Platforms like Patreon, OnlyFans, and Substack have seen an explosion in sign ups. But do users actually manage to turn a profit?by Clara Hernanz-Lizarraga / September 28, 2020 / Leave a comment
Back in March, stay-at-home orders changed businesses overnight. Pubs, clubs and restaurants were condemned to gather dust for months, but other industries quickly transitioned by taking their business online. “It was the shortest board meeting ever,” recalls Bonnie Lister Parsons of the resultant office meeting.
Parsons is CEO of School of SOS, a company with a mission to “empower a whole generation of women” through dance. Her studio, Seen on Screen, had been delivering in-person classes for years, but Parsons was interested in reaching customers worldwide. Having trained instructors around the country during the winter, Parsons saw lockdown as the perfect opportunity to switch to an online membership model—one that was “by far the most profitable and by far the most scalable,” she tells Prospect.
In March, her team of instructors started teaching free classes on Instagram Live, garnering thousands of viewers within days. Soon after, the School of SOS launched a membership programme on Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that enables fans, or “patrons”, to pay and support artists for their work through a one-off donation or a monthly payment. For £11.99 per month, subscribers to the School of SOS get unlimited access to daily classes (videos disappear after 24 hours on Instagram; Patreon users can return to them indefinitely) plus exclusive access to on-demand routines, career confidence webinars, body image workshops and more.
Does everyone win?
School of SOS may be finding success on the platform. But most content creators receive no money at all, says Tobias Regner, a behavioural economist who studies the funding dynamics of Patreon. The website now counts over 180,000 creators across the world—50,000 signed up in March alone—but only a minority actually make a living from their page.
Tom Boruta, a software engineer who collects and visualises Patreon data told Prospect that among the two-thirds (65 per cent) of creators who publish their earnings, 3465 make over $1000 per month. The more popular the creator, the more likely they are to hide their total earnings. At the time of writing, the three top-earning creators are True Crime Obsessed, a podcast with 37,661 patrons paying anywhere between $5 to $20 per month; Yagami Yato, a Youtuber who voices anime characters and creates “vocal artistry” (35,293 patrons…