I really like Jason’s article and think it’s a great insight into the commercial questions we all face as artists, all the more fascinating because of his in-depth knowledge of the history of his medium. And I think he makes a fair point about traditional project-based crowdfunding – it’s not an easy way to make a living:
Crowdfunding as a one-off payment for a comic strip’s creation doesn’t appear to have worked as a viable means of employment for a web comic creator.
But I think it’s worth considering the more recent advent of subscription crowdfunding, epitomised by the Patreon platform, and how that might change things – perhaps even let us find something like the holy grail of micro-payment patronage once favoured by Scott McCloud.
The Patreon-style subscription model allows fans to contribute on an ongoing basis, either per month or per work, to an artist who is producing regular bits of content: songs, episodes, articles or strips, for example. A major difference is that the artwork, at least in its basic form, is expected to be released for free; payment is optional.
Another major difference is the reward system. Instead of large rewards just for individual backers and an all-or-nothing target amount, subscription funding provides small rewards to patrons at various thresholds, and also allows for “milestones”. These are similar to stretch goals in a traditional crowdfunding campaign, but are based on the total amount paid by all patrons per work or month. Whereas personal rewards are the usual bits of merch, public acknowledgement or exclusive extra content, milestones typically improve the basic work for everyone, patron or not: upgrading equipment, increasing frequency of publication, or even producing extra work altogether. (And don’t worry about the frequency thing: when contributing per work, Patreon allows patrons to set a monthly limit on payments to an artist, so a suddenly burst of productivity won’t break the bank.)
The subscription model seems to be working; among the success stories are writers, especially those whose work is seen as politically important but outside the mainstream (many feminist game writers, for example, including Cara Ellison and Mattie Brice), podcasters, musicians and yes, comic artists.
The best example of the latter is probably Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content, though like so many currently successful Patreon users, he had a huge existing fan base. Those fans he collected during the many years he wrote and released the strip for free, when he relied on merchandise and advertising to at least cover costs. But newcomers have also found some success, for example one of my favourite podcasts, Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men.
I don’t think patronage crowdfunding is the solution to all our problems as independent artists, but I do think it’s a definite positive step, and I hope it continues to grow and flourish. Nothing warms a creators heart more than to know an audience is not only reading, watching or listening, but is also committed enough to pay even a small amount to make sure they can keep doing so. The success of so many Patreon creators seems to suggest those audiences are out there.