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!