After facing questions earlier this year about the sustainability of its business model, Patreon—a platform that allows fans to provide recurring payments to their favorite authors, cartoonists, and illustrators in exchange for various rewards—added service tiers and changed its fees this month for creators who are not existing members. The changes include a new tier called Premium, which is designed for artists who need better online tools or more hands-on account management, as well as a bare-bones offering called Lite. A third level, Pro, provides access to the range of tools and resources that most Patreon creators have today.
Lite maintains the original fee structure, under which creators receive 90% of the money pledged to them, with 5% going to Patreon and 5% covering transaction costs. Pro has an 8% commission, reduced to 5% for existing Patreon creators, and Premium has a 12% commission, or 8% for existing creators who opted in prior to the May 7 launch.
Patreon has disbursed nearly $1 billion to its network of tens of thousands of creators since it was founded in 2013. It is one of a clutch of companies using the power of networks to funnel funds from fans to artists. Unlike crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe, Patreon support is not contingent on a creator completing a specific project or objective. Instead, creators solicit monthly contributions from supporters in increments as small as $1 per month. Creators provide their subscribers with rewards, including exclusive content, behind-the-scenes glimpses at the creative process, personal attention, critiques, and other perks. Patreon aggregates and allocates contributions to creators, minus its fees.
Tracey Kaplan, Patreon’s head of creator partnerships, said, “Particularly for authors, cartoonists, and illustrators, we’re the foundation of a creator’s business and work. We offer creators a deep connection with their fans—and recurring monthly revenue.”
For Patreon’s most successful creators, subscriber payments add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, providing a welcome sense of economic security. Patreon can also give solitary creators regular contact with and encouragement from their fans. Some creators have parlayed their hardcore following into bigger opportunities and projects.
“With the collapse of the [cartoon print syndication] market, I lost 90% of my clients,” wrote cartoonist Keith Knight (creator of K Chronicles and Knight Life) on his Patreon page. “Now I find myself drawing more than ever before, yet barely making a living. Your patronage will help offset the costs of raising a family in this crazy, mixed-up world. And allow me to concentrate on the work I’m best at: Funny, thought-provoking cartoons!!”
As of this writing, Knight’s page shows him to have 650 patrons at a variety of levels, ranging from $1 per month to higher-tier donations that offer rewards of original artwork, signed books, and personal phone calls. Among the rewards, for $100 per month, he wrote, he’ll “buy you a beer or coffee at my favorite local spot,” and for $250 per month—which, he noted, “essentially covers my kids’ martial arts classes”—his kids will call the subscriber.
Patreon is keen to avoid becoming a victim of its own success—building a platform that is so generous that it can’t keep up with rising costs, higher service levels, and demands for scale. It won’t be easy. An earlier attempt by Patreon to adjust its transaction fees generated a forceful pushback from subscribers and creators, leading the company to reverse the policy within 24 hours.
This time, Patreon took steps to engage its user community around the changes. For instance, most of the creators who have been using the site won’t see any decrease in their current income unless they decide to step up to higher service levels. Kaplan explained that the new premium level will offer creators “access to a dedicated partner management team.” She added, “You can do team accounts with different logins across your team. You can create merchandise as a way to reward your patrons, with four different options we can fulfill for you.”