Patreon Is Changing Again And Wants To Do It Right This Time

Graphic: Patreon

Yes, Patreon is making adjustments again—as some creators have suspected and feared. The recurring crowdfunding site agonized over a relatively small change in how it does business, and in doing so it’s setting an example few other platforms live up to.

After an attempted fee change in December of 2017, which Patreon’s current SVP of Product Wyatt Jenkins described to Gizmodo as “when the whole internet turned on us,” trust is still low. It was his seventh day with the company. But in speaking with Jenkins last week, it seems Patreon is doing everything in its power to regain that trust, do right by its users, and provide transparency at a time when evasive behaviour is the norm for tech companies. “If we changed pricing at all on existing creators,” he said, “we would have a firestorm on our hands.”

What is Patreon changing, exactly? It’s building out usage tiers, potentially one of the dullest overhauls a company can make to its backend. Whether or not this represents, as Jenkins stated, “the future of Patreon,” what’s crucially important is how it’s communicating the change to current users.

Graphic: Patreon

In nuts and bolts terms, the tiers present three options: one for the most casual of crowdfunders, another more full-featured option for the bulk of users, and a limited, bespoke set for the biggest creators in need of the white glove treatment. Crucially, current users are grandfathered into the middle-tier and retain all the features they have now, at the same cost. After what he claims were meetings with thousands of creators over the past year, and a great deal of learning from 2017's debacle, Jenkins realised “Patreon does not get to make unilateral decisions about creators and their fans. Creators are sick of that. That’s the way YouTube works. That’s the way Facebook works.”

Premium will, at first, have limited availability. The number of creators who currently meet the $US300 ($424) per month fee minimum is, according to Jenkins, a single digit per cent of the approximately 120,000 active users. It’s also something the platform will have to actively staff up for. “The original model—the 5 per cent model—doesn’t work” for big creators who have more needs, Jenkins said. It comes with a few perks beyond personalised treatment, like a specialised merch option which he likened to the model Chicago Public Media uses that rewards contributors for loyalty over time.

That said, “if a creator just wants to have a membership and then sell some t-shirt and stuff, wherever they have that, that availability is for anyone in any tier.” Again, nothing really changes. And Patreon really, really wants to stress that. Even still, the changes won’t go into effect until May, giving current creators two months lead time to make any necessary preparations. Patreon also plans to set up a livestream to walk creators through the changes to prevent another uprising. “We’re really going up above and beyond to make sure no one feels surprised,” Jenkins said.

Graphic: Patreon

Part and parcel with the tier changes, Patreon is also adjusting its fee structure somewhat, but again, Jenkins claims, “existing creators keep the exact same payment processing rate they have today.” Mainly the changes appear aimed reducing fees on small donations, which for some creators, makes up the bulk of their funding. As a result, Jenkins stated, “there is a cohort of creators who could potentially do better in the new fees and we’re gonna reach out to them and tell them ‘if [changing to the new plan is] something that’s interesting to you, you’re welcome to do it.’”

Of course, those who sign up for the Pro or Premium tier after today’s announcement will be paying higher fees to the platform—essentially subsidizing early adopters as well as helping to fund the future of the service. But the Lite tier seems to be where the platform expects to see its future growth coming from. Patreon believes it’s losing more casual creators during the signup process because new users may be overwhelmed by options and the company is hoping fewer barriers to entry might help with retention. Acquisition of new users is clearly a concern with YouTube’s ‘Join’ button quietly edging into Patreon’s turf last August.

But Patreon has very different incentives than YouTube.

“If you’re YouTube, your number one customer is advertisers—because that’s where the money comes from—and your number two customer[s] are end- users—because you need watch time to get those advertisers to spend dollars— and your number three customer are people who make content,” Jenkins explained. “You just follow the money on a business and you know what they care about.” Even in the most cynical terms, as he notes “Patreon takes a percentage of creators so it’s pretty clear who our priority is.”

There’s no shortage of tech companies that would like some involvement in every aspect of our lives. Strange how refreshing it is to go back to just being a customer on known terms.


Comments

    Is this the "oh shit we shouldn't have burned all those porn patreons but we don't want to admit that" initiative?

      Dont forget the drama when thry dropped Sargon as well =P

      As with a lot of online companies (see also: Tumblr) their hands are kind of tied on the porn thing due to the awful FOSTA/SESTA laws that were aimed at preventing sex trafficking but have made life easier for sex traffickers while also 'inadvertently' effectively banning porn from the internet.

    Are they going to change that awful redesign of the logo back to the good one?

      I think there's a real disconnect between designers and regular people. There's a lot about the design industry that seems opaque to people not in the industry and I am trying to actively fix that in my own life (mostly for my own benefit, when clients understand what's happening they're less likely to shoot down challenging but good ideas in favour of ones they "get").

      The thing about the old Patreon logo is, it's made up of a lot of goofy letterforms that just make the whole thing look a little amateurish (that e is cringey). The P logomark is recognisable on its own, sure, but it's also got no flexibility. While the new logo isn't exactly going to spark anyone's imagination, we now live in a multi-screened, always online world, where a logo will rarely appear in isolation. Whether it's on the website, social media, or in a video ad, the logo has a whole brand system to support it. This can include illustrations, animations, abstractions of the already abstract P they now use, and more.

      See how they can pull apart the new logo and change its colours however they like here: https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2600/1*SRfo3-YfPlITxjxOHcmyIQ.gif

      Or how the line in the P logo can be multiplied and rotated to create a background here:
      https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2600/1*0eF38WMe0z5sBsdw4GCqhg.png

      If you pair that with their new brand colour (you don't see brands using that new orange often, but you saw the old orange everywhere), the things that need to live side by side with other people's brands, like the support me button, now look eye-catching and unique in our new, always white internet:
      https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/patreon_become.png

      Second-rate designers (like the kind you find on Fiverr, 99Designs, etc.) have been perpetuating this "the logo is the brand" perception for a long time. But a brand is so much more than that, and sometimes a step towards a more boring logo is actually a step towards a more fully fleshed out brand.

        Good, thought out answer, but stick and ball is just ugly in comparison.
        I do appreciate all that stuff I’d never considered though

          Yeah, it's definitely not without room for improvement, and the idea they're going for has been done better elsewhere.

        logo will rarely appear in isolation

        I think in the age of app icons, browser favicons and shorcuts etc. I don't think it's ever been *more* likely that a icon will appear in isolation.

          Sure, and a good designer / studio will account for that. Making sure you have some version of the logo that can look good in square format is the bare minimum these days. Especially for digital-first brands. But that's one small slice of the user's experience, and something like seeing the app icon / clicking the app icon isn't enough of the brand experience to fixate on more than anything else.

        I'd argue that it depends on the brand. The animations and playful modularity you speak of make sense for a media or creative brand that can expect to expose potential customers to this sort of little experiments through constant communication/self-promotion. Patreon is no such brand. They are not a platform or a social media environment; they are a financial service that attaches itself to existing creator-owned services and products. If any, it should aspire to be as invisible as possible to better let the users shine and their customers process transactions fast and cleanly.

          Patreon has always taken a "by creators, for creators" approach to their branding. If you're looking for a utilitarian solution there's plenty of those, like Paypal.

          I think it's actually important that Patreon wear their creativity on their sleeve. Essentially what they're saying to their customers and potential customers is: "We're one of you, we get how you like to operate, and we have built our product / service with your needs in mind." Consumers are looking for easy to find clues about a brand's values and focus, so anything that can help Patreon convey it as quickly as possible is good for business.

          Dropbox have recently done a similar thing with their branding, they went from a very subdued brand to one that's downright wacky. It seems jarring at first until you find out that the majority of their userbase are either in creative fields or like to think of themselves as creative.

          This creative and wacky approach isn't the best approach, it's just an approach. With branding and business, the best approach is always the one that works, and what works is dependent on many factors, such as your customers, your competition and the market.

            That's a fair point and I can see how they'd want to project that image. From my point of view, they really are not any different than Paypal.

              Yeah I don't really interact with Patreon at all so I don't know if it's landing or not. I will say that users of Patreon tend to talk about Patreon a whole lot more than users of Paypal, so there is that increased visibility there.

              There's also the argument "speak to your audience, not like your audience." and this is advice best heeded by financial institutions like banks (who Patreon and Paypal aren't that far removed from), who need to convey a trustworthiness and professionalism that a creative approach might undermine.

              There's no right answer, if it doesn't work for you, that's totally fine and often actually better. A brand that is hated by nobody is often a brand that is loved by nobody as well.

    Wait.. Is there a source for this? I never heard of this change.
    I mean, was it just a press release, or did they blog it somewhere?

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