But it remains an open question whether the backers who left will ever return.
When popular crowdfunding platform Patreon announced a massive, controversial change to the way it processed payments—asking patrons to pay a fee for each pledge, even if their pledge was only $1— the backlash was swift, loud, and sustained. Many of the creators it was supposed to help by putting more money in their pocket came out against the changes. Today, the company is unilaterally backing off those changes.
“We’ve heard you loud and clear,” said Patreon CEO Jack Conte in a blog post. “We’re not going to rollout the changes to our payments system that we announced last week.”
Patreon pitched the change as a way for creators to keep more of their money; in the past, creators shouldered the payment processing charges for each pledge. Under the proposed change, backers would be responsible for those charges through a service fee—2.9% of a pledge plus $0.35 per pledge. It was meant to “streamline” these fees.
These changes would have disproportionately hurt individuals backing a creator for only $1 or $2, resulting in many creators sharing images of backers apologizing for removing their smaller pledges, either because they couldn’t afford the processing fees or wanted to show Patreon they disapproved of the announcement.
Creators lost money over Patreon’s decision, the clearest sign of a giant fuck up for a service whose goal is to provide creatives with a way to earn money.
“No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry,” said Conte. “It is our core belief that you should own the relationships with your fans. These are your businesses, and they are your fans.”
Even the Kinda Funnys of the world, who raise tens of thousands of dollars on Patreon and with people often backing at higher amounts, came out against it. They were happy to eat the processing fee so more people could support them.
Conte said he spent “hours and hours on the phone with creators,” which apparently lead to this much needed retraction. He outlined three reasons for the 180:
- The new payments system disproportionately impacted $1 – $2 patrons. We have to build a better system for them.
- Aggregation is highly-valued, and we underestimated that.
- Fundamentally, creators should own the business decisions with their fans, not Patreon. We overstepped our bounds and injected ourselves into that relationship, against our core belief as a business.
These should have been obvious from the get go, but better late than never?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s possible Patreon has done permanent damage over this move, and it remains to be seen how many backers, spurned by a company that seemed happy to watch them leave, come back. That Patreon came to this conclusion at all is reason to give anyone pause about what the company might choose to do in the future.
Conte admitted it’ll take “a long time for us to earn back your trust.” He’s right.
On last Friday's episode of Waypoint Radio, we talked about this at length.
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