What Is Patreon? And How Does It Work?

Patreon logo

At its heart, Patreon is a form of crowdfunding, which is funding that relies on people like you and me to donate small amounts of money rather than just one or two funders donating a huge amount of money. But while crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo focus on funding a single project, Patreon's goal is to fund the person behind the project. In this way, the 'crowd' becomes the patron.

Who Can Use It?

Patreon is geared toward anyone who creates, which includes creating art, music, writing, etc. A writer might write short stories or novels, but they might also write a blog or design digital tools for role-playing games. An actor may be one on the stage or one producing a video channel on YouTube. A musician might be gigging or simply uploading their music to SoundCloud.

But while Patreon's focus may be on creatives, its services can be used for much more by almost anyone who provides a service—a music instructor, a digital magazine, a contractor giving tips on how to fix up and flip houses. Any of these could easily find a place on Patreon.

Patreon's 'creators' are often active on other websites like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Patreon allows them a new way to monetize their work, oftentimes with the goal of going from a hobbyist or part-time artist to dedicating themselves full time to the work.

One side benefit of crowdsourcing sites is how they get the fans involved with the project. This has been true for Kickstarter projects, with funders becoming mini-marketers as they strive for the project to succeed. This is also true with Patreon, which allows the person to set up a home page and interact with their subscribers.

How Does It Work?

Patreon provides a multi-tiered subscription service. Having multiple tiers of crowdsourcing is very popular with sites like Indiegogo because it allows the host to give away goods and services to those who help fund the project. These will often take the form of T-shirts, buttons, autographed memorabilia, all the way up to the actual product, once it is finished for those at higher levels of funding.

You will find similar tiers at work on Patreon, but rather than give out some swag, higher subscription tiers provide a higher level of service. For example, a music teacher may provide some basic video lessons for $5 a month and more advanced lessons that include printable sheet music at $10 a month. A comedian producing a weekly YouTube channel might allow his or her $1 subscribers a sneak peek at that week's video and give his $5 subscribers bonus behind-the-scenes footage.

Patreon takes a 5% cut and the standard 2-3% for processing fees, which is a pretty good deal considering they do all of the subscription processing and provides a home page for the host to interact with their fans.

Do You Need to Be an Artist?

Patreon's audience maybe artists and creative people, but anyone can use Patreon as a subscription service. It is not a far jump to imagine a musician using Patreon as a way to give music instruction during the day when they aren't performing, but it can be just as easily used by a general contractor giving directions on how to install kitchen cabinets or hardwood floors.

And Patreon isn't just focused on the individual. A company can use Patreon just as well as a single person. A great example is a digital magazine. Patreon not only fills the need for a subscription service, but the multiple-tiered structure of the subscription allows the magazine more flexibility to offer more content.

Can You Trust Patreon?

It is always good to be cautious before giving out your credit card information. If you are thinking about becoming a patron, you should know Patreon has been around since 2013 and has a solid reputation among crowdfunding websites. It is currently ranked as the fifth-largest crowdfunding site behind GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Teespring (which, oddly enough, is a T-shirt crowdfunding site).

However, this doesn't mean the person you are funding deserves your trust. Fraud on Patreon isn't common, but it is possible. Most likely, this would come in the form of a bait-and-switch where you are promised certain services for subscribing and the host just doesn't come through or misstated what you would receive.

Unfortunately, Patreon's policy is not to give refunds. They consider all payments to be between the host and the subscriber. They do have a page for reporting a creator's page, and you can contact your credit card company about reversing the charge if the creator is unwilling to give a refund.

What Are the Pros of Using Patreon?

  • The subscription model. Patreon may be the only subscription processing service that doesn't charge money upfront. It also takes PayPal and credit card, so people can pay the way they feel is most comfortable.
  • A new avenue to connect with fans. Patreon creates a link between you and your greatest fans, which gives you a new layer of interactivity.
  • Consistent money stream. You know basically what you'll get from it each month without worrying about those three days you took off and didn't create any new content.

What Are the Cons?

  • Lack of discoverability. While Kickstarter and Indiegogo dedicate their pages to introducing people to the various projects they are hosting, Patreon's home page is dedicated to introducing people to Patreon and convincing people to sign up rather than introducing them to the people using the service. (But they will give you some tips for growing your audience.)
  • All eggs in one basket. There's not anything quite like Patreon out there, so if Patreon were to suddenly vanish, there is no easy replacement.
  • Monthly subscription process even with no new content. This can be an issue for those subscribing to a creator. The monthly subscription model has a lot of upsides, but what happens if the creator stops producing content? This isn't always a bad thing as subscribers can enjoy the backlog of content, but inactivity can lead to a subscriber paying for several months without getting anything out of it.​​​
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