Reviewed June 2016
Stephanie Grimm, Research and Instruction Librarian
Savannah College of Art and Design
You, too, can be like the Medici!
Patreon is a newer player among crowdfunding platforms, and offers a model for creative professionals (creators) to connect with and draw ongoing support from their audiences (patrons). At its core is the "emerging creative class," those YouTube vloggers, webcomics artists, musicians, and others who traditionally provide free content to their audiences through personal websites or social media. Differing from the goal-based funding model of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which support finite and often high-level projects (a full studio album, a complete graphic novel), Patreon's model is more akin to a subscription service. Patrons provide sustained support for the work creators are already doing, given in the form of monthly pledges or "per-thing" pledges (accrued whenever the creator uploads new content); in exchange, creators might offer exclusive content for different funding levels, like private blog posts or podcasts, sketches, and production or working notes.
While the bulk of Patreon's creator base is comprised of these filmmakers, musicians, and cartoonists, site visitors will also find burgeoning anthropologists, social historians, independent zine libraries, dancers, and crafters. For librarians and instructors supporting researchers in any of these areas—and particularly those interested in crowdfunding models to support their personal or professional projects—a familiarity with Patreon will help to provide examples of successful campaigns, and to identify up-and-coming creatives. This could prove especially useful for students and faculty in the fields of comics, illustration, filmmaking, game design, photography, and music. It also offers collection development potential, albeit limited, as patrons aren't necessarily funding a finished product that can be added to a library's collection.
Because Patreon is open to anyone working on "creative" projects, libraries can utilize the platform, as well. Libraries and librarians are already in the goal-based crowdfunding scene, so it is worth considering how Patreon's services might be leveraged to support open-ended or long-term efforts, like digitization projects or annual programs. Because pledge levels can change at any time as patrons decide to move their dollars to other projects, though, Patreon funding should be considered as a supplement to existing development efforts.
While the site's visual design is professional and clean, Patreon is limited by its poor browsing features and site architecture. A basic search tool exists, but offers no options for advanced or field searches. Patreon showcases "Featured" content, organized by a mix of format- and content-type categories, but there's some confusing overlap (would a YouTube comedian's page fall under "Comedy," or "Video & Film"?) and each category contains only five to fifteen featured creators. Patrons can view a "Suggested Creators" list, based on the creators they have supported, but this content is also limited. Therefore, Patreon campaigns must reach audiences through external platforms to have any chance of success.
As with all sites where copyright-holders upload their creative content, librarians and potential users should carefully evaluate Patreon's Terms of Service. Along with discussions of community standards and measures for flagging and removing copyright-violating content, the terms include a clause granting Patreon the right to use any uploaded works. While not revoking the creator's copyright so much as granting a license to store, alter, and display the work—necessary rights for the site to operate—creators who are uncomfortable with these provisions should review the full terms in-depth before uploading content.
Lastly, it should be noted that Patreon charges a five-percent commission on all funds raised. Despite this and other limitations, however, Patreon has proven to be a successful fundraising platform for many creators, and ingenious libraries and librarians should be able to use it in a similar way for ongoing support of long-term projects.