The coronavirus has upended lives across the world and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. The creative industry has taken one of the heaviest blows, with artists having their commissions frozen, gigs canceled, or jobs furloughed.
A few, however, have been able to find solace and recourse in crowdfunding. As the pandemic continues to paralyze their primary sources of income, creators have turned to platforms like Patreon, BuyMeACoffee, and Ko-fi in droves. Courtesy of their followers, many of those have been able to quickly build up a fairly steady flow of revenue.
Michigan-based graphic designer Annie was laid off from her full-time, work-from-home advertising gig. Fortunately, as a weekend hobby, she had been publishing her art online, developing an active fan following that allowed her to successfully launch a new Ko-fi campaign.
“When I lost my job I turned to my followers for help, opened up my Ko-fi account, and within the first day it was unbelievable the donations I received from followers and friends who wanted to support me during this difficult time,” she told Digital Trends.
Similarly, Andrew O’ Neil, a comedian and musician from London, U.K., lost all of his gigs indefinitely due to lockdown orders and launched a Patreon membership that offered his followers access to exclusive content for as little as 1 British pound.
“With no gigs on the horizon, I needed to do something to earn an income and keep myself sane. I’m lucky in that I have spent years building a fanbase, treating my career more like a musician than a comedian. So I already had a bunch of people who want to support me. So far it’s motivating me, and it’s keeping a roof above my head,” he added.
I have just lost a major gig, one that makes the difference between paying rent and not. Editors, I am AVAILABLE. Everyone, now would be a great time to subscribe to my Patreon—there are many tiers and I think it's worth the money. Thank you. https://t.co/DYKo0MWZOl
— Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) March 26, 2020
Sean T. Collins, a freelance entertainment writer and critic for publications like The Outline, was also hit drastically when all of his major clients cut back their freelance budget as part of larger cost-cutting measures. He said he “saw an influx of new patrons, while a significant number of existing patrons increased their subscription tiers” when he tweeted about the financial hardships he was experiencing. He claims his Patreon income amounts to “one or two freelance assignments per month.”
With businesses spending less than ever, revenue for advertising-dependent platforms like YouTube has taken a toll too — which in turn has led to a steep fall in monetization rates for YouTubers. Some ended up flocking over to crowdfunding services hoping their fans would be willing to pay for content they were previously able to stream for free.
Chris Piers, who runs a comic book review channel called Comic Tropes, was furloughed and now exclusively relies on YouTube and Patreon to pay for his daily necessities and mortgage. But due to constantly evolving algorithms and dropping ad revenue, he has found himself focusing a lot more on promoting his Patreon.
“Patreon has been a helpful fallback during the pandemic. The last several months have had consistent growth on Patreon whereas YouTube can jump up and down a bit. I’ll put it this way: YouTube alone would possibly not pay my bills. Patreon is more reliable. But I have to find a way to make them symbiotic,” he said.
Why do YouTubers have Patreons? Because this is how much my Mega Medley has earned me this month through ad revenue (2.5M views, 90 minute video). This is what is known as 'revenue sharing' for cover songs. pic.twitter.com/K1oPaThWxy
— lara6683 (@Larawithabird) April 6, 2020
Lara de Wit, who streams herself playing video game soundtracks, expressed similar concerns on Twitter when her 90-minute video with over 2.5 million views earned her only $0.22.
However, the pandemic slump has financially affected nearly every one and in a handful of cases, creators have had a difficult time convincing their patrons to stay.
Japan-based Elaine Tipping and her partner both lost teaching income and are expecting their first child. Tipping said that while Patreon, which she uses to support her art, is more reliable than her other jobs in this time, some of her patrons have been “unable to continue due to their own financial complications.” With nearly 300 patrons, she earns $1350 every month on Patreon.
More than 50,000 creators have joined Patreon since mid-March and the company has registered a 30% spike in patrons as well. On Ko-fi, donations have doubled from the third week of March and over 30,000 new artists have signed up. What’s more, Ko-fi’s co-founder, Simon Ellington said the platform has seen a dramatic uptick in the number of creators who received a donation within the first week of launching. BuyMeACoffee now sustains on an average 700 daily creator sign-ups as opposed to 400 before.
“We think there’s definitely been more emphasis given to the role of platforms like Ko-fi at the moment. We’ve heard lots of creators stories about canceled events, lost freelance work and such like so creators are definitely needing platforms like Ko-fi more than ever to help make up for that. I also think it serves to help normalize this type of direct, genuine support, both financially and emotionally for creators,” added Ellington.
In addition, companies have even announced initiatives to further catalyze this shift: Patreon has introduced a fund for coronavirus-affected creators, Ko-fi is offering complimentary Gold subscription upgrades, and BuyMeACoffee has waived its own fees.
Creators have a long journey ahead of themselves. But as people around the world shelter at home indefinitely, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for them to capitalize. While crowdfunding platforms have enabled them to develop alternate and, more importantly, independent sources of income, it can also be taxing for them and their mental health under the looming fear of losing patrons to others. Hopefully, countries and communities will be able to flatten the COVID-19 curve soon allowing creators and every one of us to return to our normal lives.