Straight talk on Patreon and patronage for content


I’ve been writing a lot lately about pressures on monetizing content and new monetization ideas. Recently I wrote about a new service called Patreon, which allows fans of your content to say “thanks” with a small monthly donation.

I decided to implement this on my site for these reasons:

1) I saw a friend, Scott Monty do this and I thought it was an interesting idea. I love Scott’s content and gladly pitched in for the great value I was receiving from him. I welcomed the opportunity to say thanks and thought others might appreciate this opportunity on my site, too.

2) Honestly, the time I put into blogging is probably out of whack with the needs of the business. In other words, I could cut back, cut out comments (like many others) and still have a viable business blog. But I love to teach through the blog and want to spend more time on it, not less. Passive income would justify spending more time writing and teaching.

3) It was an experiment. How do you learn if you don’t try something new?

4) It is a way to define my “Alpha Audience” of most loyal fans. After all, if somebody is willing to donate something to say thanks, that audience deserves special treatment, right?

A few things happened since I posted about this and started adding the Patreon call to action at the bottom of some blog posts.

  • Some people thought this was a great idea. A common response was “I have learned so much from you. I’m happy to show my support.
  • More than half the people who donated — I had not heard of them before! Isn’t that interesting? Some of my greatest fans came out of the dark and now I can connect with them in new and interesting ways.
  • I started a private Facebook group for this “Alpha Audience” of patrons offering behind the scenes looks at my business and content ideas. This has rapidly become a vibrant and fun community. We have already found some cool ways to help each other.

But not all the feedback was positive. Here are a few comments from around the web and my take on it.

“I can make a lot more money off of sponsored posts. Why not just make more money that way?”

I think trust matters. Yes, I could be making a ton of money off of sponsored content. I get pitched about this every day. But once I cross that line, my blog is under suspicion. Is this a piece from me, or is it a piece that somebody paid me to post?

My philosophy is that trust matters. I don’t want to mortgage trust for easy money. Patronage is a way to keep my content hype-free and honest.

“There is so much content out there. I can find anything I need anywhere. Why would I pay somebody for content?”

Nobody is paying me for content. This is different from a paywall. I’m not expecting anybody to pay me for content.

But I do think I offer something distinctive and worthy. I believe at least some people would miss it if I went away. My content is not a commodity you can find anywhere, but if people feel it is, that’s fine.

In general paywalls only work if you are huge (like The New York Times) or indispensable (like a somebody giving investment advice). So I’m not creating a paywall. It’s always going to be free whether you support my effort or not.

“We don’t have relationships with bloggers the same way we do with artists. Paying for an everyday blogger doesn’t give me any warm feeling.”

Well … I disagree. I think writing is an art form, even on a blog that is primarily about business. And if you don’t have a warm feeling toward me, that’s OK. I’m not for everyone but keep reading, OK?

“A blog should be at the top of the sales funnel helping you get leads, not at the bottom of the sales funnel creating revenue.”

My first reaction when I heard this, was “Who made THAT rule?” : )

Lots of people monetize content. Lots of people have made a career from their blog.

Still, this is a prevalent point of view and it has some truth — I can point to a lot of business brought in by my blog.

But let’s take a peek into the economics of a blog. On an annual basis:

  • I pay thousands of dollars for high quality regular contributing columnists yes, I actually pay my writers).
  • I spend dozens of hours answering comments
  • I devote hundreds of hours to writing and editing
  • I spend thousands of dollars developing quality Slideshare presentations people can download for free
  • I spent thousands of dollars fending off denial of service attacks
  • I devote hundreds of hours coaching new bloggers and helping them develop guest posts that shine a light on their work. In 2015, I featured about 40 different bloggers.
  • I spend thousands of dollars more on hosting, technical support, and editing services

I’m not whining about these expenses. These are my choices. This is an expense of doing business.

Or is it?

A blog of this magnitude is far less important for attracting leads than it used to be. I could eliminate comments (as many bloggers have), I could cut my blogging output by 75 percent, and I could cut out guest writers completely and still have a viable business blog.

But my view is, this is not just a business blog generating cold leads. This blog is about teaching. This is a place to come to learn.

Writing is the most rewarding thing I do I want to do MORE of that, not less, even if the resources I put into it is “out of whack” with the needs of the business.

“You hurt my feelings. Isn’t this another form of sponsored content?”

Sponsored content is when somebody pays me to embed their product in the editorial portion of the blog. I’m not doing that. Nothing has changed. I’m still here for you, folks.

When I first saw the opportunity to say “thank you” to Scott Monty by becoming a patron of his work for a few bucks a month, I jumped at the chance. My theory is, there are probably those of you out there who would like an opportunity to do the same thing.

Really, it’s that simple. I don’t see any controversy in it at all. If it bothers you, don’t participate. Nothing is changing. If you want to become a patron and help me move forward with new content forms, well then … thank you very much.

As an added bonus, here is a video discussion I recorded via Blab with Scott Monty where we discuss this topic, micro payments, and other new ideas on content monetization. It’s a fascinating talk and I hope you enjoy it:

If you can’t see the video above, view on YouTube: Social Media Office Hours: Content Monetization.

The story behind the illustration. After the Blab broadcast, artist Eric Rosner sent me his interpretation of this session. Pretty awesome. You can see more of his work at

mark schaefer

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