(Apologies for length of post, but break-ups are always hard.)
I’ve been on Patreon for just over three years. In that time, I’ve changed and dithered over the focus of my page a few times, and taken long breaks due to other work. Consequently, my patrons have only occasionally edged into double figures, and the highest monthly amount I’ve earned hasn’t even covered my broadband bill. So, unlike other people on here, while it’s been welcome, I’ve not really relied on the income that Patreon has generated.
That said, I have invested a great deal of time in this, and - having finally identified what I want to do - had over the past year started working it steadily. As I say, I don’t really rely on Patreon financially, but it was certainly my longterm ambition to build the page so that it eventually accomplished something that I think has drawn a lot of creators to this site: the dream of getting paid to follow your creative goals. These proposed changes - if in fact they do go ahead - put all this in jeopardy.
As the furore has unfolded, it’s become obvious that this is not a popular move (I believe this is called ‘understatement’). This cannot really have surprised Patreon - at least, it would surprise ME if they now held up their hands and said, ‘Hey! Sorry! We weren’t expecting all you folks to be so upset!’. Well, they might be surprised at the EXTENT of the upset, but must surely have realised that a lot of small creators (in a similar position to myself) would simply fold from the haemorrhaging of small-pledge patrons. I shall therefore do them the courtesy of not considering them incompetent and naive - which leaves only one other explanation: business.
I think many of us hoped - perhaps against our better judgement - that Patreon was different, that their self-proclaimed role as champion of creatives in the digital age was actually genuine, providing a way for the little people to get their voices heard, to get a foot on the ladder of self-fulfilment, was sincerely meant. The line we all bought was this: “Are YOUR creative dreams quashed by the merciless machine of commercialism? Is the struggle to make ends meet denying YOU the opportunity to follow your creative star? FEAR NOT! Patreon will provide a way for YOU - yes YOU, little pursuer of niche interests too marginal for traditional publishing portals to take notice! - to cultivate your own fanbase. A modest fanbase, perhaps - but that’s OK! Because, in some modest way, a drip feed at least keeps your dream alive, and even a dream on life support is better than a dead-end job that leaves you no time or energy to create.”
Anyway, that was the dream as I saw it. But it seems that the reality was very different.
One thing that’s bugged me for three years was why Patreon has not improved its ‘discover’ function. I used to think that it was a technical difficulty, or else that they were simply biding their time for the perfect system - I think Patreon support may even have told me this. Anyway, as a slew of changes and improvements came, I still wondered why a decent discover function was not among them. In fact, it is now WORSE than it used to be - it now only lists the 20 most successful creators, yet at one time, the creators who were featured were drawn from across a range - newcomers and modest earners rubbed shoulders with high fliers and superstars - I even made it onto the featured list in my own category, once. This was nice, and in-keeping with the spirit of Patreon (I thought), but was still unsatisfactory. It seemed obvious to me that Patreon was missing a trick: why not make it easy for already existing patrons to discover other creatives to support? You have a captive audience (those who had already ‘paid to get in’, and so had overcome the initial reluctance of would-be patrons), so why not maximise that? The poor, unfiltered search feature was a poor substitute. But no, like a cult, the emphasis has always been on fresh recruits; to bring in new people FROM OUTSIDE.
As time went by, I began to suspect therefore that this was not some oversight; that, actually, Patreon was DELIBERATELY trying to keep prospective patrons from exploring its nooks and corners. But why? Adult content? Was Patreon towers built upon an unacknowledged bedrock of ‘filth’ (no judgement intended)? Or maybe simply out of embarrassment? Like those high-end boutiques keen to shoo the homeless from the shelter of its doorways, lest it put off the more discerning clientele? Or maybe the pavement artists and buskers outside the big city cultural attraction - yes, that’s a better analogy.
Whatever the case, it seems obvious now that the reason Patreon has adopted a more hard-nosed, business-like approach is that it has realised that if it is to achieve the big leagues, if it is to sit at the content provider’s top table with Twitter and Youtube and Facebook, then it must make a few hard cuts. In light of this latest decision, it seems obvious that we can no longer interpret such policy decisions as the naively well-meaning slip-ups of fellow creator nerds. This is intentional. Even if Patreon backtracks on this, I feel now somehow soured by it, and starting to wonder whether I’m not better off picking up my busking cap and moving on to another pitch.