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Patreon: What It Is, and What It Isn't

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Thorn Wilde


Patreon is a service that I think a lot of people don't quite understand. Some people find it disingenuous, for instance, to ask people for money for a product that they will later be giving away for free, as many do. Others see it as akin to begging. That second one I find particularly odd... If anything, it's like busking. 


Some history first: Back in the olden days, it was common for talented artists to acquire patrons. A patron might provide the artist with food, a place to live, money for paints and canvases/ink and paper/instruments, and general support so that they were free to create rather than worry about surviving. Many of the great painters, authors, and composers of history had patrons to help support them, especially when they were just starting out. Mozart earned the patronage of kings. Not that I'm comparing today's online content creators with Mozart.


Patreon is not Kickstarter. While some may certainly use it in a similar way, the platform is different. Some creators ask for support on a per project basis, one sum per thing, which is similar. Some of these creators later give away their project for free, others use it as a pre-order service. 


Most use it for monthly contributions. People use the system differently. Game developers or creators of popular mods for games, for instance, often release versions for their patrons prior to releasing it to the public for free. Creators of game mods often spend an awful lot of time on creating something for their community. Digging down into the core scripts of a game and altering them is no mean feat. And every time a game is updated, the mods have to be as well, so that they are still compatible with the new version.


This is how most people who offer their content for free use Patreon. It is a voluntary donation toward creation of further content. Some then offer sneak peeks of their work, pre-releases of content, exclusive progress updates, blog posts, and so on to their patrons. Authors often offer people the option of reading a chapter before everyone else gets to.


The most important part is this: When a patron chooses to support a content creator, they are not buying a product. They are contributing to future content creation by making it easier for a content creator to make and publish content. Patronage is voluntary. It's a donation. Some patrons even choose not to receive any of the rewards offered by content creators. Most importantly, no one will be upset with a reader/viewer/content user/etc. for choosing not to do so. In the end, no matter how it's used, the basic purpose of Patreon is to give people who want to contribute the option of doing so, out of their own free will. 


We reside in a capitalist society where this may be hard to wrap one's head around, really. We're accustomed to paying for goods and services and then receiving what we paid for. When we're used to this mindset, it may feel like you're paying for nothing when you support a content creator on Patreon. But what you are really 'paying' for is a person's ability create more and better content. Personally, I pay more money to content creators on Patreon per month than I'm getting from my grand total of two patrons (one of whom is my mother). Counter intuitive though it sounds, maybe I'll break even soon. 

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Earlier in the history of the Mac platform (pre-internet), shareware was a common way that non-professionals distributed their efforts. User groups had tons of floppy discs full of shareware apps. Users who appreciated the app would send small amounts of money to the developer. It operated on the honor system.  ;–)

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10 hours ago, droughtquake said:

Earlier in the history of the Mac platform (pre-internet), shareware was a common way that non-professionals distributed their efforts. User groups had tons of floppy discs full of shareware apps. Users who appreciated the app would send small amounts of money to the developer. It operated on the honor system.  ;–)

That's how various smaller Unix systems work now, only floppy discs are no longer needed. The operating systems themselves are open source, so anyone can pick it apart and put it back together any way they like, and you can download them for free, along with tonnes of software. I know some developers take paypal donations and the like.

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I think there are definitely two versions of Patreon. One version like you are talking about in the comments. Paying in appreciation of open source and collaborating on new software. This is something I can get behind and support. I don't but I could. :) This is in the same vein when a Podcaster generates content by discussing Game of Thrones. They aren't getting any sponsors from HBO, they are fans creating new art about the show. This is definitely something I can get behind and support. Which I do have several Podcasts which I support through Patreon. But the moment any Podcaster puts their content behind a paywall and charges for it, and then add sponsors I stop supporting them. I don't like people who double dip and takes advantage of the listeners that support them. If you are paying for content, then you should get it commercial free. 


Then you have the version that is rather disturbing. The patreon that supports a YouTube content provider. You know the ones where they are getting money to showcase new make-up or some other such item, then they force their followers to pay via patreon to access those videos where they are already receiving money from the company providing the items.


I understand that its a way of making money, and in one sense I can appreciate the capitalists nature. But again, don't take advantage of your supporters when you are already being compensated for your content. 


I think the Joe Rogan Experience is one of the best examples of a Podcaster doing it right. His Podcast, whether you like him or not, he doesn't charge the listeners. He generates content, he gets his sponsors, and its a free via all Podcast platforms and YouTube.


My two uninformed opinion.



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