New crowdfunding site gets YouTubers a regular paycheck

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Jack Conte says he’s earning over $60,000 a year making music videos for his YouTube channel, and he wants to help other artists do the same. Launched in May, his crowdfunding platform Patreon aims to get YouTube personalities get paid for the things they make—great and small.

Unlike Kickstarter, where backers contribute toward a one-time payout for a single project, Patreon asks viewers to pledge a dollar amount for each video produced by the artist they support. “Basically,” Conte said in an interview with Quartz, “I’m a constant creator myself, and I want to release a set of remixes over the next year. I didn’t need a big chunk of money up front, because it wasn’t for one project, but for a bunch of little things.”

Conte hopes to address what he feels is a lag between the way art is made and the way it’s paid for. The top 2,000 YouTube channels, he says, have at least 200,000 subscribers each. But that number of viewers only generates a few hundred dollars in ad revenue for the artist.

To monetize their efforts, YouTube creators turn to bigger projects that YouTube is willing to support, or that are easier to fund using traditional crowdfunding websites: albums, movie-length DVDs, and tours. If they want to continue creating the frequent videos that made them famous, they have to find a corporate sponsor—or a day job. “I hope that Patreon completely changes that,” Conte said, “I want creators quitting their part-time jobs and being creative for a living.”

With Patreon, supporters pledge a dollar amount to be paid to the artist with each video he or she produces (supporters can set a monthly limit to be sure they won’t be bankrupt by a few weeks of prolific video making.) The supporters receive rewards like access to an exclusive video stream, Skype calls and Google Hangouts with their artist, and being followed by the artist on Twitter. Instead of physical rewards, creators offer to let their patrons into a small community of supporters—and continued funding relies on the artist maintaining that relationship. At the end of each month, the artists receive a check based on the number of projects they’ve produced, making it possible for them to use their videos as a steady source of income—even if their YouTube ad revenue on its own wasn’t providing that.

Can individual patrons really provide full-time support for YouTube artists, and should they? Based on Conte’s latest video, a Daft Punk remix that Patreon users paid him $5,400 for producing, the answer seems to be yes. And with crowdfunding financing everything from gadget development to individual college tuition, this won’t be the last niche funding site we see.