Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Problem With Patreon

Making money from the Internets isn't easy.

A few years ago I tried monetizing the blog as an experiment.  I came away with two realizations.  First, there wasn't a lot of money to be made monetizing stuff you put on the Internet, unless you have millions of views.  100,000 hits per month might buy you a few coffees at Starbucks, but that's about it.  Second, I found that I changed my writing styles and topics to see what got the most hits.  In other words, you quickly devolve into yet another click-bait site that tries to snare "clicks" by using outrageous titles and topics.  It is dumb.

There are other models for making money from the Internet and they also pretty much suck, too.  Either you are creating content because you want to, or you have to make a job out of this.   As I noted before, everyone and their uncle is on YouTube, windsurfing across Antarctica or something and blogging or v-logging or podcasting or whatever, about it, hoping to be the next big thing! on the Internets and become an "influencer" and push products on the side.

And yea, even my lame-ass little blog gets e-mail inquiries almost daily, asking me to allow "guest postings" or offering swag or small amounts of cash if I promote a product.  I have politely declined so far - no money has changed hands, other than the $2000 or so I got from Google AdSense in my monetization experiment after a YEAR of ads.

Speaking of which, that is the other problem with monetization - the ads that pop up on your site are for the very things you might be against.  So if I say, "payday loans are no good!" the accompanying sidebar ad will be for... payday loans.   Advertising just sucks, period.  It is premised on the idea of persuading you to do things not in your own best interests.  So it is a horrible way to make money from the Internets, but it is probably the most lucrative, if you are willing to sell your soul to the devil and spend every waking hour making YouTube videos and trying to attract followers before your 15 minutes of Internet fame evaporate.

So how else do you make a living from the Internet?  Well, you can sell swag, for one.  If you have a comic strip or a YouTube channel, you can sell t-shirts and tote bags with your artwork or logos on it.  Or you can sell products you endorse.  Or the products you endorse might give you a kick-back on sales.  "Use code IAMAWHORE at checkout for 10% savings!" - that sort of thing.

Then there is the Public Television approach - just beg for money.   Encourage people to send you money or become a sponsor on "Patreon".   I haven't gone the Patreon route for a number of reasons, and I haven't paid anyone through Patreon for a number of reasons.   I was surprised one day when a reader sua sponte sent me some money on PayPal.   I didn't ask for it, but he went and done it.   So I put a nice blurb in the corner of the blog and sure enough, a few more people sent money.  Again, not enough to retire on, or even make a living.  But it was nice of them - the gesture is appreciated.

But why not go the Patreon route?  A reader asked me about this, and then said he checked it out and was alarmed to see they wanted a credit card number to charge every month for donations to the site in question.   That's what I have a problem with.  I call it "subscription fatigue" - the little dings and dents in your wealth that occur when you sign up for recurring expenses every month.

When I was a Patent Attorney, so many people would come to me with various schemes for selling some sort of electronic service or device, and the kicker was always a $5.99 a month fee, or a $9.99 month fee or a $19.99 per month fee - charged forever.   Most people don't think of that as a lot of money, and they don't realize it adds up over time to a lot of money, particularly if, like most Americans, you only glance at your credit card bill and realize that you are still paying for AOL ten years after you stopped using the service (I kid you not - people do this!).   $4.99 a month adds up to $60 a year.  Take a few of these services and you are talking about hundreds a year - maybe into the thousands - and people wonder where all their money went!

So right off the bat, I can see our reader's problem with Patreon - you can't just make a one-time donation and walk away from it.  You could, but then you'd have to cancel, and once again, negative option rears its ugly head.  Negative option is such a pain-in-the-ass that you should never indulge in it, if possible, except for very important things, like your health insurance or your utility bill.  Some sketchy service on the Internet?  Hmmmm....... Not sure you can count on them to "cancel" when you say "cancel"!

For example, Netflix.   Over the last decade, we've used the service off and on, to the tune of $1409.17 (it helps to log all your expenses!).  So yea, subscriptions can cost a lot of money, over time.  And today, I am very cognizant of these charges - I cancel Netflix when we are away or when we are using another streaming service - which I am using one month at a time, instead of trying to subscribe to all of them at once.  Sadly, since the glory days of Netflix, the streaming environment has changed - you can pretty much watch all that is worth watching on any given streaming channel in one month, and then move on to something else.  Watching less television is always the default option.

But anyway, getting back to Patreon, there are some folks who are not happy with it.  If you set up a Patreon account for your blog or website, they will charge you every step of the way, which makes sense, as they are in business to make money - and assume that the folks who are using the site are looking at the income as "found money" anyway.  And hey, where else ya gonna go, buddy?  They have this thing sewn up - go big and take over the space, the old Silicon Valley mantra.

So what is the answer?  There isn't one.  Well, there is one, and it is the thing I have been harping on for the last decade - there is no such thing as a free lunch! or TANSTAAFL!  People hear that so-and-so the "influencer" is making millions on the Internet.  A 7-year-old boy (or his parents, anyway) made millions just playing with toys on YouTube! (I wonder how much of that cash, if any, he will ever see when he turns 18).   So this Internet thing is the bomb, and easy money, right?

Wrong.  You can't just "Airstream across America!" and live the high life, make a few videos and watch the money pour in.  It becomes a full-time job - preparing and editing videos and putting them up, and like any other "artist" you have to hope you get lucky and strike it big.  It is like the music busoness - maybe you will end up like Elton John, a multi-millionaire with homes all over the world.   Or maybe you will be the guy sitting on the streets of New Orleans, strumming a guitar, with people throwing loose change in your guitar case.  Talent helps, luck helps also.  And there is no guarantee of success.

So if you go this route, it is like a young relative of mine who was going to be the next Marshal Mathers.  Sadly, there are millions of 17-year-old white kids who think they are going to be the next big rap star.  There can only be so many.   Or maybe you think you are going to be the next Fortnite star or make money from some other video game.  Or maybe you think you have game and will get a basketball scholarship and end up as an NBA All-Star with a lucrative sneaker contract.   And who knows?  It could happen!  It does happen to someone, someplace, sometime.  But it is a long-shot deal, and it helps to have a "Plan B" in place, and also a realistic view of your talents and ambition.

That is why I never expected to make a living or even a modest amount of money by blogging.  It would become a full-time job, and I would have to completely re-make my blog to commercialize it, and then sell products on the side and post things like, "Here's the best HELOC loans available!  You should get one!  And a Reverse Mortgage, too!"   In other words, I would have to whore myself, and I am thankful to be in a position in my life where I don't have to whore myself and I can say what I want to say, even if it is not economically profitable to say it.

And that is the problem with our society.  The message I am saying is easy to dismiss.  After all, I don't even have sidebar ads on my blog!  How crummy is that?  People look as slick commercialization as a sign of legitimacy.  They will drive by a "Diner" serving great cuisine, to go through the drive-through at McDonald's where they are serving the same food, day in  and day out, all over the world, for the last seven decades.

But maybe that is the key.  The vast majority of the great unwashed masses think along those lines - that any business that looks successful must be a good deal, even if it is a shady car dealer or a payday loan place.   Act rationally in an irrational world - the mantra of my blog as of late.

And as for making money on the Internet?   My take is: forgetaboutit!   Unless you want to make blogging or YouTubing a full-time job - and even then spend years developing a following and hope you "get lucky" and then keep reinventing yourself so your followers don't get bored - it ain't gonna happen.   Yes, there is FOMO involved - "everyone else" is getting rich off the Internet, why not you?

But the vast majority of us are going to make our money through "jobs" and if we want to create wealth, we have to spend a penny less than we earn - and learn how to own money.

And as for Patreon?   I haven't bothered to set it up for my site.  I doubt it would generate much income, and the idea of recurring expenses on your credit card sort of goes against everything I have ranted and railed against for a decade now.  Besides, their site is clogged with annoying auto-play videos.  Never a good sign!