Like most artists, I make a lot of free content. My blog is free, and I have no intention of changing that. It’s not unusual for artists of any discipline to put their work online for free. Some do it to build their brand, some do it to help others, and some do it just because they love to share their creations.
However, it can be nice to give your audience the option to pay for your services. Platforms like Patreon and Buy Me A Coffee allow you to create what I call a “virtual tip jar”- a place where someone can give you a small amount of money as a way of saying thanks for what you do. There are a lot of these services around, and I wanted to see which one would be the best for me. From what I’ve discovered, Ko-fi seems to be the best of the bunch. Here’s why it’s my favourite, and how it stacks up against its competitors.
How Ko-fi works
Ko-fi is an online service that allows you to receive money from people who enjoy your work. You set up an account and connect it to your PayPal, meaning people can donate small amounts of money with just the click of a button.
The idea behind Ko-fi is that your audience can donate the same amount as a cup of coffee, which is why I call it a virtual tip jar. This creates a different mindset to a paywall or subscription service. It’s a one-payment, it’s a small amount, and it’s completely optional.
I turned to Ko-fi because I didn’t like the idea of Patreon. I didn’t want to create work that only those who could afford it would be able to access. I also didn’t want the pressure of creating extra content for a Patreon channel. With Ko-fi, I can continue to put out work as normal, and someone can donate a few Euro if they’d like to show their appreciation.
There are two versions of Ko-fi; the original free version and Ko-fi Gold, which costs $6 a month. I’ve been using the free version, so I’ll be focusing on that, but here are the key differences:
- Ko-fi has no platform fees. Ko-fi Gold costs $6 per month
- Ko-fi only allows one-time payments. Ko-fi Gold also allows monthly subscriptions, similar to Patreon
- Ko-fi sets your donation price for you. For example, my donation price is set to €3, something I had no say in. Ko-fi Gold allows you to choose your donation price and add multiple donation options.
- A standard Ko-fi page says “Buy X a cup of coffee!”. Ko-fi Gold allows you to change this to any item of your choice, for example, “Buy X a cup of tea!” This is a small feature, but a nice way for you to customise your page. However, this only applies on the Ko-fi website. If you look at my button, you’ll see that it says “Buy me a cup of tea”.
- Ko-fi Gold allows you to accept commissions through their site. You can say whether or not you’re open to commissions, and show a selection of available products.
Despite all these bonus features, I’m happy with my standard account. I think Ko-fi Gold has some great features, but I don’t use the platform enough to benefit from them. A standard account is perfect for a casual user, and Ko-fi Gold will work great for anyone who wants to use it as a more active source of income.
(If you do decide on a Ko-fi Gold account, you can get a 10% discount with this link.)
Ko-fi vs. Patreon
Patreon is undoubtedly the top dog when it comes to artist donation services. It’s a great platform, it just offers slightly different services to Ko-fi. Patreon allows you to create an account that your supporters can subscribe to. You create a series of “tiers”, each with their own monthly fee. Each tier comes with a series of benefits, decided by the artist.
Patreon works really well for a lot of artists, but it also requires more dedication than Ko-fi. You need to create exclusive content on a monthly basis, and extra content for your higher-paying tiers. Patreon also takes between 5% and 12% of your earnings, depending on your creator plan. This does not include payment processing or PayPal fees. Ko-fi is free to use, though you may be charged transaction fees by PayPal.
Ko-fi vs. Buy Me A Coffee
I’m just going to say it; Buy Me A Coffee is a MUCH better name than Ko-fi. There’s no denying it, I just had to get it out there.
BMAC is much more similar to Ko-fi than Patreon. It’s very similar in the services it provides, though Ko-fi’s interface feels more personal. Where Ko-fi says “Buy X a coffee!”, BMAC just has a coffee cup emoji. Ko-fi profiles seem to be more fleshed out, whereas BMAC profiles are clearly just a portal that the creators link to from other accounts. There doesn’t appear to be a premium version of BMAC, they just offer the basics.
Buy Me A Coffee charges a 5% platform fee, on top of what you’ll be charged by PayPal.
Why not just use PayPal?
If all of these platforms link to PayPal, why not just send your audience there?
That’s a very fair question, and I think the answer lies in the way Ko-fi interacts with the artist’s audience.
With PayPal, you can send someone any amount you want. With Ko-fi, you just send enough for a cup of coffee. One feels like payment, the other like a tip. A PayPal donation button doesn’t make any recommendations, which can leave someone guessing as to what they should donate. What’s generous? What’s insulting? They might overthink and decide against it. With Ko-fi, the amount is made clear. The idea that it’s a cup of coffee makes the whole thing feel casual, and there’s no pressure on the donor to do anything extra.
(It’s also worth noting that some people don’t trust PayPal buttons due to years of scammers putting fake ones all over the Internet.)
From what I’ve found, Ko-fi is a great way to support artists. You can give them enough for a cup of coffee, the same way you’d throw some change into a busker’s guitar case. There’s no monthly obligation, and all it takes is the click of a button. It’s also a great way for small artists to make a bit of extra cash without the pressure of creating extra work.
Do you have Ko-fi, Patreon, or something else? What do you think of platforms like these, as an artist or a consumer? Let me know!
My blog content is 100% free, now and always. If you found my writing entertaining or useful and want to say thanks, you can always buy me a cup of tea.