Podcast Soft Reboot: Looking for Advice

Hello, I’m Caleb with The Mixed Six. We do a boardgame/ nerd culture podcast structured around beer reviews. Recently, we’ve been having some problems attracting and retaining new listeners.

We’ve enjoyed modest growth for most of the podcast’s lifespan, and we are grateful for it. However, we’ve been experiencing a slow decline in backers since peaking in June of 2018. This decline is in spite of a number of continuing marketing efforts on our part. Thus far, we’ve tried.

  • Paired YouTube channel with animatics of popular segments
  • Live events, locally and at major conventions
  • Guesting on other podcasts
  • Targeted facebook ads
  • Ad buys on other websites
  • Related products (we designed and kickstarted our own boardgame this year)

Nothing appears to be working, yet we feel like we’re producing some of the best content of our careers. After a lot of fan surveys, meet-ups, and late night planning sessions, we suspect the problem is related to how we’ve set up the Patreon page. Here are the problems we think we’ve identified.

Our pricing isn’t rational: Currently our tiers spread audience participation rewards (suggesting topics and the like), additional mini-episodes, and extra hour-long episodes in the bizarre structure we built on the fly as the thing was taking off. Right now, the greatest volume of content by minute exists at our $2 tier rather than our highest $6, and yet over 50% of our backers are bought in at the $6 level.

Our pricing is confusing: Six separate tiers is a lot to offer for a podcast, especially when the rewards aren’t priced consistently.

We have too much free content: We think this is the biggest issue. Currently, we do 2 full, free episodes a month. We have one full-length and two mini-episodes behind the paywall. Our podcast is long. It’s a variety show divided into segments, but an average episode is an hour and a half long. At 51 free episodes currently, that’s a lot of free content new listeners can get without having to peak at the Patreon. The longer we go on this model, the worse things will get.

As such, we’ve communicated with our backers, both in the podcast itself and with page posts, that we are pausing the Patreon for January: we’re not charging anyone or producing new content. The time is going to be used to revamp the page, and all the backers know that change is coming. We’re talking about trying the following changes.

  • Putting all the mini-episodes and two full episodes behind the paywall, providing only one full-length free episode a month
  • Reducing and rationalizing the tiers: $2 gets segment suggestion privileges, $4 gets all the mini-episodes, $6 gets all the full-length extra episodes. That combines rewards from the $1, $3, and $5 levels, which we plan on phasing out.
  • Producing audiograms for social media posts, and merchandise through TeePublic: I know this isn’t really related to the problem with the page itself, but we’re keeping up the traditional marketing work as well.

But does it seem like this soft reboot could work? It’s a gamble. If not, we will be pissing off and losing more backers for no gain in the long run. If the problem isn’t the page or the marketing, it must be the product itself, and I don’t know how to fix that. Though we are very lucky to have the support we have, splitting it three ways isn’t enough to support any of us full-time. Two of us have extremely demanding day jobs as it is, and I don’t think more content is possible, much less the answer if the problem is with how the page is set-up. Special offers have had success for others, but I don’t know what we could offer and I’ve seen a ton of them end up losing money for the creators. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s sustainable to keep squeezing higher pledges from people that have already been loyal supporters in the past.

In short, we’re trying this soft-reboot thing because we don’t know what else to do. If someone else has other ideas or critiques of the page, I’d be thrilled to hear them.

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It sounds like you’re making all the right moves — I think reducing and simplifying the tiers will probably make a big difference in getting new pledges in the door (out of curiosity — do you have Google Analytics set up for your Patreon yet? I’d be very interested to see if your conversions go up once your tiers are simplified. People visiting your Patreon but not pledging seem to be a pretty good indicator of someone who’s interested in supporting you, but was put off by something on the Patreon page.)

It sounds like your biggest concern is alienating current Patrons by rearranging the rewards they’re used to getting. Have you considered simply deactivating the existing tiers, making all new ones, and allowing previous Patrons to remain “grandfathered in” to their current reward tiers? Perhaps not all the rewards, since you’re phasing some out, but at least allowing your current lower tiers access to the Patron-exclusive episodes? You could potentially offer some sort of additional, bonus reward to Patrons who switch to a new tier (something easy, like a digital download) to encourage them to buy into the new tiers, but leave the previous reward tiers functional for people who don’t want change.

I realize that’s a lot of additional effort — maybe there’s an easier way to play out a similar concept? Offering your current Patrons a choice could help prevent them feeling like you’ve yanked the rug out from under them.

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Thanks for the response!

Currently, 20% of our total backers are in tiers about to be phased out. Of those 57, 13 will be getting additional rewards for less money (going down a dollar) and 2 back at an essentially no-reward level ($1). So I’m not really expecting problems for those 15. The other 44 will have to go up a dollar (from $3 to $4), but that gets them access to an additional mini-episode that was previously gated off. I’m sure a few will drop, but I don’t think it will be en masse due to the added value.

The biggest issue will be our $2 backers. They’ll have to up their pledge by $4 (to the $6 level) to get our extra episodes. Granted, there’s an extra exclusive in there, but it used to be free to everyone. So that’s 66 potentially angry backers, or 25% of our total patrons. However, at $2, that’s only 11% of our monthly revenue. The majority of our backers are at $6 (156 patrons: 60%) and make up 80% of our revenue. They will get the exact same rewards; the only thing that will change is the order in which they are paying for them.

My thinking is that, worst case scenario, we lose 25% of our backers and 15% of our monthly revenue. I don’t like the sound of either of those things, but we’ve been communicating and I doubt things will get that bad. And if the changes get us growing again? It’s a cost I’m willing to pay. Adding more content or making a grandfather tier sounds like an unsustainable amount of work that we can’t profit from. Aside from equipment and web hosting, a portion of our revenue every month has to go towards buying some fairly expensive craft beers. Our hard alcohol review minisodes cost even more. We get donations from fans (which is great) but, in general, episodes means higher costs literally, even when we don’t factor in our time.

So, yeah, I guess I’ve through this through. I’m just terrified there is something I missed.

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Hi Caleb,

Thank you for posting such a thoughtful comment about these challenges you are facing–wanting to optimize tiers/benefits and boost growth/retention are two very common priorities among creators. Every creator, business model, and fanbase is different, so there is never just one right answer for how to set up your tiers and benefits. However, the fact that you are launching a reboot of your page and have already communicated the challenges and changes with your community is an excellent first step, sets you up for success, and shows that you are thinking about your membership model in the right way. So good job!

I can’t say for sure what will happen, but I do agree with your assessment of the issues with your page and your proposed changes. You are already doing this, but my primary piece of feedback is that if you remain transparent and communicative about why you are making these changes, your community will be flexible with these changes and likely grow as a result. Here are some additional thoughts:

  • Simplifying your tiers and clarifying the value/benefits of each will make it easier for new fans to join, for Patrons to understand the value of their membership, and simplify the fulfillment process for your team.
  • Your proposed breakdown of $2, $4, and $6 makes sense in this scenario. Include high effort benefits in your higher tiers. Low effort benefits are suitable for your $2 and $4 tier.
  • Communicate the shift to the $1, $3, and $5 tiers and tell them that you are thankful for their patronage and that you hope they continue to support you by switching to one of the new tiers following the change.
  • Use bullet points to list the benefits associated with each tier. Include the disclaimer “All Previous Benefits” as tiers increase rather than repeating them.
  • Consider adding a higher “aspirational tier” with your most personalized benefit (ideally something intimate, but not too time consuming).
  • Remove any benefits during this reboot that are high effort, low impact, benefits you haven’t found to be valuable.
  • Consider setting a new, higher monthly goal for 2019. Sit down with your team and breakdown what amount would make it easier to set more time aside for producing the podcasts and the Patron only content.
  • Make sure your Patreon link is everywhere your community lives, talk about it frequently, and share clips/bits of Patron only content on your social media to give people a taste of what they are missing.
  • If you have paywalled episodes or content, think about sharing short teaser clips or limited episodes to peak interest.
  • Do consider launching a special offer, perhaps not right away, but it is an excellent tool to generate growth. We have several great articles on our blog and help center that you can reference.

You are thinking about all of this in the right way and I am excited for you to give this reboot a try. Of course it is stressful to potentially upset any of your dedicated Patrons, but remember that it is a community of your biggest fans and they are there to support you–if you are transparent and communicate openly about why you are making these changes, it is most likely that the majority will be supportive.

Please keep us posted on what you decide or if you have any questions, and I’d love to hear how it works out once you’ve made the changes.

Best,

Cassidy

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First of all, I want to listen to your podcast, LOL. I love gaming. I am in the process of creating one myself!

I think your pricing tiers might be too complex. It is something I struggle with myself but don’t have the heart to make huge changes to them yet. I think its almost easier to have like three tiers.

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I dont have experience in your genre, but I do have experience in

  1. complicated pricing structures via both my own past tiers and in selling tickets for a large international art event that has VIP and dinner options.

  2. a soft reboot in a way where I changed up my tiers.

Here’s the first bit of advice I have: any time you change things, you’re going to have a few negative Nancies. Be prepared for that in the sense that you might lose a small percentage of current Patrons just because some people are averse to change. BUT if you are transparent about the changes most people usually see it as positive. When I “raised” my prices because I was putting out way more content (like hundreds of photos and a few videos per month vs. the maybe 50 to 100 photos and one video I started at), I explained that and that I was devoting more times, resources, etc and felt I’d been underselling myself the vast majority of my Patrons were incredibly supportive. Some of them even bumped their pledges up right away.

I also think simplifying as much as you can and making sure you have solid added value for those higher tiers works well. If the description for each level is getting too long, I figure I need to simplify.

And all in all, anything that makes the behind the scenes or admin aspect more manageable is a win both for creators and Patrons because it means we creators can devote more of our time to creating and coming up with great content instead of fussing with that other stuff. The admin stuff is needed, but it shouldn’t be any unnecessary burden.

So that’s my advice. I hope you have a great re-launch! :slightly_smiling_face:

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