As indie authors increasingly move toward wide distribution and direct sales, subscription services may offer a way to expand marketing opportunities beyond ads and newsletters, as well as build a predictable source of revenue. Anne Janzer, author of Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn, explains, “Traditional marketing strategies focus on leading people to the initial sale. Subscription businesses shift their focus from the point of sale to the long-term, ongoing customer relationship. The subscriber remains a prospect, deserving ongoing engagement and nurturing.”
Platforms like Patreon, Substack, Ko-fi, and Buy Me a Coffee offer creators a channel for collecting donations and allowing fans to support their process. Although Patreon is probably the best known and most established membership service with over three million monthly active patrons, some authors find the platform challenging for readers. Substack is a popular alternative among writers and journalists because of its focus on newsletters. Rose Greaves compared Substack and Patreon for The Digital Merchant. And Ko-fi and Buy Me Coffee both allow one-off donations in addition to subscriptions and memberships, so they tend to be used as digital tip jars, rather than an author’s home base.
The newest subscription platform, however, is one designed specifically for fiction authors. Ream founders say they are “creating a home where storytellers rule the world,” according to its website. The platform combines an e-reader app, a reader group, and a mailing list for authors looking to build a community of superfans. At first glance, Ream has a lot in common with its predecessors, but early adopters have been more impressed by the differences.
Ream is a subscription platform for authors that “allows writers to build communities around their stories and charge a monthly fee that rewards your readers with early access to your stories, bonus content, access to new stories and your backlist, and even perks like signed books and merchandise,” according to the platform’s FAQs.
Like Patreon and other subscription services, Ream allows authors to create an exclusive community, collect emails, and offer multiple tiers for subscriptions. Unlike their competitors, Ream also provides a social e-reader, the option to schedule chapters, secure email delivery of content, and a way to publish a backlist library linked to exclusive tiers or open to free followers.
Ream was originally developed for Steamy Romance author Emilia Rose by her husband, Sean Patnode. After leaving Patreon over censorship of her work, Rose and Patnode partnered with their friend Michael Evans to bring Ream to a wider author community. Patnode spent a year programming and engineering the Ream platform and now runs it full time. In addition to his role as CEO, Evans is an author of Sci-Fi Thrillers and is a student at Harvard. Rose, Chief Author of Ream, is now a six-figure author from subscriptions with over 30 million story reads.
Ream went live in beta in January 2023 and launched to the public in May. In June, Rose and Evans started a podcast, Subscriptions for Authors, which provides educational resources, interviews, and troubleshooting for authors who want to start subscription businesses on any platform. Since then, two thousand, five hundred authors have set up Ream accounts, and the Subscriptions for Authors Facebook Group has grown to over 3.9 thousand members, as of the writing of this article. The platform currently serves almost thirty thousand readers.
Authors who create an account on Ream can do so via the website or an app. There are no expectations of exclusivity and no limitations on genre, although 60 percent to 70 percent of members are Romance authors, in part due to the draw of Rose’s personal experience and in part because of the proportionate share of Romance in publishing in general.
Ream collects 10 percent of all revenue plus payment processing fees, as determined by credit card companies and issuing banks—usually 2.9% + $0.30. As with other subscription platforms, there are no additional charges to get started. Authors may set pricing at any level for as many membership tiers as they choose.
According to Rose, currently, the average author on Ream “is making over $100 a month on our platform, and we have about two hundred fifty authors who are being paid out consistently every month.” The total income across the platform is approaching $600,000 per year. Since authors set their own tiers, there is significant variation in income and number of subscribers, but the average revenue per reader per month is about $9.04.
When subscribers join your mailing list as either a free follower or a member of a paid tier, you get access to data that includes their emails, names, and subscription history. The Ream team is also planning to offer additional analytics, such as page reads.
So far, discoverability is limited to direct-to-reader connections. Authors should expect to bring in their own readers via their newsletters, social media, and other existing followers. Ream does have a search-by-author function, which they intend to expand to genre and trope in the coming months, but browsing is not available.
Additional upcoming features include audiobook support and hosted bookstores where authors will be able to sell directly through their Ream pages.
The website provides an extensive collection of support documents, a Help Center chat widget, and links to resources from the Subscriptions for Authors podcast. The Facebook Group is served by a moderation team, but Evans and Rose frequently answer questions themselves. They are planning to expand their educational opportunities with a Subscriptions for Authors conference in the coming year.
Best Practices for Subscriptions
Creating meaningful tiers and choosing which benefits to offer can be overwhelming. Some authors provide physical prizes, like bookmarks, postcards, pins, and other swag. Others may offer personal access through virtual parties or Zoom meetings. According to Rose, all of those are great ideas that readers love, but ultimately “the people who are doing early access or exclusive content do the best.”
Readers subscribe because they love your stories, so it makes sense to build your subscription tiers around what attracted them in the first place. Starting with early access allows authors to start from scratch and build up to offering more, if they so choose. Early access and exclusive content also flow organically into a wider business plan when incorporated into the writing process for new releases.
Some of the most successful subscription models find authors pairing an exclusive subscription platform, like Ream, with one for serialized stories, like Kindle Vella or Wattpad. By offering early access or exclusive content related to stories they publish for free on Wattpad, for example, authors are able to draw new readers from the larger platform.
Steamy Romance author Reece Barden, Romance and Family Saga author Elana Johnson, Cozy Mystery/Romance author Tamara Lush, Horror author and Indie Author Magazine contributing writer David Viergutz, and Forbidden Romance author K Webster shared some of their personal experiences since joining Ream.
What led you to joining Ream?
Elana Johnson: “I’ve wanted to do something with subscriptions for years now. I’ve read the books. I’ve gone to the classes. I’ve buddied up with people making thousands of dollars from their subscriptions.
“And I’ve never felt like I had something to offer to the readers of my genre. I feel like I’m pretty dialed into who my ideal reader is, and who the readers are already in my body of work. And a subscription never came together for me.
“But when Ream launched, I decided to set it up. It was so fast and easy, I had my page built from scratch to done in less than three hours. I launched it, and well… It didn’t go so well until I stumbled onto what my readers really want.”
What features do you like best?
David Viergutz: “Ream gives me total control. I know who my customers are, and I can reach them directly, which has been a major shift in my business focus.”
Tara Lush: “I love being able to tailor content to different subscriber levels. Also, the free followers is a game changer for me; it’s similar to a newsletter but more conversational, more personal. I love sending my followers weekly updates!”
What challenges have you faced with the new platform?
Reece Barden: “It’s not a challenge with the platform itself, but some readers are never going to want to read books on an app or website and hate getting chapters weekly instead of all at once. And that’s completely okay. It’s the equivalent of some people watching episodes of their favorite TV series week by week, and others waiting until the season is over and binge-watching the entire thing. Or some people only read paperbacks and hate the idea of an [e-reader]. It’s down to personal preference and won’t appeal to everyone.
“This is not meant to be an ‘instead of’ but an ‘as well as.’ It merely offers an alternative reading experience and a way of building deeper connections with your fans.”
How do you see Ream fitting into your overall business plan?
Tara Lush: “I see Ream as a place for my superfans, the people who can’t get enough of my work and who want to read everything I write, as I write it. I’m also highly motivated by writing and releasing in installments, so this is perfect for my workflow. I write a chapter, post it on Ream. Later, when the book is finished, I do a deeper edit and a copy edit, then publish!”
David Viergutz: “Ream is now part of my monthly income. I allot time to the content there, which consists of short stories, polls, audio-shorts and serialized novels. My core readership enjoys the extra attention, and they get to support me even further. It was an untapped source of income.”
What advice do you have for writers thinking about joining Ream?
K Webster: “I think it would be helpful for them to know that the platform is built by other authors who are looking for the same thing: an easy-to-use platform to connect with their readers. Having patience is key. Michael and the Ream Team have our backs and are always bending over backwards to make things run smoothly for us. I’m very pleased with the support and the direction Ream is going.”
And does that advice vary depending on genre, backlist, or experience?
Elana Johnson: “Of course it does! I don’t write sexy romance. I do not have NSFW art, swag, or scenes to share with readers.
“Truly, I think you need to know your own limits of what you can realistically provide for readers, and you need to identify something unique and special about your books, world, or characters that will have them signing up without you pushing or asking them to.
“Because, in the end, it’s about story. It’s about characters and stories that readers want to immerse themselves in. You have to find that, create that, for them, and they’ll come.”
For authors with active mailing lists or engaged social media followers, starting a subscriptions business might be a logical next step in taking control of your revenue. Ream offers a platform that combines the membership services of Patreon with reader-friendly features, as long as you are prepared to lead them there.