Patreon and Memberful both help independent creators do what they love by partnering them with fans and supporters (patrons) who pay for memberships and provide them with income. However, while their missions are the same, the way they go about it is different. Patreon hosts it’s creators’ membership programs on its platform, while Memberful lives on the creator’s website. So how do you choose which one is right for you?
Let’s start with the TL;DR version: Patreon is an all-in-one solution for managing your membership business and Memberful is a membership solution you add to your website and integrates with tools like WordPress that you’re likely already using.
So, if you’d like to keep your memberships separate from your website, appreciate access to a robust set of tools for engaging with patrons, value building a community with other creators, and want all of the technical stuff ( like payment processing, refunds, and fraud prevention) to be handled by someone else, then Patreon is the right way to go. On the other hand, If you want complete control over your brand, to build and manage your memberships and customer service through your own website, and to use your own payment processor account, then Memberful is an excellent choice for you.
Because Memberful only works if creators are driving traffic to their website, it is typically used by people and brands with an existing large audience, like Gimlet Media (12 million podcast downloads per month) and Jason Kottke, the creator and publisher of Kottke.org, one of the oldest blogs on the web. Kottke chooses to house everything on his personal website believes that when it comes to sustainability, it’s important to own your content and not depend on other sites for distribution.
“Yes, Facebook is doing great now, but Facebook does not care about our business the way we care about our business. We need to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we're doing things so our business doesn’t completely depend on what Facebook does. Mark Zuckerberg could wake up some morning and say screw journalism, we're done. I think that’s the great thing about Memberful and things like that is I can just plug it right into my site and have control over a big part of my business. I love that.”
Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett, founders of Relay FM, an independent podcast network, knew early on how important it would be to build a cohesive brand that would not only help them break through the noise, but foster a loyal, trusting audience. “One of the things we focused on was making sure everything produced by Relay FM felt and looked the same way. Podcasting is obviously an audio product, so there’s nothing physical or tangible that our company creates. But, the way that you search and find podcasts is almost completely visual,” Hackett says. In order to maintain that consistency, it’s important for Relay FM to be able to offer memberships directly from their website rather than a third party platform, especially since before they launched memberships, loyal fans were already emailing them through their website asking about ways to support them. “Membership creates a bridge of communication back and forth between listeners and hosts, something we’ve come to treasure since we launched it.”
Creators who use Memberful are responsible for communicating how their memberships work and what different tiers of membership mean for individual members. On Patreon, however, a lot of the heavy lifting is done for the creators; the page is easy to set up and there are lots of resources about best practices, as well as logos and marketing materials that are free to use. This makes it ideal for people like Seanan McGuire, a published author with 2,500 patrons. Seanan spends her time writing and promoting her books, and her Patreon page has helped keep her afloat during difficult times.
“Last year one of my cats got cancer. We were not able to save her, we were never going to be able to save her. But thanks to the Patreon, we were able to make sure that there was never a point where I, mazed with grief and not really thinking very clearly, had to choose between paying my mortgage and paying for the chemotherapy. I will be forever grateful to Patreon as a service and to my patrons in general for making that possible, because I don't know what would've happened if they hadn't been there and if that hadn't been an option, you know? She was my heart,” she says. Patreon also offers tools like Special Offers to help creators spark growth and engagement, as Paul M. Sutter, an astrophysicist who makes videos and podcasts about his love for and knowledge of science, recently discovered.
Patreon was mostly a passive side business for Paul, until it dawned on him that he could turn the release of the book he was publishing into a Special Offer. He changed his messaging from just announcing that his book was coming out soon to a campaign where people who joined his membership program at $10 or higher and maintained it for three months would receive the benefits of that tier and a signed copy of his book. As a result, he saw a bigger increase in revenue than ever before.
“I found out I can have a quantum leap! Growth doesn’t have to be slow and steady, my audience is willing to grow and participate; the Special Offer campaign gave me a source of proof for that. I learned this kind of marketing strategy works for me and my audience.”
Patreon and Memberful both empower people to create on their own terms, generate revenue, and connect with fans. Because Memberful is a decentralized white-label membership solution that lives on your website, it does require a little more tech savvy, but as Leo Babauto, the founder of Zen Habits (over 2 million readers) says, it is still very easy to use. “I’m not technical, but it’s hard to sidestep the tech needed to run a subscription business. Memberful works out of the box — and it solves such a massive headache in such a beautiful way. It’s invaluable to me. And it’s easy. Connecting to Stripe, WordPress, and MailChimp took me only a few minutes.”
For some creators, Patreon’s all-in-one service gives them everything they need in the easiest way possible. As illustrator Fran Meneses says, “Patreon has shifted my creative process. I can take the time to work on personal projects and create new material without having to worry about anything else. This is the first time in my life I have the space to do this, and I’m incredibly grateful.” Whichever solution you choose, you’ll be able to create a relationship with your audience on your own terms and do what you love with the help of their support. And it doesn’t get better than that.