Patreon’s New Fee System Is Having A Negative Effect on Creators

Dollar bills by Olga DeLawrence

Update (13/12/17, 19:45 GMT): as of today, Patreon is no longer changing its fee system, as we reported on here.

Recently, we reported on Patreon’s change to its fee system, where patrons would be charged more in order to allow creators to take home 95% of their overall pledge amounts. Whilst on the surface this seemed like a good idea, it has negatively affected a large number of creators who have taken to social media in order to discuss how their pledges are dropping in response to Patreon’s new fee changes.

The new system is an ongoing discussion between Patreon, patrons and creators, as creators try to decide if they should alter their pledge tiers, change the frequency of their content output or even switch to a different platform entirely. However, Patreon appears to be set to stick to this new system, citing research with a small group of existing Patreon creators as a basis for these changes. We reached out to a handful of Patreon creators to ask them their opinions on the new fees, and how the new payment system has affected them and their income.

Author M. Todd Gallowglas explained that he “might be more understanding of Patreon charging patrons more if Patreon did anything to help us build our supporter numbers, however, they don’t,” going on to explain, “they absolutely deserve something for providing a platform, but the creators are the ones drawing the customers there.” When asked about how the changes had affected his Patreon page, he echoed the idea that the new fee system has mostly become a dialogue between patrons and creators, as people try to work out what is best for them and their fans and followers: “I don’t have many supporters, but I have tripled my income via Patreon in the last few months. I have started a discussion with my patrons about it on my Patreon page.”

In the wake of the fee restructuring, creative community Exilian is one platform that has been affected by the changes. The site’s creator, James, recently started a popular petition which asks for Patreon to “drop the idea of making service charges external to pledges, especially for small donations, in order to keep a vibrant creative community.” At the time of writing, it currently has 9,477 signatures to its name. James talked to us about why he started the petition, and why he feels that the new fee structure will have a detrimental effect on creators: “I got involved in the Patreon fiasco despite not really being much of a Patreon user – but you don’t need to be a Patreon user at all to have a keen understanding of what impact the site and its decisions have on the wider community of small & independent creative folks on the web. I’ve helped run Exilian, a small website/community for independent & hobbyist geek creativity with a democratic structure & ethos, for nearly 10 years. We’re a tiny site, always struggling to keep head above water, but even from the little segment of the creative geek world I get to see from that angle, it’s very obvious how important Patreon is, not just to the tiny minority who make a living on the platform, but to much larger numbers of folk for whom it forms a vital part of an otherwise unreliable creative-work income.”

He went on to tell us about how his petition and his list of Patreon alternatives grew in views more quickly than he had anticipated, as Patreon users began to learn about the new fees: “I spent quite a lot of that day (Thursday 7th) monitoring the Patreon search bar on twitter, trying to spot people who needed explanations or wanted to know what to do. I was also doing bits of additional research to improve my explain-post, getting Twitter threads that might otherwise be lost down onto the static page and expanding the “alternatives to Patreon” section as more suggestions appeared or as I managed to find more information on who the alternative sites were owned by and the funding models they offered.

“It was nerve-wracking rapidly teaching myself about these various funding ecosystems and how they worked, but nobody else seemed to be doing it and there was a flow of worried or alternative-seeking people that was coming so fast by the evening that it was impossible to keep up with in real time. I had no idea if I was making much (if any) impact, and the petition was stuck at a hundred or so signatories for much of the day. By the late evening and midnight, though, people had started sharing my explainer organically – and the change petition had jumped to over a thousand signatories.”

We also spoke to musician and Patreon creator Kathryn, who goes by online handle “artsyhonker”. She told us how she’s had to completely change the way her reward tiers work on Patreon, explaining: “The immediate effect this month is that it’s probably going to cut my profits. I can’t justify my patrons paying more for the same rewards that they had before, so I’m going to lower my reward tiers to give people the option of paying less for the same rewards; I’m expecting about half of them to take me up on that. Of course, I can’t lower the tier for people on the tightest budgets, who already pledge the minimum $1, so I’m scrambling to try and find another platform that will let them contribute on a basis that they can afford.”

Kathryn went on to explain to us how Patreon was perhaps too trusted by its users, who solely relied on it as a main source of their income: “I think this is a really interesting lesson in what happens if you rely too much on one platform for disseminating and supporting your work. I’m personally not likely to be immediately devastated by these changes, though I will take a hit in income while Patreon takes an increase; but all along there has been plenty of encouragement to use the site as the primary method of keeping in touch with fans, sponsors and patrons. That sounds great, and it’s wonderfully convenient, but it isn’t proving to be a resilient approach. I would encourage anyone who uses Patreon to set up alternate means of getting in touch with all their patrons. Walled gardens and gated communities are all well and good until someone goes and buries the key.”

There seems to be a recurring theme here, the idea that creators are generally confused by this new system, and that they’re not entirely sure where to go from here. In my original post, I championed the idea of an “opt out” system for creators who were happy to continue paying the old processing fee amount, and this is one possible solution that is being posed on social media by creators and patrons alike.

Of course, any one change is not going to be universally detrimental: some creators actually appreciate the new fees. According to The Verge, artist Elizabeth Simins “has said that the change will give patrons a better idea of how much they’re actually giving to a creator, although she says the 35-cent flat fee is too high.” Hank Green also defended the new system over on Twitter, claiming that Patreon wouldn’t be seeing any more income from the changes.

At the time of posting, Patreon is continuing to defend the new processing fees, posting an article about their decision to change the fee structure, claiming: “This was never (and still isn’t) about making more money for Patreon as a company. This is a strategic move to make our platform even better for creators and patrons in the future.”

For the moment at least, the new fees seem to be here to stay, for better or worse.

Are you a creator or patron who’s been affected by the fee changes? Are you increasing or decreasing your pledge amounts or tiers? Let us know in the comments below!

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