I think most of us would agree that the Internet is a vast and wonderful thing, if for no other reason than the sum total of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips - and almost all of it is completely free.
That this should be so is so breathtaking in its enormity that it’s easy to forget how in truth every single item does come with some sort of price attached, and in this instance, the price we pay is the very fact that it is free.
Internet piracy is rife, with many artists complaining bitterly how theft of their work is undermining their very ability to generate it; if no one pays for our art, they argue, how are we supposed to support ourselves while we create it?
Which is a fair point. But I’m not here to persuade you of the ills of downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster; if you already do that, you do so knowing it is wrong, and it’s unlikely that I have the eloquence or intelligence to persuade you otherwise.
So instead, what I’m going to do is to appeal to your better nature, to try to nudge you towards doing the right thing…
Why there is a need
Take motoring journalism, for example – an example I’ve chosen as it’s an industry I know better than most – it is perfectly possible to shoot a video review of a high-end supercar that will earn you less than £10,000 in YouTube advertising revenue, even with four million views. This financial reward might sound reasonable, but it will be considerably less than it cost to shoot and edit the video in the first place, leaving the freelance reviewer with no money to pay the bills.
Some writers and presenters get round this by working for nothing in exchange for free overseas jaunts, while others just quietly slide into working for a car manufacturer’s PR department when reality hits.
The rest just take the financial hit up front in the hope that the big bucks will come later. They rarely do, hence the proliferation of fawning, uncritical reviews that manufacturers love but which do nothing to help the poor old consumer decide between a good product and one that has been produced by a more generous manufacturer.
Why the pay-per-view model is flawed
I love YouTube. I watch it to learn how to replace the brake pads on my car, to learn esoteric and ever-more arcane ways to mill wood, and for the sheer pleasure of listening to an expert tear a power tool apart and explain in Canadian colloquialisms why it’s not worth buying.
But, despite my strong advocacy of the channel, I baulk at paying even a small sum to watch a video. It’s partly a question of convenience (although I’m sure that could be overcome) and partly a reluctance to pay for something that might turn out to be junk (although I still pay my monthly Netflix subscription…). It might even be a more general reluctance to pay for something that has been free for as long as it has existed.
But instead of looking at all the reasons not to pay, why don’t we instead think about paying someone a small sum of money in order to allow them to produce something wonderful?
Become a 21st century patron
Patreon is the 21st century equivalent of the 17th century patron who sponsored a starving artist in order to give them the time and materials to paint or compose something wonderful.
Simply put, Patreon allows you to pay a small sum every month to someone whose work you like and admire.
The system relies on altruism, although there is a hefty dose of self-interest, in that donating in this way helps generate some very positive feelings and emotions. It also allows you to enjoy more of the artist’s output than might otherwise be possible.
The wider benefits of Patreon
The benefits range more widely than mere entertainment for the patron and the ability of the creator to pay the rent. Desperate journalists and writers are so prevalent at the moment that manufacturers know they can send a product to a handpicked writer in the sure and certain knowledge that they will never call them out on its shortcomings in print or on film.
The problem is so bad that a motoring writer I know hasn’t written about the three times he’s been stranded by press cars – all from the same manufacturer - for fear of not being invited on the next all-expenses-paid car launch to a country he hasn’t visited yet…
By supporting the guys and girls who are trying to be objective, you are essentially helping them claw their way out of the hold the manufacturers have on them, enabling them to provide honest and unbiased reviews, which has got to benefit you as a consumer.
How does it work?
Patreon is stunning in its simplicity. You sign up, which is free and easy to do, and then pledge either a monthly sum or a sum every time a piece of work is created. Patreons are free to choose the model that suits them best and you, not the creators, determine the amount. It’s flexible and you can cancel at any time.
The sums are typically small but the crowd-sourced nature and sheer volume of patrons means that the $2 a month I give to my Canadian mining engineer adds up to a $6-7,000 monthly income for him. This gives him the freedom to buy more stuff to tear apart and the financial incentive to get into the workshop and video stuff when I’m sure he’d rather spend his precious free time with his family and friends. It’s the Internet equivalent of tossing a couple of pounds into a street artist’s hat.
Some artists choose to give their patrons exclusive access to stuff that isn’t available elsewhere, which is another great reason to sign up and pledge a few pounds every month to someone whose work you love.
You can benefit from donations via Patreon, too
Of course, if you write a blog, shoot videos, record podcasts or indulge in any regular artistic endeavor that you think people might like to pay for, then you can register with Patreon yourself and enjoy the generosity of strangers.
It’s not a quick fix though; most creators suggest it takes a year or more to become established enough that people want to throw money at you. Still, if you’re already doing something that you love then it’s another avenue to explore – and it might just be one that keeps you afloat!
Are you a Patreon? If so, why not tell us whom you support in the comments section below?