The Crowdfunding Upstart That’s Turning Freelancers Into Superstars

BY LAURA HUDSON ,

Cara Ellison always felt like something was missing. Although the Scottish videogame critic was an established writer at multiple websites and magazines about games, she had long tired of superficial press junkets and canned press releases. She wanted to do the sort of long-form, embedded journalism with game creators that she saw in music and film, to spend days or even weeks with the creators she thought were making fascinating, important games—even if they weren’t big-budget, mainstream titles—and dig into what made those people tick.

The problem was, no one wanted to run it.

Image: Courtesy of Cara Ellison

Image: Courtesy of Cara Ellison

“There was just no place for it,” says Ellison. It was the sort of writing that always seemed to slip between the cracks: Most video game websites didn’t have the time or money to fund it, while most mainstream publications with bigger budgets saw it as niche content. Still, she felt that there was at least a boutique audience that was hungry for this sort of reporting—and willing to pay for it, even if editors weren’t. So she turned to a crowdfunding service that she thought would be uniquely helpful for her work: Patreon.

Ellison describes Patreon as a “subscription service, but for one person instead of a magazine.” Instead of funding a single project, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, Patreon provides regular, ongoing income to creators by allowing supporters to automate pledges for a certain number of works each month—videos, articles, comics, etc. Although she didn’t think Kickstarter or Indiegogo would be useful, Patreon seemed different: “it was an ongoing thing that would make me produce regular work I was proud of for a small audience that cares.”

Since Patreon launched just over a year ago, it has helped fans (or “patrons,” as the site calls them) send more than $1.5 million to more than 18,000 creators like Ellison—with at least half of that money sent in just the last two months. Thanks to this recent spike in growth, Patreon estimates that it’s adding 150 creators and 850 patrons to their community every day (the site takes a 5 percent cut for operating costs).

These creators—a few of whom are now making as much as $100,000 annually—run the gamut from musicians to webcomic artists, podcasters to activists. They include videogame journalists like Ellison, who has spent the last several months traveling across the UK, France, and America reporting the long narrative pieces she always dreamed about; thanks to more than 400 Patreon readers, she makes more than $2,000 per article. And what she tells me echoes what I hear over and over from other Patreon users: the service allows her to make money from her online audience in a way that nothing else ever has.
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