Patreon is a platform which allows creators to charge monthly and yearly memberships to their fans, in exchange for fan-only content.
For fans, it's a brilliant way of supporting their favourite creators, and for creators, it's a great way to monetise and get closer to their fans. To make money, Patreon charges between 5–12% on all payments from paid subscriptions.
With v3, Ghost replicates the memberships and content publishing features of Patreon: web publishing and email newsletters, accounts for members and the ability to charge for subscriptions.
In this post, we will utilise Ghost's memberships and publishing features to emulate Patreon but—critically—on an independent server, on your own domain, with a custom design, and with zero transaction fees.
Here's a quick overview of the steps I will cover in the post:
- Set up a Ghost blog
- Use a membership-supported Ghost theme, like Patron
- Enable members and (optionally) email newsletters
- Add paid plans
- Publish member-only content on the web and over email
- Add community features with a commenting tool like Cove
What is Patreon?
The key features of Patreon are:
- set up memberships and charge subscribers
- offer member-only content on your Patreon page
- send email newsletters
- let readers comment on posts once logged in
Why build your own version of Patreon?
Memberships are an amazing way to both make money from and get closer to your audience. For this, you will need a web platform, which hosts your content and handles payments and member accounts.
Like we've seen with other services like Medium (publishing) and Substack (newsletters), if you start on a platform you're tied to their product decisions, updates and company opinions.
If you create your own version, you can own everything. You change the design, the copy—everything—as you see fit. Importantly, you also have all of your content hosted on your own domain name, which Patreon currently doesn't offer. (Why is this important?)
You will also avoid Patreon's fees for all subscription payments. Ghost takes zero fees; on both you have to pay payment processing fees. If you have 100 customers paying $5 a month on Patreon's Pro plan, you will earn $460 after fees; with Ghost you get the full $500. Remember, you will have hosting costs to self-host with Ghost.
The one major thing that Ghost currently lacks is pricing tiers. On Patreon, you can offer any number of subscription tiers at different prices. Ghost currently only lets you specify a monthly and yearly price on a single tier.
Let's see how we can build a self-hosted Patreon-like site using Ghost, a Patreon-like theme (Patron) and community commenting with Cove.
Start a Ghost site
The first step is to create a Ghost site.
There are many ways to do this: Ghost(Pro) (Ghost's own hosting solution), using another managed host like Gloat or Midnight, using an install service like Gloat's to set up self-hosted sites, or simply downloading and self-hosting yourself (installing the code yourself on a server you own). Ghost hosting typically starts at around $15/month; you can self-host a small site for $5/month.
Once Ghost is set up, you need to go into Labs in the admin and toggle the Members feature on.
With one click, you have now enabled a way for readers to subscribe to your content and log in to your site (the front-facing site, not the Ghost admin).
Set up email newsletters (optional)
If you want to send out your posts as emails to your members, you will need to connect your Ghost site to an email sending service. Ghost supports only one at the moment: Mailgun.
If your site is on Ghost(Pro), this integration happens automatically behind the scenes, so you don't have to do anything.
If you self-host, you will need to sign up to Mailgun and do some configuration with your domain so you can send emails from it.
If you are self-hosting or on another managed host, you will need to paste Mailgun API credentials into the Members settings in your Ghost admin:
Use a Patreon-like theme
A crucial part of emulating Patreon is the design, making your site look and behave like Patreon. Crucially, it should prompt visitors to sign up as members, offer memberships and accounts, and lock content away for members' eyes only.
Most Ghost themes look like blogs and don't catch the essence of a Patreon-like site.
I created a theme called Patron, which aims to cover all the points above. It is also easily customisable with some built-in options (for example, how the post list is displayed).
The theme supports member-only and paid-only content, just like Patreon. And users can easily sign up to your paid plans once they log in (using Ghost's in-built magic link auth system).
Add some paid plans
To offer paid memberships in Ghost, you first need a Stripe account. You can create a new Stripe account within Ghost if you don't have one already.
All payments that are made on your Ghost site go straight into your Stripe account, with zero transaction fees. The Ghost software powers your payments but everything you make, you take. Stripe will take a typical card processing fee.
You can set a monthly and yearly fee in six different currencies. Currently, different tiers are not available; this is one major negative when comparing Ghost with Patreon. Tiers may come in a future Ghost update.
Since the launch of Ghost v3 in late 2019, most Ghost themes support showing paid plans and allow members to start paying for content. Patron also does this out of the box.
Edit your plan benefits
Most Ghost themes will come with a plan/payment page, listing your pricing and some plan benefits.
Here is Patron's:
You should change the list of benefits to match what you offer members, as you would in Patreon.
Here are the docs for editing the feature lists in the Patron theme.
Start publishing member-only content
Once Members is enabled in Ghost, you can start setting permission levels to each of your web posts.
When editing a post, go to the Settings pane. You can select between Public, Members only and Paid-members only.
For web posts this setting is always available, so you can lock/unlock posts in the future, too. Changes are reflected immediately on your site.
For email newsletters, you have the option to send to Free members and/or Paid members when you publish.
Patreon offers comments as a way for your members to comment on your posts.
Using Cove, a commenting tool for Ghost, you can create the same commenting features, including the different access levels.
Cove runs directly on top of Ghost's member features, so you can limit commenting only to members/subscribers. Plus, any logged in subscriber (i.e.: anyone who has clicked on their subscription confirmation link) can leave comments immediately.
Installing Cove involves copying some code into your theme, or simply pasting your account ID if you use a supported theme, like Patron.
During set up, there are some different ways to show and hide comments based on your user's access level. Ghost has some very useful template tags that make this very easy.
Patron comes with three different comment configurations, which are really easy to switch between:
- comments are shown to every one; only signed in members can comment
- comments are only shown to signed-in members; only signed in members can comment
- comments are only shown to paying members; only paying members can comment
And you're finished.
You now have a Patreon-like site on your own domain, in a totally customisable site, and with no extra fees.
Use this set-up to power your memberships, publish member-only content to your fans, write independently, own your content and be free to change things up whenever you like.
Get started with Ghost on Gloat: unlimited Ghost hosting for $189/year or $19/month.
Thanks for reading!
I am the founder of Codelet. I have four years experience publishing and developing for Ghost, on over 100 sites. Codelet is an agency and blog about the basics and hidden features of Ghost.