Is Patreon the Future of Webcomics?

In his book Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud made bold predictions about the future of comics, both as an artistic medium and as a business. One of his predictions was that webcomics, free from the restrictions of print sizes, would result in comics that go in various directions and the webpage would be an “infinite canvass.” The other prediction was that webcomics would pursue microtransactions, charging a small fee per page view charged to a credit card. But as the years went on, neither prediction really panned out. With the exception of some experimental comics, most comics stuck to tried and true strips and page layouts because they wanted to eventually put them into a book. Not to mention how tedious it is to scroll all over the page just to read one comic. And since everyone is used to free online content, majority of authors chose to offer their comics online for free and support themselves through a combination of ad revenue, donations, and merchandising. In fact, in How to Make Webcomics Brad Guigar and Dave Kellett advised against subscription models since it keeps new readers from joining and replacing subscribers who don't renew.

But the internet is changing, and the business models that worked in the past aren't working as well as they used to. Zach Weinersmith, author of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal expressed his frustration with online ads in an interview with Ars Technica, saying that online ads had to be managed to keep questionable ads from showing up on his page, and the revenue it brought in could vary wildly from month to month. Statisticson online ads show that barely anyone clicks on them (and half of the clicks were on accident), and more and more people are using adblockers to avoid even seeing them. Merchandising comes with the risk that the author loses money because no one wants to buy the products. And the internet is littered with tip jar services that never took off because few want to voluntarily pay for something they already get for free.

As the old ways become less and less viable, authors are willing to consider new models like Patreon, which could possibly be McCloud's vision of subscription based monetization a reality. Patreon is a voluntary subscription service in which “Patrons” can sign up to pay “Creators” a regular fee with their credit card every time that the Creator produces content. Creators can offer incentives for individual Patrons who donate a certain amount each month, like content in advance, sketches, private Google hangout sessions, etc. and can offer aggregate incentives if they receive a certain amount each month. It's like Kickstarter, but instead of funding big projects Patreon offers funding for regularly produced content, making it a perfect fit for webcomics. And some webcomic authors have already started moving towards the Patreon model, like Weinersmith, Ryan Sohmer, and Paul Taylor.

So is this the future of the webcomic business model? I don't know. Part of it depends on the incentives the author's offer. These three seem to be good test cases to look into because of the different amount of incentives they offer. Weinersmith seems to have a good combination of aggregate incentives (free posters and eBooks, removing ads) and individual rewards (private livedraw sessions, seeing comics in advance). Taylor's aggregate rewards are more “Thank you, maybe I'll have more time to update more and post more content” and has more emphasis on individual incentives. And Sohmer offers barely any individual incentives and his aggregate reads more like he's holding extra strips ransom unless the Patrons cough up the cash.

Eventually, we'll see some best practices from the early adopters, but the other question is will viewers buy into this business model? On one hand, this is just another iteration of the tip jar but with fancy titles and some rewards. On the other hand, it's modeled after Kickstarter which has replaced making merchandise and hoping it sells or taking pre-orders. In some ways, Patreon might actually be better than Kickstarter since the Patrons don't have to make their payments until the content is delivered instead of backing the project and hoping the project creator doesn't take the money and run.

It's hard to tell right now if this will replace the traditional “free content with ads,” model, but as that model dies off, the Patreon model would keep webcomics free and allow webcomic authors to make a living off of their work. I may not be able to predict if the site will take off or not, but I hope that it does.


  1. There's different methods to get money from the internet. Web comics are really, really hard to make a living off of, but some people try. Some people succeed. But not all dreams pan out. I love the extra content. I rarely go for it, but I think it's awesome when an author offers wallpapers, pictures, histories, back-stories or side-stories in exchange for some monies. I think it's a cool addition.

    But I really dislike e-begging. I've stopped reading at least three different web comics for that reason. I mean, if you can't afford your utilities (again) and you can't afford your rent (again) and your insurance on your car is late (again), maybe your current financial situation isn't working for you and you should stop drawing web comics until you figure something out...? I feel Author's Notes are part of the web comic experience, and if every author note is a perpetual whine about needing moar monies please, Goodbye. Which makes me a bit of a snob, I guess. >.>

    Another method to make money off web comics (which seems somewhat successful) is to gather a handful of authors and have them make comics strictly for a subscription-based part of the internet. For instance, there's a site called "Filthy Figments", which is an erotica comic site with content created by women only. You have to buy a subscription to see the stuff that's there, but the stuff that's there is exclusive to that site - it's not uploaded anywhere else on the web. What's interesting is that some of the authors listed for Filthy Figments have made comics found elsewhere on the web. In this way, they get a payment for their work. FF is the only one like that that I know, but I imagine there are more sites like it.

    1. I agree with you on e-begging. The author's notes and comment section are as much a part of the experience as the comic itself, and nothing kills the vibe of a wacky humor strip more than the author being a sadsack every week.

      As for subscription based webcomic collectives, I haven't seen a whole lot of examples, though in FF's case, the fact that it targets a demographic and has some well known artists probably works in their favor. And like Netflix, it's easier to justify paying a monthly fee for several things you might like than one thing by itself. But I imagine it might be hard to set up, since you need to get a nice balance of well-known artists and some lesser known but no less deserving artists and keep the quality and updating high so the monthly fee will be worth it

    2. I think this could work by presenting webcomics as a cheap alternative to professional print comics. A reader can spend $3 or $4 on a print issue at a comic book store, or they can spend about $0.25 to $1 on an issue-length section of a webcomic. It's not charity, it's economics. And the extra benefits that come from pledging a few more dollars may provide more entertainment value than buying a print comic, which doesn't come with extras.

      As for paywall collectives, I don't see them being financially viable right now unless they're for porn comics. However, I think free collectives might eventually get more popular as a way to share traffic.

  2. I like Patreon, since it's a subscription model but not forced down your throat, and people who do participate in Patreon generally are the more loyal fans, thus get the cool incentives (unless you're Sohmer). I think it is a good idea for people who truly enjoy the comic and don't mind shelling some extra cash out to help the author out or for those extra incentives. But it's not gonna make someone buckets of liquid cash each month, due to subscriptions not being too popular... I think this kind of option is more for some pocket change to help cover hosting costs and whatnot. Just another option to help fund the comic, like selling merchandise or putting ads up. That isn't a bad thing though, since it means that fans have multiple ways of showing their support. I'm personally ok with sending a creator $5 or so a month for content that I could get for free.

  3. Agree 100%.

    Things ARE changing, and it's getting harder to monetize webcomics. It certainly doesn't help that, like, 9000 new comics seem to pop up every month. And honestly, we've been wondering if the overall webcomic readership is declining (aging out? bored? enthralled by funny cat videos vs. webcomics?).

    It's not impossible to make a decent living, but those who've gotten in early and built massive audiences will be more likely to weather the change.

    1. Totally agree. I don't know if the readership is declining or if they're being spread thin among those thousands of comics starting everyday and each one is filling some niche that wasn't serviced before.

      But yeah, things are changing, and it's not just for webcomics. I think anyone who makes something on the internet is feeling the squeeze from depleting ads and increasing competition.

  4. I like the idea of Patreon. I like the option of pledging a smaller amount, I like the idea of patrons getting their rewards quickly, etc.

    And I firmly believe that anyone who puts their time and heart into creating something, like myself, should have the option to make a living from it if they want. It's only fair.

    At the same time, however, I'd really rather people not have to pay for something of mine if they don't have to.

    I keep thinking about Youtube and how most of the people I follow make a decent living without fans having to pay them directly for anything. Sure, some of them have good sales on novelty items, but most of them are making a living strictly through being a Youtube partner.

    There has got to be a way to implement their money-making strategy into other forms of media.... Like maybe we could also use video ads, like short, non-skippable ads that would run at the start of a new chapter or something. I don't know...

    There has to be a way...