What to do when advertisement won’t cut it: Patreon and CIVIL

Picture of By Álvaro G. Arrieta

By Álvaro G. Arrieta

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]T[/mks_dropcap]he struggle between artistic integrity and the need to capitalize on the creation is as old as art, I guess. Now, the Internet has taken down logistical barriers for accessing any content, anytime, anywhere. Similarly, the advent of digital news media, free and ever accessible to those with a phone and an Internet connection, it seems that quality journalism should be readily available for anyone with no economic pressures on the part of the viewer/consumer, but why should audiences not pay for the products they regularly consume? Here, I will try to present an established and successful platform for funding YouTube creators, Patreon, and a new initiative aimed at journalists specifically, CIVIL.

Perhaps the main problem that came with the monetization of videos on YouTube was the fear of losing face with audiences when they realised the creators were receiving a part of the ad revenue collected with every view. Maybe, for a new platform that allowed anybody in the world with a camera, a computer and an internet connection to “broadcast yourself” freely and independently, going back to funding and profit-making through advertisement seemed treasonous. It could be that YouTube audiences had chosen the platform for a specific reason. This is, to avoid the traditional format and content of public and paid TV, forever the home of a programming not diverse enough, not varied enough, not appealing enough, maybe even not good enough, and when YT introduced very long, skippable-after-5-seconds or 5-second unskippable ads before videos and static ads to the right side of the screen, it was too much. Yet, the Google-owned site has an infamous reputation for not having the best of PR strategies or the most open communication with fans or creators alike, so many creators that see the platform as their part-time or, increasingly, full-time occupations have turned to Patreon to ask their most fervent fans for a direct, regular and accountable contribution in exchange of added benefits.

Patreon as the advertising alternative
Patreon was founded in May 2013 by musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam after the former grew tired of posting elaborate videos for which he received little remuneration. To solve the gap between small creators that don’t earn enough via monetisation or that don’t want it, the two developed a site where people frequently creating content could ask their audiences -however big or small- for a regular contribution and offer bonuses like community feeds, exclusive and behind the scenes content, Google hangouts, and exclusive merchandise. This, in a way, enlarges the workload of the creators, but generates a clearer sense of community and gives them a fairer chance at earning a living.

Now, being a Communication Science student that happens to be in class with many journalists, I often hear that the news media are facing a sharp decrease in paying subscriptions, while also having trouble attracting wider audiences due to an ever increasing offer. It is in this context when an initiative like CIVIL can lead the way in securing income for independent newsrooms.

How CIVIL works
CIVIL is “the decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism.” Through blockchain technology, their intention is to provide an alternative to the revenue model of traditional media based foremost on advertising income. Going back to the idea that audiences don’t pay for what they consume digitally, CIVIL offers the public the chance to directly fund any of the newsrooms they host specialising in local, investigative, policy, international journalism. On top of that, it has two for-profit initiatives, Civil Studios and Civil Labs, to help fund the project through other activities detached from the newsroom system.

After reading this you might be tempted to think these are the perfect solutions for the income question, but the media still has a long way to go until these initiatives are ripe and become the norm. For one, both Patreon and CIVIL hail from the USA and that has some implications. In the case of Patreon, this doesn’t raise many concerns, if any, since YouTube’s audience and body of creators are global and diverse, even though the rate of YT superstars is tilted towards channels from the US. However, CIVIL follows suit with traditional US media in the sense that almost all of their current newsrooms are based in the US, clearly related with US foreign interests or targeted at an english-speaking audience. Therefore, knowing we have the means of supporting a new breed of media platforms, what’s left to do is making them visible and inclusive so that the benefits of this innovation are as global as its potential reach.

Cover: Unsplash/Paweł Czerwiński

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