Dan Olson on Patreon

So, Dan Olson has an interesting thread (note: requires Twitter login, thanks, Twitter!) on Patreon’s realization that they’re going to have to make a lot more money to make back their VC investment. Dan’s reading of Patreon CEO Jack Comte’s “Patreon needs to build new businesses, services and revenue line to be sustainable” is “we need to tack more junk on”; this may indeed be what happens, but I’m not sure it’s entirely what they mean. I actually wrote about this over a year ago (apologies for the link to the Medium version, but I don’t seem to have it anywhere else currently, which I’ll have to fix when I can):

To earn that $450M valuation Patreon has, they’re going to have to double revenue every year for the next four or five. Wouldn’t a great way for them to start making serious bank be to start landing creators who can get a few hundred thousand patrons instead of just a few thousand?

As of this writing (December 2017), just six creators have more than 10,000 patrons. The top of the “long tail” curve Patreon has just isn’t that far above the bottom. This is the part of Patreon’s business that I suspect investors are most keen on changing. It’s great that Patreon can get Amanda Palmer now, but they’re going to need to get Imagine Dragons. I don’t mean “the next” Imagine Dragons, either. I mean an existing artist who can bring a bazillion fans with them.

And to do that, going after Financially Successful Creators™ as they’ve defined it now isn’t good enough. They can’t just go after people they think Patreon can bring to the next level. They’re going to have to go after people who are already making six- or even seven-figure incomes from their art. They have to be able to say, hey, if you take a chance on us, we can give you the same income with fewer middlemen.

I wrote that in response to Patreon’s quickly-rolled-back fee structure change, and since they rolled it back virtually the hour that I published the article, I think my conclusion kind of got buried. But you know what? I still think I was right.

Dan Olson may be right that Patreon is going to feel obligated to junk things up for “little” creators (and patrons) in order to extract more money out of them, but the way companies like Slack and Dropbox have thrived is by focusing on the enterprise space and being kind of…let’s say “lackadaisical” about supporting mere consumers. It’s just that, as I wrote, the big value unicorn in Patreon’s space isn’t General Electric. It’s Beyoncé. I don’t think Patreon is necessarily going to eat itself, in Olson’s words–but creators with just a few dozen, or even “just” a few thousand, patrons may not be ones Patreon is structured to serve much longer.

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