Failing at Patreon

I tried to set up and run a Patreon account for my photography, with the idea that people would pay to see sets of photos. It failed, and I’ve given up and closed it down. This is just a bit about my experience and what I learned.

Patreon? What?

Explaining what it was seemed to be one of the harder parts about setting my my own Patreon account. People sign up for Patreon, and then they can choose to support specific Patreon accounts, paying either each month, or each time the person they’re supporting creates something. It’s hard to explain because it’s quite variable.

  • You could be paying $5 a month to support an artist whose work you admire and enjoy seeing.
  • You could be paying $1 each time someone you follow publishes a new video on YouTube.
  • You could be paying $10 a month to a cartoonist, to support their work, and so they’ll answer your questions about their process.

My idea was to have people pay a small amount of money each time I posted a decent selecting of photos from some sort of event I’d been to, or perhaps a set of photos relating to a particular subject.

Planning

I thought about it for quite a while, then started making plans. A lot of decisions were really difficult to make, even about quite basic things – would I charge monthly, or per ‘thing’? And what would a ‘thing’ mean? It’s easy to think you have something like this quite well thought-out in your head, but when you come to actually detail the plan on screen, a lot of it can fall apart.

In the end, what I decided to do was to charge per ‘thing’, where a ‘thing’ would be either a reasonably big event I’d been to and took lots of photos at, or a project of some sort. A chargeable event or project would have a minimum of ten decent photos, and should also contain some sort of written-up story of what happened, and probably a few extra photos that weren’t quite as good, but good enough to show. It would probably also have a section detailing what gear I’d used, and a bit about how that had gone.

I would also make non-paid posts that would free to all patrons, as well as reasonably regular ’one-shot’ posts, with just a single photo. The idea was, as long as you were paying for the really big events, you’d get a lot more included too, at no extra charge. I would aim to create around one ‘big’ event per month, but it would vary.

Creating the Patreon Campaign

Setting up the campaign on Patreon’s site wasn’t too difficult, because I was fairly well prepared. It was hard to explain to people what they’d get if they decided to support me, though, and getting the wording right seemed quite critical. I spent a lot of time rewording things to make everything as clear as I could.

Creating ‘Things’

Making the actual event posts was much harder. I realised quite quickly that Patreon’s posts were quite limited. I could only include one photo. Everything else would have to be in the form of an attached file. The file could be a .jpg image, but it wasn’t a good user experience. People would arrive at a post, see one photo at the top, then a long list of filenames. They’d be followed by paragraphs of text, which had to then explain that the filenames in a long list that they’d just scrolled past were actually what they’d paid for, and now they should go back up and click each filename, one at a time to actually see the photos. It was, to be blunt, a bit shit.

To prevent the posts starting with a really huge list of filenames, I had to split it up into several actual posts, making the ‘best’ set chargeable, and the others free to patrons. Each event became three, four, or even more, posts.

I set up a couple of ‘one-shot’ posts, which looked quite good, and a simple blog post about a new lens, which worked fine. Overall, though, I wasn’t happy with how things looked.

Promotion

I promoted my new campaign on Twitter, and Facebook. A few friends shared it, and I updated my Flickr profile to point to it. I posted a few photos from the set onto Flickr, linking to the Patreon campaign in the descriptions, for people to see more.

The Response

There wasn’t any.

Deciding to Quit

After a month had gone by, and nobody at all had signed up, or even asked a single question about it, I pulled the campaign. It was either that or put more time and effort into what was feeling like a complete waste of time. I could spend time writing posts, processing photos, and nobody would see them; or I could go back to using Flickr and my own blog, and people would see what I was doing. I wouldn’t be getting any money from it, but I wasn’t getting any money from Patreon.

What Next?

You’re already here. Back to PigPog. My own site means I can present my work as I want to see it. As I’d like other people to see it. The main post I’d worked on for Patreon is now posted here – the Turner Locker Barnfield Revival – and it looks much better here. I can have photos mixed in with the text, showing what I’m referring to right there, rather than having to explain which filename this bit is about. The multiple posts can all be in one, with lots of photos, and even multiple galleries of photos. WordPress handles media quite well, so the photos are displayed nicely, and in good big sizes.

I think it’s a better experience for people who want to see my photos, and I’m happier to point people here to see my work. Now, if only I could persuade people to just send me money…

2 thoughts on “Failing at Patreon

  1. Ive always been a bit dubious of patreon, been unsure of setting up one for my comic stuff fearing I’ll almost definitely end with the same result, it’s hard to publicise these things and get followers if you aren’t already successful and famous in your field…

  2. I had set one up. I have found your post after googling “Patreon waste of time” either my page remains unpublished or people aren’t interested in my page. I seem to get plenty of views on my blog now.

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