The Future Will Be Monthly: Subscription Models for Authors

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by James Palmer

Netflix. Lootcrate. Amazon Prime. Everyone has at least heard of most of these, and you probably subscribe to one or two of them. From TV to men’s razors, the subscription model is catching on with consumers.

According to Deloitte, 69% of households now subscribe to one or more video streaming subscription services. A survey conducted by Global Banking and Finance Review reported that 70% of business leaders say subscription business models will be key to their prospects in the years ahead.

How can publishing get in on this thriving new trend? Let me count the ways.

Publishers have a big hurdle to jumping into a subscription model: no reader buys every book they publish. But authors don’t have that problem. They can cultivate readers who will read everything they put out, and it is these authors who can benefit greatly from implementing a subscription model of their own.

How do we know this? Because they are already doing it.

Services like Patreon allow authors and artists to cultivate patrons either on a monthly basis, to per creation, while services such as Shopify and Payhip let you sell digital downloads and memberships. Another site, Gumroad, gets you set up to sell everything from ebooks to physical products and create a membership site. Want to keep things simple? Add a subscription payment button to your website with PayPal.

Paypal is what author Dean Wesley Smith uses to process subscriptions to his very own magazine, Smith’s Monthly. Each month, Smith publishes a print and electronic magazine containing several short stories a full novel, and serialized fiction (and he sells the individual issues on Amazon and other sites as well). Yes, he is an incredibly fast writer, and has an enormous backlog to pull from, but newer, less prolific authors could do monthly short stories, or perhaps even a quarterly publication containing several stories and a chapter of a novel. You’ll have to be fast, and able to create your own covers, but Smith shows that it can be done, especially if you’re prolific.

Indie author and small press publisher John G. Hartness uses Gumroad and Patreon as a subscription service for $5 monthly short stories. Hartness also sells ebooks and audio downloads via Gumroad, and these are often cheaper than Amazon and the other ebook sites because Gumroad takes a smaller cut, so it’s a win-win for both the author and his readers.

You’ll need to have at least some of your books wide on Amazon, and you likely won’t get the traffic that the world’s largest search engine for books does, but over time it can be a nice chunk of change. It works for print books as well. For $25 a month, my patrons on Patreon get signed print copies of my books, with free U.S. shipping, as well as free stories and snippets. And it’s another fun way to interact with your readers.

OK. You’ve convinced me to give subscriptions a try. Now what?

Learning all the ins and outs of each platform mentioned above is beyond the scope of this post. So I’ll offer a couple of general guidelines:

See how others are using these platforms. You’ll have a better idea of how you can use it.

Don’t offer anything to subscribers you aren’t already creating. Otherwise you might end up working 50+ hour weeks making stuff for one $5 subscriber.

Take the Long View. Building a subscription service for your work can take a long time, and you probably won’t grow rich from it (though some do). Have fun, create stuff, and share your work, and let whatever happens happen.

Now get out there and check out what some of your fellow indie (and traditional) authors are doing with paid subscriptions.


author james palmerJames Palmer is an award-nominated writer of science fiction and editor of the Monster Earth anthology series. You can connect with him through his website and explore his work on Amazon.

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10 thoughts on “The Future Will Be Monthly: Subscription Models for Authors”

  1. Great article, James! I am in the process of offering many novels and short stories that I don’t have published anyplace else on Patreon. Some were published elsewhere for a while, but they’re all series bound and I want to fine-tune them and write the sequels before I republish them.
    Thank you for the tips on Paypal and Gumroad, also!

  2. -sigh- as a very slow writer, this is terrible news. As the subscription trend increases, actual sales decrease. Ah well. Never expected to get rich anyway. 🙂

    1. I’m sorry you feel that way. My article wasn’t meant to depress you, but to inspire you with the possibilities. You can try it later when you have a few books under your belt. As they stand right now, subscription platforms aren’t meant to replace your Amazon income. We’ll never get the traffic Amazon gets. It’s only another potential income stream. We only get paid once a month. Might as well get paid once a month from multiple sources.

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