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Neo-Patronage Revisited: Patreon and the Community of Friends and Fans

I first wrote about Patreon in December of 2013, when the neo-patronage site was barely half a year old. I’ve had a Patreon page since that time, but only this year really started considering it as part of my toolkit (as any regular reader or listener has undoubtedly noticed).

In talking with other creative folks, I realize that not everyone understands Patreon, or even what I mean when I refer to “neo-patronage.”

What Is Neo-Patronage?

I pretty thoroughly explain neo-patronage in that first article about Patreon. If you want a capsule definition, this will work:

neo-patronage / neopatronage:

An economic model in which dedicated community members pledge ongoing periodic monetary contributions to support a creator (writer, artist, musician, filmmaker, podcaster, et al). In return, the creator offers benefits (usually content or access) available only to patrons.

What makes neo-patronage different from the good ol’ patronage that’s been around pretty much since some humans first became rich and some other humans first made art?

The “classic” version of patronage involved one wealthy person supporting a creator or creators, often with the expectation that the creator would produce specific works for the patron. The “house artist,” if you will. Michelangelo and da Vinci, for example, both benefited from patronage. This still happens today.

Technology made patronage available to the masses.

Now, through neo-patronage, rather than a single person, family, or foundation providing substantial financial support to an individual creator, many, many people can pledge small amounts of money — pocket change, in many cases — to one or many creators.

What is neo-patronage? An economic model where community members pledge ongoing monetary contributions to support a creator. In return, the creator offers benefits available only to patrons. Click To Tweet

The Benefits of Neo-Patronage for Creators Like You

If you’re reading this and you’re a creator, it’s a safe bet that you have some kind of “real” job in addition to your job of making stuff.

For most, that’s because a quote-unquote real job offers a seemingly consistent and reliable flow of income. At the end of every pay period, you can expect to be paid. You know how long the pay period is, and you can allocate your funds accordingly so that, ideally, you don’t run out of money before the next injection of cash.

If you’re an artist asking others to compensate you in exchange for owning or experiencing your art (in other words, you sell books, paintings, tickets to plays or rock shows, and so on), payday for your creative job only comes when the art is completed and offered to the world… if at all!

Until then, for however long it takes you to make the thing, you’re investing time, and energy, and, often, money.

Neo-patronage, especially as facilitated through Patreon, provides a buffer of income that smooths out the often uneven ebb and flow of most creators’ fortune, just like a paycheck from a “real job.”  For some creators, the cumulative income from patrons equals and even dwarfs what they might have been paid in a traditional job.

This is very compelling. I dream of reaching a point where I can dedicate all of my time to the mission of helping other creators, and making more of my own creative works. I’ll reach that point when patrons cumulatively pledge between five and ten thousand dollars per month.

What could you do if your patrons eliminated the need for that pesky other job?

The Benefits of Neo-Patronage for Your Community of Friends and Fans

If there’s one thing I’ve learned being an online creator for two decades, it’s that the people who appreciate your work feel connected to it, and to you.

It helps, of course, if you strive to be an accessible and transparent creator, to the extent that you’re comfortable with that. As I’ve written elsewhere, building a community where you (as creator) and your fans (as consumers) are treated as partners and peers is much more effective and authentic than cultivating a disconnected audience.

A connected community is naturally invested, emotionally, in your success. They want you to make more of the stuff they love, and so, they’re often willing to financially invest, too.

In return, it behooves you to give back in a way that matters to them.

What that means is going to depend on what you make, and why your patrons love what you make, and what they value most about you and your work. It might not be what you think… so if you can (perhaps through your mailing list or via social media), ask them!

Above all, provide value.

Right now, I’m offering my patrons uncut, unexpurgated editions of each episode of Sonitotum a few days before the edited / shorter version is released to the public, plus exclusive access to my serial fiction project, and everything I create that I release in electronic format… plus opportunities for group and one-on-one hangouts with me to talk about whatever they want.

I’m always thinking about other perks and rewards I can offer. As my patron community grows, I’ll hear more from them as to what they want, and I’ll do my best to accommodate them.

Why Patreon?

Patreon logoPatreon is, at its core, a payment processing platform with some bells and whistles that make it easy to manage a pledge-and-reward system. Some have described it as a payment processor with a social network attached, and while that’s simplifying things, it’s not incorrect.

Patreon has two models of patronage: pay by the month (a membership approach), and pay per creation. With both options, it handles keeping track of pledges and payments for you, automatically, and delivers the funds to you via direct deposit.

If you want to incorporate some kind of neo-patronage system but don’t want to use Patreon,  there are plugins for your self-hosted, WordPress-based site that you can install and set up. These will all cost you money to license and maintain.

Rather not spend money? Patreon earns their keep by taking a percentage of each pledge; you don’t have to pay them anything out of pocket and they handle the infrastructure.

Once upon a time, I might have encouraged DIY, independent creators to do as much themselves as possible. I’m wiser now: whenever possible, use tools that allow you to reserve your time and energy for the most important thing: making more stuff.

So yes, you can roll your own membership site (rolling your own patronage site is more problematic!), but you’re better served — and more importantly, your community of friends and fans is better served — by taking advantage of an established, recognized platform that will do all that heavy lifting for you.

Patreon Patron Access On Your Own Website

If you want the best of both worlds — a Patreon account that handles all the sticky bits involved with getting patron pledges into your deserving bank account and a way for patrons to have exclusive access to content on your own website — there’s an inexpensive WordPress plugin for that. I use it myself to control access to my patron-only serial fiction and other content.  Note that you will need to set up your Patreon account first!

How Patreon Helps Build Connection Between You and Your Community

As I mentioned above, your community of friends and fans loves having special access to you and your creative process. Patreon has a few add-on tools that help foster that connection.

  • Voice and Text Chat. Through an integration with the free Discord chat service, you can have a dedicated chat server for you and your patrons. You can even control access to different channels on the server based on a patron’s pledge level. I just set up a Discord server for my patrons and I’m looking forward to seeing what it does for engagement. Pretty neat!
  • Lens. If you’ve ever created an Instagram or Facebook Story, you get Lens: very short video clips and / or photographs that exist for twenty four hours before auto-deleting.  Lens might be perfect for showing a sneak peak at a work in progress, or delivering very quick status updates to patrons. Creators and patrons make and view Lens clips, respectively, via the Patreon mobile app.
  • Live Streaming. Patreon encourages creators to use the Crowdcast service to create live streaming video experiences for patrons. The live video integrates with your Patreon page, making a real-time, interactive access experience a fairly straightforward experience. However, Crowdcast is not free.  For a free alternative, if you have a YouTube channel, check to see if you’re authorized to create and broadcast live streams through that platform.

Will You Make Neo-Patronage Through Patreon One Of Your Revenue Streams?

So what do you think? As independent creators, we know how important it is to have multiple streams of income flowing from our creative endeavors. Will you make Patreon one of those streams? Why or why not?

Are you already employing neo-patronage through Patreon? How’s it working out for you?

Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Published inScribtotum

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