Patreon confirms it’s exploring crypto as a way for creators to make money

Patreon CEO and co-founder Jack Conte and Chief Product Officer Julian Gutman spoke on a panel at The Information’s 2021 Creator Economy Summit yesterday, where they were asked about the membership platform’s plans for crypto.

“There’s clearly enormous innovation happening in the crypto and NFT space,” Gutman said. “Obviously there’s the art market and precious goods market that we’re seeing, with crazy pricing, evolve. It’s unclear if that is sustainable across the entire creator economy, but there’s some fundamental technological components to NFTs as a way to sell value to your audience and sort of continue to gain value from that from secondary sales as what you do becomes more and more important to the world.”

Last month, Patreon floated the idea of creator coins to its creator community in advance of a quarterly Creator Policy Engagement Program livestream, which allows creators to weigh in on platform policy changes. But the concept was proposed alongside a more pressing crisis related to Mastercard’s new standards for adult content, which prevented the company from engaging in a more in-depth conversation with creators about the topic.

“We’re right now not talking about creating any type of initial coin offering, which is specifically not allowed under Patreon’s current guidelines,” Laurent Crenshaw, Patreon’s head of Policy, had said on the Patreon Connect livestream. “But we’ve heard from a number of creators who have been interested in the opportunity to offer exclusive memberships and benefits to their patrons through a coin or token, a digital item that they can hold onto that shows that they are part of your fan club. And so we thought that at the very least, we could explore the opportunity of making that type of offering allowable under our guidelines.”

While Patreon allows creators to share personal investment stories or advice, its guidelines currently prohibit coins for the purpose of the direct financial benefit for a creator or patron, coins offered as part of an investment scheme, or any explicit incentives to purchase or obtain cryptocurrency. But if creators were to express interest in offering creator coins, Patreon would consider changing these policies.

A creator coin is a kind of crypto-based social currency — companies like BitClout, Roll and Rally have worked on creating individual tokens, which essentially allow fans to invest in creators’ success. So, if you buy a creator’s token early, and then they become a superstar, you reap benefits too.

“One thing that I think Patreon has always been committed to at its core is making sure that we’re creating a sustainable, long-term path for creators, right? It’s not just a burst of monetization,” Gutman said at The Information’s summit. “So I think we’re certainly interested in evaluating and understanding how NFTs or some of the underlying technologies help us create that sustainable long-term earnings for creators. But I think when it comes to the hype around sales of individual assets and what not… not that we wouldn’t offer that if we felt it was really valuable to creators, as part of the broader portfolio of what they can offer… but I think for us, really thinking through how we’re continuing to ensure we’re creating a sustainable recurring future for creators is why we’re evaluating the crypto space more broadly.”

Some crypto initiatives are focused on offering more ownership to creators over their work — for instance, an artist will continue to earn royalties on an NFT every time it is sold, while the same usually isn’t true for more conventional fine artists.

“What I will say about crypto and NFTs in general is I really love the idea of creators owning their media and owning their content. I love the idea of creators having leverage and control. I love the idea of creators owning their audience data instead of platforms. I love the idea of a lot of this underlying infrastructure empowering creators for independence. I love the idea of shifting power away from institutions and toward individual creative people,” Conte said during yesterday’s event. “I think that’s what a lot of this technology is getting at, and what I think is really deeply exciting about it.”

Still, many creators winced at the idea of Patreon adding the ability for creators to dabble in crypto when it was proposed last month, mostly due to the environmental cost.

“The idea of adding crypto worries me, because the reputation of crypto in artist communities is absolutely destroyed, even if it is beneficial at face value. I worry I would lose patrons due to them not agreeing with Patreon’s use of adding crypto to the platform,” a creator wrote in a public chat on the livestream.

The Information’s Laura Mandaro, who moderated the panel, asked Conte if Patreon has any full-time employees working on crypto.

“No comment is what I will say about that, but we’re thinking about it,” Conte said.