Creators Have Patreon by the Balls
Perpetual crowd-funding platforms like Patreon can never screw over their creators
Disclosure: I sold a company to Patreon, own a small amount of their stock, and am on their board of advisors.
People who make content on the internet are used to having the rug pulled out from under them. Algorithm changes, platform death, baffling redesigns, sudden and inexplicable toxification of a platform, when you make things, you are at the mercy of the platform that you make things on. Often, you are left with no way of reaching the audience that you’d spent years building.
And so, when it comes to Patreon, it makes sense that creators are extra terrified. Not only is it the place where we connect with our most dedicated fans, it is where a huge portion of our revenue comes from. Patreon has facilitated over a billion dollars moving from tens of millions of supporters to tens of thousands of creators.
And that’s meant that policy or product changes at Patreon are often met with anxiety, apprehension, and occasionally fury. Creators are deeply invested in the success (and worried about the potential failure) of Patreon.
But we have to understand something about Patreon and other perpetual crowd-funding platforms like OnlyFans, Gumroad, Ko-Fi, and a ton of others do not have the same stakeholders as content platforms.
Creators are used to playing second fiddle to the users of a platform and the advertisers who fund the content. I’m not saying that creators don’t matter to Instagram or YouTube, but they are replaceable. Creators go to YouTube and Instagram and TikTok because that’s where the audience is, so those platforms need to serve users first.
But on Patreon, creators bring the users, and creators can take them away.
Not only can they, but if they had to, it would be good for them.
I sold a Patreon-like crowd-funding platform to Patreon and, in the process, we had to ask subscribers on my platform to sign up on Patreon. We assumed we’d have something like 20% attrition in this process, which we worked with Patreon to create systems to mitigate for our creators. Except, turns out, during the migration process, every single one of our creators ended up with more supporters than they had before.
I don’t want to be callous about this, but when we ask our audiences for support, it is important that creators have a good story to tell. And if Patreon ever really screwed creators over, that would be a very compelling story. Indeed, it’s a story that creators who make edgy or hateful content have been able to make to their audience when they get kicked off of Patreon.
Now, many of those creators have a hard time finding other homes, both because the landscape had not filled out and because of the nature of the content they create. But I think Patreon is well aware that now, if creators had a good reason to leave, that would also be an amazing opportunity to ask for the help from their community that they would, in that moment, legitimately need.
All of this is to say, it is very easy to imagine Patreon as just another platform, a business for consumers. But, in fact, Patreon is a B2B business. Creators need their communities to be supported (and will (and have) fought for that), but Patreon needs to support creators, and they know it.
I’m not saying it wouldn’t absolutely suck to have to move your audience from Patreon, nor am I saying that attrition would end up being positive for every creator, but creators have far more power over Patreon than I think they imagine. This power should both be wielded when problems arise, but also give us a great sense of security and alleviate some anxiety.
I recently switched from Patreon to Substack. It was difficult because as a small creator (mainly writing, but also podcasts, streams, and music releases) with not a lot patrons bc Substack’s minimum was $5/mo vs the $3/mo I sold them on. Ended up just giving them indefinite free SubStack subs. My blog on Squarespace (which got me Apple News/Google SEO integration, but cost $$ and their newsletter campaigns suck) was another thing to maintain and essentially copy/paste to. So it was a Substack newsletter that copied to a SquareSpace blog, that I also had to tell Patreon I made.
Now my website is simply my Substack and the paid tier is a private podcast & more frequent/intimate music updates and pieces. I’ve got hundreds of readers now and SubStack’s analytics help me understand my writing more than my marketing, which I think is ultimately what I want? But paid conversions have been difficult, so I still haven’t been able to fully focus on craft and audience all year. It’s been infrastructure
People really try to apply the 3 tier ecosystem (platform, advertiser, viewer) of YouTube to every other internet "thing" but not everything is the same. This is great analysis.