Patreon has set up a new payment model that’s supposed to make artists’ lives easier, but could discourage small-time patrons from making pledges. Yesterday, Patreon announced that it would no longer take payment processing fees out of an artist’s monthly funds. Starting December 18th, it will charge those fees to patrons, adding a service fee of 2.9 percent, plus 35 cents on each pledge.
The change is meant to help artists know how much they’ll make every month, since they’ll only be charged Patreon’s normal 5 percent deduction — not extra processing costs that could vary month to month. It implicitly encourages patrons to offer a little bit more money. But it’s also regressive: patrons who currently give artists $1 or $2 a month, especially if they’re pledging to multiple campaigns, will see higher proportional fees than those making one large monthly donation.
Patreon says in a blog post that it based its decision on months of experiments and research, which found that many patrons were happy to foot the processing fee for artists. “While some patrons may leave in the short-term, we know this will help creators earn more money in the long term.” A spokesperson also told The Verge that “we think endlessly about the creator and patron impact for every decision we make. After running tests with both creators and patrons, we settled on a fee that would impact creators and patrons in the smallest way possible, considering both the amount that patrons pledge and the likelihood that they’ll keep supporting their creators on Patreon.”
But author Natalie Luhrs laid out a long critique of Patreon’s decision, which she says “seems calculated to reduce the number of people pledging at sub-$5/month tiers.” Patreon theoretically creates a system where creators can support themselves without superstar-level fame, but some artists argue that penalizing small donations undercuts this model. Luhrs also argued that Patreon could end up with a bigger slice of the pie, because it would pay one processing charge for a patron’s entire monthly pledge, while the patron would end up with multiple 35-cent fees. We’ve contacted Patreon to see if this is an accurate assessment of the new system.
The response isn’t universally negative. Artist Elizabeth Simins, for instance, has said that the change will give patrons a better idea of how much they’re actually giving to a creator, although she says the 35-cent flat fee is too high. The change is essentially just supposed to shift fees around, and patrons can choose how much they pledge, so they could always reduce their donations to compensate. But the way fees are balanced will impact how people choose to donate to artists — and although Patreon is confident that this is an improvement, its creators aren’t nearly as certain.