Aug 09, 2021 - 07:02 AM
[posted on behalf of AppleJinx]
I’ll share my take but take it with a grain of salt as I am not affiliated with Patreon, with one exception (see below).
I make my living on Patreon, and I am in the top 100 worldwide in the 'music' category (I write open source DSP plugins) and I make a bit over $2000 a month. It falls away very very rapidly: top ten worldwide is what people envision for 'making good money' and is competitive with say a career software developer in the 1990s or early 2000s.
Top 100 worldwide is 'getting by pretty comfortably if you don't live anywhere significant, especially if you still qualify for food stamps or what have you', and it's competitive with what a career software developer will be making by 2030 or 2040 at the most.
Top 1000 worldwide is already down to your $200 a month or so, and there are hundreds of thousands of people on these platforms. This is the nature of markets in an attention economy that scales worldwide: you're getting squeezed out by anybody anywhere, and if you're in a niche then that limits the maximum size you can scale.
I'm in a niche, but not alone in it: by now, there's another plugin dev who is pushing harder for money and making more than me, who is also Patreon-exclusive.
It's absolutely going to be the same on OnlyFans, Twitch, etc. As a job mostly this sort of thing is 'spend a bunch of money to operate at a competitive level, and then you don't earn anything to speak of'.
This IS free market dynamics in a state of maximum globalized low friction. Silicon Valley has spent a lot of time selling people on low friction interaction and discoverability. Tearing down the walls means you're competing with the girl with a perfect figure who's in New Delhi. Her competing with you means you earn less. She is also likely more motivated because the amounts being earned are more meaningful to her given the low cost of living in India.
When this seriously kicks in for the very software devs who've created this situation (and it may have been inevitable, let's not directly blame) and AI begins to compete with human workers at content creation and software development, the OnlyFans/Patreon/Twitch picture becomes the world, and at that point we've got some questions to ask about sustainability. A lot of these platforms are sustained by whales i.e the few buyers who spend disproportionately more than all the rest. I'd do substantially better (but would ruin my positioning) if I targeted whales.
The exception: I made a special effort to talk to Jack Conte (the CEO and co-founder) at the second-to-last Patrecon, the one in California. I spoke to Jack and to Sam Yam, and tried to impress upon them the importance of consistently and reliably maintaining that 'tail' of $50, $100 a month.
I don't know if they heard me but my argument was as follows: consider some single mother who is absolutely broke, but has a cell phone and is able to upload to YouTube or whatever.
Let's say she is able to find a double-digit number of people, no better, who'll tune in as she reads bedtime stories to her kid. She is not going to become PewDiePie, but she can pull maybe $50 or $100 on Patreon, and it's relatively consistent, especially if she doesn't tie it hard to her performance and products, but keeps it low-pressure: it's very possible to create a steady and predictable income stream that way.
The Patreon guys have a stated but undefined goal to bring people to a 'life-changing' amount of income, but we are all finding that's not going to happen for 99.9% of the people attempting it.
I've found from my experience that the 'life-changing' amount is around what I make: enough to build an actual business in the real world, support it, and grow. (if you're not growing in capitalism, you're gonna die).
In other words, the single mom telling her kid bedtime stories on YouTube is going to fail by the terms they're predisposed to care about, 'seeding a business in LA or wherever, and getting traction to grow big'.
My argument to Jack and Sam was this: I have been homeless and seen very tough times. Being able to count upon fifty, a hundred dollars a month that is not dependent on your precarious job, keeping a roof over your head (as long as you have the phone and can upload), that is YOURS and sort of steady consistent bonus income no matter what other hell goes on in your life, is HUGE.
The monetary amount is much less significant than the manner in which it is earned. It doesn't wildly vary from month to month, it's not tied to other obligations: anyone who has lived precariously knows the value of an extra fifty a month. This is at least an order of magnitude below what the Patreon guys assumed was 'life-changing', because I don't think they had the context to understand it.
So I pitched them on the importance of what they are doing, and of keeping faith with the 'long tail' rather than getting too distracted by trying to create millionaires.
I don't know if they heard but that's the one time I talked seriously with 'the Patreon system'. Other than that I'm just another bozo on the bus, representing the tail end of the top 100 worldwide :)