Crowdfunding

Patreon hurt its small creators. Now how will it fix the damage?

The site reversed an unpopular fee structure that hit small donors and small creators, but it needs to regain their trust.

Crowdfunding

Patreon hurt its small creators. Now how will it fix the damage?

The site reversed an unpopular fee structure that hit small donors and small creators, but it needs to regain their trust.
Crowdfunding

Patreon hurt its small creators. Now how will it fix the damage?

The site reversed an unpopular fee structure that hit small donors and small creators, but it needs to regain their trust.

Patreon’s CEO Jack Conte wrote a blog post today apologizing and reversing a change to its fee structure after a backlash from users. The changes, which would have taken effect on December 18, would have taken a chunk out of the money donated by patrons. Notably, they amounted to a regressive tax that would have hit smaller donations harder.

“We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed, but we’re going to fix them in a different way,” Conte wrote. “Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry.”

The reversal was welcome, but the fees had already caused significant damage. Some patrons dropped off the platform, either because the fees were too high or because they wanted to protest the change.

“I have already lost $300 in pledges,” tweeted the author Seanan McGuire, “and had patrons who were with me from day one email me in tears because they're losing access to new material.” Another Patreon creator, the YouTuber Lindsay Ellis, tweeted that she had lost 120+ patrons since the fee announcements. Patreon’s apology today didn’t stop creators from airing their frustrations over losses: “I lost my monthly income for my energy bill and Dropbox subscription,” tweeted the comics artist Blue Delliquanti, sharing a screenshot of user after user deleting monthly subscriptions of $1 and $2.

Perhaps most concerning for the company is the message that was seemingly sent to Patreon’s smaller creators.

Small donations like the ones Delliquanti referenced were hit the hardest by the proposed fee changes. During the public outrage, it was revealed Patreon is seemingly not concerned with these small pledges or the creators who are supported by them. Julie Dillon, a sci-fi and fantasy artist, unearthed a quote from Patreon’s head of growth and platform Tal Raviv, who shared insights about the company’s growth strategy in a post that appeared on a blog about marketing and startup growth: “We’d rather have our GMV be made up of fewer, but truly life-changed creators rather than a lot of creators making a few dollars.” This is because “Active, ‘financially successful Creators’” are more efficient at recruiting more users for Patreon, the post explains.

“We’d rather have our GMV be made up of fewer, but truly life-changed creators rather than a lot of creators making a few dollars.”
Patreon’s head of growth and platform Tal Raviv

This quote appeared to show that Patreon prioritizes its bigger creators over smaller ones — an understandable business strategy, but a truism that hurts given Patreon’s idealistic rhetoric about patronage and supporting the arts. It’s also a snub to the vast majority of Patreon’s creators. Of the roughly 80 percent of Patreon creators who share their monthly earnings publicly, just 2 percent are making the equivalent of minimum wage, according to numbers collected by the Patreon analytics site Graphtreon and provided to The Outline. Many of these small creators are grateful for Patreon’s platform and more than appreciative of the income, whatever it may be; other have managed to build a real livelihood off the site. But Patreon’s decision to introduce regressive fees, especially without consulting with its users, has called its motivations into question. Given that the site is still very small — it has fewer than 80,000 creators according to Graphtreon — and that Kickstarter just launched a competitor, the startup isn’t really in a position to be tossing creators aside, no matter how small they may be.

Scraping by

2%
The percentage of Patreon creators who earn more than the federal minimum wage through the site, according to public earnings data.
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Brent Knepper is a traveling photographer and writer. He last wrote for The Outline about how no one makes a living on Patreon.
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