When Substack and Patreon entered the space in 2017 and 2013, their target audiences were pretty different. Sure, they both wanted to provide additional monetization opportunities for content creators, but one was pretty heavily focused on newsletters and blogs, while the other focused mostly on YouTubers (and to a lesser degree, musicians).
Now, both platforms could be on a collision course as direct competitors. And usually that’s good news for their users. In a recent blog post, Substack unveiled a significant step forward in its support for video. Meanwhile, Patreon just underwent what it called the biggest day in the history of its company when it unveiled a suite of new features years in the making.
Let’s take a look at these new updates for the platforms and whether it means they’re on track to compete for the same users.
Substack’s Big Video Push
Substack recently announced that users could officially upload exclusive video directly to the platform. The move was incremental, with the platform first implementing support for video posts via unlisted YouTube videos last year. Then, Substack allowed users to embed those same videos directly into posts.
But now, with direct video hosting, creators have a more secure and monetizable way to focus on their video offering. Notably, Patreon took much longer to allow users to directly upload video to the platform, only embracing the feature in the past few years (and making it a more premium one, at that).
Other features of directly uploading video to Substack include the ability to create flexible paywalls, smart links to other videos, and a more prominent way to display the video in the post. ”For many podcasters, Substack’s flexible paywalls provide an effective business strategy so that free subscribers and casual listeners can get a taste of premium content,” the company writes. “This feature is now available for video podcast episodes, too. You can select a portion of your video to offer for free, which will also sync with the audio feed. For viewers on your Substack site, this free preview smoothly transitions into a prompt for paid subscriptions.”
Substack also unveiled a transcript generation feature, which will give users a head start on direct translations of their video episodes. This makes it a lot easier to offer written versions of their video episodes.
Patreon’s Social-Leaning Commerce Pivot
Meanwhile, Patreon’s major changes this year include a clear push towards social media and e-commerce features. The company unveiled a new feed that allows even non-paying patrons to follow their favorite artists. Basically, it’s what the original social media feeds used to be: linear timelines of whatever the people you follow share — and nothing else. The app also launched “Chats,” a feature designed to make it easier for patrons to communicate with each other.
On top of the feed, Patreon also launched a feature for creators to sell digital downloads and perks directly to users without a subscription, essentially bridging the gap between the monthly subscription model and a digital storefront.
And then of course their complete expansion of video features. Creators on Patreon can now also directly upload videos to the platform, fully shaking their reliance on unlisted YouTube videos or needing a separate (usually pricier) Vimeo account.
So Is Substack Gunning For Patreon?
Based at least on the language in Substack’s recent update, it’s safe to say the platform is still focusing on a more narrow net than Patreon. Specifically, Substack is honing in on podcasters. Their feature updates are largely focused on how modern podcasters often film their episodes for platforms like YouTube.
Substack is trying to make it easier for creators on the platform to create multiple levels of offerings from single “episodes” of podcasts. If you’re able to get a good episode filmed, you’ve got the option to share the audio, the video, and with the new transcript feature, the text as well. And when you directly upload them to the platform, it’s easier for Substack to categorize them by episodes, recommend other videos, and ultimately control the quality and monetization behind them.
While podcasts are a departure from the original use case of premium newsletters and blogs, they’re not that far of a departure. Of course, Patreon still heavily focuses on podcasters, too. Since podcasts are notoriously among the most difficult types of content to monetize, many popular podcasters have turned to Patreon to offer bonus episodes, early access, and extra content for a monthly fee.
There’s no question Substack is aiming to compete in the podcasting market, even if their website still describes the platform as “the home for great writers and readers.” Podcasts may have slowed recently, but there’s still no denying the medium has seen a meteoric rise since its humble beginnings. While Substack’s feature development lends itself towards podcasts, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t apply to other types of creators.
So Which One Should I Choose?
Ultimately, Substack and Patreon are tools. Their primary focus is subscription-based content, and they do it well, but you could certainly achieve these ends using many different platforms. Or multiple platforms if you really wanted.
But we also know that most content creators would prefer a tighter ecosystem over needing to maintain a presence (and drive revenue) on dozens of different platforms. If you’re between Substack and Patreon as two viable options for earning more consistent revenue, our best advice is to experience them as a user first. Create some accounts, maybe subscribe to a few different creators you love, and see what you like about each platform as a consumer before you decide which platform feels best for your as a creator.
If there’s not a clear winner after this experiment, you can always create accounts and spend some time feeling out which of the platforms is most intuitive to you as a creator. Since you’ll be on them weekly, if not daily, it’s good to enjoy the overall user experience.
Oh, and of course if all else fails — ask your fans! There’s no harm in creating a poll or sending an email to try and figure out where people most want to support you. Both Substack and Patreon have a certain type of user who is familiar with the platform and how to support creators. But a lot of your fans may also be new to the platform and not quite understand what to expect (Discord faces this hurdle as well). If you truly don’t have a preference and each platform seems like it would meet your needs, just ask your supporters.