OMG!!! The new patron of the arts is you


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Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's 1895 pastel on board version of 'The Scream' at Sotheby's auction house in central London. Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's 1895 pastel on board version of 'The Scream' at Sotheby's auction house in central London.
Fans of Web comics, podcasts and YouTube videos handed $10 million to artists last year on a website that takes a crowdfunding approach to patronizing the arts.
Patreon allows fans to support their favorite artists with pledges of as little as a dollar, with most offering $10 or less. What sets it apart from the event-driven funding on Indiegogo and Kickstarter is that the site works like a monthly subscription or a scheduled payment each time one of its more than 26,000 creators makes something.
For Zach Weinersmith, that means $8,700 a month to write his brainy Web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Support from 3,403 patrons also allowed him to hire a full-time assistant and organize BAHFest -- a celebration of "well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory."
"It's been huge. It's cascaded through my entire business," Weinersmith said. "Making money from Internet content has gotten trickier over time, but Patreon has really reversed that trend. It's a very simple, very stable form of revenue."

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Courtesy of Zach Weinersmith.
Patreon is a response to the dismal economics of content aggregators that rely on ad revenue and reward a few outliers while leaving a long trail of starving artists. It was co-founded in 2013 by musician Jack Conte, who on a good month was earning $400 from YouTube even as his band Pomplamoose was generating as many as 4 million views. Patreon raised $1 million for its artists in less than a year and double that two months later.
It is a proof of concept that Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, called 1,000 True Fans. The idea is that it only takes 1,000 followers willing to pay one day's wages per year for a creator to make a living.
Fans are rewarded with an intimate and meaningful relationship with their idols. On Patreon, that can range from an autographed artwork or getting to see a music video one day before everyone else, to a one-on-one Skype call with the performer.
The motivation to support artists and their creations can also stem from appreciation of the work, without claims to true fandom. The artists in return get relief from the pressures of satisfying the lowest common denominator that come with mass audiences, allowing them to focus on the unique aspects of their work. In Weinersmith's case, it's combining dirty jokes with existentialism, evolutionary biology and poorly-drawn animals.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Courtesy of Zach Weinersmith.
To be sure, many of Patreon's biggest earners have built their audiences elsewhere. Weinersmith got his start in 2002 and has been a professional cartoonist since 2007. Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer of Corridor Digital are YouTube stars with more than 3.1 million subscribers and 288 million views.
Micro-celebrity and self-funding alone probably can't sustain an artistic middle class community. But Patreon's $10 million milestone and Kickstarter's almost $1.5 billion in pledges are evidence of a promising new infrastructure that helps artists make a living in the era of free content.

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