[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And you never ever EVER need to apologize for "bothering" me with questions. After all what would The Mailbox be without them?]
Dear Mr Brecheen,
I'm so sorry to bother you, but I have a question about Patreon. After following and appreciating your blog for several years and managing one or two one-off donations, I finally plucked up the courage to subscribe to Patreon. I'm afraid it's only a tiny amount per month, and the reason I'm contacting you is that I have big doubts about how much of that tiny amount per month you are actually getting. I'm in France, you see, and obliged to connect Patreon to my French bank account. Patreon seems to be taking 3.08 euros a month, for you I presume, then there is a separate monthly "fee" of 0.48 euros. I just wondered if you had any advice how your other overseas subscribers did things, and if there was a more efficient way of doing it so that you get more of the tiny amount, rather than so much being lost to charges and currency conversion. Maybe it's a silly question sorry.
Never a bother. Totally not silly.
You can call me Chris. Back when I taught English as a second language, I used to tell my students that if they said "Mr. Brecheen," I was going to turn around and look for my dad. That's not actually true because the Mr. Brecheen dad wasn't in my life much past my first birthday, and the other guy––who waited until I was 20 to give me the slip––didn't go by Mr. Brecheen. (The actual last time I heard "Mr. Brecheen" was a D/s roleplaying about a stern disciplinarian....um...you know, maybe another time.) Buuuuuut it always got a laugh and they called me Chris. Every once in a while, there would be someone from a culture who just could not wrap their head around treating an instructor with such familiarity, and we worked something out. I think my favorite was "Teacher Chris."
But I'm getting WAY off track...
I'm going to start including some of the questions I get about Paypal, Patreon and such since this page is about the journey to writing as a career and crowdfunding (at least MY journey), and while these things take time and energy away from the magical unicorn rainbow farts of writing itself, they are also kind of the entire reason I can write 40 hours a week and be a working creative.
[The only question I'm never going to answer is exactly how much I make. The reason for this is that people who do not live here in the Bay Area––where a bedroom with a roommate runs from $800-$1000/mo on the cheap end (and $1500-$2000 if you live somewhere nice and/or central....and even MORE if you want to live in the city)––sometimes tend to get into this place where they think an artist is doing "well enough." I've actually had people tell me they were cancelling their monthly contribution, back when I shared the actual number, because they weren't forking over their hard-earned money to (and this is a direct quote) "keep me in the lap of luxury." I wish I could tell you how big the lolsob was on that one. I have a second job to afford a car/car insurance and anything beyond Spartan survival, and most of my local middle-class friends are pulling down salaries that are between 3 and 10 times my best month, so it can be unrealistic for someone––from a place where $600 gets you a one-bedroom place of your own and eating out is $10 a plate––to think they know how my budget works.]
Caveat made, let's get back to the question of foreign currency exchange. Patreon sent me this fifty zillion page terms-of-service agreement thing about foreign currencies, and naturally I didn't read a word of it before clicking "agree." However, shortly after, I started getting patron sign-ups in foreign currencies. Several of them in just a couple of weeks. So I think some people reading me from other countries were not able to join until that happened.
So...that's a really good thing. I'm making more money. More money is good. Like anyone, I have to pay the bills, and like most everyone, my income is going down these days due to the pandemic and recession. As folks tighten their budget, the ol' "Crowdfunding Bloggers Discretionary Fund" is usually one of the first to take a hit. So if I can shore up some of what I'm losing with a few folks who couldn't send a few dollars my way before, that's awesome.
Because of this question, I did some digging and found that in addition to the usual Patreon fee, they take out 2.5% for currency exchange. I actually have no problem with this. Banks charge 1%-3%, so it's not like they're gouging. I think your credit card might be getting some of that as well. Everyone deserves a living wage, including payment processors, and Patreon is LITERALLY the reason I can be a working writer, so they've earned their cut. Yes, the service fee is 35 cents and that tends to mean, for my very small patrons, I'm actually only making a little over 50% of what they pledge, but I know that's as much as some people can afford, and Patreon employees gotta get theirs. Plus that 35 cents cuts less deep on a $3/month contribution and is not really even noticeable on anything over $5/month.
And if you want to talk about profit margins and who gets more of the money than the workers toiling away all day debugging code and stuff, you are absolutely right, but what you're really getting into is the suckitude of unfettered capitalism, and I really, honestly, can't do anything about the unethical ocean we're all swimming in by shopping around for crowdfunding payment processors.
There's no payment process that won't take roughly the same amount, and short of mailing me checks* (which some folks actually do and I can provide a P.O. Box if that's something someone wants), I am never going to get everything someone sends me. That's just the cost of doing (very convenient electronic) business. Patreon isn't particularly evil in that regard, and in some ways they're better than most.
[*This goes for people sending money in $USD. Patreon would probably skim LESS off the top than a bank would to deposit a check in a foreign currency.]
One of the reasons I like Patreon is that within a certain latitude of cancelled or reduced contributions, it shows me how much I can count on each month and budget for. I have literally been able to say, "Yes I can afford that rent" in a couple of situations because Patreon gave me a sense of what I could expect for my monthly income. (It still goes up and down enough to make me anxious and unsure, but I can mostly count on it not to change more than 5% or so in a given month.) I might get a few cents on the dollar more for an every-three-months Paypal dump than I do for a Patreon signed up for a monthly contribution, but not knowing when and how much is coming keeps my finances in a state of flux and me in an anxious state of not knowing what to expect from month to month.
Plus, I can just push a button and send out my reward to everyone in the relevant tier at once.
Now....Patreon doesn't get exculpated from ALL their bullshit because "capitalism." I am extremely annoyed about one thing: they shouldn't be charging YOU any of these fees. You should be charged only exactly what you sign up for (say $5), and if they need a fee, it should come out of my end (so that I make $4.75, not so you get charged $5.35). I even joined a massive protest campaign the last time they pulled it (and they backed off), but they apparently decided we wouldn't notice if they tried it again on foreign currencies. So they get 35 evil points there. One for each cent of their tainted money.
As far as ADVICE goes, I don't have any. It all adds up, and as much as I swoon at the names of my larger donors, my smaller donors absolutely form the bedrock of my income, and it is their contributions (aggregate) that I can count on not to disappear in a single fateful night. (Once someone who was giving me $100 a month had to cancel suddenly due to a life circumstance they could not possibly have foreseen. At the time that was a 15% pay cut.) Just give what feels good and comfortable and I'll keep writing enough that hopefully it'll add up. It's not the thirty-five extra cents Patreon takes as their pound of flesh that'll make or break me, but a few dozen more patrons from places who couldn't contribute before will absolutely make a difference.
Folks, I don't tend to make much ado about the Gregorian calendar ending (my big days are solstices and equinoxes), but I know many of you might. Also, tomorrow is a bank holiday, and there are far fewer people sitting around reading blogs about writing than usual. Plus this particular bank holiday involves folks with hangovers to nurse, and resolutions to make that are surely going stick THIS year; maybe even less blog reading.
So have a WONDERFUL new year. Stay safe. Maybe skip that Covid-filled party this year. And call a cab if you need to. And may our 2021 be the light at the end of this tunnel. I'll see you all on Monday. Bless.