for these new features starting today, with new users getting access weekly. Full availability is slated later this year.

Update 11:19 AM ET: Updated to include more details on Lite and Pro plans.

Patreon is launching a free membership tier — and will let fans buy things, too (2024)


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