This Is Why We Do The Math

On Patreon, and why $150 million isn’t necessarily a large number.

Photo credit: jun AOYAMA, CC BY 2.0.

I love Patreon. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t immediately do the math on this:

Patreon, the membership services company for podcasters, YouTubers, musicians and other online creatives, announced this week that it is on track to pay out over $150 million to its publishers this year alone. This comes after Patreon announced in January that it had paid out a total of $100 million since its launch in 2014.

$150 million is an impressive number! Paying out $150 million in one year, after paying $100 million over three years, is even more impressive!

But… how many creators are currently using Patreon?

Initially just founded as a way to subsidize Conte’s YouTube income, Patron has since grown to host and manage subscription and membership services for over 50,000 creatives — a number that roughly doubled over the past 12 months.

$150 million divided by 50,000 is $3,000. Each creator is earning $3,000 per year on average, except—thanks to Patreon’s well-known outliers like Amanda Palmer and Crash Course—it’s more like some creators are earning $150,000 or more per year and some creators are earning less than $500.

This is not to say anything negative towards Patreon. I currently support thirteen Patreon projects and I’ll probably support more as my freelance income increases. Patreon income is life-changing, as you might remember from my recent conversation with Lucy Bellwood:

Bellwood currently earns a third of her income from Patreon support, which is enough to cover her “foundational living expenses.” My forthcoming novel is dedicated to my Patreon supporters; I would not have been able to write it without both their financial contributions and their feedback.

I should also give you the math from the other end; Variety reports that there are more than one million people making the Patreon pledges that total this projected $150 million annual contribution, which means the average Patreon supporter might give $150 in support per year. (I’ll probably give $720 in support this year.)

They might actually give slightly more than $150, depending on whether the $150 million Patreon payout includes the 5 percent fee Patreon takes on each transaction—and 5 percent of $150 million is $7.5 million, if you were curious.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of these numbers fascinating. I am impressed by how many people have successfully used Patreon to support their creative work—especially given how even $150 million isn’t enough to support all of the people who start Patreon projects, so the people who earn at the “funding living expenses” level are both beating the odds and putting out the kind of high-quality work that makes fans want to contribute every month—and I’m impressed by how quickly Patreon has grown.

But you always have to do the math. Especially on headlines that include really large numbers.