Just days after the crowdfunding site Patreon’s announcement of upcoming changes to its credit card processing fees — which was widely lambasted by the artists, animators, podcasters, and creators who earn money on the platform — the company said today it is abandoning the new plan.
“We messed up,” Patreon CEO Jack Conte told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “We overstepped our bounds. We made creators feel like we can make those decisions without consulting them.”
This isn’t the first time, or the most dramatic time, that a tech platform’s users have revolted over a product change or new fee. But it is one of few examples in which such a revolt led a platform to so quickly reverse an announced change.
Patreon allows people to raise money for their creative endeavors via monthly or per-post payments from their followers. These recurring payments are often more reliable and useful to creators than one-time donations. Patreon experienced massive growth between 2016 and 2017, doubling the number of creators on the platform and reaching 1 million patrons.
But Patreon’s payments structure, in which creators were charged various fees, generated thousands of customer service queries every month. "My cofounder built our original payment system in 25 days by himself in 2013," Conte said, adding that, after four and a half years, it’s no longer the most logical or efficient payments architecture for a company of Patreon’s size.
In trying to simplify this system, Patreon had planned to move some of the service fees from the creators — who currently pay fees both to Patreon and to credit card companies — to the patrons.
For instance, a patron who now donates $1 per month to their favorite podcast would soon have to pay closer to $1.40 a month, which includes the credit card and processing fees.
Though a seemingly small sum, it was off-putting to a number of patrons who said they’d have to cut back on the number of creators they supported each month should they be asked to pay it.
That outcry from the patrons inspired a similar outcry from creators, with some threatening to quit Patreon for Drip, Kickstarter’s soon-to-launch platform for creators and benefactors — a platform that looks a whole lot like Patreon.
Conte said unequivocally that Patreon did not reverse course because people were deleting their Patreon accounts. “The reason for rolling back the change was not disproportionate pledge deletion,” he said. “It was the amount of anger.”
He also denies that revenue concerns had anything to do with Patreon’s handling of fee changes. Multiple creators said the move would clearly increase revenue for Patreon, which has obligations to investors and the looming possibility of an IPO. “That was so hurtful to see,” Conte said. “That is not why we did this.”
Conte argues that accusations on Twitter suggesting that the proposed fee change was profit motivated are inaccurate. He insists the reason Patreon planned to ask patrons to pick up new, additional credit card processing fees was to keep Patreon’s monthly revenue in the black without putting undue pressure on creators.
Conte said Patreon still must find a way to fix its payments processing problem. But going forward, he plans to gather more qualitative data from users before rolling out changes.
“Creators are really skeptical of getting screwed by tech companies,” Conte told BuzzFeed News. “'Here’s another tech platform coming along that’s going to screw us.' They’ve been screwed over and over, and that makes me so mad at myself and upset. I do not want Patreon to be one of those platforms that doesn’t listen to our users and hurts them.”
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O'Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.