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Is Patreon The Neo-Patronage Holy Grail?

PatreonI learned about Patreon in November. It’s a sort of crowdfunding platform, but campaigns don’t focus on individual projects… Patreon campaigns focus on creators, and are ongoing.

Here’s how Patreon works in under two minutes:

As someone who believes in the potential promise of neo-patronage but has yet to see a really viable platform emerge, I’m fascinated by Patreon.

Wait. What Is Neo-Patronage?

To understand neo-patronage, allow me to briefly explain the concept of patronage. Let’s cover the old to, if you will, understand the neo.

For the purpose of this post, patronage is the act of one individual or organization providing financial support for the creative efforts of another.

Most folks look to the patronage systems of the medieval or Renaissance eras as the most familiar example of this model. William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, and many other authors, musicians and artists whose work you’ve seen in museums, studied in school, or watched adaptations of on public television or the BBC benefited from the patronage of royalty, the clergy, or merchant princes.

Classical patronage was defined by one person or group with very deep pockets supporting creators with empty or very-much-less-full pockets. Sometimes, the patronage came with conditions that restricted the kinds of art the creator could make.

Neo-patronage also involves providing creators with financial support that enables them to focus their energies on their creative endeavors.

Unlike the classical patronage model of one patron giving a large amount of money to a creator, under neo-patronage the creator receives many gifts in small amounts from many patrons. I see lots of advantages over the classical model:

  • Support of the arts is not limited to those with lots of money. Anyone who can spare a few dollars a month can be a patron.
  • The relationship between the patron and the creator is one of peers in a community, rather than the grossly unbalanced classical model. This is a big one for me.
  • Creators can afford to be patrons themselves, thereby “paying it forward” and expanding the neo-patronage economy.

Looking At Patreon

Patreon is the brainchild of Jack Conte (of the YouTube-famous duo Pomplamoose) and serial entrepreneur Sam Yam (AdWhirl, ChompOn). Conte conceived Patreon after realizing that, even for the most popular YouTube creators, ad revenue from that site did not provide a sustainable income. You can check out Conte talking about the creation of Patreon if you like. It’s an engaging half hour:

Patreon recently received over two million in funding. Over 2,000 people have created profiles and seek patronage on the site. I’ve searched through many of them (hint: leave the search box blank and just click “discover” to get an infinite list of creators apparently arranged by number of patrons), and it looks like Patreon has (so far) attracted mostly musicians and video bloggers. However, there are a fair number of game designers, visual artists, craftspeople, podcasters… and yes, writers.

Can Self-Published Authors Benefit From Patreon?

That’s the big question. I’ve been writing about how it’s more important to build a reader community than it is to focus on marketing specific works, and something like Patreon could certainly be part of that approach.

During my successful Kickstarter campaign for my last novel, I realized that no matter how wonderful it was to have so many patrons for that particular project, when it was all over I was pretty much back where I started when it came to making a viable living as a creator (more on that in my next blog post). The Patreon emphasis on patronage of the creator’s process over investment in a single work appeals to me a great deal.

I’d love it if you would check out Patreon and report back here in the comments with your opinions. Is Patreon the holy grail of neo-patronage? Given the appropriate effort on the part of the creator, can Patreon work as well for writers as it seems to work for some musicians and vloggers? Would you support an author through Patreon (here are the creators I patronize)?

Let me know you thoughts about Patreon in the comments!

Comments

    • Matthew Wayne Selznick says

      Thanks for commenting, Dan! It looks like Veronika has seven patrons to date (but you’re not among them?!) Do you have any idea how she’s been leveraging the platform with her community? Let her know about this post, if you would… I’d love some feedback from someone actively using Patreon. Thanks!

    • Matthew Wayne Selznick says

      Very cool, Scott! The best way to grok Patreon (I’ve found) is to dig in and become a patron of a few folks. Lets you really see how others are using it.

  1. says

    ME (on Facebook): “I just heard about this from Corey Reid last week (we were discussing your exact question about it’s value to self-publishing authors).

    I think it can be awesome, but it’s not clear to me how it plays out when you’re offering a wide spectrum of product (a poem this month, a novella next week, a short story the following month, and a novel the next month).

    It seems pricing options are set, so how can you easily change up pricing based on product – or is the whole point to standardize ALL product on some kind of set price point arrangement?

    So, I’d jump on this for products I place in the relatively same price/value category, but I don’t see me using it for ALL of my product lineup.

    And I’m a little worried about inserting a platform between me and my audience (wouldn’t do it for Facebook or Twitter, why would I do it for Patreon?).

    Finally, can’t you set up Mailchimp to charge folks only when a communication is sent out? You could replicate Patreon’s functionality with variously priced subscription mailing lists and not sacrifice the immediacy of connection with your audience. Yes, you lose the discoverability of Patreon’s platform in finding new fans, but is that tradeoff worth it (it might be – I’m still evaluating it)?

    Good stuff, Matt, looking forward to hearing your thoughts!”

    YOU (on Facebook): “Great comments, Scott Walker — I’d love to see ‘em over on the original post!

    One thing I can address from a brief exchange with Sam Yam: Patreon is not for pricing products… it’s for offering patrons a way to support creators, not creations.”

    ME (here): “Done!

    Okay, so the idea is to support creatives in a true patronage system, in which value exchange is done at the creative level v. the creation level (person v. work)?

    Fair enough, but that still doesn’t *quite* pass muster if I apply a patronage model to it. Specifically, patronage is usually conducted in an “X for Y” manner (with commissions being the most common form of patronage, at least according to Wikipedia).

    Patreon says something more like, “you give the creative something (or nothing) when they do something, if they do something, but you aren’t going to know what that something is until it’s done,” like some crazy, Zen-induced Schrödinger experiment.”

    But forget the philosophical hairball-splitting exercise (ack).

    I like the idea of Patreon and am trying to figure out how to best implement it. Where I’m struggling is with the idea that it’s a better long-term option than Amazon, Kobo, Kickstarter, etc.

    If you are not explicitly expecting or trying to make money from your creations, Patreon looks awesome (though I would argue you can achieve the same thing without needing a third party taking over communication with your audience).

    If you are actively wanting/needing to make money from your creations, Patreon is probably best used as a content marketing extension off your hub website that should (if you’re smart) be an audience-building platform you use to ultimately encourage fans to connect directly with you (e.g., signing up for your newsletter). Or, to be fair, it’s a content marketing vehicle with the potential for commercial upside.

    • Matthew Wayne Selznick says

      Thanks for bringing the conversation over here, Scott! Let’s see…

      can’t you set up Mailchimp to charge folks only when a communication is sent out? You could replicate Patreon’s functionality with variously priced subscription mailing lists and not sacrifice the immediacy of connection with your audience. Yes, you lose the discoverability of Patreon’s platform in finding new fans, but is that tradeoff worth it

      You probably could… the question (for me) is if letting Patreon handle the logistics (saving me set up and maintenance time / energy) is worth the trade-off.

      I’d still absolutely encourage my Patreon patrons to sign up for my mailing list. That would probably be in my “thank you” message, in fact. :-)

      Where I’m struggling is with the idea that it’s a better long-term option than Amazon, Kobo, Kickstarter, etc.

      I don’t see it as an either / or… I’ll still certainly sell things on all the various platforms. The “value add” for my patrons would probably take the form of exclusive content, one-on-one engagement opportunities, progress reports on stuff I’m in the middle of, and so on.

      If you are actively wanting/needing to make money from your creations, Patreon is probably best used as a content marketing extension off your hub website that should (if you’re smart) be an audience-building platform you use to ultimately encourage fans to connect directly with you (e.g., signing up for your newsletter).

      Agreed. Ideally, I’d like to see a white-label or plug-in version of the platform that integrates with an existing site. Maybe that’s in the roadmap… they’ve only been around since May, so that’s an intriguing question.

      • says

        The timing of this post is perfect, as it’s a great exercise in determining how indie creatives should evaluate new platforms (something I’m currently noodling on).

        – What’s the criteria for deciding if you should add another platform/channel?

        – How do you choose which content is used on which platforms (or sent down which distribution channels)?

        – How does the new platform integrate with the existing system and marketing plans?

        – How will pricing of your content be affected (or, better, how will you effectively measure the true profits/opportunity costs of your chosen pricing structure on the new platform)?

        Thanks again for the tip, and I look forward to hearing if/how you end up using Patreon!

        • Matthew Wayne Selznick says

          My criteria for deciding if I should add another platform/channel are (off the top of my head):

          1) Does it add substantially to my ability to build my community and increase my revenue while also saving me time / effort?

          2) Do I find the people behind the platform/channel to be of like mind / similar ethics? In other words, would I be comfortable hanging out with them in meatspace?

          3) Is the platform/channel someplace my community can access easily?

          Some of your other items don’t exactly apply to Patreon, I don’t think… for example, using Patreon won’t affect my pricing, since I won’t use Patreon as a pre-order platform like Kickstarter. With Patreon, patrons pay you after you make the thing.

          I’m not sure one set of questions / assessments can apply to every platform that comes around… but your questions are still good ones to ask (even if the answer sometimes turns out to be “n/a”).

  2. says

    This is very timely for me. I love the idea of Patreon, and in fact support two musical artists/producers there. I’ve been wondering if it is a viable platform for a writer (in my case, content, ghost and copywriting) or some other creatives, such as a seamstress/sewist. I was hesitant to pursue Kickstarter for the very reason you mentioned…how does it become sustainable for longer term creation.

    You bring up some great points, and I do believe this has fantastic potential. It appears to be growing and proving itself quickly. As a patron, it is extremely satisfying. I am trying to decide if it would be as satisfying as a creator/artist in my particular niches. :-) Thanks for some great food for thought!

    • Matthew Wayne Selznick says

      Thanks for dropping by, Cherie! Yes, I think Patreon certainly has potential for the more crafty creative endeavors like sewing. In fact, I seem to recall at least one or two cosplayers on their–similar stuff.

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