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- Date Established
- San Francisco, CA
- Continuous crowdfunding for creators
- The platform facilitates reward giving
- Fewer content restrictions than some other crowdfunders
- Multiple subscription plans available
- Limited help section
- No built-in promotional tools
- Some creators report issues when attempting to collect funds
Patreon is a crowdfunding site aimed at a particular audience: artists and online personalities in the business of content creation. As crowdfunding platforms go, Patreon has enjoyed a meteoric rise in its public profile over the last several years.
Patreon’s approach to rewards-based crowdfunding is unique, setting it apart from Kickstarter and Indiegogo. With the latter two, backers support creators with one-time pledges in exchange for rewards. Patreon’s model is that backers — patrons, as Patreon refers to them — subscribe to a creator’s content, making recurring payments on an ongoing basis in exchange for access to the content.
Patreon declares itself a crowdfunding platform for creators, as its platform allows creators to draw a steady, continuous income from The Crowd. This funding model makes Patreon particularly well-suited to creators of viral videos, online journalists, writers, and musicians.
Table of Contents
Patreon was founded in San Francisco by musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam. Conte’s oeuvre of music videos was getting a million views per month, yet Conte was only making $50/month through ad revenue on YouTube. He started Patreon in 2013 with the intent to give artists a sorely needed means of monetizing their work. Describing the reasoning behind his company, Conte said the following in a 2013 article:
I’m releasing new things on a monthly basis. I have friends releasing material weekly. They’d have to almost invent an excuse to raise money after going on Kickstarter once. We’re saying, ‘No, no. Don’t make up a new endeavor. Keep doing what you do best and let people pay you each time you do that.’
When you create an account, you’re asked to self-classify your work into one of the following categories:
- Video & Film
- Drawing & Painting
- Crafts & DIY
- Dance & Theater
While Patreon asks you to classify your work, the category you choose isn’t very consequential, as you can produce whatever you like — if people are willing to pay for it, you can do it. Patreon is for entrepreneurs and creative teams continuously engaged in creating content. Other kinds of projects in need of crowdfunding — non-creative business projects, medical emergency fundraising, etc. — should instead check out Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. Patreon’s appeal is somewhat narrowcasted, but if you’re a content creator (or a business that creates content), the platform enables you to get paid directly by the people who consume your content.
A major factor in Patreon’s initial appeal to creators had been that Patreon’s content restriction policies were more relaxed than those of other crowdfunding platforms. However, some disputes arose over the banning of certain campaigns for contravening the company’s hazy guidelines regarding adult content and hate speech. In response, Patreon has released a more definitive list of community guidelines that spell out what is forbidden on the platform:
- Hate speech, harassment, doxing, and threats are banned
- You can’t use Patreon “as a prank or to fund non-activity”
- Adult nudity is allowed if it is marked “Patron Only,” while pornography and sexual services are banned (yes, the line here is still a bit hazy)
- You can’t promote self-harm or illegal activity
- You can’t use Patreon “to fund your run for office or to fund the political campaigns of others”
- No spam
Terms & Fees
These are the current terms and fees for Patreon’s crowdfunding campaigns:
|Funding Method:||Per month OR per creation|
|Payment Processing Fee:||2.9% + $0.30 for donations over $3|
I’ll explain why the platform fee varies from 5%-12% in a moment.
On top of the platform fee, the payment processor (Stripe or PayPal) charges a fee for each donation made:
- 2.9% + $0.30 for donations over $3
- 5% + $0.10 for donations of $3 or less
There are also payout fees to consider — the fees payable when you move funds from your creator balance to your bank or PayPal account. These fees are as follows:
- Direct Deposit: $0.25 fee/deposit for US creators receiving payment
- PayPal: $0.25 or 1% of the amount transferred capped at $20 per deposit for US and international creators receiving payment
- Payoneer: This may vary depending on country and currency but will typically be a $3 transfer fee per deposit for international creators receiving a global bank deposit
Once your page goes live, you can add posts to it, which can either be viewable by everybody or restricted to your patrons (at a reward level of your choosing). As for funding, you can choose to either get monthly payments from your patrons or “per creation” payments. You can also set up “goals” that will be reached when your funding level hits a certain amount. These goals are non-binding and can be changed at any time.
Now, how is it that the platform fees vary from 5% to 12%? That’s because when you sign up to create a Patreon page, you must choose one of three Patreon subscription plans. Here’s what you get with each plan:
- Patreon Platform Fee: 5% + payment processing fees
- Hosted creator page
- Patreon communication tools
- Patreon workshops
- Patreon Platform Fee: 8% + payment processing fees
- All the features in Lite, plus:
- Membership tiers
- Analytics and insights
- Special offers promo tool
- Creator-led workshops
- Unlimited app integrations
- Priority customer support
- Patreon Platform Fee: 12% + payment processing fees
- All the features in Lite and Pro, plus:
- Dedicated partner manager
- Merch for membership
- Team accounts
One critique I’ll make here is that competing platforms allow you to offer different support tiers to backers while still charging a 5% platform fee. Unfortunately, you have to let Patreon take 8% of what you earn to have access to this common crowdfunding feature.
Like other rewards-based crowdfunding platforms, Patreon lets you offer rewards to your “patrons,” though, unlike Kickstarter, the company doesn’t require it. Patreon does recommend it, however, noting that successful creators tend to offer more than two reward levels. The company suggests the following when considering what rewards to offer:
- Access to your patron-only feed
- Photos/videos of your process
- A live chat with your patrons via Patreon’s mobile app
- MP3 downloads
- Physical rewards (recommended for higher-tiered patrons only)
Patreon’s application process is a breeze. Just start setting up your account, enter some basic personal information, attach your social media accounts, set up a payment method, and you can start earning money for your creations.
Other start-up funding options if Patreon isn’t for you:
|Lender||Borrowing Amount||Loan Term Length||Interest Rate||Origination Fee?||Min Credit Score||Next Steps|
|$1K-$50K||3 or 5 years||8.16%-27.99%||Yes||620||Apply Now|
|$2K-$35K||3 or 5 years||6.95%-35.99% APR||Yes||640||Apply Now|
|$25K-$300K||3-7 years||0%-5% on first 9-15 months||Yes||680||Qualify Now|
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Patreon is transparent regarding its services — I never got the sense that there was anything the company was trying to hide or equivocate about.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Patreon has FAQs for creator issues: one for patron issues and one for general issues. For direct support, you can submit a question via the website or Twitter, and Patreon will respond via email from Monday-Friday, 9 AM-6 PM PST. Pro and Premium subscribers are promised a swifter support response.
I should note that in April of 2020, Patreon informed its users that “We’re currently experiencing longer than usual wait times as more creators come to Patreon to set up memberships in the wake of the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.”
As for phone support, Patreon offers none. Patreon is still a fairly young company, so one hopes it will boost its level of customer service with time.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Patreon creators have reported a variety of serious issues with the company and its practices over the past several years. Despite Patreon’s official policy of permitting forms of “adult content” that fall short of being actual pornography, creators of adult content have faced increasing restrictions on what they are permitted to post and monetize. Many of these creators are facing the loss of their page altogether, often with minimal/vague justification from Patreon.
Another serious issue arose in July/August of 2018 when numerous creators reported seeing dramatically smaller payments than expected due to Patreon declining their subscribers’ payments. Many creators also found that they couldn’t access the remaining funds that did make it through, with “suspicious activity” given as the reason. These same creators often received little explanation or support from the company when trying to work through these issues.
In these precarious times, people increasingly rely on crowdfunding, not for a little extra spending money each month but to merely pay the rent and bills. In the past, I found that the company’s handling of these issues was threatening the livelihood and even the health of creators, a disproportionate number of who find themselves disadvantaged in and marginalized by the broader economy. Given Patreon’s rise to prominence as a lifeline for creators struggling to make it, I want Patreon to demonstrate a greater commitment to having its creators’ backs. Hopefully, Patreon’s recent clarification of its terms of service is a step in that direction.
As far as professional reviews go, a review of Patreon by PC Magazine was largely complimentary of the service but noted that the Help section was not as extensive as it could be. I found this to be true as well, and I’d add that the company could make it easier for people to see how funding works and what portion of your funds will go toward payment processing fees. As it is, that information is all there, but it requires a little digging. PC Magazine also points out that Patreon lacks built-in promotional tools (apart from the ability to add social media links to your campaign). Indiegogo and Kickstarter are superior in this respect.
Another reviewer noted that it’s difficult to get people to make a recurring financial commitment to you — it’s a harder proposition for many than making a one-time donation.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
The same PC Magazine review I referenced above claims that Patreon’s funding model is ideal for artists and other creators who produce content on an ongoing basis. It also notes that Patreon’s platform is open to a wider range of creative content than its competitors.
Other reviews tend to echo these sentiments.
Patreon isn’t the crowdfunder for everybody. If you’re looking to raise funds to launch one particular project, such as the creation of some cool tech gizmo, look into Kickstarter. If you’re seeking funds to help cover the cost of purchasing new equipment for your business, check out Indiegogo or Fundable (or check out online lenders, such as LendingClub, Prosper, Accion, and Kiva and apply for a crowdfunded loan). And if you’re trying to raise money for your friend’s kidney operation, set up a GoFundMe page.
If, on the other hand, you’re an indie video game company, a cartoonist, an author, a podcast host, a musician, or you’ve garnered a huge YouTube following by recording yourself sitting in an oversized gamer chair playing Fortnite while yelling at people, Patreon is well-tailored for you. As it can be difficult to get people to make even a small recurring financial commitment to you, it’s enormously helpful if you’ve already built up a large YouTube following and/or a heavy Twitter presence.
Nonetheless, if you (or your business) produce creative goods that inspire people, Patreon’s platform is precision-engineered to help you monetize doing what you already love. It’s a boon to creatives everywhere, it’s easy to set up and maintain, and it’s a reason for renewed optimism about the power of the internet to create opportunities for those who lack an institutional platform.
Although Patreon has made a number of missteps over the years that have called into question its commitment to creators, Patreon has shown an ability to learn from its mistakes, so we’ll see how the platform responds to the challenges of the COVID-19 era.