Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

The Patreon fee-asco and 3 tips for artists who don’t want to get screwed by companies

2017 . 12 . 14 - Comments / Commentaires (5)

As artists in the Internet age, we are always teaming up with companies to get our work into the world. We share our images on Facebook and Instagram or sell prints and artsy items through Redbubble. Sometimes we even allow companies into the very relationships that sustain our creativity—the artist-patron ones—like when we ask for support through services like Patreon.

While it seems natural to work with companies in order to make a living with our art, there are some dangers, as evidenced by the past ten days on Patreon.


screenshot of Patreon’s home page

Last week, the company suddenly declared that it was going to charge people more fees for giving money to artists. A few days later, after creators lit up the Internet with their displeasure, Patreon revoked its announcement in a “good news, bad news” kind of moment.

The good is that Patreon listened to creators. The bad is that the company looks lost, not like a company you want to trust with your money, either as an artist or as an art supporter. Though I’m fairly certain Patreon will find its feet again, I admit that this whole fee-asco has fundamentally changed how I view them.

In fact, it’s helped me to see the pitfalls of working too closely with any company, so, without further ado, here are my three tips for not getting screwed when working with a company to promote your art on the Web:

1) Don’t commit yourself to any platform but your own.

Don’t rely too heavily on any one social media site to connect with art lovers. What if you’ve built a Facebook following and the company suddenly decides your content is too risqué? Or what if you’re relishing all your LinkedIn “likes” when the platform decides to introduce payment tiers that will make your content basically invisible unless you pony up?

This is why I post videos on both Vimeo and YouTube. It’s why I wake up in a cold sweat sometimes when I remember that I have prints available only through Redbubble. It’s why I’m constantly linking back to my own website when I’m on social media.

2) Remember that even if they call you “partner” they don’t mean it.

Print-on-demand companies cannot exist without artists, but to look at their business model you wouldn’t know it. The people who buy prints of your work are considered the company’s customers, not yours. Print-on-demand sites will not even give you the name of people who purchase your images. I know this because I regularly beg and plead for them to reconsider, and they are not budging.

Worse still, not satisfied just to claim your clients as theirs, these companies actually view you as their customer as well. Artists are different from the customers who don’t publish content to their site, but we’re still just their customers.

Patreon’s model is the same. The microdonation site used to be better on this front, acknowledging the artist-patron relationship by giving creators their supporters’ contact information. But the Great Patreon Fee-asco of 2017 shows that they see artists as customers too. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, artists shouldn’t kid themselves about where they stand with these companies.

3) Keep the connections real.

In the end, this is about you and the people who love your art. Make sure that you are able to contact them outside of a company context, and make sure that you do contact them regularly. Because it’s not some company’s website that makes your art possible: it’s art lovers who do.

Gwenn Seemel Liberapay

screenshot of my Liberapay profile

In an effort to follow my own advice, I present you with my Liberapay profile! It’s a little different from Patreon—something that I talk about more in the text of this post—but it’s similar in that it’s a way to support my creativity with microdonations.

And that support is vital for me, not just financially, but also emotionally. I’m thrilled when people buy my art, overjoyed when they commission me, ecstatic when they buy my books, and delighted when they hire me as an art guide, but the truth is that microdonations center me in a way that no other form of financial support does. The message with the microdonation is:

“The only thing I want right now is to help you do what you’re already doing.”

These are the words every artist needs to hear on a regular basis. This sentiment is what makes art possible.


CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art - Reviews - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(5) Comments / Commentaires: The Patreon fee-asco and 3 tips for artists who don’t want to get screwed by companies

-- Linda Ursin -- 2017 . 12 . 14 --

Great advice. I do my best to have several legs to stand on. So when you mentioned Liberapay, I signed up there as well.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Barbara -- 2017 . 12 . 14 --

Great post, and I agree.
For prints, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Printful (https://www.printful.com/), which you can connect directly to your website and they fulfill the orders. So you have the prints shop inside your website. And everything goes out with your brand. I haven’t tried them yet because my website hosting is unreliable and I have to wait until I have a better hosting, so I don’t piss off customers, but I think it’s a great option in comparison to the other print sites, especially if you’re more established and have more followers, like yourself.
Also, Paypal has options for recurring billing and donations, so you can also offer subscriptions on your own website.
I didn’t know about Liberapay, that’s good to know. Thank you!

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 12 . 14 --

@Linda: Excellent!

@Barabara: Thank you for the recommendations! I wonder if Printful tells you who your customers are. I know Gumroad does but they’re not exactly print-on-demand, more a shopping cart for your site. (I use them for selling some of my books.)

As for PayPal, I know a lot of people like them, but I’ve heard too many weird stories about them and I’m not a fan of their wildly fluctuating fees. I never know what I’m going to get with them. But if you like them, then it’s true that they’re a good option. They definitely have a name-brand appeal for people who might want to support your work but are nervous about giving out their credit card info on the Web.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Lynette Yencho -- 2017 . 12 . 18 --

That is a very good perspective. I also draw the line when galleries or large companies want exclusivity. Believe it or not Ripley. There are publishers who want you to sign an exclusive agreement with them with no up front money, insurance, or guarantee of regular sales. The promises are very attractive but you are expected to take the risk.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 12 . 18 --

@Lynette: Excellent point! On the exclusivity thing and on companies asking artists to take on all the risk generally. It’s abusive, and we need to get better as a group at saying NO to that stuff!

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

Add a comment / Ajouter un commentaire

Name / Votre nom:

Email / Votre e-mail:

(Visible only to Gwenn / Visible uniquement pour Gwenn)

URL / Votre URL:

(Optional / Facultatif)

Comment / Commentaire:

(You can use / Vous pouvez utiliser: < a >, < b >, < i >)

 Remember me for next time. / Retenez mes coordonnées.

 Email me new comments. / Abonnez-moi au fil de discussion.

Please enter the characters you see below / Veuillez rédiger le mot que vous voyez ci-dessous: