In which I finally stop using Patreon

So, hey, Patreon is a pretty popular site for funding the creative people you follow. A lot of people rely on Patreon as their primary source of income. More power to them if they do; it’s where everyone goes to do that sort of thing and it’s really enabled a lot of people to do what they love for a living.

But I just removed all my pledges and also my creator account. It’s not one thing in isolation that led me to do this, but a culmination of a lot of things (some big, some small) that had been frustrating and upsetting to me.

(Want to know where I’m accepting donations these days without reading a long missive? I’m on Ko-Fi for one-time donations and Liberapay for ongoing contributions.)

They are a captive content farm

First of all, they have shown themselves many times to not particularly care about small-scale creators; they only really care about people who very quickly show up on Patreon and immediately generate a lot of revenue for them. This was what led to them making a huge mistake that almost destroyed the platform.

Next, I really dislike how one of my big things these days is building open communications software like Publ and Feed-On-Feeds, and yet I was using a platform, Patreon, that had absolutely no integration with outside sources. There was no way to republish RSS on Patreon, there was no way to subscribe to Patreon via RSS, it doesn’t even provide a way for a creator to export their own content off the platform; it was just turning into a never-ending Content Mill sort of thing. Every new feature they rolled out was on the basis of trying to feed their exclusive content and perks stuff, even though they pay a lot of lip service to making it so that creators can create content for the Internet at large. Thre’s something a bit shady about that, I feel.

They’ve also been showing signs of collapsing under their own weight of needing to pay back their venture capital. The fact they’re even backed by venture capital is ridiculous; this should be a service which automatically prints money, but instead they’ve gotten themselves in a situation where they need to target an ever-expanding exponential growth curve, which is simply not sustainable. How long will it be before they start increasing their cut, delisting underperforming creators, taking on more exclusive content distribution deals with top-tier earners?

They are a bad experience for patrons

Their UX is full of dark patterns. It becomes increasingly difficult to remove your pledges over time; they change the way that pledges work sometimes; they made changes to your own account impossible to back out of, with a one-way ratchet towards pay-up-front for monthly pledges. Once you set your account to pay-in-advance there is supposedly no going back, without disabling your creator account and then re-enabling it (losing all your patrons in the process).

They are an even worse experience for creators

Their post editor is terrible for accessibility. They used to have a pretty okay HTML post editor but they got rid of it citing “ease of use,” but the HTML generated by their rich text editor isn’t great and there are so many little UX paper cuts that make things really troublesome to people with a lot of the issues I do. Did you know that if you upload a song, then enter some text for it (with careful formatting and links and so on), and then decide to upload a new version before you post, you can’t do it without losing all of the text? And you can’t even copy-paste the text in a meaningful way that preserves the formatting and links.

Their post editor is even worse on mobile. The mobile app can only post a handful of content types, but on the mobile web there’s no way to actually format text or add links or what have you.

Their support site is also very much creators-vs-patrons, and it’s inconsistent as to whether there’s even an option to submit an issue that impacts you in one direction or the other.

And of course the entire site is geared around getting creators to offer bigger and better perks to more and more subscribers, which isn’t even remotely sustainable for anyone with a large enough fanbase. But that’s something I only have an abstract awareness of, based on what I’ve seen happen to a bunch of creators who are put under enormous pressure to make a lot of content for very cheap.

It never really worked for me

On a personal note, I never really got my patronage to a level I was happy with, and they didn’t provide any tools that made it easy to grow that. I was definitely paying out more in pledges than I was taking in, and of course Patreon takes a double cut of the fees when that happens.

And I mean, I just plain don’t need the support anyway. I make a pretty good living right now, and Patreon wants my use of their platform to be a full-time job, or something. And I just don’t have it in me to spend all my time marketing myself just so that I can help to market Patreon as well.

On another personal note, there’s a lot of things about Jack Conte (the CEO) that just irritate me. He rubs me the wrong way, and the whole site was set up as a tip jar for his cover band – and he uses the fact it’s a “tip jar” to explain why he doesn’t owe royalties to any of the acts that he covers, because he’s not “really” making money on the performances.

The last straw

Anyway, then the series of events which led to my last straw moment: quite some time ago they rolled out Discord integration, where people can get special access to Discord servers (such as mine) by pledging at a tier that provides that. It seems nice and all, but their implementation leaves a lot to be desired: if you enable it on your Patreon account, you get automatically added to every Discord for everyone you back. And if you leave the Discord, you just get re-added again the next month when the next set of payments go through.

Okay, so that might not seem like that big a deal, but it causes a lot of grief and confusion for a lot of people. Like, it forces you to join, rather than just sending an invite, and I had people stop pledging to me on Patreon because they thought that I had purposefully kept on yanking them back into my server somehow (when I had no control over that).

On some of the larger Patreons, the beginning of every month is punctuated with the server being disrupted by a flood of people joining, and then another flood of most of those people asking “How did I end up here?” followed by a bunch of them leaving. Still just annoying and not dreadful, right?

I had complained about this pretty much every month for the past several months, only to get a brush-off support email (if they even bothered to respond again).

Well, one of the Discords I got yanked into this month has a bunch of auto-greet bots, and in trying to explain why I didn’t want to actually join (because people were confused), I saw that an abusive past relation of mine was very prolific on the server. Someone I never wanted to talk to again if I could help it. And there they were, talking up their usual talk, and I felt sick that they were probably now reminded of my existence and this might lead to another reiteration of them doing the things they did and I just couldn’t handle it.

So I once again emailed Patreon support and explained that I really, really needed them to not keep re-adding me to servers I didn’t want to be on and I used a few swear words in doing so because my mind was spiraling and I was feeling anxious as heck and then a few days later I got this response from them:

We do not condone any sort of disrespect towards our agents. Every agent on the team works with compassion to provide the best possible experience for both creators and patrons. The language used here is not acceptable, and I hope to keep our conversation respectful going forward.

Sure, my email could have been less sweary, but I wasn’t in a great mental state, and someone with actual compassion would recognize that this was the voice of someone who was incredibly frustrated and past a breaking point. And nothing in my message was an attack on the agents, they were a frustrated complaint about the platform, and one particular way in which it wasn’t the “best possible experience.” My past messages went ignored or brushed off (such compassion!); at least this one got it escalated and read by someone who wasn’t just copy-pasting from a bunch of blurbs!

The rest of the message was a bit better in tone, if not in content:

That said, I can see how it would be helpful to have the ability to opt out of certain benefits, like Discord.

We’ve discussed adding a feature like the one you’ve described in the past, but it isn’t on our roadmap at this time. While I can’t guarantee that this will result in any changes, I’d be happy to share your ticket with the rest of my team.

This thing people have asked for is not on your roadmap? This one thing – this one simple thing, all it needs to be is a check box and a column in a database – that would help UX substantially, reduce a lot of confusion, and reduce bad interactions and abuse exposure? And any escalated frustration is met with tone policing? Then I guess I have no interest in continuing to use Patreon.

Bye Patreon

So, there we have it. I ended all my pledges (which was really irritating to do because of the dark patterns!) and asked to shut down my creator account. The really “awesome” thing about that is that they didn’t even provide me any way of exporting any of the Patreon-exclusive content I’d posted, so there is as far as I know no record of the things I posted exclusively for my patrons. Which I would have loved to have reposted on here instead, but oh well. (And I can’t help but be a little offended that they didn’t even try for any creator retention, after all of the attempted patron retention they put me through on every single one of my 20-odd pledges!)

What’s the alternative?

Anyway. If people want to send me money in appreciation for the things I do, I have made a tip jar link that will always point to my current tip jar of choice. Currently it’s Ko-Fi, because that’s what most people seem to use for one-time tipping. If people want to do a recurring donation they can do so at my Liberapay, which is less about being a captive content farm and more about just providing people a means of providing recurring support to creators they care about.

None of those things have any sort of reward tracking but I see that as a feature, not a bug; Patreon becoming a never-ending treadmill of rewards and obligations thereof is part of the problem.

How I once again work Publ into this

Also, as an upshot to all this, I just realized that the way I’m building authentication into Publ means it could probably be used as part of a subscription/paywall system. Since you could, say, set an authentication ACL like “paid-2019-03” on an entry and then if someone sends you $3 on PayPal they get that permission set on their URL. Like, you know, just as a thought.

Let people take control of their own publishing model, I always say.

Update (March 7, 2019)

The Patreon support person got back to my followup with a nicer-sounding but ultimately still-disappointing response:

Hi there,

I definitely understand the frustration, and I’m very sorry about this situation.

At the moment, our Discord BOT integration automatically re-adds patrons to roles based on their active membership status, paid status, and whether, or not they’ve connected their Discord account to Patreon.

In this situation, I’d recommend reaching out to Discord to see if they can permanently ban you from the server that you would like to be removed from. Unfortunately, our permissions with the Discord BOT only go as far as adding and removing roles based on a particular status.

Here’s a link to reach out to Discord:

I’ve shared your particular situation with the rest of the team to keep in consideration as we move forward. I know that this does not resolve your immediate issue, and I’m unable to guarantee that changes to how this integration will be changed in the near future, however, please know that I’ve forwarded this feedback, and concern because I think that it’s important.

If Discord needs any additional details, or if there’s anything else that I can help with, please let me know.

This is pretty underwhelming but about what I expected. Aside from being more sympathetic to my frustrations, they are deferring the problem to being one of the implementation (as if they have no control over what the discord bot does in terms of invitations, which makes no sense to me), and suggesting I ask to be banned from the Discords I don’t want to be on. What if I change my mind and want to be let in later on? Why would the people running the server have to remember that I asked to be banned, to get around a Patreon software bug, and not just assume I’m someone who got banned for being a jerk or whatever?

Anyway, this was still just a last straw that led me to realize I didn’t want to be on Patreon anymore (either as a creator or as a patron), so even if this were the first response I got from them I think I would still be happier not using their service for now.

Maybe things will change in the future, but I’d rather just contribute to the creators I like as directly as I can, on platforms which are open and do one thing well.

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