July 2021 Edit:
I posted this loose collection of thoughts two years ago while I was considering setting up a creator account on Patreon. At the time, my main concerns were that (a) you couldn’t block users on Patreon and (b) the content feed of the creators you support was interspersed with grayed-out posts saying, “You can unlock this post by becoming a [higher-tier] patron,” which felt both manipulative and mean. Since then, Patreon has updated its service to remove these grayed-out posts from supporters’ feeds, and creators can now block users. As always, I have nothing but respect for the time and energy independent creators invest in promoting their work, but I’ve decided to leave an unedited version of this post on the blog as a record of my thoughts regarding how awkward it is to apply overt capitalist language and mentalities to fandom cultures.
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(1) Fandom has always been a relatively noncommercial space, and I hate the feeling that it’s starting to become filled with advertisements and corporate-style messaging. It always makes me cringe when fandom accounts on Tumblr or Twitter affix messages such as “subscribe to my Patreon for bonus content” to all of their posts on social media; it feels sort of like I’m watching an infomercial.
(2) I hate feeling like I’m constantly bombarded with messages that I should be spending more money, and I hate feeling guilty for not supporting artists. Monthly Patreon payments can add up, especially if you follow several dozen (or several hundred) artists. It’s not a big deal to give one person a few dollars every month, but even small expenditures can add up quickly, and I hate having to choose between equally deserving people.
(3) I hate feeling as though fandom should cost money and that, as a result, people without money are barred from accessing certain parts of fandom. This is especially true of Patreon-only Discord servers and locked communities on public servers. Putting up a paywall around access to community spaces feels really gross to me. I also don’t like it when creators use Patreon to restrict access to process videos, guides, tutorials, and other instructional materials that would be especially beneficial to younger artists and other members of the community who lack access to traditional resources.
(4) Your friendship with someone shouldn’t be dependent on how much you pay them each month. Loaning money to friends is almost never a good idea, nor is sending them a monthly paycheck. This has the potential to create awkward situations both with people you know in real life and with people you know through fandom. For example, what if Friend A finds out that you’re donating to Friend B’s Patreon but not to theirs? Will a fandom artist you support on Patreon still be friendly with you if you cancel your monthly pledge?
(5) There’s no way to filter content on Patreon, either for subscribers or creators. Let’s say, for example, that there’s someone who’s into a certain fetish that many people might not be comfortable with, such as explicit age gaps in sexual relationships, and that this person makes repeated requests to the artists they’re supporting on Patreon to draw content of their fetish. I’m a firm believer in “don’t like, don’t read,” and I stand behind the idea that everyone’s fantasies involving fictional characters are valid, but I also don’t particularly want to see an impish ten-year-old cartoon character being happily molested by a forty-year-old if I can help it, nor do I want to see a soft version of the same concept while knowing why that specific person requested it. I feel bad for the creators who rely on Patreon for financial support and have to deal with these types of requests. For example, how comfortable would they be turning down a request for fetish porn if it meant possibly losing a long-term supporter?
All that being said, I like when people use Patreon as a tip jar.
Some of the most talented and prolific webcomic artists and indie game developers I know do this. All of their content is free and open to everyone, and they use Patreon as a development blog. Some creators – especially people who run popular podcasts and YouTube channels – still make thousands of dollars a month through Patreon despite the fact that all of their content is unlocked.
Although I understand that Patreon creators who make a decent monthly salary are exceptions, the fact that they can be so successful despite not creating paywalls makes me wonder if limiting access to content on Patreon is really all that effective. Even though a creator may get a bit of extra revenue in this way, I’m not sure it’s worth the trade-off in terms of integrity and goodwill. To put it bluntly, using reward tiers to incentivize the people who want to support you into giving you a few extra dollars each month is repellent capitalist bullshit. For me personally, it also makes scrolling through my feed on Patreon distinctly unpleasant, like, YOU AREN’T RICH ENOUGH TO SEE THIS POST LOL.
What I’m trying to explain is that, although I think Patreon can be a great platform to help people finance their creative work, the incursion of profit-driven language, practices, and ideologies into a space built on support, communication, and goodwill is troubling and offensive.
Basically, I hate capitalism. It’s not that I think independent creators don’t deserve support; rather, I think it’s disgusting how Patreon normalizes using exploitative methods to extract as much money as possible from people who want to support their friends and other independent creators. I also dislike how Patreon encourages creators to rely on these methods, thereby steering them into a mindset in which they treat their engagement with Patreon like an actual job and their friends like clients. This type of engagement has a clear potential to become uncomfortable and unsustainable, especially for people in economically precarious positions.
I’m not trying to say that Patreon is inherently bad, or that people shouldn’t use Patreon. I’ve actually supported a decent number of creative people on Patreon for years, and it makes me happy to do so. What I’m trying to figure out is how Patreon can be used in a way that doesn’t mirror the emotional violence and sheer obnoxiousness of capitalism. I also want to push back against the trend of every interaction on social media becoming a microtransaction, because it’s exhausting.