The Patreon Kerfuffle

The Patreon Kerfuffle

... So in my hunt on the Internet, I came across this thing called Patreon ...

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So in my hunt for some new work on the Internet I came across this thing called Patreon. It’s partly a Kickstarter-type of site where you can offer up your art, be it music, video or writing, but it differs in that it is designed more for an ongoing experience rather than a one-time event. Thus, you have musicians who come out with a weekly or monthly piece of music, for which their patrons, or supporters, can pledge anywhere from $1 on up, either on a monthly or “per-piece” basis. It’s the same for other flavors of artists – videographers, writers, comedians, photographers, you name it.

Give It A Shot

I figured it wouldn’t cost anything but a bit of my time to try this out, so yesterday I created an account and published my first “public” piece (actually a reposting of one of my The Great Hamster Land-Speed Record pieces), to be followed by more pieces for the eyes of “patrons” only. My thought was that this might bring in a few extra dollars without a great amount of effort.

But then I got to thinking …

Okay, first off, I don’t like re-posting my stuff anywhere on the ‘Net. It’s bad for SEO, but more than that it’s bad for business. Why should someone who enjoys my writing and wants to help support me in creating it be subjected to duplicate content, especially since they’re now paying for it?

In other words, let’s say you read my article “Why The Dalai Lama Would Hate Pennsylvania” on this site in say, oh, early November (I haven’t written such an article yet, but now that I mention it …). In the middle of December you come across my Patreon site, decide to kick a buck to help support my fresh, innovative work, and suddenly find yourself reading the very same article you just read a little over a moth ago.

Not good.

Of course, I could write new stuff and post it solely on Patreon. That’s a possibility I mulled over. But then what happens to readers of this blog? They get cut off from my latest work. This blog will flounder, and I’ll become just another “pay for play” writer. That’s a little too elitist even for me.

Bitter Dregs

A few other things came to mind yesterday after my Patreon site went live. Do I really want to give over my long-held ‘Net name – SifuPhil – to yet another “outside” company? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all these social media sites and more are cashing in on their users’ hard work and good names, extracting their pound of flesh for every new post while boldly placing THEIR name at the top of the banner.

It’s like, on Facebook my address is Notice whose name comes first in that address. It’s the same with Patreon – my address there is Once again, it’s second billing. These companies get the “juice” of a good SEO kick while I get the bitter dregs.

Which brings up another little rant I have about Patreon – their writer’s interface is horrible.

I’m used to using WordPress to make the posts on this blog, and yes, I’ve been using it for many years now, so there’s a certain familiarity with it as well as a knowledge of many little tricks that make productivity much more efficient. That might slant my view in favor of this system, but still …

When you want ot post a single picture in a post on Patreon, you have to go hunting for how to do it. Nothing intuitive like WordPress – in fact, I had to Google “how to post pictures on Patreon posts”. What I found was that you have to employ a run-around – you have to have your picture hosted somewhere else, you have to know the little cut-and-paste shortcuts to use, and you can still only do this a limited number of times in any particular post. You can’t resize your picture once you post it. You can’t use all the alignment tricks and special effects that WordPress makes so easy. You have to post the picture before you even write word one of your post. You’re stuck with a single picture that ends up as an attachment, which means your reader has to stop reading, click on a link to see your pic, then click back to continue reading.

Not exactly user-friendly. Not for the writer, and certainly not for the readers.

Fees, Please

Another consideration is the fee structure of Patreon. The other day they made a post on their blog announcing a potential change in their fees, which created a firestorm across their user base, creators as well as patrons. In fact, I understand that some of the most successful creators have left or are considering doing so because of this switch in tactics.

See, it would be nice if a patron could simply contribute, say, $10 per month to their favorite artist. Cut and dried. Bim-bam-boom. But that’s not how it works. First, Patreon takes 5% off the top for their own use. Now, I don’t begrudge them that – they’re a business, they’re providing “hosting” and the entire infrastructure that allows artists to eat. So no problem there.

But then there are the ubiquitous “money handler” fees added in. Say you make your donation using PayPal – they take another 1-2% off the top. The donor won’t notice, but the artists will.

So the artist ends up with 93-94% of the original pledge. Still not too shabby.

Pantreon proposed a new method of doing things that would in effect hurt both the artists and the donors, while increasing their own corporate profits. Here’s a confusing chart that they posted to “explain” how things would change …

The big thing to take notice of is how the little red “fee” boxes have multiplied in the future scenario. This would mean that the artists will receive less income from each donation, ad that the donors will be charged multiple fees per month for supporting several artists. What began as a $1 donation per month to 10 artists, for example, would mean the donor would be charged those money-lender fees for every $1 transaction, quickly adding up to a 50-100% increase in the money charged them.

As a result, the donor becomes disillusioned and drops many if not all of their donations. The artist suffers.

Patreon quickly posted a follow-up to their faux pas, explaining how they erred and how they would seek input from their users in the future, but the damage had already been done. They had thousands of pissed-off clients writing and calling them, posting nasty YouTube videos and generally creating a kerfuffle of epic proportions.

Summing Up

So these are the main points that have made me rethink being associated with Patreon:

  • being unfair to my readers by shorting them of content on this blog
  • lack of creative control due to poor user interface
  • lack of SEO and name-recogntion benefits from using another company’s site
  • the whole fee structure is in a state of change but doesn’t look good for the future

Alternatives? I’ve just started thinking about implementing a donation system here on this blog – totally voluntary, no “locked” content like on Patreon, no fees above the usual moneyhandler ones (PayPal, etc). I realize that there would not be the corporate dynamic in effect (people tend to trust large websites like Patreon and Kickstarter for whatever reason, even if that trust is later betrayed), but at this preliminary point I think it would be a wash.


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