A Patronage Model for Artists, Writers, and Creators

I rather love Kickstarter, because I love seeing interesting projects come to life and seeing my funds culminate in a tangible results. This may mean that I get to end up with a copy of the book, a print of the art, or a DVD of the film I supported, which is a nice gift in exchange for my money. Or, it may just mean that I get to see an artist who I respect and whose work I love get to complete a project that they’re passionate about. It’s awesome.

So, I was very curious to learn about Patreon, a new crowdfunding website based on the traditional patronage model, which used to involve kings, queens, and other royalty or the wealthy providing funds to allow artists to continue their work.

The website says, “Patreon was created to enable fans to support and engage with the artists and creators they love. Empowering a new generation of creators, Patreon is bringing patronage back to the 21st century.”

The site is similar to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms in the sense that it allows fans to directly interact and fund artists and creators they enjoy. However, rather than funding a single big project, Patreon allows fans to provide funding for an artist or authors ongoing work. Here’s a short video about how it works.

I love the idea, particularly for those artists and creators who may focusing on ongoing work and art, rather than the big idea/project model that Kickstarter supports. It could help to keep some artists working when they might not otherwise be able to.

For some creators, Patreon’s model of crowdfunding won’t work, just as Kickstarter doesn’t work for everyone. That’s fine and there will always be flaws in the system, but on the whole there’s a lot of potential for it to work really well on a case-by-case basis.

Things Patreon Needs to Improve On

In terms of the website design and management, there are two major issues that I see, both of which have to do with discovery:

  • Little to No Curation — The Patreon home page presents an assemblage of Featured Creators, and the many times I’ve visited the site, I’ve noticed that this Featured list changes very little. It would be nice to see new artists cycling through the “Featured” list on a regular basis. There are tons of creators on the site and it would be nice to know which ones the staff has found interesting or whose work they like, rather than just a select few.
  • Browsing to Discover New Creators is Ridiculous — There are only two options to whittle down the massive list of creators and creations: “active” and “latest”. Also, the search function is extremely limited, only creating a short dropdown list of creators in the search field (seems like only the most popular) and not pulling up a full list of creators with those search terms. Discover of random, little known creators is almost impossible. An improved search function with advanced options would be great, along with categories to be able to search by the type of work they create (music, videos, fiction, etc.).

Advice for Creators

Kickstarter has a very clear reward system for backers/fans. If you donate such-and-such amount to a project, you get a specific reward (book, tee-shirt, original art, access to special parts of a website, interaction with the creator, etc.).

Patreon does not have such a rewards system built in — which is fine. The idea is to help a creator keep creating, rather than focused on what kind of goodies to give their monthly backers. Also, in this scenario, the creator (writers in particular) may not be able to share the shiny new things they create, because they also want to get those shiny new things published or released in professional spaces.

However, if I’m going to fund a creator, I want to know that that creator is doing work and making progress. So, some sort of update needs to happen on a fairly regular basis (monthly is good). This can be done with a monthly newsletter to keep everyone up to date on what their doing and where their work can be viewed or found. If a creator doesn’t have a way for me to see at a glance what they’re doing or up to, then I’m probably not going to back them.

People and Journals (I LOVE) to Fund on Patreon

  • Stone Telling is a magazine of diverse, boundary-crossing poetry edited by Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan. — Patreon page.
  • Apex Magazine is a monthly online publication, featuring science fiction, fantasy, horror, and genre-blending stories and poems. — Patreon page.

I keep thinking about trying out the site myself as a writer, but I’m not producing enough work yet to make it worthwhile for anyone wanting to fund me. So, I’ll just keep watching it and seeing how other writers fare for the time being.