Is Patreon the Future of Getting Paid as a Creative?

Believe it or not, artists and other creative folks, this crazy world is brimming with opportunity for you.

But things have gotten pretty complicated for creatives, too. Whereas the challenge was once to simply get your work out there, us artsy types now must strive to rise above the sea of voices crying out to the world (wide web) for support. It’s become less a question of making your work available and more about getting it into the right hands. (And getting paid for it.)

Yet, thanks to Patreon, writers, visual artists, podcasters and other makers have secured loyal followings and (gasp!) even earned some semblance of income for their efforts.

In fact, the site recently announced via Twitter that it had paid out $350 million to creators since its May 2013 launch. In its first five years, Patreon has created a community so expansive and potentially lucrative that it expects to distribute another $300 million in 2018 alone.

Artwork is still work

Way back in 2013 — “way back” here used relatively, considering the speed with which technology continues to advance — musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam joined forces to create what would become Patreon.

Young woman recording a podcast. Patreon pbs rewire
“This podcast is brought to you by iced coffee, dry shampoo and two packs of ramen noodles.”

Like many creators, Conte yearned to more substantially monetize his successful YouTube channel, and the pair devised a way for creators to connect directly (and earn money from) their most ardent supporters. Think of it as a modern equivalent to the way that Renaissance artists were funded by so-called “patrons of the arts.”

Creators also provide exclusive perks, such as bonus content or personal messages, to supporters as a show of gratitude and to reciprocate them for their contributions.

Of course, crowdfunding sites were nothing new by the time Patreon launched. Indiegogo, Kickstarter and GoFundMe were already in operation by 2010, years before Conte and Yam got their own pet project off the ground.

But most crowdfunding platforms up to that point had specialized in providing funds for a one-time goal or specific project rather than ongoing support for creative and artistic endeavors. The concept caught on, and today Patreon serves roughly 100,000 creators, with more than 2 million patrons paying to support their work.

Despite a few minor scandals and missteps (such as a brief flirtation in December 2017 with instituting a service fee that would affect patrons, not creators), Patreon has managed to lead by example for its peers, making it easier for creators to make a living pursuing their passions (more on that shortly).

Conte even proclaimed in a recent YouTube video marking Patreon’s five-year anniversary that “being a creative person is just going to be the norm” within the next decade. A bold claim, to be sure, but one that feels a lot more doable now than it did years ago.

Softening the daily grind

Being a freelance creator is always going to be a hustle. But some artists find that Patreon has helped them do things they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Woman showing mobile gaming application to peer. Patreon pbs rewire
Thanks to the internet, these two can get paid for doing what they love.

“Patreon has helped a lot towards getting my shows actual funding,” said Kristen Lopez, pop culture writer, podcaster behind Ticklish Business and Patreon creator for more than three years.

“I am able to put up content I wouldn’t have ordinarily done because it’s funded.”

For fans, pledges can be as little as $1 per month, allowing them to show their support for a minimal cost. Because the donations go through Patreon, creators don’t have to worry about dealing with the potential headaches of fraud, chargebacks and declined payments. In exchange, the site takes 5 percent of your earnings, with another 5 percent going to transaction fees.

The downsides of outsourcing

While ending up with 90 percent of a donation might seem sufficient, Lopez—who is also one of four hosts of the Patreon-funded Citizen Dame podcast—feels there is room for improvement with the platform.

“If they could, I’d love for PayPal fees to be waived if Patreon knows it’s going into a PayPal account,” she said.

One-dollar monthly donations are convenient for patrons, but can be a little skimpy for the artists themselves, depending on how many supporters they have. Because most individual contributions on Patreon are on the lower end, it’s really up to creatives to promote themselves, which takes a lot of additional work.

And making money on the site is by no means a sure thing, meaning you might wind up creating content without any compensation whatsoever. Unless you’ve already developed a following, you can’t count on a Patreon page to generate any funds.

Patreon does allow you to retain full control and ownership of the content you produce, but with its exponential growth, there’s a concern the service will reevaluate that someday.

But if creating is a passion of yours, there’s not much of a downside to getting on the platform. In that case, anything you earn would be the cherry on top of the personal fulfillment you get from the work itself.

“It’s the only place I know where I’m consistently able to get funding from fans for my services,” she said. “Sites like Ko-fi, GoFundMe, even a PayPal button don’t inspire the support like Patreon does.”

A headshot of a man. PBS Rewire. Robert Yaniz Jr.

Robert Yaniz Jr. is a full-time freelance writer specializing in business, marketing and entertainment. Over the last 15 years, he has covered everything from the regional business scene to the latest movies and TV shows. You can usually find him—laptop on hand—sipping a latte or chasing after his young daughter. For more on his work, check out robertyanizjr.com or email him directly at [email protected] You can also find him on Twitter @robertyanizjr.