- UPDATE -
Patreon has reversed their decision after all the negative feedback. The new fee system will not be rolled out! I have preserved the original article below for reference.
If you’re a Patreon user — be that creator, patron, or, like me, both — you have undoubtedly been hearing the hubbub about the upcoming fee changes. There’s a lot more information from Patreon here, but here’s the gist of it:
Patreon’s current payment processing system is confusing and problematic, so they are updating it. However, in order to update it in the way Patreon deems best (that is, patrons are charged on the anniversary of their initial pledge, rather than everyone on the first of the next month), credit card processing fees will rise significantly. In order to not pass that cost on to creators, Patreon will be adding a 2.9% + $0.35 service charge to each pledge, which the patron will pay.
First, we should address the immediate issues with the change.
Smaller pledges increase by a higher percentage. The service charge for a $20 pledge will be just $0.93, which is negligible in the grand scheme of things. However, for a $1 pledge, the service charge will be $0.38 — nearly a 40% increase. While $0.38 may not sound like much, that nearly 40% increase could be devastating to patrons who pledge to lots of creators. This is why so many creators are losing small pledges in droves in the days since the announcement.
After this change, a $10 pledge to one creator will raise your bill to $10.64, whereas $1 pledges to 10 creators will raise it to $13.80. As a result, smaller pledges are discouraged. This is a problem for many reasons: It encourages people to pledge more money to fewer creators, which will inevitably leave smaller, lesser-known creators in the dust; it prevents people who don’t have much money from being able to support their favorite artists; and it forces creators into courting riskier pledges (if you lose a $50 pledge, your total income changes much more than if you lose a few $1 pledges — this makes more, smaller pledges a more stable source of income than fewer, larger pledges.)
Staggered pledge processing may make reward delivery difficult. Imagine this: You have three patrons. One is charged on the 2nd of each month, the next on the 10th, and the last on the 28th. Any rewards that require investment to deliver (such as mailed physical products) will either have to wait until the 28th to start, or risk that your third patron will drop out before their charge date, leaving you high and dry.
Of course, there are also a few problems that are not so much issues with the fee changes as issues with the way the changes are being handled. This is creating a lot of hostility between Patreon’s staff and Patreon’s users.
One of those is the speed of rollout, paired with the apparent disinterest that Patreon has in user feedback. Despite claiming they’ve been working on this update for a year, Patreon is making a bad move by delivering that news to both creators and patrons with under two weeks to process the information before the changes go into effect. They report having sought creator feedback on the move, but even if that’s true, the vast majority of users were never asked, and are not being asked for our feedback now. It’s resulted in panic, misinformation, and a sharp drop in trust, with both creators and patrons feeling undervalued and powerless.
The other is the widely-circulating idea that this change is being made not to benefit creators, but to benefit Patreon’s bottom line. Initial accusations of this change being a “money grab” were hotly denied by Patreon creator Jack Conte on twitter, but a recently uncovered blog by Patreon’s Growth PM Tal Raviv, written as a guest post in June for a website focused on growth and user acquisition, lends credence to the claims that Patreon’s primary goal is not to benefit their users, but to benefit their pocketbooks. Raviv identifies Patreon’s “north star metric” (basically just the metric that captures the company’s core goal) as “financially successful creators,” or FSCs. Raviv makes it clear that if you’re not one of those FSCs, Patreon isn’t really interested in retaining you:
“Patreon monetizes by taking a 5% cut of transactions [...] so it makes sense that they would want to optimize its growth around Creators whom they count as "financially successful." A Creator earning a very low amount through the platform won't meaningfully contribute to Patreon's monetization model...”
"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."
These kind of statements are making the many creators for whom “making a few dollars” is life-changing question whether or not Patreon is the platform for them. Which brings me to my main question: Should creators ditch Patreon?
To Ditch, or Not to Ditch?
Ultimately, I’m here to talk about strategy, not outrage. The decision of whether or not to ditch Patreon depends on your personal circumstances, needs, and goals. You may want to leave Patreon and go a different direction if...
...you aren’t making much money.
If your Patreon income is low right now, switching your energy and your momentum to a new platform is easier than for more established creators. This move makes it clear that Patreon is only interested in courting and satisfying high-earning creators, so unless you plan on becoming one of those (and believe that goal is reasonable), it may be in your best interest to make a strategic change right now, while the news is hot and people are paying attention.
...you depend primarily on low dollar Patrons.
If the majority of your income is coming from Patrons pledging $5 or less, the chances are much higher of you losing a big portion of your base. Even if you’re not losing them yet, when the actual fee changes go into effect and patrons see their total charge numbers, there will likely be another wave of deleted pledges, maybe even greater than the one creators are experiencing now. If your fan base is more tempted by small contributions in large numbers, there are other platforms that are better suited to that than Patreon’s new model is.
...you don’t depend on Patreon to live.
It is undeniable that switching platforms will result in lost income, at least for a while. Anyone who has ever tried to move followers from one platform to another knows that you will lose a big chunk of people who either aren’t paying enough attention or just don’t care enough to follow you elsewhere, particularly if it’s inconvenient. But whether or not that temporary lost income can be tolerated depends largely on your situation. If Patreon is paying for your groceries, your medical care, your gas, etc., that lost income could be incredibly damaging. Leaving Patreon is a risk, but whether or not you should take that risk depends on whether you’re risking “making my next YouTube video” or “making my next rent payment.”
...the statement is more important than the money.
Lots of people are angry at Patreon for this move. They feel abandoned, betrayed, and hurt. If communicating that message to Patreon is the most important thing to you, then ditching Patreon might be the right choice morally, even if it isn’t the right choice financially.
Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t fall into these categories. The opposite of each of these things could also be compelling reasons not to leave Patreon: You’re making significant money, you have a lot of high-tier patrons, you need Patreon money to pay your bills, and the money is more important to your life or work than the statement. That decision is ultimately up to you, and it should be made based on research, analysis, and careful thought — not just what you see other creators (or patrons) doing or saying.
How to Ditch Patreon
If you’ve decided to ditch Patreon, there probably won’t be a better time than now. Thanks to the bad publicity around the fee changes, this is an ideal time to move to another system, because patron sympathy for creators is high and the fee changes are “in the news,” making it easier to advertise a platform change than it probably will be at any other time.
The first step is to make a new plan. You don’t want to close down Patreon and then have no answer when your Patrons ask where else they can support you. Here are a few options:
Direct donations. If people want to continue to support you, they can do so through sites like Paypal or Ko-fi. Unfortunately, these sites have no system set up for recurring payments*, so this would likely end up more like a “tip” system unless you manage it carefully.
* I was wrong — Paypal does allow recurring payments!
Other crowdfunding sites. There’s been a lot of buzz around Drip, which is created by Kickstarter. Unfortunately, it won’t be open to the public until next year. However, sites like Steady and Flattr are already offering similar services to Patreon.
Run your own subscription service. Lineage Artistry recently posted a blog about how they set up their own subscription service using Paypal. It’s certainly more work to run it yourself, but cutting out the middleman also reduces fees and gives you complete control.
Whatever the new plan is, I would recommend researching it thoroughly and actually setting it up before you announce that you’re leaving Patreon. It’s very difficult to move existing followers, so the easier you can make it for them, the more successful you will be.
I would also recommend treating the move between platforms/systems as its own launch. You need to drum up excitement, communicate essential information, and motivate new pledges, just like you would do if you were starting a brand new Patreon from scratch.
How to Stick with Patreon
If you’ve decided to keep your Patreon account, it’s likely that changes will need to be made. You will need time to theorize those changes, review and vet them, implement them, and communicate them to your patrons, and Patreon has unfortunately given you a very small window in which to do so. That means you need to start now. Here’s a suggested skeleton to-do list:
Rethink your pledge tiers. A lot of creators will likely eliminate $1 pledges, and some may even eliminate $3 or $5 tiers as well. If you need to restructure your pledge tiers, that’s step one. I encourage you to seek feedback from your Patrons rather than springing this on them, particularly if the changes will be significant. (Tip: Ask for feedback in structured ways in order to get the most helpful and focused results. For example, explain options and create a poll or survey, rather than asking patrons for free-for-all suggestions.)
Rethink reward delivery. Your reward delivery system may be able to remain the same, but just to be sure, go down your list of new reward tiers and mentally review how delivery will work within the confines of the new payment system. You don’t want to take your patrons’ money and then run into roadblocks.
Rebuild your profile. Any changes need to be incorporated into the text, graphics, and video of your profile. Any discrepancies between different media on your profile can create confusion. Be prepared to roll out an entirely updated profile when you announce the final changes.
Communicate. Remember that for most people, your Patreon is not top priority. This means that communicating big changes requires you to canvas your users. A single post isn’t going to make it to everyone. You should make easy-to-understand update posts to all your social media, public and Patron-only, and also update patrons via posts, emails, and video if possible. When in doubt, over-communicate rather than under-communicating.
Even if the changes you’ll be making are relatively small, patrons are aware of the firestorm taking place around the fee changes, and may already be on-edge about Patreon-related news. They may support other creators who are taking different steps than you or moving in a different direction. Communicating your changes (or lack of changes) effectively should be a top priority in the coming weeks.
I know this is a lot, and trust me, I’m going through all the same stress that you are. You do need to think fast thanks to Patreon’s short timeline on this change, but remember that the whole reason you’re in this predicament in the first place is that you have fans who care about your work and want to support you. Even if there are hiccups or growing pains in the process of all this change, you have people who have your back. Keep your main focus on your relationship with supporters, and you will get through it.