For the past week I've been seeing tons of discussions about Patreon and many of them have veered into truly upsetting territory. Endless comments, some in favor of it and some against it, and a lot of people saying that they're really not familiar with it at all (not that lack of familiarity stopped many from having strong opinions). So let's start out with what Patreon is, or, more precisely, how I view it.
Patreon is something anyone can set up, but since I'm an author and the Patreon accounts I choose to support are author accounts, I'm going to stick with speaking about them. So, an author can create an account and offer patrons a variety of options at price levels ranging from $1 a month to whatever top limit they choose to cap it at. At each level the patron receives all the things from the lower contribution level plus additional perks for the level they opt into. Content varies from author to author and, from the accounts I've seen, is quite creative---free exclusive reads, chats with authors, the opportunity to choose which stories are written next, a chance to name a character---every Patreon is different and authors are coming up with a wide array of unique options for their supporters. Patrons can change their level monthly or discontinue support at any time. The choice is theirs.
I think this is great, for both the author and readers/fans who choose to sign up. It's an opportunity for interaction that's different than what you get on social media. It's fun and interactive in a way that wouldn't have even been an option not long ago.
What bothers me is the number of posts I've seen, from readers and other authors, referring to the creation of a Patreon account as something authors are "resorting to" or that they do or should feel "ashamed of."
How is choosing to offer extra content something shameful? Why is wanting to offer extra content something you're resorting to?
Writing is a creative field, but it's also a business.
Did Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts feel shame when they decided to start offering turbo shots in their drinks for an extra fee? If your local bakery adds the option of topping your cupcake with a hand dipped strawberry or homemade truffle do you think "OMG I can't believe they're resorting to selling extra chocolate to make money!" I don't think so. I think you decide if you want that extra shot or the decadent cupcake topper, pay for it or don't, and go on with your day. Why is it any different if the "extra topping" is an exclusive short story or the option of naming a character, or getting a signed piece of swag from your favorite author?
The answer? It's not. It's not different at all. Yet authors are getting grief or feeling internalized guilt as if they're beggars or are failures.
I don't get it.
For people referring to Patreon as "begging" or "holding out a tin cup" all I have to say is it's not. At all. Even services like gofundme are not, IMO, begging---those services are just a way for people to say "hey, I need a little help." And there's nothing wrong with that. There's no shame in asking for help when you need it. People who choose to contribute to gofundme or similar things are simply offering help to someone in need. This not only helps the person in need, it generally makes the contributor feel good about being able to offer that assistance. It's a win-win. When given the opportunity to do something nice for someone, many people will jump at the chance to if they're able. That's a wonderful thing. But that's not what Patreon is. A donation is money given out of good will, with nothing expected in return. The contribution is its own reward. Patreon gives the contributor something in return. It's the opposite of a donation. It's a purchase. It's an opportunity to get something---whichever option you choose---in exchange for the tier you opt into. It's like any other business purchase. You decide what you want, you pay for it, you get it, the person offering it gets money. It's that simple.
Authors spend a hell of a lot of time creating content. Much of that content is free all over the place. We write on our own blogs, we write guest posts for other blogs, we spend hours on social media, we pay huge sums of money to attend conferences and even more money to have swag to hand out, we do giveaways, attend social media events, oh, and yeah, we spend every minute of our "free time" writing our books, editing them and then promoting them (which also costs money). Most authors I know give advanced peeks at covers to their fans, post free reads and outtakes on their blogs, have a free novella or two available and bonus content as well....we literally cannot give everything away for free and be expected to continue writing. Not a single author I know is independently wealthy and even if they were, would their time still not be worth money just like everyone else's?
Speaking of conferences...and going back to what Patreon is...
I live in the middle of New Hampshire. If you're not familiar with my state I'll tell you, it's lovely---really beautiful---and almost nothing writing related ever happens here. If I want to go to a conference or even meet up with a bunch of authors I need to travel. It's important to me to spend time with fans and fellow authors, so I do this as often as I can and although it's rewarding and worthwhile, it is expensive. Conference fees are not cheap (we're talking anywhere from $100-600 just to pay to attend, add on airfare, transportation to the hotel, the hotel itself, meals if you're feeling decadent and think you may want to eat more than the "free" cookies you may or may not be able to snag at a party, conference clothes (because although readers are amused when you talk about your extensive collection of pajamas and sweats they kind of expect you to be dressed in grown-up suitable-for-outside-the-house attire when you're in a fancy hotel ballroom or presenting a panel), and swag (which you often have to pay extra to distribute at the con). Oh, and books. We don't get an endless supply of free books from our publishers and usually have to purchase and then ship books to signings.) As I said. Expensive. Worthwhile, but expensive. And since we want readers to get their monies worth, too, we do and bring as much as we can to make sure readers have fun and go home happy.
Obviously readers incur many of the same expenses---registration, travel, hotel, food. But they do this much for the same reason authors do. They love books and want to interact with their favorite writers as much as those writers want to interact with their readers.
Unfortunately, between the high cost, varied locations, authors not attending the conferences you can get to, family obligations, health issues or physical disabilities, etc. a lot of people can't get to as many conferences as they might like. Or any at all. And some authors have the additional problem of not being able to go to conferences because their writer identity being publically known might get them fired, or cause their family distress, or any number of other reasons.
If only there were a way that readers and writers could spend quality time together and interact without all that travel, expense, risk of being outed or coming home from a pricey event with con crud in addition to a tote full of goodies....
But wait, now there is! It's called Patreon.
With Patreon, for anywhere from a tiny fee to an amount that's still cheaper than even the very cheapest of cons, readers have an opportunity to get extra contact, bonus content, swag, info, books and time with their favorite authors, and authors have an opportunity to offer these extras to far more readers than they could reach no matter how many conferences they can manage to attend.
Would anyone in their right mind shame an author for attending a conference? Or call it pathetic that they're seeking attention and asking their readers to pay ALL THAT MONEY just for the honor of seeing them at an event? No. No they would not.
Is it elitist to only meet in person those fans who attend these conferences? Uh....seriously? No.
Yet Patreon is being called elitist...and hand-wringers are worrying it will creat a "divide" among readers who are competing to be superfans. Really? Are readers who attend conferences or who live in cities and can get to events at big book stores elitist? Is meeting authors in person creating some great divide I just haven't heard about? I don't think so. And I don't see why supporting an author you like by being a patron is in any way different.
People make decisions like this every damn day and no one gives them a second thought. A new movie comes out. You want to see it. You decide if it's worth it to go see it on the big screen, or buy it and watch at home, or wait for it to come out on cable. Choices. You decide if the movie is worth a little or a lot of your money and you spend accordingly.
It's no different just because books are involved.
Really. It's not.
Should every author run out and create a Patreon? Of course not. It's not for everyone and not everyone has the time or desire to create the content needed to have a successful one. Authors who are having success with Patreon have basically taken on a part-time job in running their account. Seriously. It's that much of a time commitment. Which is why getting paid is not in any way unreasonable.
Should every reader run out and join every Patreon? Of course not. Every reader should make up his or her own mind about how to spend their money.
But no author or reader should feel any form of guilt or shame for choose to participate in Patreon. Or for choosing not to. It's an opportunity for authors and for readers. There's no shame in choices. The only shame involved is in judging people who choose different things than you and condemning them for their decisions. We're all on the same team here. We all love books. We're all readers. We're all just doing the best we can. There's no shame in that.
TL:DR Patreon is not begging, it's offering bonus opportunities for readers at their choice of price levels; no shame involved.