It was June of 2015 when I started my Patreon. I was 24 and a trainwreck. The previous year I'd injured my right shoulder and was in pain all the time, which had severely limited my ability to draw or do anything else. Doctors had basically decided I was lying or attention seeking, because, you know, woman (and "too young" to have pain or a real injury). I had terrible anxiety, made worse by the medical neglect and a bad run-in with an antidepressant that left me with PTSD. With no work history, constant pain and frequent panic attacks, a "real job" was, at that time, out of the question. Patreon was hope that I could finally scrape together some kind of income, for the first time in my life.
I loved Patreon. It was only a couple of years old then, and paving a path no one else had, so its flaws were pretty forgivable. When a platform is new, weirdness is to be expected.
The first thing I remember going really wrong was a security breach in October of 2015. This was during a string of similar breaches, and staff took it very seriously, apologized profusely, and promised to do better. It's never happened again. Incidents like this aren't something I would ever really hold against a company, unless there was extremely obvious incompetence at play, and if nothing else, one big public embarrassment like that is a good motivator for more caution in the future. I was happy to forgive this and to continue trusting Patreon.
I was also happy to forgive issues like payments being late, at least for a while. Again: new platform, doing something revolutionary, and growing fast. It was to be expected.
The first thing that really worried me, and that I couldn't forgive, is probably going to sound kind of petty to you for a second, but stay with me.
The Ball And Stick
In 2017, Patreon sprung a complete redesign of their website and logo on us.
This... came out of nowhere. They just did it, totally unannounced, and a lot of people were pretty displeased. To give you some extra context, they did this in June, smack-dab in the middle of convention season. Artists, cosplayers, crafters, etc. had printed business cards and banners for conventions with the old logo on it, unaware that it was just about to change. Every single thing they had branded with the new logo was now doomed to be outdated. Videos on youtube (which can never be edited once uploaded), images posted on social media with the logo, etc. etc. etc. everything needed to be changed. All for a move to a vastly less recognizable, less unique logo that people, on the whole, didn't seem to even like.
Imagine this: you are not really or only sort of vaguely aware of Patreon. You buy something from a cool artist at a convention. They have their Patreon name next to the original logo on their business card. You decide to check it out. The site you end up at is named the same thing, but has a completely different logo. Would you not be at least a little confused, maybe wonder if you're in the wrong place?
Whatever you think of the logo, the entire website was also redesigned, and it was definitely just fucking bad, and it's kept being bad up until the present. It's been a common complaint among creators (and patrons) that the website navigation is confusing, and that tweaks and "fixes" over the years haven't really helped so much as thrown us all off just as we finally figured out where things were. It looks like they're finally streamlining it a bit more, of course, just as I make my exit. Typical.
My hatred of this change isn't just aesthetic (although I did stay petty and refuse to use the Ball and Stick for the entirety of my time on Patreon). What it represented to me was a worrying lack of understanding of what their userbase was even up to. And why on earth would a four-year-old platform need a total rebrand like this, JUST as they were starting to become widely recognized and trusted? Why spend time on this, instead of implementing features that Creators and Patrons had been asking for, like galleries, multi-image posts, the ability to block people, a better search system? Why a visual rebrand instead of continued focus on the things that actually make the website go?
Looking back on this, I see it as the first sign of the direction Patreon would take, which is (spoiler alert): just sort of doing whatever they wanted without any consideration for the userbase at all.
It only got more frustrating.
The 2017 Fee Fiasco (Fee-Asco??)
Later in 2017, they introduced a new payment structure that would shift fees off creators and onto patrons-- making small pledges, the backbone of most Patreon campaigns, much more expensive. Many creators began to lose patrons before the system had even been implemented, because, understandably, people who were supporting a whole bunch of creators with small monthly pledges didn't want to suddenly be getting charged more than they had planned to pay. They claimed that they had run tests on this system and determined that while people might lose patrons "in the short term," the long-term gains would be worth it, which was, frankly, alongside being wrong, extremely fucking not their place. It was absolutely 100% not their place to be making decisions about which losses creators should be willing to take.
Long story short: We screamed. Patrons and creators... screamed. We screamed at them on twitter, we screamed at them via e-mail, we screamed until they apologized and, thank ABSOLUTE fuck, put the brakes on it and admitted that it was a terrible, terrible mistake.
Stagnation and Frustration
After the awful redesign and, later, the attempted awful fee change, the ongoing problems with the website itself became more grating. For me, personally, this was the point at which Patreon had become a website that I actively resented. This was twice in one year that Patreon had shown utter contempt for their userbase, a willingness to make sweeping changes without any consideration for how it would affect us. This was when I started wanting to leave.
The mobile app was a trashfire, neglected since the day it was released. It may as well have been a JPEG. Delayed payouts became the norm-- about every other month, it seemed, we'd all get paid late. Long-requested features continued to remain long-requested. In 2018, they made some ill-considered behind-the-scenes changes that led to hundreds of declined pledges and fraud protection locking up people's cards. Creators who depended on Patreon to pay their bills were left high and dry.
In September 2019, SIX YEARS into Patreon's existence, we finally got multi-image posts! Wow! A feature that people actually requested!
...Aaaaaaaand they were garbage. You get one main image, and then all the other ones get crammed under it in these tiny little boxes. If there are too many more images, you have to navigate through them with a fucking horizontal scrollbar. At the very least they had the decency to give us right/left navigation with the images in full view, but frankly, it's a pathetic offering in comparison to basically everywhere else on the internet that lets you incorporate images into your posts. This was insultingly half-assed implementation of a feature that people had been BEGGING for, for years at this point.
Speaking of begging for features for years, Patreon also used to have a semi-secret Creator Feedback forum (now deleted and the link redirected to their Discord). It wasn't until their Big Fucky-Wucky Extravaganza in early 2021 that I was even aware of it. I'm pretty sure it was invite-only, and then eventually it was open to all Creators, but just not advertised. A fellow creator who'd been invited in at some point had to help me get in, both there and into the Discord, when shit went down. (They also did not advertise the Discord, until recently.)
The forum was... pretty dismal. There was a "what are your Patreon pain points" thread, years old, a depressing record of feature and fix requests, all long-standing and largely unaddressed. That thread, along with others collecting dust in the feedback section, did not paint a pretty picture. Even Patreon's Most Privileged, those who had been invited to this previously secret forum, didn't seem to have any sway over the website's direction.
But let's get to the details of the Big 2021 Fucky Wucky, because that was, for me, the last straw, and what has led me to today pausing billing for the first time and starting to figure out how I want to finish extracting myself from Patreon.
The Big Fucky-Wucky Of January 2021
It's important to understand: Patreon staff likes to "test" features with small, hand-picked groups rather than bother to ask their whole community what they want and need, or what they think of proposed changes. After the payment structure fiasco, they'd sent out one site-wide survey, and proceeded to go right back to only consulting tiny limited groups of people.
In January of 2021, Patreon mentioned in a blog post a plan to move to an "anniversary billing" model, meaning that patrons on charge-up-front campaigns would be charged on the day of the month that they pledged rather than the first of each month. Their justification for this was that they were spending a lot of time answering customer service complaints and refund requests about people who thought they had been "double charged" after pledging late in the month, getting charged up-front, and then getting charged again at the beginning of the next month. Once again, they had been "testing" this idea with a smaller group and keeping it secret from everyone else.
Now, here's the thing. Ko-Fi already does things this way. Lots of subscription services and Patreon-likes do things this way. But Patreon had already built their model the way it was, and creators had already built the structure of their campaigns around it. People who sent out rewards like sticker clubs, pin clubs, especially, relied on this billing cycle staying the way it was. "Charge up front" was, basically, a security method implemented to keep people from pledging, grabbing all the downloadable stuff they wanted, and dipping before payment, and once you switched to it, you weren't allowed to switch back.
Yes, confusion over charge-up front was a legitimate problem. Yes, getting flooded at the end of every month with customer service complaints, chargebacks, etc. was a problem. But Patreon's proposed solution to this problem wasn't to try to clarify things to new patrons or try to find a more efficient way to handle things on the customer service end... it was to simply upend everything. Tip the table over and let everyone pick up and piece things back together themselves. Babies out with bathwater, etc. in favor of placating people who were... you know, just customers, being what customers are. I've done customer service long enough now to know that at some point, you have to give up on foolproofing and just let people storm out of the store in a rage of their own creation. You can lead a horse to a sign that explains the return policy, but horses can't read.
As news spread through twitter, there was a volcanic explosion of creator rage. We screamed again. We screamed on twitter (where they tried to lie to us). We screamed on the forum. We screamed on Discord. They realized, once more, that it was MAYBE time to try to get out of the way of the pyroclastic flow.
I will fully admit that during this, people were unkind. I was definitely a huge bitch. But I don't know what staff expected at this point, after repeated violations of our trust and failures to actually listen to us. They had also, once again, broken their promise of keeping us all "involved". People are not super good at being nice and talking things out when you're threatening their income. This was an entirely predictable outcome, whether or not you believe the vitriol was proportional to the misstep. What we had learned, previously, was that screaming our heads off, at length and en masse, was the only way to get them to not do bad things to us. The Patreon Discord became a shitshow that they couldn't contain or ignore.
They did a Reddit AMA, where they were thoroughly and rightfully shamed. They scheduled a live video chat (a practice they continued; scheduled "chats" is another way that they like to appear open to feedback while limiting it as much as possible) where we continued, in the text chat, to beg them not to destroy our livelihoods while they, visibly uncomfortable, failed to really address any concerns.
I... honestly do not know or remember the specifics of how this concluded. It seems like they kind of backed off of it, eventually. This was the point at which I decided I was truly done. I'd tried to move my patrons toward Ko-Fi before, during previous periods of Fuckery, but it was hard to convince people and I had kind of just... given up, a couple of times, hoping that previous backlashes had scared Patreon enough that they wouldn't keep making moves like this. Obviously, this was a pattern that wasn't going to change, and I was really, really tired of having to show up for the periodic Collective Scream to protect my income. Between the various Big Fuckups and the numerous smaller, constant annoyances, I didn't feel like I could continue to trust Patreon. So I spent a lot of 2021 working on my merch shop, trying to push Patrons to Ko-Fi, and planning a 2022 exit.
Patreon Continues To Miss The Point, Like, Not Even Be In The Same Zip Code As The Point
In October of 2021, I got an e-mail from Patreon asking if I'd like to schedule a personal call with them to get some juicy confidential details on "what's next". I assume I was contacted because I was one of the people who spoke out very loudly during the aforementioned Fucky-Wucky, and they were attempting to placate people who had been particularly vocal in the Discord. It included the sentence "We know you're very passionate about your work and we're eager to listen and support the unique needs of our creator community." Passionate is Patreon's favorite corporate-speak way of saying: we see that we've pissed you off, and we would like you to calm down.
I typed a response. I sat on it for a day. I considered whether this could be an opportunity to whistleblow before they do something bad again. I wondered if they would maybe make me sign an NDA or something. Then I deleted what I'd typed and responded:
Here's the thing: the exact point I keep trying to make is that the entire Patreon community should be involved in discussions about where Patreon is going. I don't know if you're necessarily planning to announce any big changes, but whatever this is about, I don't want a "confidential preview" of what's to come, I want Patreon staff to have open discussions with the people who actually make the money in this arrangement. What we have right now is this weirdly one-sided symbiotic relationship where both of us benefit, but I'm always terrified your next move is going to result in me getting brushed off and losing part of my income. My trust has not been repaired after the catastrophe in late 2019 [2017... listen time became meaningless in 2020, I typo'd here] and it certainly wasn't repaired by what happened earlier this year. We were promised better communication and it just never happens. Frankly, I'm afraid you're going to tell me about some ill-considered change that's going to lead to a big wave of backlash and another apology post like this one: https://blog.patreon.com/not-rolling-out-fees-change or this one: https://blog.patreon.com/more-context-on-the-billing-section-of-our-recent-product-update and the only difference will be that this time, I'll have to dread it for longer.
My other worry is that you'll show me some big new idea, and in isolation, I won't see a problem with it that other people might see, I'll respond positively or neutrally, and then my response will be used as part of the justification even after others point out serious problems that would have led me to change my mind. It's important to have these discussions in the open specifically because other people can provide perspectives that a lone person or a more pared-down group of people just don't have the capacity to. That's one of the reasons that having a diverse workplace is an inherently good thing. Every time this happens, not just with Patreon but many, many with other online communities I'm a part of, when the backlash arises there's always a part where the staff goes "but we talked to this limited group of people and they mostly liked it!" and it's like nobody learns the lesson. In 2015, I loved Patreon, I thought it was a great idea, a fantastic new way for creators to gain support at a time where sites like YouTube and deviantART were becoming more and more unwelcoming and exploitative, and for me, a disabled person who has always had trouble finding and maintaining employment, a real beacon of hope. Now it's kind of just an additional source of anxiety in my life, but I can't let go of the income.
I don't want to be invited behind the closed door. I want the door open.
The response I got was predictably meaningless. I have nothing to say about it because nothing was really said.
I'm kind of glad this happened because sometimes, no matter how resentful I've become, and even with overwhelming evidence that I am being Fucked With, I will sometimes continue to give trust where it isn't deserved, or look back on times I was angry and think, "maybe I was just being too emotional, maybe it wasn't that bad." It was getting late in the year and I could very well have wavered in my resolve to try to leave Patreon in 2022. This little run-in bolstered my confidence that Patreon was unlikely to ever change, and my best course of action was to remove my eggs from that flimsy basket.
Stop, Stop! You're Already Dead To Me!
In late 2021, Jack Conte got on a podcast with a crypto bro to discuss NFTs.
This led to a smaller-scale panic on twitter and in the Discord, during which staff vehemently denied any plans for any web3 bullshit. But surveys (one, another) they sent out indicated that they were indeed trying to gauge interest in the crypto/nft/web3 grift. At that point, NFTs in particular, and crypto by association, were widely despised by creative people online, due to the massive amount of theft, fraud, and abuse we had endured since they became popular in the spring.
Creators in the Discord pointed out all of the problems with crypto, beyond just its environmental impact, and begged Patreon staff to please stay away from it, to please make some statement of reassurance that they wouldn't engage, because on top of a list of problems it could introduce that is way too long to get into in this already very long blog post, this would drive their patrons away. This was another potential incoming threat to our income, and obviously people wanted to nip it in the bud, before they as usual got in too deep with a bad idea and it became a knock-down drag out fight to get them to stop.
Staff shoved the discussion into a new channel labeled "creator economy," where we continued to plead with them to Not Step In The Crypto Poop. Our concerns were repeatedly and condescendingly dismissed by a staff member who openly admitted to "not knowing much about this" but asserted that the facts we were trying to give them were "just our opinions". I've continued to post links in that channel periodically, trying to dissuade them from future involvement, showing them what happened to other companies that dipped their toes in the shit puddle. They have continued to just not address it. They haven't even bothered to make a public statement about supposedly not having any plans, despite the fact that the rumors were spreading quietly on twitter that they were "getting into NFTs."
The creator census results came out recently, showing that creators do not fucking want crypto payments on Patreon:
I guarantee you that this data does not matter to them; they will make this decision, one way or another, based on their own myopic cost-benefit analysis like they always do. Right underneath those graphs there are whole paragraphs where they continue to offer mealy-mouthed nonsense about how there are "a range of views" among creators. They have already looked at the people trying to keep them from running into this burning building, dragging us all behind them, and told us, basically, that they appreciate our "passion" but that it's still worth looking into whether or not smoke inhalation could offer some benefit to our community. In an interview posted on May 4th, 2022, a Patreon representative told TechCrunch that they are "not prioritizing the space." This is as much as we've gotten out of them publicly.
Conclusion: Goddamn It.
At this point I don't think it's a question of if, but when, Patreon will make another stupid, harmful move, and it will once again fall on the userbase to try to stop it. I don't know what it will be. I'm not saying it absolutely will be crypto integration. I'm saying that they have an established history of fucking up and never learning. I'm afraid that as they continue to grow, and this cycle goes on, there will come a point where even massive backlash doesn't help anymore.
I could not continue to justify the financial risk of sticking with a company that repeatedly makes such ridiculous mistakes and never, ever learns from them. I scheduled a bunch of monthly posts for the end of each month urging patrons to cancel their pledges and move to Ko-Fi, starting in January of this year.
I acknowledge that they appear to be making an effort to collect more user feedback, but for me, personally, it's... kind of too late. You can only break so many promises before people give up on you. Something like a yearly Creator Census should have been the answer in 2017. Instead, we got one survey, a promise to do better and communicate more, and then... well, the rest of this. I have far more reasons to be suspicious than I do to trust that this is actually a step in the right direction, and not just another performance of false accountability before they go right back to the same old bullshit. Especially after, again, the community made it very clear they don't want crypto payments or anything, and they dedicated part of their census roundup to further justifications of why maybe they will still touch crypto a little possibly.
I'm not naive enough to say I'll never be back. There's always the possibility that something I can't predict pushes me back toward Patreon. That's the thing about capitalism; all of your choices are, to some extent, made at gunpoint, vastly moreso if you are marginalized or have dependents or both.
Other people will not be able to get out. Lots of new similar platforms are springing up, but there are very few choices for NSFW creators and people in countries with roadblocks re: payment processing. It's hard to move a large following to a new platform, too. It's hard to move a small one. I wasn't a big money-earner. I had less than 50 patrons, and at the peak I was earning about $120 a month. I'm still letting go of $16 a month, which doesn't sound like much, but it does sting.
Please do not stop supporting Patreon creators. Please do not take this rant as a call to "boycott" Patreon, or do other things that will probably only hurt creators. Please support the creators you love, wherever they are, because we all have to make do with the shitty choices we have. Patreon had so much potential, and now it is just another shitty choice.