Dug Campbell

Digital Patronage

I’ve previously written about the growing popularity of podcasting but one thing missing from that post was how these ventures are being funded.

The Kickstarter model has always interested me, particularly back in the earlier days when Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million from fans to record her ‘Theatre Is Evil’ album.

Times have changed greatly from 2012 but the challenge still remains when it comes to funding artistic pursuits. In the Renaissance period, creative types relied on the patronage of wealthy patrons. Many of the most memorable pieces of art simply couldn’t have been carried out without that support. In theory, both sides would benefit from the transaction: whilst the artist was building the breathing space within which to create, the powerful patron enjoyed basking in the reflected glory. However, the process often caused tensions between the parties in practice: one was focused on the process of creation, the other on the end result.

But whilst patronage was the vital lifeblood of significant creative pursuits for many years, The Economist points out that we should be careful to account for the inevitable survivor bias when assessing how successful the model was. After all, not all money funded works of genius – there must have been plenty of cash wasted on artists and their works that sank without a trace.

So how is this relevant today? Because the nature of patronage has evolved.

“Writing in the 18th century, Edmund Burke described patronage as “the tribute that opulence owes to genius”. Today it is the spare change millennials pay podcasters.”

Today, a site like Patreon sees over 100,000 people being supported by nearly 3 million people. Instead of patronage being one-to-many, support now comes in the form of many-to-one. Carving out a source of funding that can support your creative pursuits is now very much a possibility for those with a following.

So for example, Amanda Palmer was unsurprisingly one of the earlier artists to move onto Patron. Many just starting out will not have that choice. But for those that do, it seems like a far more powerful alternative than simply throwing themselves on the vagaries of the algorithms on Google/YouTube.

Is it fair to say then that this is a brave new world opening up? One without middlemen, agents, distributors and the like taking the cut for the discovery and distribution of creative digital goods?

Not so fast.

But that’s a discussion for another day…


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