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Patreon scraps new service fee and apologizes to users

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Patreon has called off plans to add a service fee to patrons’ pledges, a proposed update that angered many users. “We're going to press pause,” CEO Jack Conte tells The Verge. “Folks have been adamant about the problems with the new system, and so basically, we have to solve those problems first.” The company plans to work with creators on a plan that will solve issues with the current payment system, but won’t create major new problems in their stead.

Conte published a blog post laying out the core problems, alongside an apology. “Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry,” it reads. “We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator.”

The fee — which totaled 2.9 percent of each pledge plus a flat 35-cent charge — was scheduled to go into effect December 18th. It was supposed to let Patreon process user payments on a rolling basis, simplifying a relatively complicated system. But it made $1 to $2 pledges disproportionately expensive, and artists couldn’t choose to pay the costs themselves, instead of leaving them to patrons. By paying a separate fee for every pledge, instead of making aggregated bulk transactions, Patreon also lost an important cost-saving measure.

Conte says that any new system will need to take the popularity of small pledges into account, and preserve the benefits of aggregation. It will also need to give artists more autonomy, rather than announcing a sweeping overall change directly to users. “The overwhelming sentiment was that we overstepped our bounds” with the non-negotiable fee, he says. “I agree, we messed that up. We put ourselves between the creator and their fans and we basically told them how to run their business, and that's not okay.” Webcomic creator Jeph Jacques previously quoted Conte as saying Patreon “absolutely fucked up that rollout.”

Patreon previously said it spent months researching ideal payment setups. Conte maintains that on paper, the fee would give creators more money than in the current setup, where they pay a variable processing fee each month. But it also threatened to drive away patrons making small pledges — and after the announcement, some creators discussed leaving Patreon altogether because of that. A few brought up a six-month-old blog post where Patreon said it was all right with having fewer users making more money, suggesting that Patreon was intentionally favoring large campaigns. “It's a good thing for creators in the long term. However, it comes with all these qualitative tradeoffs,” Conte says. “People are not machines. And we have to respect that.”

The payment system will still change, Conte says, because it’s too confusing and difficult to scale right now — something that’s of particular concern after Patreon closed a $60 million funding round earlier this year. (He says he’ll lay out more details on this in a separate post.) But judging by the past week’s backlash, it will need to do so in a way that doesn’t make artists feel bypassed or blindsided, and reassures smaller creators that Patreon isn’t ignoring their needs.