Famous Freelancers? Patreon Brings Fans (and Cash) to Content Creators

By Mason Lerner May 30th, 2014

Despite all of the brilliant innovations of the last few decades, all the geniuses out there are still working on how to make freelancing a consistently lucrative way to earn a living. And even though we’ve seen great strides made in recent years, there is still plenty of turf to conquer. Trying to reshape the freelance industry sounds like a mission so ridiculous, Don Quixote would roll his eyes and say, “Are you for real?”

Of course, Don Quixote was never a YouTube music sensation. But Jack Conte, whose band Pomplamoose has over 400,000 subscribers on YouTube, may have created a unique way for freelancers to get paid. With the help of developer Sam Yam, Conte cofounded Patreon, a crowdfunding platform aimed at connecting content creators with fans. Two weeks ago, Wired called Patreon “The Crowdfunding Upstart That’s Turning Freelancers into Superstars.”

Instead of asking for a Kickstarter donation to get one major project off the ground, Patreon asks fans to become continuous “patrons” of creators. Patrons can pledge recurring payments per month or per project that are as low as one dollar. The company makes money by charging a five percent commission of all donations.

Prior to launching Patreon, Conte set out to find a way for freelance creatives to make money, since Pomplamoose couldn’t generate revenue on YouTube despite their hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

“The current economic model of Youtube wasn’t really adding up for him,” said Cole Palmer, creator and user relation manager at Patreon. “He was going into pretty significant credit card debt to create these [music] videos. His fans loved them, and he loved creating them, so what he did was ask his fans if they would be interested in kicking him a dollar or two every time he released a video. The response was pretty overwhelming. Basically, overnight Jack was able to create a salary for himself of about $60,000 a year.”

On Patreon, Pomplamoose currently has 1,206 patrons pledging a total of $4,404.55 per video. And while musicians continue to be popular sources of funding, many types of content creators are now connecting with patrons.

“It’s blown up significantly from there to the point where it’s not only for YouTube artists,” Palmer added. “We have a huge podcast community, a huge web comic community…and we have a lot of writers. Longform journalism, short story authors, these are things we are adapting the platform to as they pop up.”

Since launching last year, Patreon has generated about $1.8 million for its creators, and the most popular storytellers earn thousands of dollars per month. For example, Zach Weinersmith, who produces comics, brings in more than $8,000 per month.

As digital access changes how sellers interact with buyers, Palmer believes the platform could revolutionize the way creators do business.

“The advertising model has been there a long time,” he said. “The commission-based model has been there for a long time. But there has never been something where you can budget out and know what your income will be next month. It’s truly innovative, and it’s going to change the way artists and creators make a living going forward. We’re going to see a shift to a fan-based, subscription model.”

And Patreon is not just geared toward creators with established followings.

“We’re trying really hard on our end to create a media consumption platform where we can highlight awesome work,” Palmer said. “We already have a ‘Discover’ section where we highlight trending creators and really cool creations, [and] we also have a built-in recommendation engine.”

The company has already received $2.1 million in seed money, and they are currently going through another wave of fund raising. Palmer thinks the seed money, the early success of creators, and the media attention the company has received add up to a solid base users can depend on for the future.

“We plan on being around for a long time,” he said.

With that kind of ambition, even Cervantes would have to take notice.

Image via Benjamin Reed

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