Subscription Service Shenanigans

I have had a Patreon account for almost a year now. It has been great. I have ten patrons who have been with me from the start! Patreon is expensive. They take 8% on top of the fees Stripe takes for processing your subscriptions. To be fair, Patreon does the heavy lifting, and all you have to do is follow their rules and post content!

Part of my goals for 2023 are to find ways to make my website more active! Pulling that subscription service to my site is the perfect way to do it. However, it was not an easy task. It took about two weeks to get everything installed, tested, and working properly.

I am sure there are other ways to do this, and people may have some advice for me. The rest of the information in this post is simply to share my knowledge for anyone interested in doing something like this.

Notes Before You Start

  • If you want a subscription service that is not tiered, WooCommerce offers a subscription service and it’s great!
  • You need to be savvy with plugin installation and managing WordPress.
  • Be prepared to upgrade to pro options for features

Plugins Used

  • Members by MemberPress – This allows you to have multiple roles on a single user. I use this to determine between customers, subscribers, the various tiers I offer, and subscribers who do not want to be notified of post updates
  • Notification by BracketSpace – This allows me to send a notification to people based on their roles when I make content updates. I’m using the free version, but if you want special condition rules you will need to upgrade. I got around the condition rule by creating two subscriber roles, one marked to not get notices so I can move people who unsubscribe from emails to there, but allow them the correct access for their post subscription.
  • Paid Member Subscriptions Pro – There is a free version, but it would not allow me to setup payments how I wanted. I upgraded to Pro so I could use Stripe for subscriptions. It says you can integrate it with WooCommerce but I couldn’t get it to work, so I kept them separate. I kind of like keeping the subscription separate from the store, but if you are into one whole eCommerce site, you’ll have to figure it out. You have to have the free version installed to install the Pro version.

Setup Tasks

CSS/HTML – I built custom email templates, error messages, and stylized things like buttons/headings to match my theme.

Ascending/Descending Buttons – If you’re like me, nothing is more frustrating than not being able to sort things how I want to. I discovered you can create links to your category pages in the format of urlhere/category-slug?order=asc (1-10 order) or urlhere/category-slug?order=desc (10-1 order). By default, WordPress sorts in descending order. So I created two buttons on each of the subscription only pages using tags and CSS.

Latest Chapters – On my book pages I added a “Latest Chapters” section using a heading, the Latest Posts widget, and a button for “See More” that takes the subscriber to the subscription page.

Category Hierarchy – I have the hierarchy of books > series name > book name for my book pages. This allows me to group my menu by book series, and allows me to display the books neatly. I then have a separate category at the parent level for the book name. The parent level category is the subscription page I put all my posts for subscribers only on. This keeps the pages off my navigation menu and in the book pages. It also allows me to keep the posts locked behind the pay wall.

Lessons Learned

  1. Do not offer the subscriptions until you have tested all the email functionality. Other than Mr. F, I flooded my first site subscriber’s inbox. Thankfully, I know her and she will have a good laugh about it.
  2. Read the plugin before you install it. I went through about four plugins for notifications before I found one that did exactly what I wanted.
  3. Plan your category hierarchy, roles, and subscriptions BEFORE you set them up. I had to redo the list at least twice.
  4. Setup the custom messaging for “Not Logged In” and “Not Subscribed” at the plugin level, not the post level.

Pros of Site Subscription

  • Full Control – My site, my rules, my prices. Yes, I pay a fee to Stripe, but I would have to pay the fee anywhere for accepting credit cards. This way, I don’t pay a middle man.
  • Greater Traffic – People are now coming to my site to read, and hopefully to buy more books.
  • Ease of Use – Since I participate in Kindle Unlimited, I need to be able to archive/hide digital posts when a book participates. With WordPress, I can filter by category, then mass archive.
  • Member Discounts – I can offer discounts to subscribers for the rest of of my books and swag without having to keep track of it manually.

Cons of Site Subscription

  • Full Control – I am responsible for making the entire thing work and for maintaining it.
  • Brand Recognition – I no longer have the “Patreon” brand backing me. Which may cause potential subscribers to take pause. Rest assured, it is all secure. I am using the exact same payment setup as Patreon and I will not give away, or sell your data.

How I Feel About This

All in all, I’m excited to be able to house this on my site, and it not be a total disaster! I’m also excited to see if it gains more traction than Patreon did.

Edit 03/06/23 – Subscriptions are temporarily paused, but look for another post as soon as they are back in action!