The Problems with Patreon

Throughout most of the internet’s history, creators and website owners made their money in one of two ways:

  1. Advertising, often with payments being based on how many clicks the ads got
  2. Or subscriptions, where people would sign up and pay for exclusive content

With most (especially those on platforms like YouTube) using the first.

However, in 2013, that all changed. Then, a service called Patreon launched, with the selling point being that creators could get paid by dedicated fans simply for the privilege of creating content they loved.

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It was a simple system that quickly became a huge success, and one which millions of creators have adopted since. Now, everyone from webcomic authors to YouTubers, indie game devs and writers are using Patreon to make money, with many of them using it as their number 1 source of income.

Yet despite that, something about Patreon never sat right with me. Something about it just felt ‘wrong’, like it was a huge step backwards overall.

And I think I’ve finally figured out the reasons why. So here they are, here are the problems with Patreon.

Starting with a personal issue that bugs me about Patreon and artwork. Basically, the service feels like it devalues art, and implies said art is worthless in its own right.

Confused? I thought you might be.

After all, on the surface, it seems like fans supporting creators directly is a good thing.

And there you’re right. It is a good thing that people are willing to support those whose work they enjoy.

Problem is, the way Patreon works implies the art itself is worthless. That the only way for a creator to survive is off of the generosity of others.

And that doesn’t sit right for me. I want my work to pay for itself, for people to actually get value from it directly. If I write a book for instance, I want people to buy that book because they found it useful, or found the content entertaining. For me, the product or service should be what people are directly paying for.

Hence using a service like Patreon just feels like surrender. Like I’ve accepted my work isn’t valuable on its own merits, and that the only way I can keep doing said work is through the kindness of strangers on a personal level.

It’s also like why I don’t like GoFundMe either.

Think about it, what does it say about society if the only way for people to survive is through donations from others?

It says society is pretty messed up. In a better system, Universal Basic Income would replace Patreon, and society would be livable for people who want to spend their time on art or creativity that doesn’t involve an immediate return on investment.

The fact that doesn’t happen speaks volumes.

And the story is the same with GoFundMe too.

You’ve all heard the stories there, right? The ‘heartwarming’ story about how a loving wife/husband/son/daughter/neice/nephew got diagnosed with cancer/some other horrible life threatening illness and was able to lose their life savings on medical treatment. But wait, they’re saved! The public all stepped in and donated money to pay for the treatment, so they won’t be forced to sell their house/lose everything for the sake of survival.

On the surface, that’s a lovely story. It’s one about the kindness of strangers and how people will rush to help others in their time of need.

Yet when you look more closely, it’s not that at all. It’s a story about how badly screwed up the healthcare system is, and how the only way a normal person can afford live saving treatment is through begging for help on the internet.

That’s not heartwarming at all, it’s horrific.

No one should be forced to plead for money to afford care that the state itself should provide for free.

The fact they do shows the US medical system is broken beyond repair.

People shouldn’t be forced into bankruptcy to pay for medical treatment, and the fact they are in some places should be seen as absolutely abhorrent.

Patreon is much the same way. Its success isn’t really part of a tale about how much people appreciated beloved creators, it’s evidence that creative works are worth so little that you have to beg your fans for money to stay afloat.

Which indirectly brings us to the last issue with Patreon as a service.

Namely, that they have too much power over creators.

And more people should be worried about this. They should be worried that so many donations and monthly subscriptions are going through the same middleman.

Or that said middleman can destroy a creator’s livelihood at the drop of a hat, simply because a company or social media mob disagrees with the creator’s work or personal politics.

Because that’s happened. It’s happened quite a lot.

And it makes the already precarious situation many YouTubers and content creators find themselves in even more precarious. Now, not only do you have to worry about your ‘platform’ cutting you off to save their own skin, but that your sole source of income won’t do the exact same thing.

Is that a risk you want to take?

Do you really want your entire life and employability dependent on multi billion dollar corporations that can take it all away at the drop of a hat?

Cause I sure don’t.

My personal philosophy in life is that I never want to be held subservient to millionaires or corporations unless absolutely necessary.

It’s why Gaming Reinvented still exists, and why despite the move to centralised platforms like YouTube and Medium, I will never go all in on any of them. They’re too risky, and too prone to being used against me whenever it becomes inconvenient for large companies or baying social media mobs.

Patreon is just another one of these middlemen. It’s just another platform that can be taken away by unforeseen circumstances.

Which in fact, don’t even need to be cancel culture or social media mob related. If Patreon goes bankrupt or shuts down, everyone on the service is toast. If a payment processor tightens the lease around Patreon’s neck or decides adult content is a sin, many creators on Patreon are toast.

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If payment processors decide your work is ‘adults only’, services like Patreon will happily cut you off to save themselves

All of those things could happen, and anyone dependent on Patreon at that point is likely to lose everything because of it.

So those are the reasons I don’t care much for Patreon. It distances creators from traditional capitalism, it supports a system where begging strangers to survive is necessary and it puts people’s incomes under the control of a multi million dollar corporation which doesn’t have their best interests at heart.

But what do you think? Are you also wary of Patreon and other services? Or do you think they’re how creators should monetise their work?

Tell me your thoughts in the responses below!

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