Please pay attention to my Patreon career

Opinion

Back in my day, journalism was the guarded property of liberal arts graduates and the common man had no hope of mastering its dark complexities without years of study in dank classrooms.

That time has passed. Today, the first step to becoming a successful games journalist is to ask yourself: Am I ready to become a games journalist? If the answer is yes, congratulations! You are now a games journalist. An active writing career can be maintained by anyone with one toe dipping into the cool Evian waters of Reddit while the other foot is tucked into the thick beaches of the Wordpress platform.

That's how I know, looking into the deep pools of their naked eyes, what they really ask when they say "How, Emily, do I become a games journalist?" What they mean is "Will my Patreon be successful?"

Today in an era of economic upheaval and website closures, low income writers and no income writers, Patreon may be the very best alternative for the struggling journalist to carve out their career among the white noise of competition.

Often money will be exchanged from one writer to another, thus fulfilling the eternal ouroboros of transactions

Patreon is a crowdfunding website that allows readers and supporters to pay artists to create works that would otherwise be ignored by traditional money-paying organizations. Writers and journalists can use this as a platform for pitching their work to a paying public who can choose to support their efforts. These works largely cater to the interests of other writers and journalists, themselves seeking refuge in the calm embrace of crowdfunding. Often money will be exchanged from one writer to another, thus fulfilling the eternal ouroboros of transactions.

This is the cynical state of Patreon today: A place where there's nary a hint of supporters outside of the social media echo-chamber.

Re-Defining Success

"Will my Patreon be successful?" Psychically I tell them "No." In an economy of patrons, the cold truths of capitalism always rear their head: Even the most charitable of online patrons won't be able to sustain your lifelong career of making comedy videos on YouTube. Because despite its grassroots ideals, Patreon is not the punk rock antidote, the hemlock in the cup of classical journalism.

Instead, what it can offer is a cold bucket of water to classical journalists who maintain success as a writer is simply a regular paycheck. If Patreon is anything, it's confirmation that success needs to be re-defined in 2014.

Because in reality Patreon is fueled by an economy of social media, not money. This is a long-craved alchemy that turns social cache into cold hard cash.

The website's own success stories are mostly a who's who of writers already successful in their own right, having developed a name for themselves. Its forgotten contributors are writers who've yet to attain the personal success that's required before the public will willingly support you. To succeed, says Patreon, writers need an already sizeable cult of personality built from months, often years, of earlier successes.

Patreon is not the punk rock antidote

I decided to test this hypothesis out for myself by making a Patreon account that promises almost no legitimate work in exchange for money. The question? How much money can one person make off of nothing but social status and the people they know. The answer is about $5.26 which is roughly a 500% increase on how much money I usually get for doing absolutely nothing.

But I like Patreon and here's why: In a marketplace of faltering mainstream websites, of the dinosaurs of print pulling themselves from the ooze, of the unworkable ratio of writers to professional writing careers, Patreon is honest about the unsustainable. Patreon is never romantic about art. For Patreon, the successful artist is a popular artist.

While professional journalism continues to push the idea that success is the result of a journalist's perserverence, Patreon pulls back the curtain to reveal that success as a journalist in 2014 has little to do with formal education, less to do with style and metaphors and almost nothing to do with writing. In Patreon we see the death of the writer and the creation of a media being.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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