So Michelangelo says to the Prince: “Whattup, Prince. It’s cool that you dig my sculptures and commission me to do one every five years or so, but I still gotta pay rent, go for brunch and pick up my art supplies in between commissions. That’s a lot o’ chedda’, and I need to make it rain!”
If only Michelangelo had a DeLorean, he could’ve taken advantage of a new philosophy of independent cultural enterprise that relies on the direct, regular and ongoing relationship between artists and their paying fans (or, as Michelangelo would’ve referred to them, patrons).
A New Patron Age
Quoting from one of our own titles, in its chapter on The Nano Rockstar, authors Matt Voyno and Roshan Hoover describe the idea this way for musicians in particular: “With a die-hard fan base of very few, it’s possible, using a subscription model, to earn a comfortable living and continue to make your music.” (The New Rockstar Philosophy: a Guerrilla Blueprint for Digitally Conscious Artists)
But the concept doesn’t just work for musicians—basically anyone who creates something they can share on a regular basis can take advantage of this model.
This subscription model became commercialized online for creators in 2013 with the entry into the crowdfunding platform space of Patreon.org, started by indie duo Pomplamoose’s Jack Conte. Here’s how it works: You ask your fan base (who already love you and your work) to participate in a new level of engagement with you – that of a patron. They agree to pay you a monthly micro-sum of their choosing (from options you’ve offered) in return for a different packages of engagement perks ranging from early access to content (pre-public release) to discounts on show tickets to extra unreleased content. (Check out sites like Tinypass. They offer other ways for creators to monetize their content.)
You agree in return to provide new content each month so that you earn that patronage by creating new content, while patrons know that work of one of their favourite creators continues to work because of their monthly support.
Creative Cash Flow
The more fans who sign up willing to pay small increments ($1, $2.99, $5, etc.) per month, the more you create a sustainable monthly cash flow that allows you to pay bills and do your art. Say you’re a writer who needs to pen a novel this year and your cash flow needs are $3,000/month. You’ll need 1,500 patrons at $2/month, or 3,000 patrons at $1/month, or some combination that gets you to that total. Yay math!
But Does It Work?
In less than one year, Patreon distributed over $1 million to its artists, with some of the most popular ones making more than $100,000.
Michael Wolf, tech writer for Forbes wrote this in May of 2013: “Their marketplace currently includes 50,000 patrons and 15,000 creators, with one third of creators also falling in the patron bucket – giving financial support to other artists on the platform. They have a total of 100,000 registered users, making clear many people are still in browse mode. The average monthly amount paid by each patron is $9.80, and most creators post one piece of content per month. Given these statistics, with the support of 510 fans each month you’d be bringing home $60,000/year – not bad, particularly for those who already have established fan bases…Patreon takes 5% of every exchange, and charges an additional 3% processing fee to cover merchant services.”
Pretty impressive numbers, but like all forms of crowdfunding, it isn’t as easy as “build it and they will come”. You still have to build a crowd who appreciates your work before you can ask them to pony up their credit card number for monthly payments.
As a content development coach, I like the accountability and consequences this kind of model automates for the creator. In Patreon’s model your patrons’ credit card charges can be triggered by your content posting, so if you don’t create anything new and post it this month, you quite literally don’t get paid. In other versions of the model you can choose to be paid a certain amount monthly for update reports on development of work, but you’d better ensure those updates happen and samples of the work get shared, or your patrons may lose the faith and find other artists to support.