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Changes Afoot

On the one hand, I have nothing but sympathy for creators who have found the last year-plus of Patreon to be haphazard and chaotic, and the slow rollout of Drip to not have provided a solution. The news yesterday that Drip is on the way out certainly didn’t help things, but there are two bits of good news in there:

  1. Kickstarter have made their announcement well in advance of any changes. So much of the headaches around Patreon last year were traceable directly to the announcements that amounted to We’re changing the rules in like two weeks, deal! By contrast, Drip will stay as it is for at least the next year.
  2. More importantly, the eventual replacement to Drip is being headed by The Andys — Baio and McMillan, the founders and driving forces behind XOXO. If being an independent creative were a real-life face-to-face recurring event, it would be XOXO. In fact, it pretty much is.

I don’t know Baio, but I do know McMillan, and anything that he’s involved in, I am absolutely confident will be designed to present a playing field that is accessible to all, and sees the promotion of underrepresented communities not as an afterthought, but as an ethos.

So here’s what’s happening. For the moment, Drip remains as it is. It’s not a lot bigger than the initial 100 pilot creators, and Kickstarter appear to have recognized that it’s a service that’s very different from what they’re set up to do. To fix/change/redesign it is more work than starting from scratch.

The Andys have formed a new public benefit corporation for which Kickstarter is providing seed capital and access to the Drip code. When whatever the new platform is debuts, Kickstarter will help the Drip folks migrate. The focus of the new platform will be financial stability¹. Features, size, limits, even the name of the new enterprise are yet to be announced, but one very critical item has been stated unambiguously:

When asked whether LGBT content would be flagged as adult content, even if it is not explicit — a controversy that has recently erupted around Patreon — Baio’s response was succinct: “LGBT content is not inherently explicit or NSFW in any way.”

All in all, this is a remarkable turn of events. It’s not a spin-off, it’s not a sale or transfer or acquisition of assets; this is Kickstarter saying We’re going to get out of this business, but we’ve found people we trust to build a thing that handles this business — hopefully better than we’ve been doing — and we’re going to help them get started but we won’t have an ownership stake in it.

I can’t think of any precedent for a company giving up a line of business by paying somebody to develop a competitor/successor because it’s better for their customers. I’m dangerously close to admitting that a corporation² can engage in a genuinely altruistic behavior to the detriment of their own income. And yeah, it means another round of upheaval in a year or so, followed by another ramp-up period, plus whatever changes Patreon decides on in the meantime, but the end result will, I think, be worth it.

Now it just needs a name³.

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¹ Which mission overlaps significantly with McMillan’s Liberty Foundation, launched last year during XOXO’s hiatus, but stalled since then. One problem: the name is pretty much guaranteed to make nonprofit recognition a pain, what with the IRS having a history of dealing with a bunch of bogus “nonpolitical” Tea Party-type organizations demanding nonprofit status, many featuring the word Liberty in their name.

Also, in the interests of disclosure, I have committed to donate a large chunk of money to The Liberty Foundation (or whatever it may end up being renamed) when it is ready to launch, but I have not received any inside information from McMillan on Drip II: Electric Dripaloo.

² Okay, a public benefit corporation.

³ I may have done some digging without coming to an answer. Relatively few states have public benefit corporations, and of those that do, that only one I could find with an easily searchable state government database of PBC registrations is Oregon, where XOXO happens to be located. No luck so far, though.

I guess that is one way of looking at it. To me, it looks like as soon as they tried to start opening up Drip to people beyond their select few they decided “ugh, this is too hard” and quit. For all that Patreon has screwed up (and, you know, they have) they have continued to do the work.

Entirely possible. I think that there is a value in saying “We aren’t the ones to do this the way it needs to be done at scale” rather than sticking with doing something haphazardly (as one may argue Patreon has done).

And honestly? Saying “We’re going to be shifting somewhere around a year from now” is a mountain of stability compared to some of Patreon’s short-notice, upheaval-level changes.

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