If a generation is roughly 20 years and Napster came out about 20 years ago, we have an entire generation of people who believe everything should be free. Music, art, photography, poetry, journalism – all the things that make life wonderful and meaningful, and have intrinsic cultural value – have seen their monetary value plummet. And even though I mention “a generation” I don’t just mean Millennials; all of us have had the past 20 years to get used to the idea that everything should be free. But it’s entirely unfair to expect creative people not to get paid for the things they make.
We’ve seen too many newspapers shutter, too many bands have to tour endlessly, and too many artists have their work ripped off a gazillion times on the internet. The biggest thing people seem to forget is that it costs money to create the things we consume for free. Artists toil for hours creating work and spend money on supplies. Newspapers pay journalists so that they can research and write investigative pieces. Musicians labor for years writing music and then spend money recording albums. The ways people have traditionally made a living doing these things are quickly disappearing, but without better models arriving to take their place.
To further salt the wound, Facebook (Instagram included) has created an ecosystem where they’ve nearly monopolized the way these creative endeavors reach people. Creators end up getting “paid” in likes and followers while Facebook makes billions off the ads that appear on the pages the creations live on. And while yes, some savvy people figure out how to transform those followers into an income, Facebook throttles distribution at will and holds the creator’s followers hostage unless they pay to reach them.
While making a living in the arts has always been tough, the past couple decades have made it especially grim. Luckily there are some things happening that might change that.
The first is that people are becoming used to subscriptions services. Things like Netflix and Hulu are getting folks to pay for the things they watch and all those cutesy “stuff in a box” monthly services (like wine clubs, sock clubs, produce clubs, etc) are helping orient people towards the idea of supporting something on a monthly basis.
Most importantly though there are now platforms dedicated to empowering creators to turn their fans and followers into paying subscribers. While things like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been famously helping people fund individual projects for years, platforms like Buy Me a Coffee and Podia have asserted themselves as places to support creators on an ongoing basis.
Personally, I prefer Patreon. I joined the platform a year ago (you can find my page at bit.ly/BASPatreonPage) and there have been some months where it singlehandedly meant the difference between whether or not I’d be able to pay all my people. Many of you know that my website, BrokeAssStuart.com, is one of the premier arts, culture, and activism sites in the Bay Area. But what most people don’t realize is that it takes about $4,500 a month to run it. This goes back to the idea that folks forget it costs money to create the things they consume for free. Thanks to Patreon, about a quarter of that monthly $4,500 comes from my incredible supporters.
While I don’t think Patreon will be able to solve all the problems facing the way creators make a living, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, and I love them for it. At the start of November I gave a talk at PatreCon, Patreon’s yearly creator conference. While there I attended a bunch of workshops and met an inspiring assortment other people who’ve devoted themselves to creating cool things while fostering community. And most impressive of all was Jack Conte, Patreon’s founder. I’ve met a lot of douchie Tech Bros in my time and Jack is as far from them as possible. His keynote talk solidified for me what an important thing Patreon is doing for creators like myself, and many of you.
And they are innovative in doing so. Beyond the various tiers of rewards creators can offer to their members, Patreon has a “special offers” program to help creators whip up even more interest in their pages. For example, the special offer I’m doing is a limited edition poster with the quote “Living an unconventional life is one of the finest forms of rebellion” with a crowd of people standing in front of the SF skyline, including a bartender, an artist, a barista, and some kinky sex creature. It’s only available for a limited time (only five days left to be exact), so it lights a fire under people to get involved.
It’s upon us to create the world in which we want to live, and for me, that world is full of art, music, poetry, and solid journalism. I have a feeling many of you feel the same way. So if you find someone’s work that impacts you, figure out ways you can subscribe to what they do and support them on monthly basis. Some things like Wikipedia and The Guardian have a pop up that directs you. Otherwise, individual artists and creators are starting to get more involved in things like Patreon. Reach out to the ones you like and ask how to get involved. And of course, if you like what I do you can always join at bit.ly/BASPatreonPage. The poster is pretty damn cool.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his awesome mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the Examiner.