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Patreon Offers a New Way to Crowdfund Animation

There are countless crowdfunding sites nowadays, but none have offered a viable alternative that challenges Kickstarter and Indiegogo’s dominance. Patreon may change that though. The crowdfunding site offers a smart twist on the crowdfunding model that may prove attractive to filmmakers who want to produce content regularly.

What sets Patreon apart is that backers don’t pay toward the completion of a single project, but rather they become patrons of a specific creator by contributing a much smaller amount on a regular basis. For example, if you’re a filmmaker who regularly releases new content on-line, you can create a campaign so that backers will pay you a buck or two every time you post a new work.

The most recent high-profile animation artist to join Patreon is Jason Steele, the creator of YouTube hits like Charlie the Unicorn and Llamas with Hats. Although Steele’s production company FilmCow has nearly 1 million subscribers and 325 million views on its YouTube channel, Steele is struggling to make money from YouTube thanks to changes the Google-owned streamer has made recently. Steele writes:

Most of the money FilmCow makes to sustain itself comes from YouTube ad revenue. This has allowed us to earn a living independently producing videos since 2009, however over the last couple of years YouTube has implemented some problematic site changes that have made things much more difficult for us. Most severe of these changes is the way our videos reach, or rather don’t reach, subscribers. Unless you click on the “My Subscriptions” tab (and most people do not), there’s only a short window of time in which new videos from people you’re subscribed to will show up on your YouTube homepage. The result of this is that even though we have about a million subscribers, fewer subscribers are seeing our releases than back when we had a tenth of that.

This isn’t as big of a problem for people who release very frequent content. If you’re a vlogger or commentator putting out a new video every day then something you’ve released will almost always be visible to your subscribers. For people who produce scripted or animated content with a (very) small team, however, that sort of release schedule just isn’t possible.

When FilmCow releases a new cartoon the views drop dramatically after the first 24 hours, and most of our subscribers aren’t even aware that something was released. 200-300 thousand views per video is fantastic when you can release multiple times a week, but when it takes one or two weeks to create a video those sorts of numbers are no longer profitable.

Steele’s Patreon campaign, which launched today, currently has 22 patrons who are contributing a total of $87 per video. That means that Steele’s average donation amount is currently $3.95 per video. Without the high pledge amounts that are normal on Kickstarter campaigns, filmmakers on Patreon can spend more of their time creating content rather tha fulfilling exorbitant backer rewards. The rewards that Steele offers are well suited to the amount of money he’s asking for: $1 per video gains behind-the-scenes access to the production of the films, $3 per video gets audio commentary, $5 per video gets an additional commentary track for older films, and $10 per video gets access to a live stream of a Q&A session every two weeks. (The Patreon model works in favor of the backers, too, since they are guaranteed to receive a new film whenever their bank account is charged, unlike Kickstarter/Indiegogo in which you pay the creator without a guarantee that the project will ever be completed.)

So far, webcomic artists have had better success with Patreon than animators. Zach Weinersmith receives $7,871 per month from 2,927 backers to create his online comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal while Meredith Gran is currently earning $1,377 per month from 398 patrons to create Octopus Pie.

Patreon’s user interface still needs work. For example, its search function is all but nonexistent, which makes it difficult to discover creators on the site. Also, its small userbase means that the only creators who will benefit from it at this point are those who come to the site with a pre-existing fanbase. Further, like Kickstarter, Patreon charges creators about 8% commission (5% to Patreon and 3% for credit card processing), which is far too high, in my opinion. A reasonable total commission for a service of this nature would be in the 5% range.

Those issues aside, Patreon is developing an innovative subscription-oriented approach to crowdfunding that merits a closer look from animators who create content on a regular basis. Their set-up also pushes us one step closer to micro-payments, which is where I believe all of this will eventually end up.

(Thanks, Aryeh Zucchini, via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook Group)

  • Myst AnimatorX

    What kills me about Patreon is you’re expected to give out little perks or rewards for investing. I thought the cartoon was reward enough.

    • jonhanson

      Well Kickstarter has created certain expectations. I don’t see it as a big problem, in the past people actually expected to make money when investing.

  • Freakish Kid

    You can limit the amount you give per month which is a good thing.

  • Floyd Norman

    I contribute when I believe in the project. I have little interest in the “financial rewards.”

  • Esn

    One of the bigger webcomic success stories in Patreon might be “Gone With the Blastwave”. Although it updates rarely, the creator gets $673 per PAGE. (his enticement is that donors at the $5 level get an exclusive comic that doesn’t appear on the site)

    “Romantically Apocalyptic” is another one – currently at $958.50/month but was over $1000 a while ago. It’s getting support because of the strong artwork, but I think it could be doing better if its rewards were more inventive (all the rewards from $1 to $70 are the same).

  • Esn

    Silly comment. For the person giving money, funding someone’s life while they create their art is the whole POINT of crowdfunding (in particular, the bit about not taking any money from anyone until a certain amount is raised is revolutionary). While for an artist, abusing a crowdfunding site is the quickest way to ruin their reputation and make sure that their audience will never give them money again.
    Most of the crowdfunding projects I’ve supported have succeeded. The one that didn’t was a technology project that frankly I should’ve seen coming (the person who started it had a checkered history that I was familiar with, but for some reason I gave him the benefit of the doubt).

  • Taco

    Ryan, please excuse me for being so “near-sighted” as you put it, in regards to the possibilities and other positive aspects of Crowd Funding.

    As I stated: “If you just want to support something, and DONATE to it, cool go for it.”

    I just find that so often in life the negative aspects of many systems and endeavors are either willfully, or through a lack of genuine scrutiny, ignored or lightly brushed aside. it’s disingenuous. You can see this by looking at Politics, Religion, Finance, Education or Housing… the list goes on. I obviously don’t seek to vilify everyone who uses or wishes to support crowd funding or artists & their projects. And for you to apparently assume that I do is equally short-sighted. We all know that the world is full of greys, not just black or white. Context and perspective play a big part in most things. My comments intent was only to bring certain aspects of this “alternate way to make a living” into sharper focus. The world deserves a fair level of scrutiny to offset all the spin & hype for the sake of greater clarity and the better decision making that comes with that clarity and openness.

    I love your assumptions thought: “must have some serious insecurities about their work.” This one sentence shows your inept approach at engaging in any forthright level of discourse. But hey, it’s easy to just throw something like that in there about someone who you don’t know when writing on the internet.

  • Taco

    Mark, looking back to your blog now and seeing your recent post about
    Phil Tippett’s Mad God I was obviously mistaken to implicate your name in MY argument.
    I openly apologize for that.
    Your name was just one that immediately came to mind when thinking of legitimate authors or places where I had read a more candid discussion of such

  • Taco

    @Fishbag, I can tell that neither you, @ryan_frost:disqus or Esn even bothered to look at the content of the articles or the Ted-Talk that I linked with my initial post.

    It was basically a broad collection of perspectives on this subject. Not just mine. Much of it already touts many of the justifications you three have given here in your comments. I hope you guys can see me as just a person trying to voice a level of concern at something. I know that (especially when on the internet) you have to really TRY to be more than just some snarky or “Silly comment”. And I did.

    • Esn

      [Cartoon Brew Editor’s Note: Per our commenting guidelines, “It is OK to post with a nickname or alias, but your email address (which we will NEVER share publicly), must be a real, permanent email address. Comments with fake or non-permanent emails will be deleted.” Future comments without a proper email address will be deleted.]

      Why should I need to read half a dozen articles? I was replying to what you wrote, not to your articles. I have participated in this crowdfunding ecosystem myself a number of times, so I feel I have some perspective first-hand. I note that you haven’t mentioned any of your own experiences. Are you just arguing from hearsay?

      You say that you’re just trying to “voice a level of concern” but it’s unclear what your concern even is. Your articles (such as the “Oculus Rift” one) seem to imply that you’re bothered by the fact that supporting something via crowdfunding isn’t the same as being a venture capitalist, but then you recommend simple straight-up DONATIONS instead, which give the recipient even fewer responsibilities to give you anything in return.

      You say you just want to show “the negative aspects of many systems”, but it’s not news to anyone that all systems have negative aspects. Shall I list all the negative aspects of the dominant pre-crowdfunding approach? Here’s one: it relies entirely on copyright, and as time goes on, it is becoming less and less possible to enforce these outdated and restrictive laws (good riddance, too!). In a world without copyright enforcement, crowdfunding (or something like it) is the solution for most forms of art, just like it was in the pre-copyright era when books of poetry, for example, were funded on a pre-order and subscription basis.

      The reason I think your comment was silly is that you’re outright refusing to accept the primary way that many artists will make money in the future (“Crowd Funding is to be BAWLKED at”). You’re like an ostrich sticking your head in the sand, and I give no apology for saying that.

      • Tim

        “Here’s one: it relies entirely on copyright, and as time goes on, it is
        becoming less and less possible to enforce these outdated and
        restrictive laws (good riddance, too!). In a world without copyright
        enforcement, crowdfunding (or something like it) is the solution for
        most forms of art, just like it was in the pre-copyright era when books
        of poetry, for example, were funded on a pre-order and subscription

        I’m confused about your copyright comment. Are you suggesting we do away with copyright? Then anyone can profit from any artists creation? Why would anyone go into any artistic venture that would cost money, and might possibly need investors if that were the case? I am all for public domain, but not right out of the gate. Again I am confused and just might be reading this wrong.

  • Ikas

    how different would this be to a pay-per-view system? the creator anyway has to do marketing to bring backers/audience to patreon/pay-per-view channels. What specific advantage would patreon give?

  • GS

    Why are you busy “balking” at things? Just to get attention for yourself? The copyright system IS broken, and digital distribution is asking for new ways of doing things. The only people getting rich in show business these days are the executives of studios. So why should people clutch at the status quo when it’s so broken (witness all the layoffs lately, R&D, Disney Interactive, etc…) If you do things yourself, sure, you get a much smaller return, but you get it directly and not via a tenuous salary in the Hollywood machine. So let people experiment without you “balking” at them all the time.

    • Taco

      GS… after four posts, I’ve made my key points and expressed my opinions & concerns regarding this subject. If you want to continue to beat me over the head with those initial semantics I used in my first post, go ahead. I’ve learned my lesson. I guess those words were used in an emotional context for me personally.

      If you read what I’ve written here you already know that I agree with the point you & others bring up yet again: “The copyright system IS broken” and needs reform. But you then finish by saying: “So let people experiment without Balking at them all the time”… well it’s not like I can stop anyone from using crowd-funding. All I can do is what I’ve done, which is express my concerns & list those points.

      I’m not someone who clings to the status quo, just someone who points out that “the alternative rope bridge” is somewhat wobbly & hazardous. And I will continue to express this, because those points seem to be ignored.

  • tom bancroft

    I’m doing a Patreon for my webcomic OUTNUMBERED. I may add animation and other stuff as part of it. Please check it out here: