In five years, online membership service Patreon has attracted two million patrons supporting 100,000 creators to the tune of $350m including nearly $1m a year for rightwing psychologist Jordan Peterson. So whats the secret of its success?
The internet has transformed creative industries. Words, music, video, images and games can be distributed worldwide, instantly and for free, delivering a cornucopia of delights to your screens and mine. The problem is that, historically, its not been quite so good at ensuring those same creative industries get paid. Ad-supported media did the job quite well, until a couple of years ago, when it suddenly didnt. Streaming services seem to be making a lot of money for someone, but that someone is rarely the creators who exist on those platforms.
All of which goes some way to explaining the surprise (and jealousy?) that accompanied the news that Jordan B Peterson, the alt-rights favourite psychologist and dispenser of such advice as stand up straight, is making just under $1m a year online, thanks to the support of some 9,500 fans on the membership service Patreon.
In fact, Peterson is not even the most successful creator on the site; that honour goes to the leftwing American podcast Chapo Trap House, which pulls in just shy of $100,000 a month from 22,040 patrons.
Those success stories, at opposite ends of the political spectrum, highlight the quiet growth of Patreon from a last-ditch attempt on the part of a YouTube musician to earn a living, to the economic infrastructure underpinning a substantial chunk of the indie net.
The service was started in May 2013 by Jack Conte and his old college roommate Sam Yam. Conte was a fairly successful YouTube musician at the time. His solo YouTube channel had more than 150,000 subscribers, gathering a million views a month on his frequent releases, and as one half of the band Pomplamoose he had collaborated with the likes of Ben Folds and Nick Hornby. But despite that, he was taking home just $50 a month from the site. Were talking about a football-sized field of fans who love someones content, cant wait to see the next blog or make the next recipe, he told National Public Radio at the time. And the artist is making maybe $50 a month off of it. Its outrageous, and actually it doesnt add up at all.