Patreon: A Bad Webcomics Wiki Primer

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|Original article author: | Shan

What is Patreon?

Probably the best introductory resource is Patreon's own blog here (which was once Patreon's own Patreon - try and wrap your head around that if you can) but then there are things we'll tell you that probably aren't quite the tone they're going for. However, keeping it in simple terms to start with at least, Patreon is where you can sponsor on a regular basis a creator of content that you like.

A reasonable question to ask is how is it different from Kickstarter or Indiegogo for starters? Typically Kickstarter and the like are for projects with a limited fund raising period. It can be different intervals of time but 30 days is a common one. Once those are over, hopefully both the revenue raised was both enough for the intended project to actually meet its costs and the people who raised the money actually delivered what they promised at the standard expected from the people who pledged to it.

Patreon typically is more of an ongoing rolling commitment. Think of Kickstarter like a one off purchase while Patreon is like a magazine subscription you pay on a regular periodic basis, though sometimes Patreons can at least purport to be of a limited timeframe like so.

However, this one made a post on February 4th 2016 that started "The time has come to close my Patreon account ..." However, as of a few weeks before this was written in late September 2016, it came back. So, go figure. Most often by far though, they tend to be open ended from the outset so best to assume that in all cases.

As with the wider Internet at large a common model (partly through necessity and people's expectations these days) is that there's a baseline amount of content that's free and then there's expansions that people can purchase. So a typical model and obvious hope is that people will be initially hooked in by the free product and be enticed to buy even more of it.

It's important to stress there's many different creative endeavors using Patreon. Webcomics are what this article will be talking about but there's everything from music, music videos, to podcasts on science, photographers, artists and even Japanese schoolgirl murder simulators (unfortunately) ... the list goes on and on (and into some places where most people would rather not tread like the last aforementioned one which at over $5000/month at the time of writing this just goes to show that among other things life is not fair. I've read an interview with the guy and he seems relatively not unhinged at least all things considered and he is working hard but given the baseline subject matter ... well ...).

Can you both use Patreon and Kickstarter? Of course, the power is nominally in the hands of the consumer to support both, either or neither. It's up to the creators to give the consumer something they think is worth contributing to. Now, I could use David Willis as an example of someone who's done both of these successfully but I'd prefer to use someone we're not in permanent conflict with (we're at war with David Willis, we're always at war with David Willis), so here's an example of a presently successful Patreon and extremely successful Kickstarter by Der-Shing Helmer of The Meek and Mare Internum.

Commonly by many creators, Patreon is used for day to day running of the webcomic while Kickstarter is used to help bring the web version to print. Definitely useful in seeing if the interest is there in a print edition and how many as opposed to doing a print run and running the risk of being left with a stack of unsold copies.

Update 2017 (06/06/2017)

Some Patreons now charge the first fee as soon as you sign up.

1. As per the image to the right, a new type of Patreon option became available which allowed creators to make their Patreon charge the first payment immediately on signing up. It's not the most prominent of notifications, so make sure to check what the item labelled Today's Charge says before you hit that "Confirm and Pledge" button. More on the subject here.

Key things to note as a patron where a Patreon has switched to upfront payment is that if you join for the first time close to the end of the month, you will get charged twice in quick succession and if you move down your payment to a lower amount, you're not getting a refund. As a creator, if you switch to this upfront payment option, currently it is irreversible. So pay attention to what you're doing and don't rush things regardless of which side of the fence you're on here (and often, it's both). As always, keep a regular eye on the things your sponsor. Both the webcomics themselves in terms of updates and what's promised as well as your monthly payments as you should with any regular payments, especially direct debit. You don't want to end up bleeding money for nothing for extended periods of time now. That's stuff's hard to come by at the best of times!

2. Creators now have the option to hide their dollar amounts. So there's going to be some Patreons where all you see is the number of patrons and that's it now. Partial workarounds include historical Graphtreon data before the supply got cut off when there's enough of it on record. Multiplying an average estimate per patron by the number of patrons is how we know Jeph Jacques is perilously close to $10,000/month for Questionable Content. Well, that plus in his case, we already knew that his latest and last goal was at $10,000 and at the time of writing this, he was 99% there (and did hit 100% for a while prior to this) from both remembering the prior information displays and his forgetting to scrub the dollar amounts from his combined goal display for a while there after he hid the dollar amount.

3. For those of you interested in data analysis and that sort of thing, some of those mysterious spikes in Patreon income that then plateaued out and then dropped right back that we talked about below back in 2016 (as then indicated in the graphical data below will the tag "Then there's what happened here ..." in blue at the bottom of this page are probably due to Patreon experimenting with their data. As it turns out, this phenomenon happened to a lot of other Patreons at or around December the 13th, 2016. Thanks to the team at Graphtreon in bringing this to our attention.

4. Gone With the Blastwave has a new page for 2017! Possibility of even more than one this year. Announcement of which around April or thereabouts sent the Patreon soaring! It might sound like we're ragging on them but we're genuinely not. GWtB is our spirit animal. They tell you exactly what you're going to get upfront and you've only got yourself to blame if you weren't paying attention.

Patreon in terms of webcomics

There's a number of variations of Patreons for webcomics but basic elements often include the free webcomic that is in its best interests to update regularly and frequently and then Patreon tiers for additional content. One example could be a bonus comic either in the same universe or even an alternate one with the same, different or a mix of the two. This could be at the $1 tier or higher or even two or more at different levels, like one bonus comic at $1 and a second at $5. I've seen variants of all of the above and more.

Other things include bonus wallpaper art monthly or some other interval, process videos where you can see the creator at least part of the creation of their art livestreamed on Picarto as one hosting example, even regular monthly commissions where for each month you meet a pledge level, you in theory should get a commissioned piece of art (usually subject to conditions such as one colour backgrounds unless you're prepared to pay more - fair enough as it has to be a balance between being affordable and sufficient return for time expended by the creator).

An additional idea that could also help draw in people is free content just for following a Patreon. At the very least, following someone's Patreon is a free option which you can use to keep track of ones you possibly want to sponsor with money later and don't want to have to spend time tracking them down later, or even worse, forget how to find them. Some people who've got the time (and skill definitely helps) to give away a lot of high quality free content to people who just follow them.

Here's one very good example (I have had no contact with this Patreon owner and creator as of writing this, I just happened to find them through a third party) in the form of the Patreon of Kuvshinov Ilya. I'm just following this Patreon at the moment (and they're doing very well without my help) but the amount and quality of free content is such that I'm definitely thinking of pledging actual money to get even more of what's being offered.

Basically, there's an ongoing competition out there to attract the attention of consumers and get them to consider buying your product. It's not our remit nor do we really have the space to cover how to be a successful Patreon (also define success), for that we'd recommend once again the Patreon blog as linked above as a place to start as there's plenty of articles on the subject but as you can imagine, it's most likely going to be a lot of hard work, trial and error, probably many failures along the way and unfortunately, luck also comes into it as it always has in catching the eye of what can be a very fickle public. Especially more so now they're drowning in choice even more than ever before.

Patreon basics for the consumer

So you've found a webcomic you like and you're interested in the spin-offs on offer. Or even just that you feel that it's worth giving the creator something for their efforts, especially if you know that it's their primary source of income and without with, they wouldn't be able to make something you like. Basically someone has to step up because if everyone is doing the Bystander Effect, nothing's getting made and everyone loses out.

There's a few different ways to have your charges calculated. There could be monthly (or less commonly fortnightly) where regardless of output, every month on the first day at midnight UTC (co-ordinated universal time, not midnight where you are unless you're in the timezone for London - and not even always then). Money is taken at some point in the first few days of each month but be ready to expect it to be taken anytime from midnight UTC as said above. Fortnightly Patreon rates are still collected at the start of each month, so remember to multiply by 2 when you first commit and want to know how much this is going to cost you. This method especially works for comics that produce updates frequently and regularly as you'll see with our next example of how charges can be calculated.

Another way things can be done is charging per page created and posted. This really should be the method Dresden Codak should be using given it usually (never?) doesn't even make its promise of and I quote "A guaranteed Dresden Codak comic every other week!" if $4,500/month (!) isn't met. However, I can't answer why that is, you'd have to bring that up with its creator so he can block you on Twitter.

Other variants of this you see with other things on Patreon follow a similar principle like per song, per artwork created, per podcast and the like, even per thing. I will stress this point again in the next section but it may well be advisable to use the option to set a maximum limit of the number of units (be it pages of a webcomic or anything else) per month you are willing to pay for at least until you get a feel for what this creator is doing and how well they deliver.

Protect yourself on Patreon

The key thing is, if you sign up to the Patreon to a creator, you are in effect most often signing up to an open ended commitment with no end in sight. It's up to you to regularly monitor where your money is going. For example, take the webcomic Gone With the Blastwave. It updates about 3 times a year - if even that. It is Patreon as of the time of writing this has 140 patrons and $357/month (this is definitely one that should be per page and not per month).

However, this isn't a criticism in the case of Gone With the Blastwave specifically. It clearly states on the comic itself "Support Blastwave on Patreon and get nothing in return!". The Overview on the Patreon isn't quite as clear or emphatic (I create a comic called Gone with the Blastwave. No I don't haha!) but it's fairly close in suggesting that it's possible that rewards could be few and far between.

At one point, he was closing in at $1000/month and it's not like rates of production were that much higher (the first ever page went up on the 2nd of July 2005 and we're now on page 66 as of the 19th of September 2016 - Update: new page went up on October 6th 2016, first one since December 30th 2015!).

At no point am I knocking or being critical of him, he's clearly stated numerous times in various forms that this is how it's most likely going to be. The important lesson is here, is to pay attention to both what's offered before you sign up and what's delivered after you do. You really can't complain if you don't do due diligence beforehand and remain vigilant afterwards.

I'm sure he could have hung onto a lot of that if he updated even monthly but I guess his priorities are elsewhere (I like to think he's some sort of rich industrialist who's doing this for a hobby) The lesson in general is, make sure you know what you're signing yourself up for before you commit.

The next lesson here is pay attention to what the creations you're supporting are up to. Most of them aren't nice enough to give you a heads up. Read the forum threads of perennial favorites here Dresden Codak, Zoophobia and especially Goblins to see what goes on there (Dumbing Of Age at least keeps to its update schedule if nothing else).

Even with the benign situation of Gone With the Blastwave, it seems possible there's a lot of benign inertia going on. People have signed up and maybe at least some are happy to pay each month for well ... nothing now but thanks for the past pages, I guess? Odds are at least some have just forgotten the signed up in the first place (periodically I see people say on various message boards that it's over - then a new page appears a few months later).

The others listed above are just some of the ones which can activity break into hostility towards people who seem to on top of everything else, paying for the privilege of being abused.

The key takeaway lesson from all of this is keep an eye on where you money is going. Sometimes projects just die off, other times something more sinister is going on. It's up to you to pay attention and protect yourself.

Question the creators if necessary, contact Patreon dispute resolution and at least lodge a complaint earlier rather than later so there's a record (regardless of terms and conditions there's certain legislative consumer rights to protect you that they can't take away no matter what anyone says in a terms and conditions generally - check your jurisdiction) and if necessary, cancel the payment before the end of the month if you have to (at the very least, cut your losses). Otherwise, you might find money sliding away from you month after month without you realising it.

Graphtreon

Graphtreon is not in any way affiliated to Patreon. However they're at least not hostile to it and they've even done a shout out to it. They haven't asked me in any fashion to include them in this article (thank you to BWW forum poster Silverbolt who first told me about it).

Public interest declaration: I work with the webcomic advertised on the main page under supporters which I discovered through this Wiki in the first place. However, that shouldn't preclude the use of this site because it's ... well very useful.

It's useful just to see at least a bit of what's going on with Patreon, though. Even though most of these aren't webcomics, a few of the usual suspects are there. As of writing this, looking at the Top 50 Creators (as listed by number of patrons - click View All Top Creators on the main page below number 12), we see Questionable Content at number 16 and David Willis hanging in there at number 50.

This is a screenshot of their Patreon from before the last big Patreon display overhaul. That's right, at the time of writing this caption, Sakimi Chan is making more than this now.

Also, even though not a webcomic, you could argue that Sakimi Chan is webcomic adjacent - and even though at number 21 on this chart; since that amount is 1-2 terms a month, well for that amount, you think you'd be doing 2 terms a month far more often than not. Even if it's only every second month, that still averages out at an amount that would leapfrog them to first place in total dollars. Even over Amanda Palmer, famous artist and married to Neil Gaiman yes that Amanda Palmer whose maximum seems to be one thing a month and can be less due to touring.

Graphtreon is still fairly new and is continually being refined but you can see things like charts showing growth over time in number of patrons and income as well as more general statistics of the growth of Patreon as a whole here after clicking the Patreon statistics tab on the main page.

As with life, even though Patreon as a whole is growing, the lion's share of the money is going to the biggest of the Patreons, who themselves mostly got in earlier and closer to Patreon's creation rather than more recently (as you can see from the start dates in the Top 50). However, there's always an opportunity for the right new project.

However, it is generally tough for webcomics. Very few people make a dedicated living from it. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that be prepared for a difficult climb on that journey if you set out on it.

Worth noting that Graphtreon doesn't follow Patreons which are at $0 as there's rather a lot of those (like 300,000 plus of those last time I heard).

Case study: Patreon for By the Book analysis

Update 06/06/17: By the Book's Patreon has reduced the number of tiers and changed them to 1,3,6,9,12 and 30 dollars and is currently sitting at 125 patrons and $843/month as of the time of writing this.

Let's have a look at what you get for your hard earned dollars (also number of patrons at the time of writing this plus the "tier" designation in quotes).

A general point as a creator, aim for a reasonable number of clearly defined tiers with goals and rewards that justify both the expense of the patron and the amount of effort you as a creator can realistically put into them. I'm of the opinion there's far too many with this one and it's far too cluttered. Some of the levels seem insufficiently distinct from each other too.

Pledge $1 or more per month (32 patrons) "Hero of BTB"

You have the eternal thanks of the artist and all those who enjoy the comic. Thank you, comrade for your hard earned currency. You're helping to keep the dream alive!

Also, access to the 'Gnolls in Space' bonus comic if the funding goal is reached. ["If I reach this goal I will create 1 page per month for the BTB spinoff comic about a certain Gnolls' adventures in space on any month when the $500 goal is met in funding It'll be Star Wars meets Flash Gordon meets BTB!" - all higher pledge levels also get access to this].

(Comrade, huh? Very enterprising for a communist. I think I might be having a word with his political officer. Given what we've seen the less said about what kind of dream this supposed communist utopia is going to be, the better. I see there's a spin-off which is monthly (not uncommon for a Patreon) which is being held hostage to a certain funding level (now that, not quite so much). I know of at least one webcomic that has a monthly spin-off bonus but isn't bound to funding, that tends to be more common. In fact, this particular one went up to twice a month with no strings attached.)

Pledge $3 or more per month (22 patrons) "Wallpaper"

Pledge this amount and receive a wallpaper every month to do with as you please :) Warning-this image may include NSFW nudity of an adult nature-so if you're not old enough then don't pledge for this reward please :) Also, access to the 'Gnolls in Space' bonus comic if the funding goal is reached AND 'BTB Uncut'-which are panels of the comic with censorship removed.

(Saying to please don't pledge if you're not old enough? Because telling people they're not old enough to do something has worked so well all through recorded history - you should follow this advice, though. Just not for the reasons the writer of statement had in mind. Here's hoping that's enough to legally cover your ass if someone is found out to be a subscriber under the appropriate age. Well, at least there's one attempt to cover an ass associated with this webcomic, so there's that, at least.)

Pledge $6 or more per month (10 patrons) "Swimsuit of the month!"

Pledge this amount and receive the monthly wallpaper and a special swimsuit pic of one of the BTB characters!

(Or you could vote on Top Webcomics and see one of these for free if you know where to look. Actually, general rule of thumb, a lot of the voting incentives, more so the higher up you go especially have excellent returns, especially since you're not paying.)

Pledge $9 or more per month (3 patrons) "I want it now!"

Pledge this amount and gain access to any vote incentive images that unlock 'features' at different levels of votes IMMEDIATELY! This pledge level unlocks any such content as soon as the Patron has payed* [sic] their first donation. Adults only! You will also receive the lower tier rewards.

("... gain access to any vote incentive images that unlock 'features' at different levels of votes IMMEDIATELY!" - I don't know what this means and from what I've just heard about - I'm just the numbers guy, editing one page of Banana Cream Cake for Wiki display was more than enough as in too, too much - I'm not sure I want to.)

Pledge $12 or more per month (76 patrons) "Nude of the month"

Receive the rewards of all lower pledge levels + a nude of one of the cast of btb every month. Adults only!

And-receive free copies of the 'Space Adventurer Yeshka!' comic whenever there are enough pages ( about 24) if the $3000 per month funding goal is met-provided that you've payed* [sic] at this pledge level at least a few times.

(More borderline extortion. At least I learned something about ships thanks to this one - see appendices.)

Publicly stating counter-incentives if goals aren't met are never cool when it's not ironic.

Pledge $30 or more per month (2 patrons) "Incentive Overlord!"

Receive the rewards of lower pledge levels and also decide (1 time only) what one of the vote incentives should be. Adults only!

(I found it much cheaper to make friends with various webcomics creators and you know what? If they like you enough, they'll make a voting incentive you recommend for free, more than once too!)

Pledge $40 or more per month (0 patrons) "Bikini Master"

Receive the rewards of lower pledge levels (nude of the month and lower) and also decide (1 time only) what one of the swimsuit of the month pics should be. Adults only!

(See above.)

Pledge $60 or more per month (18 patrons) "Lord of the nude!"

Receive the rewards of lower pledge levels (nude of the month and lower) and also decide (1 time only) what one of the nude of the months should be. Adults only!

(I know of at least one creator who'll make a character commission for you every month at this price. They still have vacancies!)

Pledge $300 or more per month (0 patrons) "Dungeon Tyrant"

Receive the rewards of lower pledge levels (nude of the month and lower) and also decide (1 time only) what the bikini pic, the nude pic, the monthly wallpaper and the next vote incentive should be. On top of this I'll make you a bonus pic of up to three characters in whatever situation you like (within certain parameters- no under age characters in inapropriate [sic] situations for instance) Adults only!

(You should be locked up in a dungeon to at least protect your money from you if you ever think of going for this one. In comparison, I know of one creator whose Patreon would guarantee one of these for you every month as a commission at $100/month, I think that's clearly a better deal. Also, from my other life outside here dealing with medical illustrations, I can from their work that creator has clearly studied anatomy to a higher level and is applying it better than the one behind this comic. The clear lesson to take away from all of this is as with purchasing goods and services in general, shop around. There's some very good deals out there. Artwork on commission is no different.)

Sic (Patreon analysis appendix 1)

The Latin adverb sic ("thus"; in full: sic erat scriptum, "thus was it written") inserted after a quoted word or passage, indicates that the quoted matter has been transcribed exactly as found in the source text, complete with any erroneous or archaic spelling, surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might otherwise be taken as an error of transcription.

Payed or Paid? (Patreon analysis appendix 2)

Payed is the past tense and past participle of the verb pay but is used in a very limited sense. Payed has a common and historical use as a nautical term having to do with ropes and ship hulls. To pay out a rope or cable is to let out by slacking. These are the only uses in which you should be finding yourself using payed, when dealing with cable, rope, or chain being let out by slacking or the sealing of a wooden ship.

A good memory trick to use with these words in that paid has to do with finances. Both of these words have an “I” in them.

Similarly, payed has to do with the sea. Both of these words have an “E” in them.

If you can remember these two tricks, you won’t ever be able to confuse the two.

Payed or Paid: What's the Difference? - Writing Explained

The point behind this section is that this is one your spellchecker isn't going to get and this is why (corollary: ever feel we're getting too reliant on these things?).

Patreon addendum

For those of you who like to have fun with statistics (I know there's at least a few of us out there), the history of his Patreon implies there were a lot of freeloaders on top of everything else.

Graphical history of By the Book on Patreon over time

Prior to the 9th of December 10th 2015, apart from a couple of brief tests the previous month in November, Patreon used to only publicly display the total number of patrons and the sum total of the amount they pledged at any given time. The creator was actually always getting less than that as it didn't account for Patreon's service fee (5%), transaction fees (variable but typically around 5%) and then of course, people who defaulted at the time of Patreon's monthly collection - some but not all of these are made up during the month.

As seen on the graph of the number of patrons and income over time when you click ALL, the big drop in both after December 9th 2015 happened to everyone when they adjusted the payment reporting from what what the gross to what was the net. Everyone fell in the reported figure but this webcomic's Patreon was especially notable for the sheer size of its fall. The drop in the reported income was due Patreon and transaction fees for everyone but notably also defaults (i.e. people listed as patrons who've pledged amounts but have actually been defaulting - they used to not adjust the display for these).

So basically, given that the patrons fell from 159 to 126 and the amount from $2,060 to $973.75 - and that is very close to the previous two tests of adjusted reporting, means there were a hell of a lot of people who were freeloading. You used to be able to just pledge to any tier, be able to see everything to whatever tier you wanted and default month after month after month without paying unless the creator noticed and took active steps to boot you off).

The other weird thing was that between May 10th and 11th 2016, under the new reporting system, the number of patrons suddenly jumped from 121 to 157 and the amount from $845.56 to $1947.52 but then between the 25th and 26th, it dropped right back down again to effectively the same, in fact after a day or two, slightly lower than it was before. Since it was all inside one month, it meant he never collected any of that increase.

So on top of everything else, there was probably a lot of people stealing the additional Patreon content. In fact, you might notice even now if you look back at the Patreon analysis section, the number of patrons on each tier added up is much more than the current amount reported going to the creator (the breakdown on Patreon by section is presumably left the same and just the overall figure is now the actual amount collected). Even the $60 patron level alone can clearly be seen to be well over the $815/month reported as going to the creator at 18 people for that tier alone. At least now defaulters are blocked from seeing anything until the account is settled but it wasn't always that way until relatively recently.

What we think about paying for this is one thing but regardless of that, not having the decency to pay for something legally for sale? Absolutely no-one comes out looking good from any of this. Don't add being a thief to everything wrong with this picture by subscribing to this in the first place.

An example of the history of a more typical webcomic Patreon in graphical form (thanks to Graphtreon.com)

GSWL.png

And then there's the Patreon for this webcomic ...

GBTB.png

Links