Patronage as a Business Model

Patronage as a Business Model

Patrons of the arts have existed for a long, long time.

Wikipedia defines “patronage” as: “…the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another.”

In a more specific sense, Patrons have historically been rich people who paid artists money, basically just for being artists. This freed the artist from worrying about things like “eating” or “dying of dysentery” and allowed them to focus on what they were good at: their art.

We owe some of our greatest art history to the practice of patronage. Nearly every great painter of the Renaissance had a patron, or multiple patrons. The patronage system could also be traced in feudal Japan, where wealthy daimyo would hire artists, poets, dancers and theater troupes to liven up the place.

While it never died out completely, the Patron system declined significantly in the twentieth century. This was at least partly due to an increasing idea of commercialism. After all, if an artist couldn’t make their own living, why should any rich businessman help? Especially since such a businessmen always earned his riches by clawing tooth and nail from the slimiest of gutters, with no help from anyone? Why should such a stalwart individual be compelled to help the artist, who of course provided nothing of any material value? (You’re not wrong if you detect sarcasm here).

So “patronage” devolved. You could see its shades in humanities scholarships offered by colleges—scholarships that, of course, ran out at the end of schooling, and which did not provide for living expenses or any financial support beyond “not having to pay our insane tuition fees.”

Patronage’s darkest mockery came in the form of financial advances offered by traditional publishing houses. The advance was intended to support the author while he or she did book tours and wrote the next novel.

But if book sales failed to pay back the advance, the author wouldn’t see another cent and, often, would never see another word published without herculean effort on the part of their agent. And that advance could only be repaid with landslide sales numbers, since the author’s royalty rate was set at criminally low levels.

What’s more, the author lost all rights to their own work, and could not choose the manner in which it was presented to the public or touted to other income avenues, such as film studios or audiobook production houses. And further, the author was not in control of the marketing, sales or distribution of their own book, so even if the book lost money due to the publisher’s ineptitude, the author was usually the one held accountable.

Well, enough of my anti-traditional-publishing ranting—I think I’ve done enough to clarify my position on that issue.

In the twenty-first century, Patronage has received a facelift with the advent of crowdfunding, and websites such as Patreon.

Patreon is a crowdfunding site that allows consumers to act as Patrons for their favorite artists. It’s entirely voluntary, and Patrons can pledge any amount from $1 up. Depending on how the artist has set up their page, Patrons are charged every time the artist produces something new, or on a monthly basis.

So if an artist’s monthly living expenses are $1,000 a month (a true starving artist, at least in Los Angeles) they could acquire a thousand patrons, all paying $1 a month, and earn enough to get by—allowing them to distribute all of their art for free, if they wished.

There are arguably more artists on Earth than there have ever been before in human history—and inarguably, more of them are publishing their works for the world and trying to make a living through art, thanks to the Internet.

I am one of these people, as any reader of this blog will know. I publish books as my primary source of income, and I direct films—films that will shortly be available for sale online.

But quite in addition to this “commercial” art, I produce much more than this—a vlog almost every day and two podcasts a week, plus numerous sketch videos in collaboration with my filmmaking friends at We Make Movies. That’s hours of content every week, and all for free.

I do these things because I love to, and I’d be a less complete person without them. I do them because some people (perhaps you?) enjoy them. And I create them because, I think, some art should always be free, should always be available for everyone to enjoy.

But at the same time, on some months when royalties are down and film productions are in a lull, I have to go take extra work—sometimes, a lot of extra work—to keep the lights on and my kids fed. While I don’t mind good, honest labor (I worked for four years in a warehouse, after all) I get the sense from many of my readers and viewers that they want MORE content, not less. MORE books, MORE vlogs, MORE films.

And so I joined Patreon, and I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty awesome way to use it.

First of all, even if you subscribe for only a buck, you get exclusive content that’s ONLY available to Patrons. You get behind-the-scenes videos whenever I make a new short film, and those videos won’t be available for general viewing—only for you.

But the $5 level is what I’m really excited about.

At $5, I give you every book I publish, before I release it for general sale. In essence, you’re subscribing to my entire career as a writer.

Why is this awesome? First, you don’t need to remember to constantly check on my book page on Amazon (or wherever). You get the book in your email. There’s no chance of missing one of my titles.

Second, at $5 a month, you actually save money. My release lineup for the next year adds up to an average of about $6.10 a month. By subscribing, you get the same content, for a lower price.

Some of you (a surprising percentage, based on past experience) might see that and say, “Oh, but we want to help you! We’ll just get it online, that way you get more for the books you write!”

I really appreciate it, but you can set your mind at ease. The way Patreon’s pay structure works, I actually make MORE per book if you’re a $5 subscriber. So you pay less, but you help me more.

The third and potentially most awesome benefit: I send you an exclusive short story once a month. More often than not, I’ll be setting these short stories in the worlds of my existing books. So not only are you “in on” everything I write, you get to go even deeper. You get to hear stories about minor characters and faraway locations only mentioned in passing in my books, and every story will increase your understanding and appreciation of the main work.

Because, let’s face it: you’re helping me more than I have any right to expect. You, like the magnanimous aristocracy of old, are helping make the world a more beautiful place by becoming a Patron of the arts.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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