Why patronage? The case for funding quality content
When I introduce my high school students to Google Scholar or Advanced Search, and allow them to use only web sites with the domain .edu I’m always struck by the huge change that’s occurred in ease of access to information. “When I was your age my challenge was scraping together enough sources to work with,” I tell them from the front of the classroom, “your challenge is recognizing quality information amidst the flood of digital clutter.” Another key message is, “We don’t need to be relegated to the role of savvy consumer.” There is a way we can take an active role in dictating what content makes it onto the web in the first place.
If you can’t or don’t create directly, becoming a patron who supports creative people exercises your ability to recognize, reward, and disseminate quality material. Now more than ever this is essential. As Jaron Lanier says in his TED talk, nothing about the internet is even remotely free. The grand dream of an internet that is a free and democratizing force for good is a pipe dream of the early hippie internet age. In the interim, we have allowed Facebook, Google, and Apple to provide us with essential services but expect to pay nothing in return. And what do we have? The price of “free” means we now see the content others pay for us to see.
Facebook says, “Privacy is theft,” because they’re selling your lack of privacy to the advertisers who might show up one day. – Jaron Lanier
While there is no heir apparent on the horizon who’s going to offer us $5 a month advertisement and tracking free social media we do have much more say on the micro scale. Netflix isn’t perfect by any stretch but we need to recognize that their pay-for-ad-free-content model is worth funding in our most loved hobby and interest areas. A few dollars a month spent in the right direction has tremendous potential to provide us with the ‘clean’ content we’re looking for.
People have to be able to make money off their brains and their hearts. Or else we’re all going to starve, and it’s the machines that’ll get good. – Jaron Lanier
The Patreon website service itself, of course, is one iteration of the movement to separate the on-line wheat from the chaff. It allows backers to give one time donations or regular support to creators they feel are worthy. Patreon skims off a percentage and in turn provides a web portal, funds collection service, and landing page for a myriad of creative projects that have been fostered by increasingly cheap and easy access to digital equipment and art forms: websites, blogs, digital photo and video cameras, and self publishing.
Here are three specific reasons I’ve become a patron and the creative outlets I’ve chosen to support.
For me patronage is the opposite of Kickstarter because you can back proven products and try before you buy. If you’ve read previous posts on this blog you’ll know that I think we should kick the Kickstarter habit.. When I stumbled across the Meeples and Miniatures Gaming Podcast it didn’t take me long to recognize that their content and style of delivery was right up my alley. After listening through an extensive back catalogue it was clear that Neil Shuck and company produced a unique and worthy product that showcased their passion for the gaming hobby. When they fired up a Patreon campaign it was a very easy decision. There was no need to buy the cow, I’d already had the milk for free, but I was happy to make a small contribution to keep that cow producing and recognize the quality of the material. Now at one million downloads the Meeples and Miniatures Podcast has become a hobby institution.
It’s telling when a creator allows you full access to their back catalogue before asking you to contribute. Rather than pay Kickstarters for the privilege of being the alpha and beta testers for games and rules that are rarely polished, and then waiting months and in some case a year for delivery, I’ve taken the route of rewarding those that let their product speak for itself. Due to a Patreon fiasco where they rejigged fees I downgraded my support for Meeples and Miniatures to a basic level but plan to up my pledge again to a more generous level because I value, and can count on, the material they produce. If you enjoy somebody’s content on a regular basis and they have a proven track record, throw them a couple of bucks and put your money where your mouth is.
An intelligent person feels guilty for downloading music without paying the musician, but they use this free-open-culture ideology to cover it. – Jaron Lanier
Patronage is also a way that I can roll the dice on creative projects when I come across people looking for a ‘loan’ to get things off the ground. Henry Hyde has been creating in the wargaming field for decades. With a changing print market for both his own and other publisher’s magazines Henry has taken the leap to strictly digital content creation. I backed his latest Battlegames project because he’s got a great track record, is a prolific writer, shares my passion for gaming, and is a positive and optimistic force for good in the hobby. Dubbed “The Dean of Wargaming” by The Veteran Wargamer Jay Arnold I also see Henry as the historian of our hobby. Look no further than his Wargaming Compendium for proof. With a gift of the gab to rival his writing skills he’s also our oral historian. I wanted to play a small part to ensure Henry had the backing to continue to play a valuable role in documenting and contributing to our hobby and was excited to get in on the ground level.
For those of you not willing to roll the dice on Kickstarter, and I can’t fault you there, perhaps there’s a content creator who’s looking to get started that you feel makes or could make a contribution to a cause or hobby that you love?
If you think your hobby would be a dimmer place without their contributions why don’t you make a small monthly donation to help keep their lights on?
Patronage allows talented creators time to step away from their day jobs and put their full focus on your hobby. Every creator would love to find enough funding to indulge their passion full-time. There are people with tremendous skill sets who are well paid by their day jobs but truly inspired by night when they indulge their hobby. What are the possibilities if these people could apply their skills directly to their hobby as more than just a sideline?
Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site. – Jaron Lanier
I’ve been visiting the Esoteric Order of Gamers (EOG) website for years. The first thing I do when buying a game is check to see if he’s done a rules summary as they are consistently shorter, better written, and easier to understand than every single set of rules I’ve seen supplied in the original box. I say in total seriousness that every game should get him to proofread and edit their rules and, even better, let him do the graphic design on their rule books and games from the ground up. He’s got a knack for distilling any rule set – including for games he’s never actually played – down to the essentials. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also a skilled graphic designer. His rules summaries are as polished visually as they are textually. I just plain like looking at his website, video, and graphic design. Slick and functional to be sure. If I’m ever in a position where I can hire a graphic designer to clean up my website and create a new logo and visual presence I’d hire him in a heartbeat.
I think most of the dramatic new ideas come from little companies that then grow big. – Jaron Lanier
I make a small monthly contribution to the EOG through a repeating PayPal donation. I’m not sure if this has worked out better or worse for the EOG than using Patreon. Regardless, I back his work because he’s bloody good. I suppose that I see in the EOG website a unique and highly polished product. To be honest, I think every creative on the web would love to reach a stage where people are willingly making contributions so their content can continue to hit the web on a regular basis.
There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction in helping a kindred creative spirit make a go of it.
We’re spoiled for choice. There are no end of worthy projects deserving of attention and financial support. If and when I decide to expand my patron pledges I’ll first be upping my Meeples and Miniatures pledge to its former level and then backing the WW2 Podcast by Angus Wallace. Twice a month this podcast interviews an author on a WWII topic. For an ‘amateur’ historian the host gets some remarkable guests and has the enthusiasm and a depth and breadth of knowledge to allow him to ask great questions. This interview format is ideal for podcasts. Clocking in between thirty minutes and an hour the WW2 Podcast is the ideal commuting companion and well worth a listen if you’ve got even a passing interest in the Second World War.
We are addicted to free. We look with suspicion on any web content or service that asks for money, and often with good reason. When it comes to resources and content that we value and love, however, consider contributing willingly. Take pride and an interest in your ability to define and recognize excellence and play a role in dictating what gets published. Decide and support what you want to see on the web or someone else will choose for you.
How do you feel about funding content? Are you happy with the current price of ‘free’ social media and web services or is there a better way?