Hey there, I’m Wyatt and head of Product at Patreon. Before getting into the tech industry, I was a creator, too — an electronic musician, a DJ, and I owned a record label. Previously, I’ve built products you may have heard of such as Beatport, Shutterstock, Hired, and Optimizely. Today, a big part of my job is talking to creators to figure out what they want and need to be successful in their business, and crafting a product to meet those needs.
In my recent conversations with creators, there’s a common question I’m hearing:
The exact words and phrasing change, but the underlying theme remains the same:
- “Why doesn’t Patreon help me grow my audience?”
- “Why doesn’t Patreon send traffic to my page?”
- “Why doesn’t Patreon recommend me to patrons of other creators?”
- “Why doesn’t Patreon feature me on the homepage?”
For me, this boils down to a fundamental issue: Why isn’t Patreon a discovery platform? Answer? Patreon was built for creators to nurture direct relationships with their audience. We don’t want to get in between creators and their community; in other words, if we focused on discovery, it would lead to some not-so-creator-centric decisions.
We build tools to help creators connect to their audience and get paid. If we were to become a discovery platform — a platform where users go to browse new content — that would put Patreon in between creators and fans. Think about Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram; these sites are great discovery platforms because they have all the eyeballs. Their goal is to acquire and retain all the eyeballs; they leverage algorithms designed to keep showing you content you will click on. Through their algorithms, they put themselves in between viewers and creators by deciding which content to display. By contrast, Patreon’s membership platform nurtures unique relationships between creators and their biggest fans. We simply aim to connect creators to patrons, and let creators drive the relationship. We take a backseat.
On a discovery platform, the product sits in-between creators and patrons “brokering” the relationship - the product decides who meets who.
On a membership platform, the product exists to support and nurture the relationship between creators and Patrons.
“I’d rather have 4000 patrons than 4 million Instagram followers. On social media, there’s always haters and trolls, but my patrons on Patreon are there for a reason - to support my work.”
- Heather, Juicy Scoop Podcast
There’s nothing wrong with discovery platforms — creators need them to find and build an audience online before they start a membership. But Patreon fills a different need by being the place to build direct relationships with your most engaged fans and to generate predictable, recurring income from your work. Here are the advantages:
1. Creators can focus on quality over quantity content
Patreon isn’t in the business of ranking creators. Creators should be creating amazing content because they love it and because their audience loves it, not to feed an algorithm and improve their ranking. On a discovery platform, algorithms and ranking rule the relationship, and creators often feel compelled to crank out content as fast as they can to stay on top of rankings. We don’t want to create a platform that values content consumption over relationship. We don’t want to see creators chase ranking so obsessively they burn out. We want creators to make and deliver great work because it benefits both their fans and themselves.
2. You get access to your patrons’ contact info, and your content reaches them every time
On Patreon, you bring your fans. They are choosing to give you their information because they trust you and have built a relationship with you over time. This means that you truly own the relationship with patrons; you have their contact information and can reach them via a number of channels. Even if you decided to leave Patreon, you could take your fans with you. Unlike other platforms where they dictate how your content reaches fans (like Facebook where you have to pay for a post to reach all of your fans) on Patreon, every post goes directly to all your audience.
3. We don’t try to lure your patrons away to other creators
Because we’re not focused on discovery, we’re not constantly trying to recommend new creators to your fans. It takes time to build an audience, for a fan to become passionate enough about you as a creator to become a paying patron. We respect that relationship. We’re not here to market other creators to your patrons.
Recently, I participated in a round table discussion with Patreon creators to hear about their experience on the platform, and the topic of discovery came up. Sitting with creators of all different disciplines — including a podcaster, a YouTuber, an actor, a model, and a painter — there were a variety of opinions for and against discoverability on Patreon. I was heartened to hear the support for Patreon’s commitment to focusing the product on strong relationships between creators and their audience. Most of the creators in the room valued our product for delivering a solid payment platform that let creators retain the relationship with their biggest fans.
A podcaster said, “I need Patreon to be great at two things - helping me communicate effectively with my fans via posts and messaging and being a robust, secure payments platform.”
Another creator agreed, saying they didn’t see Patreon as a vehicle for finding new fans, but for monetizing the existing relationship, “I grow my fanbase on other channels and I monetize on Patreon.”
Still other creators said that while they don’t need discovery help, they do want current fans to be able to easily find their Patreon page, “I’m not looking for help getting discovered, but I want to make sure my work is findable if I send potential patrons to Patreon.”
This type of feedback helps not only the Patreon Product team focus, but it motivates the whole company to continue to create a platform that helps convert the most engaged folks in your audience into a community of patrons.
So what are we doing? Patreon wants you to be successful which is why we’re committed to building a platform and products that help creators turn existing fans into paying patrons. For example, this year we launched our Special Offers product designed to run limited time offers that increase patronage.
Currently, Patreon is not a discovery platform. I’ve learned to never say never, but for the time being, we will continue to make Patreon the best membership solution for established creators who want to own and nurture the relationship with their top fans. I believe this level of focus will prove to all creators who choose to run their membership on Patreon that our product is one that will consistently help you deliver unique value to your community while growing a steady income.
Wyatt Jenkins is SVP Product at Patreon