Discover more from Erica Drayton Writes
The Subscription Model That Works
or why you’re worth more than $.99 a month every time
It was in 1971 when Michael S. Hart launched Project Gutenburg. The idea was to make documents (books) that should otherwise be free for everyone to read, truly free. And he started by digitizing the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Fast forward to the early 90s when the concept of “ebook” really boomed. Devices were being created by giants like Sony, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. The idea of selling a popular novel in digital form, for far less money, and digitally was a hot commodity (and it still is).
You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to purchase an ebook. And if you follow the market on your favorite author, you could buy it for the low-low price of $.99! A book that, under normal hardback or paperback circumstances would cost anywhere from $10 to $40 is not just a buck?! And the publisher or brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have to do anything to bring the reader and the book together, other than facilitate a working site or device. It’s a marriage made in heaven.
But now a new horse strolled into town, subscriptions, and it seems like everyone is trying to figure out how to manage it. Create their own subscription model? How will they manage it? How will they pay for it? Etc.
Some examples of platforms that offer subscription-based models where consumers can pay monthly for content directly from a creator are Patreon, Medium, Gumroad, and Substack with a host of others out there. You can also create a subscription-based model directly on your website if you are so inclined.
These models come in all shapes and sizes, with options that make them unique to each other. Finding the best fit, if you’re a creator, can be difficult and I suggest looking into each one to find what you feel most comfortable using. It also doesn’t hurt to have an account and dabble in them all as they might each bring a different consumer to your brand. Just be careful not to spread yourself too thin. If you find yourself creating different things for each platform then you are already stretching yourself too thin and you need to stop and reevaluate. The idea is to do less not more, at least while you are starting out.
THE VALUE PROPOSITION
But back to subscriptions. Let’s spend a little time discussing money. This is a touchy subject for all parties involved. Platforms have to figure out what their “off the top” cut will be. Too high and they can lose prospective users. Too low and it could bankrupt their idea.
Writers have to decide what to value their work. Many platforms offer a baseline that you can’t drop below. Often that baseline is $5. While platforms like Patreon allow you to have $1 tiers.
To better understand my value I like to think about a term called “value proposition”:
A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value will be delivered, experienced, and acquired.
The way I look at it is this: When a consumer subscribes to me (with money on a monthly basis) they are paying for a promise I’m giving that I will produce the best work I possibly can on a consistent basis. That is far different from a customer who buys an ebook one time and moves on.
We are looking for consumers who are more long-term buyers and investors in more than just the final product. They are interested in the journey we take to get to that final product. They understand the amount of time we put into our craft and would have no problem paying for that work month-over-month. In fact, someone who is more likely to subscribe monthly might be hesitant if the lowest ask is $1 because they would wonder if what they are getting is actually of value. Think about the popular phrase “you get what you pay for.” Speaking for myself, I’d much rather pay more and know the value and quality is there than pay less and risk being disappointed because the person didn’t value themselves and it shows in their work.
And hey, we all struggle with valuing our work. I know I struggled with it ever since I joined a platform that asked me to put a price on it. But if I were to quantify what my time is worth, quality permitting, then my “lowest” baseline monthly price would probably be much higher than what I’d set monthly on any platform. So why stress so much to ask for $5/m that just amounts to $60/yr? Unless I really don’t believe in the work I produce and I’m really not as passionate as I think I am about the stories I need to share with the world?
THE REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE
My actual 9 - 5 paying job tells me I am worth somewhere around $30+/hr based on my annual salary. Now, my job has nothing to do with writing fantasy or producing a weekly newsletter. But my paying job pays me based on my experience because the highest degree I have would not have gotten me the position I have otherwise. And it is my experience and passion and dedication that I use to calculate the time I put to produce a newsletter, serial, and short stories of quality. And that work and effort I put in are worth more than $0.99 a month. It just is. And any writer who can honestly say that they feel “skittish” about asking for just $5 a month for their work, regardless of length (which we’ll get to in a minute) is missing the point of what a consumer is actually paying for.
THE COMPARISON OF APPLES TO ORANGES
A subscription model is much more than some ebooks I can download on a whim. A subscription is a promise of a personal connection with an individual. An ebook is cold and impersonal. The only promise with an ebook is that you get what you paid for. Whether you liked it or hated it, who cares. That ebook doesn’t promise you an “in” with the creator (though it can through a CTA page, how often do they really yield results?). But with a subscription model, if you don’t like something, in most cases, there are ways to actually communicate that directly to the creator.
Subscriptions bring a unique dynamic to the way in which creators and consumers interact with each other. It should not be diminished to a simple exchange of a buck for a book. It’s so much more than that.
Treat your newsletter or subscription model differently from the way you would treat an uploaded book on Amazon. Once you upload that book you set it and forget it. There is nothing more for you to do. Sure, you can promote it. But it’s a one-time thing and whoever buys it, buys it, you have no way of knowing who they are. But when a consumer subscribes to you, whether it’s free or paid, that is inherently different. They are buying into who you are and all that you choose to share with them beyond a book for a buck. They can get that anywhere at any time. A subscriber already knows they are entering into an experience so you better damn well give them one.
The subscription model can work only if you stop treating your work like an Amazon $.99 flash sale and more like a long-term contract you are entering into with someone who wants you to know they think you’re cool and your work is even cooler and they want to support.
THE LAST NAIL IN THE COFFIN
Just to drive home the point that we cannot and should never compare Amazon ebook sales and a subscription model when trying to ascertain if the buyer of one will pay for the other: PAYOUTS
Amazon ebook sales are called royalties. How much you keep is dependent upon your price point. For instance, for anything under $1.99 you’re going to earn 35% (meaning Amazon is taking 65%). If you price your ebook higher then you have the option to keep 70% (and Amazon will only keep 30%). Why is Amazon keeping so much? Well, because they know there is a likelihood that you may only make a few sales. It’s not a subscription and therefore Amazon can’t rely on you to continue to make those kinds of sales month over month. It’s their safety net approach to offering you the privilege of selling on their site. You’re welcome.
On the flip-side, looking at platforms like Substack, Patreon, Medium, Gumroad, and others that are or have a subscription model built-in, their cut is significantly smaller. Typically, their cut will be under 10% and you might think, “That’s great! I get to keep more!” Well, yes and no. You get to keep more but you also might find yourself needing to hustle more as well. But these platforms know they don’t need to take so much because once someone subscribes to pay monthly, that is a guarantee that the money will be coming in every month. Of course, a person can cancel at any time. But it’s a fair bet that once someone is in, they are in. It’s also why they offer annual options with discounts and other forms of discounts to get long-term subscribers to stick around.
On one hand, Amazon is all about the sale of items, regardless of the person trying to make sales. While platforms that are subscription-based only make money when you do, so they care more about the user and are usually more likely to appear helpful in growth and connecting with consumers in ways that Amazon will never stop and do.
THE FINAL WORD(S)
One last thing, while you begin to think about how to set a monthly subscription model to better reflect what you and your work are truly worth, don’t underestimate your subscribers by assuming they can’t afford something $5 a month. Many actually can. And those who can see the value you put forth are willing to pay whatever price you set.
All you have to do is value yourself more than “a buck for a book,” otherwise, how can you ever expect someone else to?