Too Many Books? I Think Not!
I've written about Patreon elsewhere, but I don't think I've mentioned it in this blog and it came to mind as I was reading and pondering several things online. I started at a post from Chuck Wendig, then I read No, I don’t want to read your self-published book on the Style blog of The Washington Post, and finally I read the "open letter" from Roger Sutton that was at the root of it all. While none of those had anything to do with Patreon, that was sort of the point.
As is still very common, they all focused on a pay-per-unit model of paying for creative work and the publishing business built around that model. I've commented before (elsewhere) about the possibility of that model becoming obsolete, or at least no longer dominant, and those three pieces seemed to underscore how we are heading down that road. Patreon is just one example of an alternative model, and in this blog post I will delve into what I see happening in the not-so-distant future.
Patronage of the arts is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. It dates back many centuries and is still used today. Do you pledge (or make a one-time donation) to your local public radio or public television when they do a fundraising drive? That's a contemporary example. You're not paying for each specific show, you're paying to support the station or channel and everything that goes into bringing you the content you like, along with the stuff you don't like or just don't have time to consume. Although Patreon offers a per-unit option, they also offer a per-month option (which I use) that supports a creator, not a specific creation. This is like pledging a recurring amount to public radio, except that the amount will probably be lower and it goes directly to a specific creative talent rather than to creative content plus all of the infrastructure of radio or TV.
The online patronage available through Patreon is related to, but not the same as, crowdfunding (e.g., Kickstarter). It's similar in that many people can chip in small amounts to have a big impact. It's different, though, in that crowdfunding sites typically are designed to support a project (or a goal in general), in advance, and the funding cuts off at a certain deadline. With the Patreon system for patronage, the funding doesn't have a deadline but each patron can decide when to terminate his or her support.
So how does this relate to the core issue being discussed at the three pieces I linked to above, and why would having over two decades of experience in digital publishing give me a different perspective? First, understand that the core issue is the glut of content. It's not about quality (although that comes into play as well). Second, understand what causes that glut, which is the growing set of tools that any tech-enabled teen or adult can use to make their creations available to a global audience. I've watched that toolset grow, from the primitive e-book tool I used in the early 90s for self-publishing my first e-book up to the easy-to-use self-publishing platforms like NOOK Press and KDP Select. Those tools aren't going away. More will appear. The glut is not going to shrink away, it will continue to grow.
When you have a massive amount of content, the pay-per-unit model of paying for that content becomes a race for increasingly thin distribution of funds among worthy content. Any given creator may get only tiny amounts of funding unless one or more of their creations somehow manages to rise up from the sea of creativity to stand out to a large audience. With the patronage model, the amount of content doesn't matter. The number of creators will matter to some extent, but each creator can build up an audience of patrons who appreciate their creations and want to encourage more. There is no need to rise up from the sea of other creators as long as the individual creator can bring in the support of friends, family, and (with luck and talent) a growing base of fans. This is the "eat local" approach to paying for the arts, as opposed to global agribusiness approach.
I don't see the patronage model completely replacing the pay-per-unit model, but as the glut of content continues to grow, I see patronage becoming more and more important as a way for creators to be rewarded for their efforts.
This is not simply a decision of the creators, however. Patronage can't work if fans do not support it. While some will always look to whatever units are being promoted by corporate entertainment interests, people who take a more active role in choosing the art they consume will hopefully see that supporting specific artists rather than art is a productive way to get more of what they like.
(On a side note, I'm working to enable a better commenting system here. If you have comments to share on this topic, please check back soon!)
About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!