Last January, I was broke. I lived in a car, and that month I had to choose between paying my cell phone bill or buying food. Two years before that I was a freelance photographer in Chicago, but walked away from that life to travel around the country. My travels had given me a collection of stories and photos I was proud of, and more than 9,000 people were following me on Instagram. I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t make a dime doing it. I’d hit bottom at the worst time, mid-winter, far away from my comfortable network of jobs and connections back in the city. I decided to take a shot at Patreon, a crowdfunding site that encourages artists to “regain creative freedom” by raising money directly from fans. I knew friends had made Patreon accounts over the years, selling their art and music, funding their writing and podcasts, and figured if I could make $400 to $500 a month, I could continue doing photography full time.
Patreon is basically a payments processor designed like [or maybe disguised as] a social network….“Finally, ‘starving’ and ‘artist’ no longer need to be joined at the hip,” according to Patreon, in one of its many positive blog posts about its successful creators. But Patreon seems to know that most of its creators are actually making a pittance.In 2016, Patreon boasted that 7,960 users were now making over $100 a month, which struck me as such an insignificant monthly income to brag about. Around the same time, the company reportedly had 25,000 creators, meaning only 31 percent of Patreon’s users were making over a hundred bucks….
Even if creators are struggling to make money, investors see Patreon as a goldmine. In September, Patreon announced a $60 million dollar investment from venture capital firms, bringing its total funding to $107 million, according to Crunchbase, which tracks startup investment. Investors are excited about Patreon’s business model, which takes 5 percent from the money raised by creators, because subscriptions represent steady revenue, Wired reported.