A creator’s income and job security are always on shaky ground, even without navigating a pandemic and ongoing social unrest. But as the world moved totally online this past year, we’ve seen a rise in independent creators producing irresistible content and gaining a fanbase outside the 9-to-5. With newer forms of art like NFTs exploding onto the scene, patrons are reassessing the value of art and creators are finding more ways to monetize their craft than ever before. One social platform that’s looking more and more attractive to indie creators is Patreon. But why? We’re here to walk you through what Patreon is, how they plan to “fuel the Creator Economy” and help you decide if it’s right for you.
A bit about Patreon
Created by YouTube star Jack Conte and product developer Sam Yam in 2013, Patreon has been working steadily to create online spaces for creators to own their craft and connect with fans. Currently, Patreon is home to over 100,000 creators who have connected with over 7 million fans—and their earnings are in the billions since the start of Patreon. Since the pandemic hit last year, more and more creators have looked for supplemental income and found it on Patreon.
How does Patreon work?
Any creator, be they a journalist, illustrator, designer, podcaster, videographer—you name it—can create a Patreon page. Creators set a monthly tiered subscription and detail what each offering will include for patrons. An example: Rachel the journalist offers $1 for a newsletter and monthly article, $5 for a monthly zine and sneak-peaks at upcoming projects, or $10 for everything, plus a seat in Rachel’s writing classes three times a year. Patreon will take a 5% cut (plus any other fees) from her patrons’ monthly subscriptions and the rest goes to Rachel. With regular promotion across her socials, Rachel could see a good chunk of change coming her way every month.
We should note, though, making a living on Patreon is not a promise, in spite of the positive marketing. You’ll still need to have a job (womp womp), but for some creators, it could mean finally affording new equipment or feeling confident in turning down a project you’re not into. Some creators have eventually left their soul-sucking job and took their side gig full-time because of support from the community. There are even some surprising numbers around how fast people are joining the creator economy and making a living. But for now, while Patreon does offer flexibility and control, it is by no means a total income solution for the majority of its creators.
What makes Patreon a good choice for creators?
For a platform that helps creators craft experiences, it’s not super flashy and that means the work to drum up excitement is all on you, the creator. While places like YouTube and TikTok might seem like they offer the same functionality in connecting with fans, Patreon works better for verbal, visual, and audio producers who want to put their art first and have better control over their persona. Plus, you don’t need to meet a fan or view quota or sell ads to start making money. You can be as quiet or as loud about your life and process as you want, given that it’s not necessarily a video-based model (unless video is your whole thing). So what Patreon offers is actually closer to places like Etsy, but with the ability to make real connections with fans and offer them exclusive content. Some would argue that’s what makes Patreon more attractive for artists and writers—your newfound community. The larger your subscriber base, the better chance you’ll have at relying on continual income, whereas an online store might only see a few repeat customers.
How are creators using Patreon?
Maybe the real question is how are creators not using Patreon? While looking at the most recent top earners on Patreon, it seems you can offer just about any kind of wholesome content you want. From educational cooking videos to autobiographical webcomics to fully recorded DJ sets from around the world, Patreon allows anyone to be a creator. The trick is finding what makes you unique in your own expertise and then turning that into a continuous, reliable content offering.
All that being said, the usability of Patreon seems like it’s a lot of work. While creating content, you’ll need to be cross-promoting yourself elsewhere on social media. It seems wise to limit yourself on outside distractions. The demands to satisfy patrons on Patreon will be the best litmus test to see if you can be on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram all at once. It’s probably best to focus on Patreon and one other platform you’re comfortable with to start.
What are the pros and cons of joining Patreon?
Let’s start with the cons. The biggest one seems to be that Patreon mostly works for creators who have already built a following elsewhere—we’re talking a 100K+ following. As the founders mentioned in this article, Patreon’s goal is to turn your existing fans into patrons. So it’s up to you to find the fans first (and keep them). Another con seems to be that many fans have no idea what Patreon is, so you’ll have to provide a little education on how it works along with what you’re offering and at what cost.
The Pros? Creators can monetize any and all elements of their process. You can, say, offer a class on how to paint with oils and then sell reproductions of the painting you created during the class. If your work is steady, there will be a steady(ish) amount of income that your subscribers will provide. Another is, as we’ve seen with the pandemic, most fans are spending their money online instead of visiting art spaces, theaters, and galleries. This moment might be the optimal time for creating the work you love while growing your number of patrons.
TLDR; if you know you have a sizable fanbase and have a clear, consistent offering, Patreon might be right for you. If it sounds like more work than it’s worth for you, we hear you!
BTW, if you happen to be looking for your next gig before you hit the big time, we can help with that...