The Patreon experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, I have been blogging since 2005. initially at Rationally Speaking (here is the first post), then at Scientia Salon, and now both at Footnotes to Plato and How to Be a Stoic. Indeed, Rationally speaking actually began in 2000 as a syndicated “internet column,” before I had ever heard of blogging. Moreover, I have produced 132 episodes of the Rationally Speaking podcast (which my friend Julia Galef is still continuing), as well as 158 episodes (and counting) of the ongoing Stoic Meditations podcast. This without including countless appearances on other people’s podcasts, as well as a number of guest blog posts on various platforms. Indeed, I recently calculated that, on average, I put out the equivalent of four to five books of content every year. All of it for free.

Now, I am a professional academic, and I consider all the above part of my outreach activities, even though I get paid mostly for my scholarship (and for sitting on largely useless university committees). Over the last few years, however, the balance of what I do has shifted, steadily and rather dramatically, toward public philosophy. I have become passionate about the practical philosophy of Stoicism (no, not an oxymoron!), and I am convinced that public philosophy is a far better use of my time for the benefit of society at large than publishing only academic papers that will be read by a few dozen people (though, of course, I continue to do that, on behalf of the city College of New York).

But several people have pointed out to me that is fair, as well as better in terms of my own management of resources, time, and effort, to switch to a platform like Patreon, where some of the content will continue to be available for free, while other things will be accessible for a (very low, three-tiered) monthly fee. I felt squeamish about this at first, but it does seem like a fair concept, so I’m giving it a try over the next few months.

The broader picture here is that the online publishing landscape is changing, with journalists, writers, and other creative providers (e.g., musicians) struggling because we, the public, have gotten this insane idea that “information wants to be free” (and that’s how giants like Facebook, Google and so forth sell us advertisement and sell out our privacy). Setting aside the more than dubious implied metaphysics, be careful what you wish for, because you will get what you are willing to pay for. If your expectation is that you should pay nothing, then don’t be surprised when investigative journalism will disappear, and all you’ll get is an endless cacophony of increasingly ill-informed “opinions.”

Gaius Maecenas

Enter Patreon. The idea is, in a sense, a 21st century update of the old practice of patronage, which goes back at least to the Greco-Romans, in the Western tradition (and its found also in feudal Japan, traditional southeast Asian kingdoms, and elsewhere). Most languages other than English still use the term mecenate (or mecenatism), which derives from the name of Gaius Maecenas, a generous friend and adviser to the first Roman Emperor, Octavian Augustus. And of course we are all familiar with famous Renaissance patrons, such as the House of Medici in Florence, which was able to lure Galileo away from Padua to the Tuscan city. (Galileo commented in a letter to a friend that he accepted the offer because there was less teaching involved, and besides, the wine was better…)

So, here is how it’s going to work. Beginning this week, I am merging Footnotes to Plato and How to Be a Stoic into a single Patreon platform under my name (you can find it here.) New posts about general philosophy (i.e., in the style of Footnotes) and about Stoicism (in the style of HTBAS) will appear there. Some will be free, some will be accessible to patrons ahead of public release, and some will only be accessible to patrons. You can simply follow me for free at Patreon, in which case you will get access and notifications about all the publicly available stuff, pretty much like you are doing here. Or you can subscribe at the Aristotelian level ($3/month) and get the free things plus a monthly newsletter from me; or you can go to the Platonic level ($5/month) and get all the above, plus sneak preview of future public content, plus exclusive essays available to subscribers only; or, finally, you can go to the highest level, the Socratic one ($10/month) and get all of the above, plus access to the full archive of all my print-published public essays and technical papers, from the beginning of my career.

Please note that the usual features will be available on the new platform: posts organized by month with the most recent ones at the top, tags to navigate the site and zero in the topics that interest you, discussion threads per post (open ended, though I can still delete offensive comments), ability to share posts on social media, and the like. No functionality at all will be lost.

One more thing, before I go. Let me address a question potentially lurking out there: why are you doing this, Massimo, you greedy bastard? Isn’t your stipend from university enough? The answer is manifold: (i) I think it is fair to be paid for one’s work, regardless; (ii) I will still put out a lot of high quality free content; (iii) I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, where I’m borderline priced out of the local housing market, despite my academic salary; but most importantly, (iv) my long term goal is to switch to part-time teaching and devote more energy to public writing. I don’t know whether I’ll get there or when, and whether Patreon is the best path toward that goal, but that’s the goal.

I sincerely hope you will see the point of this and support my experiment. And that’s what it is. If it doesn’t work, we’ll come up with something else!

cheers,
Massimo

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “The Patreon experiment

  1. Paul Braterman

    Seems reasonable. It is very clear that the amount of time you spend on these blogs could have been devoted, had you so chosen, to formal books for which people would have had to pay, or technical papers which (unless your institution is much more enlightened than any I have had direct contact with) would have far more of a positive effect on your evaluations and hence your salary. So asking to be paid is fully compatible with the virtue of Justice.

    I assume that those who are following you already don’t need to do anything, and will have the opportunity to sign up for payment in due course.

    Have you considered operating as an educational charity? This may have tax advantages for you and for your patrons.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Massimo Post author

    Paul,

    thanks, that’s precisely the reasoning. Even those who follow me already will need to follow me on Patreon (for free) if they want to be alerted of new posts. Some of the posts will be free from the get go, some will be temporarily behind a paywall (available to patrons only), then released to the general public. You can just wait until they are released, but you’ll miss the first few days of discussion. I hope to see you and the rest of the gand there!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. d y

    Sounds fair. You clearly put in a lot of time and effort into your posts and they are helpful to those who wish to partake of them. Why shouldn’t you be paid for this, especially since the cost, even at the highest level, is very reasonable? I wish you much success with your new venture!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Chris J. Porzenheim

    This sounds sensible to me. I think you’ll find a surprising number of people would happily financially support your writing. The temporary pay wall idea is a clever solution to making your content accessible, but also getting supported in making more of it through financial compensation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Roberto Sans

    Hello Massimo

    I think that you are doing the right thing in trying to get some sort of remuneration out of your efforts. I might not be always in agreement with what you have to say but I think that you are one of the clearest and best minds in this movement of modern Stoicism, so I am happy to support this idea. I feel that those of us blessed by fortune with a reasonable quality of life have the moral obligation to support those who champion causes and ideas that we cherish, so others less fortunate can get access to this information and not leave the field open to dark and malignant influences out there in this wide web of our times. I wish you the success that you deserve.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Massimo Post author

    Paul,

    I’ll investigate the RSS feed (there is one for audio, but not for general posts, I think), but if you support the site, or follow it for free, you will get announcements of every post.

    Like

  7. Mariana Levy

    I think it is a reasonable and fair approach. I think that all the effort needs to be valued and remunerated. .Also, living most of the time in Argentina, I am grateful to get access to teachings and contents that would not be possible just locally. I am a teacher among other things, and even though I do it because I love it and think that it is important to give out knowledge, it is also great if we could get remunerated fairly. I hope you succeed in your project and dedicate your time to teach us more.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. James Joslin

    You produce a huge amount of quality writing Massimo. It’s most reasonable (Natural) to be paid for it. I’m glad to get on board and stoke up the Stoic gravy train that is creating and transporting all the fine content.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. paul sailer (@paul_sailer)

    Yep, seems reasonable. There are a number of people on patreon who I think worthy of paying attention too. Sadly, although 3 bucks isn’t much, my income level doesn’t really allow such luxury. Unless of course I chose to give up something else, who knows, maybe I will.

    Like

  10. Victoria

    Hi Massimo,

    I’ve attempted to write some essays like yours too, and now truly appreciate how much time they take. On top of the essays, I know you are also doing podcasts, workshops etc, which always take more time than one would imagine. Sometimes I wonder if you sleep. 😂

    The amount you ask for is the cost of hot soup at the train station. Philosophy is worth much more than hot soup.

    Victoria

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Massimo Post author

    Paul,

    don’t forget that you can follow me for free at Patreon, it’s just that some posts will be accessible with delay, and a few will be for patrons only.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Mer

    Love your blog Massimo, and got your last book also, they’ve had a positive impact in my life. I am gonna be a puny… Epicurean? follow you on Patreon and contribute a custom smaller amount. Much appreciate the work you do, it deserves more recognition.

    Do I understand correctly that you will stop posting content in this blog?

    Like

  13. Massimo Post author

    Mer,

    thanks for your support. Yes, the blogs (this one and Footnotes to Plato) will be on hold during the Patreon experiment. All patrons and free followers will receive notifications of new posts by the system, and I will send out alerts via my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Much of the material will still be available for free, sometimes immediately, at other times after a delay of a few days.

    Like

  14. cmplxadsys

    Will an RSS feed be activated on Patreon for free and/or paid subscribers? This would be useful, since many people still use RSS readers to stay abreast of new articles.

    Like

  15. Massimo Post author

    Reneˋ,

    for now the blog is suspended (as is Footnotes to Plato), meaning that all new posts will appear on Patreon. Should that experiment succeed, then this blog and Footnotes will be avaialble as archives.

    Like

  16. Paul Braterman

    One obvious question (you may well have already answered it): will existing followers of this blog and Footnotes automatically be notified when the new blog is up and running? Or even (easier for them but not perhaps for you) automatically enrolled in the no-fees version?

    Like

  17. Massimo Post author

    Paul,

    no sorry, no automatic rollover. I don’t have the means to do it, so you’ll need to follow me on Patreon (or Twitter, or Facebook) to get announcements of new releases. Sorry for the hassle.

    Like

  18. Paul Braterman

    I “like” you on FB; will that work? I also now follow you on Twitter, but that’s needle in a haystack stuff. What exactly do I need t do about Patreon? And is there any way in whcih I can continue to enjoy automatic notifications in my mailbox?

    Forgive the tedious detail, but there must be others around as clueless about these things as I am.

    Like

  19. Massimo Post author

    Paul,

    these are all good question. Yes, you will be notified of new posts on my Facebook page. I think what happens is that if you click on the links it will bring you to Patreon, where it will ask you to support me (if you wish to see the post immediately). You can, however, simply “follow” me there and then you’ll receive automatic emails from Patreon when new material is available. Hope this helps!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. adegrandis

    I really support your idea of moving out of academia and into public / community teaching. One of the problems we have in the world today is the apparent spread of education for all. Information on tap 24/7 how lucky we are – everyone can be completely informed on every subject if they only spend time on line. The corollary being it’s your own fault if you are not well informed and ‘educated’, The truth of course is a mile away from this – unless you can pay and pay well schools do not teach you how to learn nor how to evaluate the worth of information. Education is one of those concepts/words that has been chucked through the Overton window and out the other side so distorted has it’s meaning become from what it was fifty years ago. Ignorant people are the breakfast , lunch and dinner of demagogues and dictators. They feed off them and grow fat.
    One of the hopeful things is the rise of new online communities – the sharing economy – I’m a writer I share my work for free online . If enough people like it and read it I get a few cents from the fat cats who sell the advertising. I don’t care – I like sharing. It’s a thrill when someone in India says they like my story. But BUT – capitalism!!! I shall become a Patron as soon as I can spare the three dollars a month which I know is a pittance but so is thirty cents a read! I need to pay for my winter heating then I should be good to go.
    I’ve been to Patreon and clicked follow. I’m glad you already have 83 Patrons. Hell if Jordan Peterson (grr, grr attention whore) can make an obscene amount a month then I’m am convinced without any foundation in reason except that your stuff is good, which is why you should do well but not necessarily a reason why you will do well given the world.
    Um sorry about the ramble – this is why I mostly listen and don’t comment.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.