Three Months on Patreon – Pros and Cons

12/18/14: An updated version of this post is available here.

We launched our Clarkesworld Magazine Patreon page nearly three months ago. In that time, I’ve heard from a lot of authors and editors who were interested in their service, but not sure if it was right for them. The requests have been picking up, so…

patreonlogo

 What is Patreon?

In their words:

Founded in May 2013 and based in San Francisco, California, 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.

In mine:

Patreon is a cross between subscriptions and Kickstarter. Unlike Kickstarter, Patreon doesn’t focus on a one-time project. It’s aimed at fundraising for long-term projects that include recurring creations, like issues of a magazine or episodes of a podcast. In our case, your Patreon pledge is a per-issue contribution to the magazine.

Why Patreon instead of PayPal?

  1. Patreon’s Patron Manager provides a nice and reliable interface that allows me to manage, track, and communicate with our supporters. I could probably build something similar, but the amount of time I’d have to invest (programming and supporting) is too significant. My time is better spent on the magazine.
  2. Yes, PayPal can collect recurring payments on set intervals. If you miss a month, PayPal still charges them. Not so with Patreon. This isn’t much of an issue for us, but I know it does impact others I’ve spoken to.
  3. Not everyone likes PayPal. There are people out there that are violently opposed to using their services in any way. Patreon supports credit cards and PayPal.
  4. You can do both. We still take one-time donations via PayPal. Having choices is good.

What do you think so far?

Like any fundraising there are going to be pros and cons:

Cons:

  1. Discoverability. My only major complaint. The odds of someone browsing Patreon’s site and discovering you are very slim. The search tools are very basic (and only work against the title of your project) and the featured creators and artists on their home page change rarely, if ever. They could learn a lot from Kickstarter’s approach when it comes to finding and featuring content.
    Note: They are working on this. Recently creators were asked to select categories their projects fit into. The options are not as detailed as I would have liked, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
  2. Payment processing. I know I’m being picky on this one, but since Patreon pledges are processed per-creation and charges applied run at the end of the month, you can run into serious timing issues. For example. If we post new “paid” content on the first of the month, anyone signing up on the second will not be billed until the end of the following month. That means it could take up to two months for their rewards to kick in. That confuses people. To get around it, I made the final podcast of the month our paid content instead of the new issue announcement. This change causes the majority of new Patrons to have their reward start the next month. I suppose they could add something that would allow a Patreon to pledge support starting as of the first of the month or with the most recent paid creation, but that’s probably too confusing too. It’s the whole do I start a subscription with the current issue or next issue debate. If you aren’t providing rewards, this probably isn’t as big a deal.
  3. New. I’ve had to explain Patreon to a lot of people. Instead of focusing on marketing our presence there, I’ve had to convince people they are a trustworthy organization. This will pass as more people hear about them. Certainly nothing I can fault them for.

Pros:

  1. Support and service. They’ve been fantastic to work with and unlike many companies, they appear to be very open to customer feedback. Everyone I’ve spoken with there is on top of their game. There have been several software updates and each has been flawless. Heck, they even negotiated a better rate with their payment processor and passed along the savings.(My background is in technology. It takes a lot to impress me.)
  2. Growing community. I’ve noticed a lot of new projects launch on Patreon in the last three months. As things move forward, I believe discoverability will eventually find its way to the Pros list and when that happens, there will be a marketing benefit for all of us as our Patrons discover what else is out there.
  3. We’re getting paid. We currently have pledges of just over $200 per issue and we have been receiving payments. It may not sound like a lot (particular compared to some of the YouTube-based projects earning thousands per episode), but it does boost our bottom line and every bit helps. At this point, I remain optimistic about the service and it’s ability to become a significant source of revenue for the magazine.
  4. Opportunity. I’ve said most of it above, but I also believe there is some benefit for the field. Literary projects are still a small percentage of what’s on Patreon. I think we’re on the leading edge of something that will only grow in size as more from the science fiction community discover it.

Closing Thoughts

It should be fairly obvious by now that I’m optimistic about Patreon and our future with them. While I do have some issues, I believe they can (or will be) worked resolved in timely manner. While I highly recommend their service, to see value from it, you will have to heavily market your presence there. It’s not all that different from tossing a book up on Amazon. This isn’t magic.

That said:
Visit patreon.com/clarkesworld and sign up to become one of Clarkesworld’s patrons today!

Questions? Comments?

20 thoughts on “Three Months on Patreon – Pros and Cons

  1. Jacqueline says:

    I was doing my research about patreon and came across this article. I found it SUPER insightful. I already saw that the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Smarter Every Day, and Corridor Digital guys get a bunch of money for their stuff. I had been thinking about backing them, but I’d much rather back someone where my dollar means something to them.

    So essentially, thank you for making my research easier, and good job on being discoverable. Can’t wait to read all your stuff.

  2. Jonathan Zayan says:

    I appreciated your article.
    Your main concerns involved inevitable issues that are common for new businesses. It has been over three years since you wrote this review. Do you have an updated review about Patreon, that addresses whether or not the concerns are still valid?

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Of the three cons (Discoverability, Payment Processing, and New) only discoverability remains an issue. Payment processing has been greatly improved over the years and they’ve done a great job on making their product known to more people.

      Discoverability has had minor improvements through tags and improved search functions, but it’s unlikely that you’ll gain new supporters from someone who was casually browsing their site. The one place that might do that is the connection that happens when one creator supports another. Some of their supporters might discover you through that linking. In the end, however, marketing and growing your audience is entirely on you.

      You might also be interested in reading this post:
      http://neil-clarke.com/nebula-awards-weekend-patreon-panel/

  3. Jenevieve S. Ponce says:

    Hello.
    I’m thinking to be a member or part of patreon and I just started and learning digital art. How would i choose a patreon creator that related to my art work or something like that?
    2ND Question
    If ever i would be a member of patreon

  4. Emma Sullivan says:

    My son has been a member of patron for a few years, however as he is a minor i felt i needed to ask a few questions. Regarding UK tax implications and how he receives the apparent monies when he does not have a bank account. I still to this day am unable to find out as I am not a patron member. So have no idea if my sons talent is being explotted or he is breaking any tax laws now he is 16. Can anyone help to put my mind at rest.

    • Neil Clarke says:

      I’m not all that familiar with the tax system in the UK, but I know that Patreon automatically withholds the necessary VAT taxes and handles submission of payments to the countries that require it. Income taxes are your responsibility.

      Patreon will send payments to a bank account or a PayPal account. You can set it up to transfer your income automatically (once a month), but last I checked the default was to manually make the transfers. There may be a minimum amount for transfer as well and there are some small/reasonable fees associated with each. If you don’t have a bank or PayPal account linked, the money should be accruing there until he does. Have him go to his account and click on the settings icon on the left. All these options are under Payout Preferences. It will also show his balance there.

  5. Jade says:

    I was researching about the platform. And found your article incredible helpful. Do you still thing this platform is good for literary work?

  6. Alex Spengler says:

    Hi Neil,
    Thanks for the article. In the area of discoverability, any ideas of how to embed a patreon player in a WordPress website so people don’t have necessarily to navigate away from it in order to see it? I have been sharing most of my content through Facebook, but my live feeds on Facebook generaly create more engagement than the podcasts themselves. It would be ideal that we could have on Patreon our own website, with different option for layout etc…something like Behance does, for exemple.
    Cheers
    Alex – http://www.patreon.com/brasilcentral

  7. Jeep Rosenberg says:

    I am impressed with how generous you are with your time and bandwidth…these are painstaking answers. I am definitely looking hard at Patreon, due to the character and loyalty of my supporters and fans. Since I’m a performing songwriter who also writes poetry and is working on a memoir, the existing categories are a bit constraining…a presentational/marketing challenge…

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Hi Jeep,

      Several years in, I still highly recommend Patreon to people. Yes, the category system needs work, but you will be directing your fans direct to your page, so it won’t really matter to them. I don’t even allude to the categories in any of my promotion of our page. I’m not sure if anyone really relies on the categories as they are. I know they provide some sort of top creators listing, but that benefits only a select few.

      -Neil

  8. Steve says:

    I’m creating a site on Patreon, and love the idea. But their User Guide, Help Section, and Support is absolutely worthless!

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