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Patreon Artists Are Struggling to Achieve a Living Wage

December 8, 2017

Things just got a bit contentious between Patreon and its artists. The platform is designed to give creators a way to get recurring donations directly from fans, the idea being that artists secure more reliable salaries—and thus the freedom to focus on their work. On Thursday, though, Patreon announced that as of December 18, the transaction fees that were previously taken out of an artist’s total donations will be passed on to the patrons. Patrons pay the amount they wanted to contribute, plus 2.9 percent of the donation and a flat 35 cents as a transaction fee.

This might seem great for creators at first glance, as it could allow them to take home more money. But artists fear they will lose people who donate $5 or less. Patreon responded to the concerns on its blog, saying, “We want a Patreon where your patrons never have to wonder when they’ll be charged, or how much they’ll be charged, and this is the first step toward the improvements we’re making so that Patreon becomes a better system for everyone.”

But data compiled by a developer who reports Patreon statistics under the name Graphtreon suggests that creators are already straining for cash without any loss of patrons. Only about 2 percent of the platform’s creators make a living wage off Patreon. There are success stories of people earning over $150,000 annually, but stories like the one of Brent Knepper fighting to make a living on the platform are more common. “After launching my Patreon, I struggled for months to find work. Patreon filled my downtime, and became a full time job itself,” Knepper said Thursday in his post on The Outline. “It was a lot of work for little pay, but I was determined. A year later my monthly earnings on Patreon have grown from $120 to $163.”

Most creators don't even try to subsist on their Patreon income. That makes it a supplemental revenue stream at best, on top of advertising revenue, product sales, sponsorships, and whatever else an artists needs to do in order to make ends meet. The website is not creating an end-all solution for the financial woes of artists, then. But it does allow a monthly guaranteed amount, however paltry, for them to build on. To that end, Patreon did at least recently launch tools that allow anyone to set up a paywall on a personal website.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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