Why Patreon is flawed to the core, and how to fix it
There’s many different ways to earn a living as a creator, but in the context of a consistent living, there’s very few.
That’s pretty much what you’re signing up for when you head down this path though. You’re trading in the stability of a 9-5 for the freedom of living on your own terms. That financial stability drops away the moment you walk out your bosses door.
Does it really have to though?
As a content creator, the first funding model that comes to mind when filtered through the lens of stability and consistency is Patreon.
A few years ago when I was crushin coffee beans for rent, I decided to take the plunge and try my luck at this whole content thing full-time. Patreon was the first thing I turned to.
The platform is pretty simple, it essentially allows you to run your own subscription service. Members of your audience support you financially, you give them “rewards” in return. Let’s call this the “membership model”.
You get financial stability, the people get exclusive content. It’s a win win.
Early on, I had some success with this approach and actually managed to make a decent living. After a while though, I couldn’t help but notice myself continuing to run into the same dead ends over and over again.
To me it feels like there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the whole membership-reward structure. No matter what rewards I offer, no matter how I position my content, it always comes back around to bite me in the ass.
The first issue I kept on running into with this funding model is the fact that I’m constantly playing a game of trying to optimise for the interest of members. To put it bluntly, the more value locked behind a paywall, the more money you get.
Some creators do this really well, and I mean really well… the yard boys do be getting that bread
Personally though, I found it to be this vicious downward spiral of doing things I wouldn’t otherwise be doing, just for the sake of monetary gain.
It made me feel icky.
Me no like feeling icky.
That leads me into my next round o’ beef with this membership model, which stems from the idea of “exclusive rewards” themselves.
When I sit down to create something, I’m doing it with the knowledge that I’m chipping away at some content for the world to see, out in the open. I get excited.
When I sit down to create some exclusive rewards for a small portion of my audience that’s interested enough to afford it, there just ain’t that same sparkle in my eyes. It’s like I’m throwing my ideas into a dark echo chamber that will never see the light of day.
Yes, I’m earning a living, but at what cost?
The effort I put into the exclusive content feels like it subtracts from my core projects that really matter the most to me.
I lose motivation and after a while, things just stagnate.
Alright, so chasing the bag like Mr. Krabs isn’t the play. There’s gotta be a better alternative?
I was listening to a podcast the other day about a guy named Andrew Kelly. He was talking about how he’s gone about funding his project, which is the Zig programming language.
It really struck me how simple his model was. He just set up a donation system and then people who really enjoyed his work contributed to it.
No rewards, none of “Patreon’s gimmicks”, just simple, honest donations from people who want to show their support.
This “contributor model” has none of the drawbacks of the membership one, while still being a consistent income.
This got me extremely excited.
I’m in, 100% of the way, time to scrap memberships entirely, cancel everyone’s subscriptions right this second, LET’S DO THIS.
Is what I would have said… but something just didn’t feel quite right.
No rewards whatsoever? Who would want to sign up for that?
A while ago in an attempt to optimise my rewards, I surveyed all of my active members. In one of the questions I wanted to get a rough idea of why they subscribed in the first place so I could see what was and wasn’t working.
I listed off all of my rewards at the time, access to source code, the discord community, regular updates, etc.
Proud of my soon to be answered questions, I sent them off to my members…
What the hell is going on with all of those little slices?
Ah shit, I forgot to disable the ‘other’ option.
I exported the data as a spreadsheet and upon closer inspection, here’s what those answers said:
“Honestly to just support you, everything else is a bonus”
“support the homie randy, duh”
“Followed your progress for a few years now, and wanted to support your work! The access to everything we receive is just a bonus.”
“To allow you to continue making content.”
Uhhh, come again for Big Fudge?
By narrowing in on rewards for so many years I’d been completely blinding myself to the bigger picture.
I recalled a conversation I had a while back with a mate of mine. “Do you have a Patreon?” I asked.
“nah not yet,” he replied.
“Well I’m struggling to come up with ideas for rewards, I want it to be impactful/packed with stuff.”
“I DON’T CARE, JUST LET ME FUCKING GIVE YOU MY MONEY!” I screamed internally.
And that’s when it hit me…
Rewards. Do. Not. Matter.
I had been thinking about it wrong this whole time. I’m not getting nothing in return by donating to him. I’m getting the knowledge that I played a part, however small that may be, in pushing him towards his goals, towards sustainability. It may not be a physical reward, but it is an intrinsic one.
We’re wired for it. Especially if it’s to help those we care about the most, who’s work we resonate with the most, who we want to see succeed the most. Because when they do, we’ve played a part in that.
Switching back to the creator side of this discussion — I’ve no doubt that I’m going to lose a lot of supporters in this transition.
It’s going to be one long, slow, uphill climb back to sustainability. It may take months, years even. But by the end of it?
“There is only one success–to be able to spend your life in your own way.” — Christopher Morley
With this new contributor model, there’s no relying on views. No relying on rewards. You’re relying on one thing, and one thing only.
Faith in humanity to see the blood, sweat, piss n shit that you’re putting into your content.
Faith in humanity to reward you for it.
It’s like busking, but at scale.