I think I should issue this disclaimer before we go any further with today’s post: I love Patreon. I use it, I depend on it, I believe in it. That’s the lens through which I’m going to present today’s analysis. Just wanted you to know.
Okay. Patreon is a relative newcomer to the publishing/crowdfunding scene. It’s only been around for two years in any form, and only the last year in its current incarnation. Still, it’s racked up some impressive numbers: more than $20 million in total funding (as of early 2015), $1 million a month going to creators/publishers (reached in May), more than 12,000 active creators and 250,000 patrons. Recently Patreon bought its direct competitor Subbable and is now, for all intents and purposes, the only major player in the patron/subscription model for art on the web.
It’s not actually a new idea, just a new way to execute. Not that long ago, artists made their money not by hawking their wares to the public, but through patronage, having a wealthy backer put up the cash to support the artist in exchange for access to all the things the artist does. Patreon takes that model into the 21st century by allowing for mass patronage, instead of just one or two patrons. We don’t all have Prince Joseph to take care of us, and few of us are Mozart.
- You open up a creator account on Patreon.com. It’s free.
- You set up your reward system. This takes a little bit of explaining, because while it is similar to the Kickstarter model, there are some differences. You have two types of rewards:
- One set is a per-creation reward. The more a patron gives you per creation/post/story, the more benefits he receives.
- The other set is a funding target, like other crowdfunding platforms. When you reach $400 a story, for instance, you’ll produce a special story just for the people that are currently supporting you.
- You post content. Anything you like, really. You’ll find podcasts, art, comix, songs, poetry, videos, cartoons, film, and even (hurray!) stories. If your story won’t fit well in their post format, you can attach a .pdf or what have you.
- Your patrons sign up with Patreon to support you. They may do this for as little as $1/mo. NOTE: this can be confusing, so make sure you understand both of the ways you can get paid with Patreon:
- One way is the per-creation model. Everytime you post a paid creation, your patrons are charged. They can cap their patronage (so much per month) so that you can’t bankrupt them.
- The other is a per-month model. Your patrons are charged the same amount every month, whether you’ve put up a hundred pieces of content or zero.
I can’t stress enough how excellently this works for content creators. You know, in advance, how much you’re going to be able to get per posted piece. You write a short, you know you’re going to make X from it. You retain the rights, as well, so you can still sell it again (I’ve done that). The charges are automatically made the first of every month and the money deposited in your account.
Downside: For all my raving about the wonders of this platform, there are a couple of downsides that need to be mentioned, though they’re mostly difficulties we encounter as authors of the written word. One, like a lot of the web, the platform skews heavily in favor of visual and audio (or, ideally, both). Artists like Pentatonix ($21,300 per video/song), Peter Hollens ($7236), Amanda Palmer ($33,700. No, that is not a typo. Thirty-three thousand seven hundred dollars. Per creation.) have done brilliantly with this format. You are unlikely to do that well. True authors who do nothing but produce writing cannot expect returns like those above.
Second, the website is still clunky and hard to make real discoveries on. Patreon has a “featured” list for each category of creator, and if you’re not on that list (it does rotate, though the algorithm used for the rotation is opaque), strangers finding you by accident is next to impossible. That can make it hard to grow your patronage through sheer volume of awesomeness.
And the way Patreon presents creations, putting up a novel is not going to work. Even a decent-length short is just a wall of text. It’s hard to make it visually appealing.
Tips: That said, there are good ways around this stuff. They can make you better as a writer, too, in interesting ways.
- Don’t post full stories. Instead of hitting your patrons with 4000 words, parcel the first 1500 words out in free posts, get people hooked, and then post the remaining story behind the paywall, as a creation and as an attachment. It’s not perfect, but the workaround does work. I’ve done it.
- Always dress the post up with a visual. Photos are cheap and/or free. Use them.
- Shoot video and post that content as well. People will click on videos and play them while they’re doing other things. It’s a way to be involved in the creator’s life, which most people find endlessly fascinating. (“Where do you get your ideas?”)
- Record audio of your stories and post that. This is perhaps the single least-utilized method of transmission for writers on the web. The market and demand for this kind of content is immense. I don’t use that word lightly.
- If you’re intent on getting paid for a novel, do it like Dickens. Put out a few thousand words at a time. Even a 60,000-word novel will only take you fifteen posts at 4000 words a crack. Same sort of posting logic applies as in the first bullet above.
Here’s my personal experience with Patreon.
I started writing shorts a few years ago. I had a bank of them, maybe thirty or so, when I opened up on Patreon in May. I’ve since posted 16 of them, about half in the clear, half behind paywall. I put up two pieces of paid content a month.
My first day live, I had 20 people back me, totaling about $185 per story, so an average of $9 and change per patron. I topped out a few days later at 27 patrons and $218 per; I’ve since dropped back to 23 and $190. I do absolutely nothing to increase this number, having had other parts of my career explode in the meantime. However, to date, I’ve been paid $1733 to write short stories this year. By the time we hit the year mark, I’ll have made north of $5000.
I tentatively estimate that there are less than a thousand short story writers that will get paid that much in the next twelve months for nothing but shorts.
There is essentially zero stress with the model. I post, I get paid. I treat my patrons as if they were the angels of Heaven, because that’s precisely what they are.
P.S. If you decide you want to sign up, please use this link: https://patreon.com/invite/mpvzo
We both get paid if you do. Thanks.
Tomorrow, one of the older players in this space, Pubslush.