Are you an independent journalist looking to cover the topics you love without resorting to traditional media channels? A number of journalists covering topics like politics, sports, philosophy, gaming, and more have all found a home on Patreon, where they interact with and are supported by their biggest fans.
Most creators on Patreon succeed because they’ve built an audience that cares about them, and because they continually work to build rapport with that audience. But when it comes to earning money, tapping into that audience with a great rewards mix is critical. This article examines the rewards top independent journalists on Patreon offer to earn the support of their followers every month.
To help you find the right mix, we’ve included 21 of the most popular and lucrative rewards offered by journalists on Patreon. These rewards drive the bulk of top Patreon journalists’ pledges (not in order — every creator’s needs are unique). It’s important to choose the rewards that are right for you and your audience; what works for one journalist may not work for another.
For more information on choosing rewards, you can read more on how to select the right rewards.
Want to offer these rewards to your audience? Try Patreon.
1. Community Access
Your followers all have something in common: you! Shared interests are the basis of many friendly conversations and new relationships. That’s why community access is one of the most popular rewards offered by independent journalists.
Many creators offer full community access to their patrons, while others create groups based on support tiers. The Rubin Report, YongYea, and CoinSheet start exclusive community access at $5/mo. Timcast opens up a Discord server for $1+/mo supporters.
As a creator, you have many options for facilitating community interactions. You can set up a private forum on your website (the Patreon Discourse integration makes this simple to maintain), run a chat room (creators typically use a Discord channel plus Patreon integration for this), start a Facebook group, or do something else entirely.
Overall, most journalists use community access as a way to motivate a large number of low-dollar pledges.
Many creators talk about the need to prioritize their time and activities. One way to do that is to use your patrons to inform those decisions. And along the way, it’s not hard to throw in some priority rewards, such as:
- Giving patrons priority during Q&A sessions
- Prioritizing customer service or support for patrons
- Prioritizing communication with patrons
- Prioritizing patron content requests.
Some of these rewards would do well at lower tiers, and some are perfect as a reward for high-dollar tiers. For example, TheWATCHES.tv honors video topic requests from $500/mo supporters once every six months. Mike Cernovich selects story requests from his $100/mo patrons once per month. On the opposite end of the spectrum, YongYea prioritizes responding to patron messages starting at the $1/mo tier.
3. Exclusive Newsletter
A number of independent journalists use a newsletter to reward their patrons. You can set the frequency based on your free time, what’s useful to your followers, and how quickly news moves in your niche.
For example, Claire Connelly offers a subscription to her newsletter for $4.50/mo on Patreon. She sends it out twice a month. Yaron Brook sends a monthly newsletter to patrons at the $2/mo tier. The Corbett Report offers a newsletter, along with several other rewards, to patrons at the $1/mo tier as part of a "pay what you want" system.
Bear in mind that keeping your newsletter synced with each patron’s current status doesn’t have to be difficult: Patreon has an integration with MailChimp powered by Zapier. It will automatically manage your list based on whose pledges are active.
4. Ad-Free Content
Another small incentive for patronage is offering an ad-free experience. If you run ads on your website to help pay the bills, consider removing them for patrons who hit a certain pledge level.
Many creators offer an ad-free experience to low tier supporters. For example, Universe Today thanks their $3+/mo patrons by removing ads (along with opening up Discord access and a patrons-only news feed). The Rubin Report offers an ad-free experience to all site visitors, but only $5+/mo patrons get the ad-free podcast.
You can even use ad removal as a way to advertise your Patreon, as Universe Today did in their website’s sidebar. Mixed in with ads and a plug for their book is a button that encourages visitors to pledge, followed by text that explains the benefits of doing so.
Plus, Patreon offers a free integration with Wordpress that makes it easier to provide an exclusive experience for patrons visiting your site.
5. Bonus Content
Most journalists want to keep their content free for everyone. But sometimes, it makes sense to put together a special show, exclusive Patreon feed, or other extras for the people who pledge their money to support your work.
For example, Thorin gives followers access to a steady diet of exclusive content on his Patreon feed at $5+/mo. GamersNexus offers all patrons access to their patron-only feed and special "Ask GN" episodes. iRunFar starts feed access at $3+/mo.
6. Thank-You Cards and Handwritten Notes
If you promise every single patron at every tier a handwritten note, you’ll spend the rest of your time writing cards. But that personal touch is often a great way to motivate higher-spending patrons.
For example, iRunFar sends snail mail to $50+/mo patrons. How often? "Quarterly-ish," which is a schedule that balances value with their much-needed time. Ken Ray (known in some communities as “Mac OS Ken”) sends a variety of items via snail-mail, including postcards to his $20+/mo patrons. Jamie Peck sets the cost of a handwritten thank-you card at only $10/mo but manages the time requirement by sending them once to new supporters.
7. Social Media Follow
Are you (at least somewhat) active on social media? Whether you’re interested in offering follows and tweets for businesses looking to sponsor you or you just want some friendly back and forth on social media, following your patrons can be a fun way to reward them for their contribution.
Do your followers ask you what life is like when you’re not on the air? Do they want to know more about your investigative process? If your followers want to know more about what happens before you hit "publish," then a behind-the-scenes reward might be a good choice.
Fraser Cain of UniverseToday published one of his blooper reels to demonstrate what patrons get on a regular basis.
Most journalists make behind-the-scenes access one of their low to mid-tier rewards. CoinSheet starts access to their process at $5/mo, while Timcast sets access to behind-the-scenes photos and footage at $10/mo. UniverseToday releases things like bloopers, full interviews, and extra footage to $3+/mo patrons.
9. The VIP Experience
Many journalists find it worthwhile to offer VIP packages for patrons willing to support them above and beyond all expectations. What would a VIP package look like if you offered it? How much would patrons need to pledge for it to be worth your time? Would you offer it in the first month of that pledge, or release it after continuous support for a set time period?
These are all important questions to ask for any reward, but they’re especially important when it comes to setting up rewards that require a higher-than-usual investment.
For iRunFar, the support threshold is $500/mo in exchange for an in-person meetup and a year of coaching. For FutureCrunch, that means taking $50/mo patrons out for a meal the next time they’re in Melbourne. And for Mike Cernovich, that involves offering an in-person event and monthly planning calls for his "mastermind group," the people who invest $1,000/mo in his reporting.
10. Calendar Invites
One of the more creative rewards we found was sending calendar invites to patrons for exclusive events (like live streams and AMAs) as you schedule them. Yaron Brook offers calendar invites to $5+/mo patrons to join his public and patron-only events.
From physical objects denoting membership to a list of names on your website, there is no shortage of ways to give your patrons bragging rights. And because the ways of recognizing your patrons vary so much, the tier level varies greatly from creator to creator as well.
Universe Today always includes a shout-out for several $5+/mo patrons at a random point during the video.
iRunFar maintains a wall of fame for their supporters at the $5+/mo level. UniverseToday gives a randomly-timed shout-out to several $5+/mo patrons in a video segment. YongYea puts the name of each $30+/mo patron in every video he releases. The Sprawl gives a signed print to $5/mo supporters, but to get on their website, you’ll need to be a $50+/mo supporter. And Timcast doesn’t start offering recognition until the $500/mo tier, at which point he’ll put the patron’s name in the video description.
How you price recognition depends entirely on which patrons you want to thank publicly and how.
12. Early Access
One common reward that doesn’t take as much effort on your part is early access. When you’re set to publish your next video, podcast, or article, you can give patrons the chance to view it before everyone else. Patreon has an early access tool that allows you to restrict post access based on time so that only patrons of the appropriate tier see it before everyone else.
That’s not to say early access always means showing patrons the final version: Nafeez Ahmed shows $5+/mo patrons early drafts of his work. GVMERS offers their $5/mo patrons a chance to screen new documentary videos early. And the Bill Press Show offers early access to a series on Bernie Sanders, also at the $5/mo tier.
13. Digital Rewards
Many creators offer their patrons digital bonuses like wallpapers, bonus content, photos, and more.
For example, TheWATCHES.tv offers $5/mo supporters 4k wallpapers created from the watches they feature in their video segments. Claire Connelly promises $10/mo patrons digital copies of her two books.
14. Guest Appearances
If you have a video or podcast show, you can offer a guest appearance to your most dedicated followers. Even if you work with text only, you could offer to interview and feature your patrons — if that’s something they want to do.
As far as pricing is concerned, most creators reserve guest appearances for their biggest supporters. For example, Thorin invites his $100+/mo patrons to appear on a special show segment. And, while they no longer offer this tier, the Rubin Report used to offer a special segment during which the host, Dave Rubin, would interview two or more fans from the $25+/mo tier. He would use Skype to interview the chosen fans and share the results with the rest of his patrons.
Sponsorship isn’t for everyone, especially when you’re trying put an emphasis on independent as an independent journalist. But sponsorship is still a long way off from being owned by a corporation, and some small media companies and journalists thrive on the sponsorship model without allowing it to bias their work.
For example, the CHS Capitol Hill Seattle is a community publication that gives local businesses the chance to sponsor their issues for $50/mo. CHS lists the following benefits for sponsors:
- Access to CHS photo archives (with permission and proper attribution)
- The ability to add event listings on the CHS Calendar
- Ability to create community posts
- A listing on the CHS Leader page
- Shares on CHS social media accounts (by request).
This model works well for them because they provide exposure to the business’ target audience. Businesses can confirm whether the site’s readership is right for them because demographics, shopping interests, occupations, and other data on readership is made public knowledge on their Advertise page:
16. Direct Contact
While it’s important to set boundaries and expectations when offering direct contact, scheduling times for direct communication — like a one-hour Google hangout with just one patron at a time — is a high-value way to spur higher-tier patronage.
Yaron Brook offers one-on-one, quarterly conversations with his $250+/mo patrons using Zoom. The creators behind iRunFar offer $100/mo patrons one hour of private conversation per year, be it one hour all at once, or an hour broken up into shorter chunks throughout the year. That’s not to say you have to restrict communication time if you don’t want to: YongYea uses Telegram to enable 24/7 communication with $100+/mo supporters (but, of course, does not guarantee immediate responses).
17. Merchandise and Other Goods
While most patrons will support you primarily because they believe in what you do, some are additionally motivated by the chance to get some swag and show off their status as your patron. Merch boxes or one-time shipments of paraphernalia related to your work are a solid option if you’ve done a good job of building your brand among followers.
FutureCrunch offers a hoodie to $25/mo supporters. TheWATCHES.tv sends a surprise package every six months to $50+/mo patrons. The Sprawl even offers merch to every level of patrons: $5/mo supporters get a signed letterpress print, and patrons at subsequent tiers get a t-shirt.
18. Store Discounts
If you operate an online store, one way to thank your patrons (and incentivize more purchases) is to offer them discounts. Even if you don’t have merch, you might offer discounts on DVDs, CDs, or books you’ve created.
Three Red Kings, which covers rugby in Munster, offers a 30% discount on store merch for all patrons. Cyclone Fanatic gives $3/mo supporters a 10% discount on their T-shirts. And the Corbett Report offers patrons discounts on DVDs.
Your patrons care about the work you do. And you, as a journalist, want them to keep caring. While that doesn’t mean you should bend over backward to accommodate their requests or allow their feedback to bias your work, it does mean it can be helpful to know what they hope you’ll cover.
Voting makes your fans’ preferences clear while being a simple reward for you to offer patrons in exchange for their pledge. Patreon has a tool to make polling your patrons simple.
20. Live Chats, Hangouts, and AMAs
Do your followers want to get to know you or your subject matter even better? Many independent journalists on Patreon offer live chats, video hangouts, AMAs (Ask Me Anything), or a combination thereof.
You can choose to reserve it for a handful of high-support patrons or set the monetary requirement lower in the hopes of a larger group of patrons choosing that tier. If the hangouts appeal to a wide swath of your audience, a lower price makes more sense. If it appeals to a handful of super-dedicated supporters, a higher price is more appropriate.
For example, eSports journalist Thorin attracts over 70 patrons at the $10+/mo AMA tier. The Yaron Brook Show aims higher with an exclusive live stream once per month for $25/mo supporters. His $50/mo patrons get question-asking priority, should they desire to use it. Nafeez Ahmed keeps things even more exclusive: He offers a Crowdcast for $50/mo patrons.
21. Audio Recordings
If you’ve spent some time building your brand, then your followers might enjoy exclusive rewards like audio recordings.
For example, YongYea offers $10/mo patrons a short recording of their choice (within reason). It might be a voicemail message, a funny joke they can send to a friend, or something entirely random. For $20/mo patrons, he ups the offering to a video recording, as long as it’s under one minute.
It’s a fun way to reward his closest fans and drives some higher tier spending.
All 21 rewards listed are good options for journalists, but their usefulness depends on the topics you cover, your audience, and the mediums you use. Some rewards, like merchandise and audio recordings, make more sense for someone with an established, unique brand. Other rewards, like newsletters and behind-the-scenes, are easy for any journalist to offer. All that remains is choosing the reward mix that’s right for you.
Know what you want to offer to your fans in exchange for a monthly membership? Sign up for Patreon here.