Jacke Conte has finally spoken.

We’ve heard you loud and clear. We’re not going to rollout the changes to our payments system that we announced last week. We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed, but we’re going to fix them in a different way, and we’re going to work with you to come up with the specifics, as we should have done the first time around. Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry. It is our core belief that you should own the relationships with your fans. These are your businesses, and they are your fans.

And it’s good to hear something from Patreon.  While it was clear there was some individual creator consultation going on, at least with the larger accounts, to the greater world all that deafening silence coming from Patreon’s official channels was reminding me of Gretta Garbo in Grand Hotel.

And now the cleanup begins.

Cards on the table, I met Jack Conte back before Patreon got their A-round of funding.  We had a pretty long talk.  I thought I’d gotten a feel for him and everything that’s happened in the last week was not the Jack Conte I met three and a half years ago.  Now maybe he’s changed.  Sometimes that happens, but I’m not buying some of these Jack Conte – Evil Genius things I’ve been seeing on Twitter.  Near as I can tell, he’s been getting some amazingly bad advice from folks who’s experience with crowdfunding comes mainly from looking at spreadsheets.  I’m sure somebody had numbers in a model that they thought looked good, but at a certain point a qualitative perspective counts and that perspective was either lacking or over-ruled when this ill-conceived scheme was rolled out.  And ultimately, Jack’s name is at the top and he didn’t put to a stop to it earlier so the buck stops with him there.

The Jack I’d met in the past was wild-eyed dedicated to getting creators paid.  That Jack needs to come back and in a hurry.  He’s suffered as much reputation damage over this, personally, as Patreon has.  As the founder, spokesman and face of the company, he’s where the fury has been directed.  It’s in the job description.

So how does Patreon move forward from here?

I have a few thoughts.

  • Email everyone who cancelled a pledge since last Wednesday and apologize.  Prostrate yourself.  These are the patrons who are most disgusted at the now-cancelled policy.  (And they were correct.)  It’s likely not possible to get everything back, but try to get back what you can and, more importantly, try to make sure everyone knows the policy is cancelled.
  • Remember when that Growth Product Manager shot off his mouth about not needing to build more tools because creators didn’t want to ask people for money?  Build some tools.  One of the things that’s bubbled to the surface is how widespread creator disgust is for the lack of a discovery mechanism.  That would be a good place to start.  Fixing the analytics panel to show where pledges are coming from would be another good place to start.  Analytics have been terrible the whole time and those are something a creator needs to know where the paying audience is coming from.
  • Get a whole lot better at communication and onboarding.  Much of the stated reasons surrounding killing the pledge aggregation could have been blunted by just explaining why things were happening at a much earlier date.  It’s seems obvious that you might want to explain to creators that triggering a payment in the middle of the month nets a higher processing fee than aggregation at the end of the month and that message was not getting across very well, which is where one of the roots of this incident sprouted.  Patreon has come to understand how massively stupid it was to spring this kind of a policy change on almost no notice, but the communication problems started much earlier.  That feedback link is a start to fostering better communications.
  • The sincerity needs to come back and a bit more transparency.  Nobody was feeling that during the policy change announcement.  At. All.

Can Patreon recover from this?  That remains to be seen.  It would be a tragedy for something that was such a fundamentally good idea to be taken down by a massively boneheaded policy change and reluctance to pull back from it quickly.  Admitting that there’s a problem is the first step and that step happened today.

Now the follow through has to occur and for better or worse, it’s going to be under a microscope.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics


  1. I think you’re spot on with the analysis. The strategy might have seemed amazing in the abstract when the powerpoint presentations were made, but just didn’t take into account the human factor.

    I think the public is still really angry at Patreon. Its like a significant other cheating on you. How do you fully trust them ever again now that you’ve seen what they are made of?

    I think a lot of fans and creators are looking to jump ship as soon as their is a viable option available.

  2. If there were another viable option while Patreon was sitting on its thumb over the weekend, I guarantee there would have been a lot of defections. But you know what? A little competition is good for innovation and might be the best thing that ever happened to creators. But you’re absolutely right. Trust is a BIG issue moving forward.

  3. I’m guessing Patreon needs to collect more fees to make the books balance. They must have thought they were masking the hike by shifting who pays the fees (if so: fail).

    So the percentages taken out of the creator’s side may go up in the near future, or some means of minimizing the tranasction costs.

    Maybe eliminate the per-post/per-episode model? Maybe a higher minimum pledge (they already did that with a while ago by no longer allowing less-than-a-dollar amounts)? Add an annual pledge model?

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