Patreon, the membership and payment platform for independent artists and their fans, appears to be banking on celebrity.
The platform has announced a new invite-only “digital summit” that it’s calling Patreon Assembly. It’s an event for creators that will feature talks from celebrities like Issa Rae, Whitney Cummings, Killer Mike, and Patton Oswalt.
While only invited creators can attend the flagship event in LA and “viewing parties” in SF, NYC, Seattle, Chicago, anyone will be able to stream it online for free. The inaugural event will take place on November 2.
Patreon Assembly is a shake-up of Patreon’s previous in-person event called PatreCon, which it ran for three years. In December 2018, hundreds of current and prospective Patreon users gathered in Los Angeles for keynote addresses as well as hands-on working group sessions about making a living as an online creator. Now, the previously peer-to-peer event will take on a new form and name.
“We originally started PatreCon as a way for us to get feedback from a small faction of our community and it evolved from that into education, creator connections and sharing experiences from different creators,” a Patreon spokesperson told Mashable, explaining the change from PatreCon to Patreon Assembly. “The vision for Assembly is one that connects the Patreon community with the most brilliant creative minds regardless of platform, medium, or income.”
PatreCon’s aim was to connect and inspire creators while also offering practical, tangible advice on how to make money. However, it did cost money to attend, and many attendees flew themselves in at personal expense.
As opposed to a focus on celebrity, the feel of PatreCon was one of creators talking to other creators about how to “make it” while staying sane. Some of the perennially self-doubting (but successful!) creators expressed that they couldn’t believe they were being tapped to teach others. With collaborative inspiration walls and encouraging artist evangelists, the event had much the same supportive, DIY feel as many of the creator communities themselves.
Patreon Assembly is different: a “new format instead of PatreCon,” according to a company spokesperson, that focuses on bringing digital viewers interviews and performances with recognizable household names, not just successful Patreon users.
It’s not all different. Like PatreCon, the Assembly will include some speakers who fit more into the idea of a web creator or independent artist. Regional events will still feature a panel discussion with local creators, followed by a live stream of the main panel. And the free streaming will certainly increase access to these resources for people who couldn’t afford to attend events in the past.
“As our community has grown, our team expanded our efforts year-round to do more regional community events, focus groups, monthly Hang Times, and educational career workshops throughout the world,” the spokesperson said. “This evolution has been incredible and with it we found that we needed a new way to connect creators with an event that is inclusive to every member of the creator community, wherever you’re based and wherever you’re at in your creative journey.”
Still, the rebrand and celebrity-heavy promotion of the event seems like it’s turning away from the inclusive “con-culture” and empowering spirit of PatreCon. Even if Assembly is well-intentioned as a more affordable learning resource for everyone, it does take the stage away from the creator-teachers of PatreCon — whose place at PatreCon was a powerful statement on the value of independent artists as businesspeople — and reallocates the microphone to public figures who are already more conventionally successful.
What does the change mean for the platform as a whole? Patreon has already matured from a fledgling idealistic idea to a household name with 3 million users. Perhaps the fact that principled but highly successful creators like Issa Rae are willing to lend their weight to Patreon just means that it’s having that much more of an impact on the digital creator economy.
Or, the change merely reflects the fact that celebrities grab more headlines and eyeballs than niche creators do — a depressing message from a company meant to champion independent artists and their small but mighty fanbases.