But if a creator wants to get paid fairly for their work, while also engaging with their audience on their own terms, how many options do they really have?

More recently, social media platforms have slowly begun to embrace the idea that creators should be properly compensated for their content, adding additional monetisation tools to their products. With more options than ever, do paid memberships benefit creators? And where are they and their audiences best served?

Ownership and independence

Streaming services and social media platforms make huge sums of money for themselves and their advertisers by attracting audiences to their platforms — without necessarily fairly compensating the creators whose content attracted them there in the first place.

In order to reach these audiences, creators are forced to play by an algorithm’s rules, and often cannot directly connect with the fans who want to engage with their work. In order to be compensated at all under a system that incentivises clicks over quality, creators only earn a fraction of their true worth.

By building a community through paid subscriptions on platforms like Patreon or OnlyFans, creators can diversify their income and  stop relying completely on social media platforms that don’t always have their best interests at heart, and too often deprioritise their needs in favour of advertisers.

On classic social platforms, ‘your’ audience is never truly your own, it’s theirs. They own your audience’s data and your means of communicating with them. But by building a community and regular, recurring income through a paid subscription platform, creators have a direct connection to their fans without algorithms or advertisers getting in the way. Creators are given ownership and a security that can’t be afforded to them when depending on social media platforms alone — platforms that can take away entire audiences at the drop of a hat.

Creators deserve a system that lets them directly connect with the audience they’ve worked so hard to grow. They deserve to make what they want to make, not what the algorithm wants, and get paid fairly for that work.

Impacts on mental health

An often-overlooked aspect of building a membership community is the transformative effect it can have on a creator’s mental health.

Every week, a new story emerges of a public figure or influencer forced to speak out about the cruel abuse they endure on a daily basis from trolls across their channels — with many, including Chrissy Teigen and Jess Glynne choosing to quit certain social media platforms altogether for the sake of their health and wellbeing.

Similarly, ‘burnout’ is a concept we’ve all become acquainted with over the last year. Feelings of depletion, exhaustion, and mental distance from your work, caused by the ever-changing environment of the pandemic, can make routine tasks feel like the ultimate challenge. For a creative person, the added pressure of being ‘always on’, always creating, in order to sustain your livelihood can make periods of burnout an even more intense experience.

With paid membership, you’re creating a community who are not only interested in your output, but your wellbeing and your growth too. Simply put: trolls don’t pay subscriptions. The work that you put so much of yourself into everyday will be consumed by those who care about it most. A compassionate group of members who see you, who appreciate you, who know that you’re human and might need to take a mental health day when you need it, just like they do.

I’ve seen first-hand how transformative and positive the support of a community can be, for both creators and their audience alike. Musicians, podcasts, influencers whose supportive community allows them to be more vulnerable and personal than you otherwise would or could on other channels. For example, Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat recently launched a Patreon page and states on her page “I’ve been sharing on social media for over 10 years but never this personal and this in depth”.

Choosing to build a community through paid membership not only brings a stability of income, but a stability of experience, free from the most corrosive aspects of being a creator online today. Moreover, memberships create a safer space on the internet for both creators and their audience to be open and human with one another.

The power of community

Once you take away the pressure of constantly feeding an algorithm, of shaping your work to reach an audience that isn’t yours to reach, the creative benefits can be incredible. Creators are empowered to start providing the content that their audience wants and deserves, without feeling the pressure to compromise their work or values. Creators buoyed by the support of their communities get to create the work they want to create, to tell the stories they want to tell.

In 2013, YouTube musician Jack Conte was looking for a solution to his problem: millions of people loved his videos, but only hundreds of dollars were making it to his bank account. Rather than focusing on the millions who watched his videos, or even the hundreds of thousands who liked him enough to hit ‘subscribe’ on YouTube, the goal was to convince just a few hundred of his biggest fans to open their wallets and hand over a small amount of cash on a recurring basis using Patreon to fund his continued creative activities. By early 2014, when thousands of fans were giving him more than $7,000 for each new video, it was clear that a new sort of online economy had been underpinned, becoming appealing to thousands of creators worldwide.

Travel blogger Adventurous Kate who spent years writing SEO-friendly travel content in order to get traffic and, therefore, commissions — who now gets to share new and original untold stories with her community of patrons: “No sponsorship, no SEO optimisation, no affiliate craziness — just a story written to entertain you as much as humanly possible”.

Or look at Hannah Witton, whose shame-free, sex-positive content saw her run up against unfriendly community guidelines on social media platforms, and now gets to share her content with her community of patrons, free from the worry of demonetisation or shadow banning.

ContraPoints (aka Natalie Wynn) is a YouTuber with 1.3M subscribers, whose high production videos explore topics including internet culture, politics, philosophy and LGBTQ* issues. The length, depth of knowledge and imagination she invests means she can release a video every couple of months at most- which would fall afoul of most algorithms.  She says that having a community of paid subscribers “enables me to do this as a full-time job”.

It’s an exciting time for the industry at the moment. A lot is happening in this space; finally, big players are understanding that creators need to build a community and receive the rewards for it. Paid subscriptions allow creators to engage with their audiences on their own terms, build a compassionate and supportive community around them, and give their work the value it truly deserves.

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