Substack vs Patreon: both platforms are now excellent choices for building subscription revenue for your online business. But which one is best for you, and what are the key differences in these platforms so you can make an informed decision?
What is Substack?
Substack is primarily a blogging platform with an email newsletter feature. With Substack, you can offer paid tiers for access to content, host private, subscriber-only videos, and run a simple referral program where users can earn free monthly access by referring new subscribers.
On top of that, Substack allows you to build a blogging-style website where you can set a custom domain name for your blog if you’re not happy with your website being a subdomain on Substack. Finally, you can launch a podcast (public or private) using Substack.
What is Patreon?
Patreon, by contrast, is a done-for-you, hosted membership platform where you can offer private content in the form of video, audio, posts, images, and Discord Access. On their “premium tier,” you can also reward subscriber loyalty in the form of customized merch, and you get access to a partner manager.
You get minimal control over the branding of your Patreon page, but the unique selling point of Patreon is that people understand what a Patreon page is – A membership platform where you can subscribe and support creators you like. The value of this is that people go to Patreon to spend money and subscribe.
With Patreon, you also can live stream to your audience and again offer Discord access if you like as a way to build a community around your Patreon page.
Substack vs Patreon breakdown
With Substack, you’re building out a blog style website while a Patreon page feels more like a traditional sales page. The two platforms have quite a few subtle differences so lets break it down.
Pricing, tiers, and transaction fees
Both platforms are free to use. Instead of charging a subscription fee, Substack and Patreon take a transaction fee of your earnings as their cut.
Substack currently takes 10% + credit card, and payment processing fees and Patreon takes 8% for their Pro plan and 12% for their Premium plan + credit card and payment processing fees. The main difference between the Premium and the Pro plans for Patreon is that you can reward subscriber loyalty with merchandise and get a partner manager.
With Substack you can offer your potential subscribers three paid tiers and one free tier.
The advantage of offering a free tier is that way you can collect emails and send out free content that can be used to promote upgrading to a paid subscription. In addition to that, potential subscribers can pay annually, monthly, as a group or gift a subscription.
Patreon allows you to create multiple tiers with no limit. You can also cap how many people can subscribe at your upper tiers as a way to create scarcity. Potential subscribers can also pay monthly or yearly.
Patreon wins regarding fees, as 8% makes a difference compared to 10% when you start having success. You can limit how many people can subscribe at select tiers, which helps drive conversions for your mid-range priced tiers.
Substack, however, wins because it provides email marketing, which is immensely valuable. You can use Substack as an email list alternative if you’re not interested in creating complicated, high-converting sales funnels.
By offering a free plan, you can build a big email list and email your subscribers whenever you launch a new video, podcast, or release content.
Both platforms provide you with the ability to offer multimedia content. The main difference is that with Patreon, you can provide merch, sell digital products, and livestream. Substack gives you email marketing, a simple referral program, and a branded website.
With Patreon, you can offer audio, video, images, text, Livestream, and Discord Access. Patreon has its own Discord bot, which manages your subscribers automatically, so if someone unsubscribes, they are removed from your Discord.
If you want to avoid using Discord, Patreon now has integrated a chat function where you can have four chatrooms for your paying subscribers.
Patreon now offers video support, and live streaming is a big deal because previously, you had to use a third-party service like Wistia to host your videos. Now, you can offer private, subscriber-only content directly on Patreon.
Last, you can sell your digital products, like ebooks and courses, on Patreon. However, Patreon does not offer an LMS like Teachable, as it’s more akin to Gumroad, where people buy your digital goods and then download them directly.
So add content for sale. You don’t want people to be able to download directly to their computer.
Substack is more blogging and writer-focused, with the idea that you’ll create high-quality articles (both public and subscriber-only) with images and text that you share with your audience via email. Substack also supports video content and podcasting.
One thing Substack does well is that they allow a free 30-second preview of all video content you upload. This quick preview is an excellent way to convert visitors into paying subscribers. Patreon does the same thing; I prefer how it’s implemented on Substack a bit more.
Last, you can create publicly available blog posts on Substack. However, they need to rank better, like a WordPress or Ghost-powered website. But overall, being able to collect emails and send out content is a very compelling selling point of Substack.
If you want to sell products on Substack like a digital download, you’ll need to use a 3rd party solution like Gumroad.
Both platforms support a wide range of formats. Patreon is unique because you can livestream and sell digital products directly. Substack, by contrast, offers email marketing and podcast support (Patreon supports audio in posts but not the required RSS feed to launch a podcast).
So it really comes down to what you’re doing. If building a branded email newsletter is important, go with Substack. If you already have an email list provider or want to drive traffic to a dedicated sales page, use Patreon.
Design and branding
No question here, Substack wins from a design and branding perspective compared to Patreon. A Substack website feels like a full, complete website while a Patreon page is more designed as a simple, yet effective sales page.
People can also subscribe to your Substack via email, even if they don’t have a Substack account. Patreon by contrast allows people to follow creators they like, but they first need a Patreon account.
CGP Grey has redirected his CGPGrey.com website to his Substack account. Here, he offers both public and private content. You can subscribe for updates via email, and to access “bonus” videos, you need to become a paying subscriber.
Overall, the design of a Substack website is a blog-style layout that is simple and effective but cookie-cutter. You can implement essential branding within Substack, like a custom logo, colors, and a favicon. This allows your Substack website to “feel” like a complete website, with a menu item where you can create pages and links to other resources.
Finally, you can set a custom domain name for a one time fee of $50 if you don’t want your website to be a subdomain of Substack.com.
Patreon opts for more of a classic, one-page sales page design. You can customize the header image with your own image and upload an account image. Then, your tiers are listed out, and underneath that is where all the content you’ve been sharing will appear as a free preview.
Patreon is focused on subscriber-only content; when visitors access private content, they are prompted to become paying subscribers.
Substack wins slightly from a branding standpoint. From custom colors, logos, a menu item, and even a custom domain name. With Substack, you’re building a complete website with an email list and private content.
Patreon pages, by contrast, are sales pages. They are well-designed for what they are and convert visitors into subscribers.
Again, it comes down to what style you’re after. Do you want to build a website or think a sales page for your private content is more effective?
Substack is the winner from a branding and customization perspective, but Patreon is okay. It just has a different level of customization.
A custom domain name, blog style layout, support for video content, and podcasting. Top it all off with essential email marketing. With Substack, you can build a website with public and private content and an email list to send broadcast emails.
All for free (you have to accept a 10% transaction fee, however).
A high-converting sales page is a brand people know, trust, and understand. When someone visits a Patreon page, they understand it’s a paid offering. You can have private video content, audio, text, and multiple tiers that you can limit access to.
Top that off with Discord access or community chats, which are perfect if you want to offer a community aspect to your online work. Remember the built-in feature to provide merchandise rewards for subscribers and sell digital products directly on Patreon.
This is tough!
Substack is a website with an email list, but Patreon is a traditional sales page with a large user base. If you don’t have a website or an email list, I recommend Substack. If you already have a website and an email list, then use Patreon if you’re looking to add subscription revenue to your online business.
Both platforms provide a mobile app that makes accessing content for your subscribers easy. Each app is an optimized mobile version of their desktop experience. Check out the Patreon and Substack apps; both are well-developed and highly rated.
Both apps allow subscribers to interact with your content quickly from their mobile devices.
Substack is very focused on email marketing and paid subscriptions. With your Substack website, you can have a basic squeeze page where visitors can subscribe to your branded email newsletter. They can also opt not to subscribe and view your content first.
These squeeze pages are well designed, and you can have custom branding for your email newsletter, display testimonials, and the number of subscribers you have. This social proof helps drive even more email subscribers.
Last, you can import an email list if you have one from another provider, and you can export your email list from Substack if you decide to switch platforms in the future and want to go with a dedicated email provider. So you own your list and don’t need to worry about being trapped on the Substack platform.
Patreon does not provide email marketing of any kind. They are designed to be your done-for-you membership platform. Patreon is ideal for a professional marketer who is using a dedicated email marketing service and building out complicated funnels and wants an easy way to offer a subscription to their audience.
If you’re already using something like Convert Kit or Active Campaign for your online business, you’re most likely using the full features of these platforms and building out sales funnels. In that situation, the email marketing features of Substack don’t matter, as they are basic and not something you’re going to want to use.
Substack offers email; Patreon does not, simple as that. The catch, though, is that the email marketing features are straightforward. You can send out broadcast emails each time you publish something, and that’s it. So, Substack is ideal for the person who wants to create a branded email newsletter website with private, subscriber-only content.
Patreon is the better choice if you already have an email marketing sales funnel built and want an easy way to offer a paid subscription for your online business.
Both platforms come with their built-in communities. This is useful because each platform can help drive new subscribers organically; however, due to the blogging nature of Substack where there is way more free content that can attract casual readers.
Substack is better at organically driving sales and subscribers than Patreon, as a community around Substack consumes free content.
With Patreon, it’s better to have a traffic source like YouTube, a popular blog, or X to which you can drive traffic. As someone who has previously run paid subscriptions, I know people subscribe to content creators they like and trust.
So Substack is better at helping you build an email list, but you need to create and curate that relationship elsewhere to get people to become paid subscribers.
Patreon vs Substack – Conclusion
Patreon is great if you want to build out a straightforward membership offer where you provide video, audio, and text content. Also, how can you limit subscribers to more expensive tiers and provide Discord access on the backend to create a community and live stream to your paying audience?
You don’t get email marketing built in with Patreon, but this is not a deal breaker if you’re already using something like Active Campaign or Convert Kit for your email marketing efforts. A proper email marketing service that gives you advanced features you don’t get with a simple broadcast email service like Substack.
I also like how a Patreon page is a well-designed, one-page landing page where a visitor must decide to subscribe or leave. This helps train your visitors that Patreon is where you go to become a paying subscriber.
For Substack, it’s the ideal platform if you still need a website and an email list. With your Substack account, you can build an email list, run a podcast, and have private videos, publicly available blog posts, and private blog posts. You can even set up a custom domain name if you like. It’s an overall powerful platform and ideal for anyone with a social media presence they want to monetize.
David UtkeDavid Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 27k+ YouTube subscribers!
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