A week after taking off for the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O conference, I’m departing for Denver early Monday afternoon. This week’s excuse for propping up the airline industry: moderating a state-of-the-industry panel at the Pay TV Show, in return for which the conference organizers are covering my travel costs.
My big takeaway from the IFA Global Press Conference two weeks ago was a dramatically more pessimistic forecast for 8K TV shipments from the research firm IHS Markit. It was refreshing to see analysts decline to get in line behind industry hype over a new product category.
I took a break from I/O Wednesday morning to attend a press event hosted by Waymo, the self-driving-car subsidiary of Google’s parent firm Alphabet. Said event did not feature any time as a passenger in one of Waymo’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, because the company apparently still doesn’t have the California permit needed to offer rides to non-employees.
I launched a Patreon page Monday night, and as I write this, it’s attracted zero supporters. Which means it’s performing as expected—this post is my first attempt to publicize my experiment at this crowdfunding site.
But it took an expiration date to get me to proceed—11:59 a.m. Monday was my last shot at launching a page under more favorable terms than those now on offer under Patreon’s tiered membership structure.
I am cautiously optimistic about how my page could work. I think the value proposition I offer—depending on what tier you pay for, you get content not available elsewhere and, more important, increasing access to my time—is both a fair trade and a reasonable way for me to monetize the scarcest thing in my daily routine, my attention. I also like the idea of having a bit of a sandbox to play in; while I’ve committed to write some patron-only posts and set up a Slack channel, maybe I’ll try doing short podcasts there? There’s nobody to stop me.
But it’s also possible that nobody will support me, and that other people will then point and laugh. That might be chickenshit of them. But it would certainly be chickenshit of me not to try this, not when there are so many things going wrong with the business of journalism.
So if what I have on offer to patrons strikes you as a good deal, I would very much appreciate your support. And maybe if everything goes well, this new venture will at least make enough to recoup the cost of the XOXO trip that lodged this foolish idea in my head.
I’m not a millennial and I don’t have any tattoos or piercings, so I would appear to be wildly ineligible for Patreon.
Yet I’m still curious about using that crowdfunding site to give people a chance to underwrite my work if they feel so inspired. I can’t tell if that is me being entrepreneurial or vain, so I’m writing this post to try to untangle my thoughts.
I first encountered Patreon when founder Jack Conte gave an exuberant presentation on the site’s backstory at 2013’s XOXO conference. (His talk rambles a bit–which is fine if you enjoy dancing robots–but overall merits 24 minutes of your time.) I decided that letting fans pledge as little as a dollar or two a month to indie creatives was a smart response to declining ad rates and the overall horribleness of the content industry. And then I thought little more about that concept until I started seeing more people and sites I know pop up on Patreon.
You can sum up the Patreon proposition as “Kickstarter over time.” Instead of asking for support for a particular project, creators invite fans to kick in a defined sum each month to support their ongoing efforts–and can also offer extra rewards for contributions above a certain level.
For example, my friend Glenn Fleishman‘s typographic-centric pitch includes exclusive or early access to his articles, science-minded podcaster Rose Eveleth offers a patrons-only newsletter, and the Arlington news site ARLNow.com touts a private Facebook group for more-generous contributors.
After conversations with a few Patreon fans at XOXO this September, I e-mailed Glenn to ask how that was working for him.
His two bits of advice: Find something you can provide to Patreon contributors that they couldn’t get elsewhere, and show what their support lets you do that you couldn’t accomplish otherwise.
I think I have a good answer for that first item: my time. As most people who have e-mailed me can attest, getting my attention when I’m constantly changing channels between stories and clients is… problematic. If I could offer something like a private Slack group or some other closed forum, I’d like to think that would appeal to people who miss the Web chats I did at the Post. (I miss them too.)
My other concerns: I wouldn’t have enough time to tend a Patreon page (note that I’m typing this near 10 p.m. on a Saturday); nobody would support it; worst of all, nobody would support it, and outsiders would then point and laugh.
At the same time, I like the idea of generating another stream of income, even if it only underwrites one trip a year. Getting acquainted with the inside of a crowdfunding platform seems like an overdue to-do item for me. And the last few months have made me increasingly uneasy about relying on my Facebook page for occupational banter with readers.
Having spent this much time musing about crowdfunding, I might as well crowdsource part of this decision. Please take the poll below, and if you have suggestions for what you’d want me to do at Patreon or another crowdfunding platform, please share them in the comments.