Patreon Chips Away At Digital Content Creator Stigma

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For artists, especially those with commercial ambitions, only a chosen few get to the big show. It was a frustrating fact for many in the analog era as a few record companies and even fewer film companies controlled what projects were “green lighted” and what stayed in the shadows.

But the digital era, Patreon’s Vice President of Finance Carlos Cabrera told PYMNTS in a recent conversation, has changed that in two important ways that taken together have created something of a modern renaissance in allowing more people to become independent content makers.  The first part of that revolution, he said, was simply the opening up of all the digital distribution channels out there. Anyone can start a YouTube channel, upload their music to Spotify, self-publish a novel or spin up a podcast.

But for content creators, he wanted to make that their full-time profession, he said, a second part of that renaissance was necessary — the part that made it easy for them to be paid for their work like any other professional.

“Now it’s just easier and easier to get access to financial services as a creator,” Cabrera said. “It’s easier to plug into financial planning tools and easier to track all of your monetization across a bunch of different platforms. All of these tools that allow people to pursue this for a living are starting to come together and creates this positive feedback loop where a lot more people become creators and then the whole ecosystem kind of feeds itself.”

Patreon, Cabrera said, is part of that second renaissance of tools for content creators, creating a platform that makes it easy for artists to directly monetize their work from their follower base.  And it’s easy, he said, in two senses. The first sense is technical — Patreon is designed to make it as easy as possible to convert fans into paying customers on a Patreon page where it is very easy to interact. Within about five minutes, he said, a creator can have that page up, running and ready to go with various price tiers in place and ready to deliver one whatever perks going along with that price tier.  Exclusive content, exclusive listings, private uploads to other channels like Vimeo or Soundcloud — Patreon’s goal is to make that all doable directly from Patreon without the need for any special technical knowledge. It’s all plug and play.

Getting Paid

But more than the technical contribution Patreon makes, Cabrera said, they are also helping to contribute to an environment where it is OK for creators actually to ask to get paid — something that has been a fairly large psychological hurdle to help creators overcome over the last eight years they have been in business.

“A lot of folks once thought that, if you were making money in other ways like engaging with your fans directly and monetizing your fans directly, the feeling was like you didn’t make it,” he said. “If you’re not Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift or something, for whom touring and ad-based monetization is just fine, a stigma developed and that has largely evaporated over the past eight years. And I think it’s because of a shift in like cultural perception it’s OK to get artists paid and for creators to monetize their work.”

Because what they’ve seen is artists are getting paid for their work, sometimes quite well. It now has people on the platform who are bringing in seven-figure monthly incomes through Patreon, especially since the pandemic hit and left people all over the world starved for content. And while it has seen growth in some particular areas — the last 12 months, he noted, have been a golden time to start a podcast, it’s not one specific sub-segment of content creation generating the most user interest or fan response. Podcasts, musicians, comic strip creators, comedians — name a media type, he said, and Patreon doubtlessly has a creator making a fairly large amount of money doing it. It’s not that one thing makes more money than anything else on Patreon, he said. What succeeds is people making good stuff and being good community managers who care about their fans and whose fans care for them. Creators who can build that, he said, will succeed no matter what kind of work they do.

Finding The Next Patreon Star

And Patreon, who succeeds in direct proportion to how well the creators they support are doing, is working to develop the next set of tools they can hand off to those creators to further aid their monetization efforts. That might, he said, include things like building in tools that make it easy for Patreon creators to take some of their earnings and put them directly toward retirement savings. But the guiding light is the services that naturally flow from its platform to enhance its clients’ abilities to carry forward as serious professionals.

He said these people are professionals and are working hard to create content that has a real audience and an audience that is willing to pay to get it. And professionals, no matter what their context, he said, deserve respect for their labors and platforms like Patreon, he said, are built to make that easier for them to capture.

“If you’re a professional content creator, there’s been a stigma attached to that,” Cabrera said. “And I feel like we are big enough when saying you’re a content creator feels like saying that you are a data scientist or a lawyer or a dentist or a software engineer. It feels like a respected career path for somebody to choose. When we can provide that, we have grown big enough as a company.”




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