Paywalls and subscription models are heavily-debated features of online media but some of the biggest online entertainers are utilizing these features. Are they leaving money on the table or actually monetizing better than their peers?
The likes of divisive YouTuber-turned-boxer Logan Paul and TikTok star Bryce Hall both have their own private, paywalled clubs that grant perks to fans who choose to buy-in. Besides the fact they use the same white-label service, which I’ll touch on later, they’re opting to forgo popular subscription services such as Patreon in favor of entirely owning their audience.
Subscription services are nothing new, just think of magazines and newspaper from before the internet was around. Paywalls are prominent in the media landscape to this very day, too, with the likes of The Financial Times and Insider charging users to access their journalism.
The early stages of internet entertainment, as opposed to journalism, has been widely-accessible and, importantly, free. YouTube is a great example. There are now premium options available for an improved experience, but anybody with access to the internet can enjoy billions of hours of content at no expense.
Owning your audience
The emergence of platforms such as Patreon was important as they offered a reliable method of monetizing audiences built off of free content and open platforms. There are alternatives to Patreon that provide a platform to quickly devise their own subscription service, but it’s the go-to for the majority of creators and the easiest to point to for the sake of comparison.
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What Paul and Hall, among others, are doing with their own ‘fan clubs’ right now is attempting to own their distribution channels, play by their own rules, and directly put a price on their fans. They’re attempting to work around the open, free nature of online entertainment.
A service like Patreon combines the expected features of a paywall with social media characteristics: a lack of custom domains, a discoverability feature to find creators, the same bog-standard design for each channel, and so on. It’s clear that you’re simply on a platform instead of owning your own club.
With Paul’s Maverick Club and Hall’s Party Animal University, they have complete control of the experience. They don’t have to have subscription tiers or to conform to the wishes of another platform, they’re free to build a space that is uniquely theirs and make it a true, unwavering extension of their brands.
The two aforementioned clubs feel like community hubs, a place for like-minded individuals with a common interest to gather. This means that being involved feels less transactional and more intimate — you’re not just paying to view additional content, you’re venturing deeper into the world of your favorite creator. The feeling seems to be important here.
Now, we’re not privy to the numbers behind these clubs. We don’t know if they’re truly working for either creator, but the extravagant perks suggest that these communities are worth investing in. Paul gives away $10,000 in cash on a monthly basis and Hall offers to fly random members out to the Sway House to meet him and his friends (who can really be referred to as co-stars.)
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When a creator adopts a monetization model such as this, everything changes. Their free content, such as the YouTube and TikTok videos that helped them to make names for themselves, somewhat become marketing material. While they can still monetize such content, AdSense income is likely to be much lower than the amounts they can rake in through their clubs.
They continue with free content in an effort to remain relevant and even grow their followings further, but viewers are now in a funnel. They want to convert free viewers into avid fans and ensure they pay directly to support them further. They can promise uncensored, true-to-self content on their paywalled content that simply can’t exist on public platforms like YouTube and TikTok. It’s enticing, and that’s good marketing.
To paywall or not to paywall?
There are interesting arguments for and against using paywalls as a content creator but it’s hard to deny the allure of implementing one. It provides a stable income for creators, something that is attractive if they’ve been relying solely on turbulent ad revenue and brand partnerships. It also provides data to measure and process so they can further understand their audience, and it allows you to gather information from their viewers.
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They gain access to names, ages, contact details, and even interests in some cases. If you have the email address of somebody you know is a big fan of yours, you can easily market to them in other ways. There are endless ways to re-engage with people you know are interested in what you’re doing: “Want an exclusive discount on merch?”, “Did you know I’ll be touring in your city next month?”, and “Have you seen this amazing new collaboration I did with X?”, for example.
While the likes of MrBeast and David Dobrik are monetizing efficiently through large-scale video premises that brands want to be a part of, not everybody is able to execute such strategies. It’s not easy to monetize content as a smaller creator and paywalls can provide a good source of income through just a few subscriptions alone. Though titans of online entertainment like Paul and Hall are going down this route, it’s also worth considering for up-and-coming creators or those who simply aren’t in the top 0.1% but still have a healthy following.
If somebody can manage to get 100 paying subscribers at a cost of $10, then that’s $1,000 per month being made. On top of AdSense and brand deals, two of the most common income streams for video creators, affording bills is less of a challenge. It can be a method of making full-time content creation viable for those who aren’t at the top.
‘Community’ may be a buzzword in online media, and for good reason, but some of the top creators are not only fostering their own but monetizing them effectively. We’ll see new, exciting methods of generating income online in the future but there’s no reason to suspect that paywalls won’t be a big part of that for years to come.