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Ask HN: Paid app to free and Patreon?
59 points by macappthrowaway 77 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments
I’ve got a paid Mac app that was mildly successful for a time, but trickled off. I’m considering making it free, and creating a Patreon account/blog to talk about technical issues and let patrons ask for specific features. Maybe it could even be open-source — I’m flexible.

I’d also be willing to sell sponsorships to companies, if any were interested (though I have no idea if any would be). Everybody hates ads but done well I’ve seen them work, when they’re not annoying.

Another option is making the app free, and then using an IAP to enable advanced features. Honestly, the part I hate most about that is the complexity I’d have to add to the software. I’d rather just give everybody all the features, and let people who want to financially support me do that. I don’t know how the economics would compare, though.

What other considerations should I have, for this type of change? What am I forgetting? What other alternatives should I consider, to try to monetize an app so I can keep working on it? Has anyone done this, and how did it work out for you?




Ads in desktop software are dead. Also, just think of the amount of serious, transient eyeball traffic you'd need which sounds like an unlikely demographic for a Mac app. Especially if you think these same people would be interested in your Patreon. You'd basically have to burn all goodwill to make a few pennies off them.

The only reason ads make a little money on mobile is because of the lack of adblocker penetration + low tech-savviness + compulsive mobile games. When was the last time you even used a desktop app with ads?

Donations aren't a source of income. Though I encourage you to try a tip jar like Patreon just to see how vanishingly impossible it is.

Sounds like you're still deciding if you even are trying to make money. But make no mistake: you won't luck into money by writing cool blog posts and building free features that people ask for.

Building a revenue channel into your application with IAP sounds like the only thing that has a shot and the only thing that might align with your goals.


> Donations aren't a source of income. Though I encourage you to try a tip jar like Patreon just to see how vanishingly impossible it is.

While I agree wholeheartedly with what you said, I still wonder about if Patreon might be a reasonable way to charge for services. There are at least a few people making a living off of Patreon. Of course, I've not really heard of anyone scaling it beyond that. It's possible to make a non-trivial amount of money, though.

What I really wonder is whether or not you could somehow look at Patreon as a normal payment processor for a recurring service. Possibly it's not appropriate for a non-service related piece of software (why am I paying monthly?). But if you had a service attached, I'm not really sure it's such a bad idea. I seem to remember they take 5%, which is not that bad as a payment processor with the benefits they provide. In fact, that's essentially what Youtube people are doing: sign up to my Patreon and I will make recurring videos.

But, the main point is that "I might write blog posts and you get to vote on new features" is not a business plan. Why do I want to spend a monthly fee? Writing new features might be a business plan (For example, Tarn Adams makes between $7-8K a month on Patreon for his work on Dwarf Fortress). However, you need to have an audience that wants new features and is willing to pay for them.


It's 5% on top of payment processor fees (which vary according to the number and size of the donations).


This one for example: https://www.patreon.com/YandereDev Used to profit $5000 one year ago.


Used to sure, kid stopped using his time to develop games and just started streaming in his free time. I only know people who consider this guy a joke now


That depends on which subreddit are you reading. The correct one is /r/yanderesimulator. The other one is just haters. If you check the devblog you can see there are currently real and tangible development.


I don't use reddit, I personally know people that worked on the game


I have a free social network app that makes $122/month on Patreon[0] (from 43 patrons). Userbase is about 3.4k with ~200 DAU. I offer in-app recognition and the ability to vote monthly on what features I work on. I won't be quitting my job, but it's nice to not have to pay for servers and marketing out of pocket.

0: https://www.patreon.com/pindigo


Thanks for sharing real world numbers. And congrats, sounds like you have a success on your hands (not every project needs to be a home run, and like you said, it's great to have it be a source of income rather than a drain).


Derek Banas produces high quality educational videos[1] and he is not able to meet a modest goal of $500 per month on Patreon[2].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwRXb5dUK4cvsHbx-rGzSgw

[2] https://www.patreon.com/derekbanas

This is just one data point but seems like when people have an option of not to pay, they won't pay.


Meanwhile, CGP Grey gets $19k+ every time he posts a video (though that's become pretty rare!)

https://www.patreon.com/cgpgrey

(Edit: I should note that I'm sure that Patreon has the same sort of long tail that everything else does... unless one is doing something unique and notable and gets discovered, Patreon is likely to produce little revenue, just like other revenue sources)


Grey also has other revenue streams- Ad revenue from YouTube, YouTube Red, podcast sponsorships, a merch store and some sort of office job related to media consulting. He's not all-in on Patreon.


Source on the media consulting?



Hmm, perhaps people are more interested in paying for Entertainment.


Whereas AvE has been so successful on Patreon that he just bought a 5 axis CNC Mill[1]. He does let you watch the videos a week early if you're a Patron though.

Another YouTuber in the same kind of section, This Old Tony, announced he'd start a Patreon a week or so ago, and is already over 1000 Patrons[2]. He is offering no benefit other than supporting the videos he was already making.

These are just the 2 more recent ones that come to mind, but there are a lot of YouTubers making a living from Patreon without sacrificing what the 'non-paying' viewers get.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4c4BqhhJW4

[2] https://www.patreon.com/thisoldtony


How do people manage access control for videos? Self-hosting for patrons then public on youtube?


I am supporting several interesting YouTubers on Patreon that offer early access and they just post the link to the unlisted YouTube Video to their Patreon Feed.

Technically there is no access control other then that YouTube links are not easily guessable.

It is probably not a huge concern for these YouTubers if there are a few people who see the video early when they are not supposed to.


It's worth noting this isn't the best method of doing it. Some people like to make personal YouTube playlists, and they like to include, or sometimes specifically add Patreon reward unlisted videos to their playlists. They then forget to list their playlist as private, meaning it's discoverable via a youtube search.


In AvE's case, it's an unlisted YouTube video that is embedded and linked to from his Patreon page, then a publicly listed YouTube video for the regular release.


First try to analyse what happened to your revenue stream - did something break in the marketing funnel? New competitors? The problem your app solves doesn't exist anymore? Incompatibility with newer hardware/OS?

Once you have the answer to that it will be easier to define possible paths forward.

Patreon + blog is a totally different product which will in turn attract (or not) a different market.

Another option for monetisation you didn't mention is a subscription plan, which is what many apps do today (Just a few open right now on my computer - Todoist, Notion, Slack, Sketch).


Last time I checked the creator of VueJS is making some money from Patreon. But his monthly Patreon revenue is less than what a typical freelance software dev makes and he's the creator of the second most popular frontend JS framework, so I don't see that much potential for making a living on Patreon from niche mac apps.

If your app is adding value I would keep charging real money for it. Maybe check out a software subscription model for support and updates.

I like what Jetbrains is doing for their IDE's where you pay a fee for a specific version and 1 year support & updates. After that 1 year you can continue using the same version, or pay again to get another year of updates and support.


Evan You makes 180k/year just from Patreon, excluding additional gigs such as speaking at conferences. (https://www.patreon.com/evanyou/overview)

Some more about his business model: https://blog.patreon.com/vue-js-creator-evan-you


Yes, and it took him 2 years as the developer of one of the biggest JS frameworks with thousands of users to reach that level. And even then, over 80% of his Patreon comes from 3 backers at 2000/mo and 18 backers at 500/mo. I assume those are all companies. The revenue he has from individual users is peanuts.


I hope Patreon doesn’t take a percentage out of that..


Why wouldn't they...? Shouldn't they be compensated for the service they provide?


They don’t provide a thousand times as much of a service as they would if the donation was $2.


I'm sure Patreon's credit card processor is just as benevolent as you expect Patreon to be...


Do US people really pay monthly recurring $2000 donations using a credit card if it takes a percentage fee?


I don't know of any other way of paying Patreon...


Patreon take 5%, as I understand it.


I have mildly successful Android app (10k installs, 150 DAU) with IAPs for cosmetics and mini games and I show "ad" on every start to support me on patreon. In last 3 months I made $15 via IAPs and $0 on patreon. I use patreon as blogging platform on daily development progress but I think it's pointless and I'll soon stop doing it, but I'll keep it there just in case.


Maybe sell a code-like template of your app with a short tutorial for devs? If your own app trickled off on the market, its direct value is marginal now and clones will not hurt much while you get money from sharing knowledge & tricks.


I have an open-source app called stretchly (https://github.com/hovancik/stretchly) and I allow people to support it via paypal or patreon.

I ask people to support me by becoming my patron on Patreon as Menu item. Right now it brings me 11$/month (https://www.patreon.com/hovancik) and it goes up and down. I could do better by engaging more with people, I guess (in past some people donated when I fixed their issue very quickly).

Over time, some people also donated on paypal (5-15$ a time).

I am thinking to add "premium" features: users can access them after auth via patreon or github (if they contributed).

Premium features will be just some sugar, nothing that normal user could not do.

I also have newsletter where I try to bring some app related stuff that people might enjoy.

some tips:

- watch for mentions of your app on social media and interact

- ask for support, if people like your app they will help

- being open-source also helps


Nice project, conta! I just added it to awesome-humane-tech [0] in the Health section.

[0] https://github.com/engagingspaces/awesome-humane-tech


Thanks a lot!


If you move to a Patreon model, it seems like what you will be selling is more of a dev blog / newszine centered around a tool, rather than the actual tool.

If you are good at writing and teaching, maybe that is a good direction to move.

> I’d rather just give everybody all the features, and let people who want to financially support me do that. I don’t know how the economics would compare, though.

Have you thought about the sublime text model? Give people unlimited evaluation period with occasional nagging.


I wouldn't recommend Patreon or anything similar in your situation. Basically you need to compare your app income to the additional work it takes to keep customers happy and buying. And at some point you might just as well open source it and move on...

It seems as if Donations don't work for most Open Source projects. Even when they do, it's often almost a B2B like relationship.


Can you share what people use your app for? Can you quantify “mildly successful”, “for a time”, and “trickled off”?


I'm always confused why a dev would use Patreon. Wouldn't it be a fairly simple task to set up your own website/blog with a donation feature and keep 100% of the donations?


I don’t donate to those. Almost nobody does. I donate when it’s through a trusted service like Patreon. Many creators have observed this when they moved over.


Patreon has had some pretty major fuck ups over the years. How can you consider them a trusted service?


They have also facilitated many more donations that have gone extremely smoothly. The choice here is between an entirely unproven (homemade) service and one with an 99%+ successful service. It does not seem like a very hard choice to me...


They have a 1% donation failure rate? That's terrible. I was just referring to their recent data losses and terms of service changes. I'm much more willing to trust PayPal at this point.


Patreon conveys a certain amount of legitimacy and customer service to the donors, in a way that a random website doesn't.


Network effect. I already have a Patreon account hooked up with my payment info. I subscribe to 10-12 different people I like. Adding one more is trivial. Signing up for a whole new service with payment info for a single content creator is a lot of commitment.


What about if you use PayPal or something, and it isn't a website?

You're linked to say, www.chime.com/subscribe, which sets up a payment on PayPal via the API and redirects the user to authorise under the hood. You login with your PayPal account (same as entering Patreon credentials on Patreon), confirm, and you're redirected to a simple thanks page.

You can then manage your subscription via PayPal, as you can with all others, and it's one less interface, even. Instead of managing Patreon vs. non-Patreon, you're managing everything from PayPal.

Additionally, it's likely that anyone using Pateron also has a PayPal account.

Such a software is, of course, trivial to make, and could be open-sourced. Here, you keep 100% of income (- tax etc.)


Let's say that 80% of your paetrons would have also signed up with the home rolled method but 20% would not (which would be insane numbers, I'd bet it's close to 50/50 out of sheer convenience factor). Assuming an equal donation from all, you're already losing more than the fees.

I'm not a fan of Patreons recent moves but I think that a platform that enables easy and convenient ways to support art, development, and generally small projects more than deserves a small but fair piece of the pie. Maybe that platform is another company in 10 years but right now it's Patreon. This is an example of a company that would be amazing if it was nonprofit and adjusted its fees to simply pay for hosting, a well paid but manageable staff size, and a bit of comfort for if business goes south.


I would look at adding new features and maybe adjusting pricing, test a sale price for the new version.

What is your target audience? I would spend some time writing blog posts on how your app can help them. Maybe give away some copies/keys on podcasts that your target audience listen to.

If that doesn't spark sales maybe go free with IAP. I would do this as a last resort. I think you'd do better being paid. Maybe introduce a free trial period if you don't already.

I don't think ads or patreon will make any significant revenue.


What's your primary motive in making the app open source? Personally, I would open-source 90% of the app (for example, it's core functionality in console form), but still leave it so you still have to buy the GUI packaged version from the store or easily set up your own build environment. It would mean that a developer can easily run your app for free, fork and fix issues, but a typical user has to pay - so you retain your revenue source.


Patreon only really works if you have a personal following. People need to know that their contributions are going to someone real and who they respect.


If you have a natural way to charge money, I would be surprised to see ads work better than that. IAP may work even better though, but I can see how that might be more work to add than you'd be willing to put in if it isn't making much money anymore.

What I'd be most curious about is why were people discovering your app before, why did that change?


Have you considered contacting the people behind Setapp (https://setapp.com/developers)


If you're trying to make a living from the app (I don't think the post is too clear), I found my only success with a unity plugin was to release it for cheap/free to build users and charge for new features at freelance rates.

People who REALLY need features are businesses or projects who have money and usually a deadline.

At one point I was making maybe 1k/month from sales and 3k in feature inplementations. (Helps that I also freelance so not a big jump in terms of my day to day flow) Not crazy, but I was also freelancing at the same time.

The real time drag is supporting the free users. The people paying for features and using the plugin commercially were a lot more competent.

TLDR: build free reputation & word of mouth, then go B2B. Obviously depends on the target audience


> If you're trying to make a living from the app (I don't think the post is too clear),

Agreed, I was ambiguous on this point. It would be nice to make a living from it (of course!), but I've got other apps in my brain that need building, and other types of work that I do, so it's not necessary. I don't have all my eggs in this basket.

Let's say: in order to be more than a hobby, a program has to be financially self-sustaining. For some software, that can mean enough to spend 10 hours a week on it, and for other software, it might mean enough to hire a team of 50 people to work on it full-time. Below about 10 hours/week, though, and it starts to lose the ability to be called self-sustaining. There's just not enough hours to take on significant work.

> I found my only success with a unity plugin was to release it for cheap/free to build users and charge for new features at freelance rates.

This is a great and helpful data point.


I wonder if there is an app that handles the "VC" side like gofundme but for software startup funding?

Patreon takes a huge chunk of money, so might not be ideal for this.


Patreon takes 5% according to https://support.patreon.com/hc/en-us/articles/204606125-How-...

I don't think 5% is unreasonable for what they offer. It seems fitting.


I think it's unreasonable for my idea. They don't offer much.




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