Patreon, a membership site where anyone can turn their craft into monthly income, is getting serious about its business prospects.
Launched in 2013, Patreon caters to people who want to make money from their passions or pet projects. The platform, backed by more than $47 million in venture capital, is designed for podcasters, musicians, artists, video-makers and pretty much anyone else making something that isn't already handsomely rewarded by the web's business-model of choice: advertisements.
These "creators," as they're called on the site, range from unknowns and YouTube personalities to comedians of Adam Carolla's caliber. Creators craft their own subscription tiers, offering patrons extras or rewards -- say a bonus podcast episode -- for contributing a small monthly sum, often $10 or less, to support them.
Wednesday, the San Francisco-based startup is upgrading its web and mobile apps, aesthetically and beyond, to present a more professional face to the world. The changes most obvious to visitors will be the cosmetic ones, including a new brand design and logo.
The bigger enhancements are a number of behind-the-scenes improvements, and a Snapchat-like app, for clientele who want to give more to fans and boost monthly income. Getting people paid is the whole point.
Patreon currently counts more than 1 million paying active patrons, which suggests that content, even in the age of internet freebies, is still worth something to some people.
The company says its on track to pay out $150 million this year to its 50,000 creators.
For its part, Patreon takes a 5 percent cut of funds pooled, leaving creators with 92 percent of fan contributions after credit card processing fees. The model is intended to be more generous than the ad-revenue splits offered by YouTube or Facebook, and the developer programs run by Apple and Google.
"I don't buy that creators are worth what the web has set up to pay them," said Jack Conte, CEO and co-founder of Patreon.
Conte, a musician and online music video-maker, slipped into his current executive position somewhat accidentally. Four years ago, he dedicated three months and $10,000 to making a stop-motion animation video that went on to quickly garner 1 million views but earned him just $200 in ad revenue from YouTube.
"There was this huge discrepancy, with this video that I made, between what I felt like it was worth and what I was paid," he said. "That prompted the beginning of Patreon and the mission to fund the creative class."
With Wednesday's revamp, Patreon's goal is to increase payouts -- and company revenue by association.
The startup is launching a new app called Lens, which emulates the so-called "story" functionality popularized by Snapchat and Instagram, but does so with a twist. Creators can post photos and videos to a daily story on the Lens app as they would on one of the aforementioned mobile apps, but here the content can be restricted to a creator's paying patrons, giving the ephemeral material a VIP-only quality.
In addition, a new live-streaming capability, offered through a partnership with Crowdcast, lets Patreon's artists host live video sessions with their subscribers. Think of it as the paywall version of Facebook Live or Instagram Live.
On the business end of things, new creator perks include a customer relationship manager and analytics dashboard, along with email marketing tools.
The idea is to help a new class of entrepreneurs run a business.
"We're building a suite of tools to take your dream and turn it into a functional, sustainable business," Conte said.
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