I knew something was up with Patreon (I think) on Thursday, when someone who I support via the crowdfunding platform started making noise over fee changes. What I wasn’t expecting was the subsequent universal meltdown when it became apparent that my initial understanding of what was going on turned out not only to be the truth, but an intended part of the company’s business plan. I’ve spent a bit of time reading corporate forecasts over the years and know that you don’t lie to your investors if you want to remain a viable concern. This, to my eyes, is a company prepping itself to either a) get bought out by a larger concern or b) make more money than they already are. They are, in essence, a beautiful metaphor for what is considered ‘successful’ online.
Patreon have made their name by enabling individuals the company do not consider as successful. That’s a pretty significant smack in the face to someone like me for whom their platform has literally become a life-changing experience. Without this ability to sell myself to people halfway across the World, my life would not be as good as it is now. Life changing sums do not have to be in the four figure or upward range. Knowing that more than 20 people would fund me was a revelation. As a number of people withdrew their support from the platform on Friday, each one contacted me privately, pledging they would continue to support me elsewhere.
On reflection, this is how I know Patreon is not needed to move forward.
I’m still very angry, but am not going to start attacking the CEO by name or hounding people via Social media. I can be as indignant as I like: it is very clear to me, looking at the evidence now available, that this is not a decision driven by conscience. It is, purely and simply, the means by which the business encourages those who are not making enough money to leave, or those people unable to organise themselves outside the platform to remain beholden. I saw a company rep suggesting in a message on Friday that Patreon users actively encourage their users to up their pledges in order to cover the fees. I’m not about to start strong-arming people who I know are supplying me cash often simply as the equivalent of moral support to give more.
What happens next however is a lot to do with my conscience and far less to do with the platform itself, which is a change from the situation last week.
Of the people that I support who use the platform for their own work, all are very much in too deep to easily extricate themselves without serious financial hardship. I am about to hit $1000 made since I started the Internet of Words project. This is a not inconsiderable sum, but it is not huge. What the fuss around these changes is doing is making my low level funders (of which there are many) stop having an interest in the platform. Many will legitimately cite this as a reason for stopping their payments, but for others it will be a convenient excuse to move on. For that reason alone, I think it might be the moment to reconsider what I’m doing and rethink the plan.
I’m fairly settled in what is going to happen next for the Internet of Words. I’ll make a formal announcement tomorrow on the writing blog, knowing that the people that care and wish to support me will continue to do so regardless. That’s the key here: I’m not going to be beholden to someone else in order to secure my success. I want to do this on my own, and am well aware that is possible with the right backing. I won’t judge those people either who choose not to agree with my decisions. That’s not how business works: if I make the wrong decisions, that is my choice to stand and fall beside. In effect, that’s all that’s happened here.
Sometimes, you don’t need to make money to be successful.