Two months ago I launched a Patreon campaign to support my future of education work. I’d like to share some thoughts on how it’s gone so far, since readers know I’ve been committed since 2013 to making my professional work as open and transparent as possible. Consider this a case study in crowdfunding.
tl:dr version – it’s going well, but we need your help. Please join us.
Some quick background: I currently create a lot of digital content about the future of education. This includes the monthly FTTE report, the weekly Future Trends Forum videoconference and recorded videos, and an online book club, not to mention this blog and a possible podcast to come. All of this content is free, and created independently.*
Taken together, producing it all is a significant part time job. Put another way, I make this stuff when I could be doing my other, paying work (consulting, leading workshops, giving speeches, writing for publishers, researching on spec, etc). So how can it be sustained? Maybe crowdfunding is a way. Hence the turn to Patreon.
After researching the Patreon ecosystem, its various best practices, recommendations from successful campaigns, and seeking advice from numerous friends and/or professional contacts, I built a campaign structure (i.e., a set of funding levels for supporting specific services, plus rewards for contributions) and launched my site.
Immediately people started signing on to contribute, which is enormously, deeply heartening and exciting. In fact, people have been adding themselves pretty regularly over the past two months.
Meanwhile, as I’ve continued producing content, I’ve been updating Patreons (Patrons) on my progress using the site’s blogging feature. I can’t tell how many people have read them, possibly because I haven’t figured that out yet.
How far have things gone?
Patreon is built on a series of escalating funding levels, each associated with a certain supportive goal. Here’s the series I set up:
$250 per month – Patreon community activated! The blog is now secure.
$650 per month – At this point the monthly FTTE report will be secured.
$1,000 per month – All basic media operations are now sustained at this point. The blog, the FTTE report, and the Future Trends Forum are good.
$2,000 per month – I can create a future of education podcast, adding that to the other media projects.
$3,000 per month – I can make all of this media happily, from blog to podcast to videos, without having to cut back any of it or take on extra paying work (speeches, consulting) to support it.
$10,000 per month – I devote myself full time to Future of Education media production.
Within a few days supporters reached the $250 mark, so my baseline was achieved, and this blog could keep going. Every week more supporters joined up, growing the monthly total contribution to $534 as of this morning. That’s closing in on securing FTTE. To put it another way, if no other Patreons sign up for the rest of the year, the current community generates around $6000 for 2017.
I’m also working on making those Patreon rewards more effective. I’ve been conversing with Patreons through email, Twitter, etc., which is good. The living wall of credits should be available tomorrow or sooner. I’m hoping to hear more from contributors who want me to raise their questions (that’s the “Thematizer” reward. I have to launch a Q+A on the Patreon site. These and more are all in the mix.
So, so far, this is very good.
Personally, it takes a huge load off of my mind. You can imagine me writing FTTE reports on a laptop crammed between airplane seats, or racing to find a rare bandwidth spot in Vermont for the next Shindig recording, or typing up a blog post at 6 am while waiting for the primary home fire to catch… and being less worried about being able to pay the mortgage, or this month’s student loans payments (mine and my daughter’s).
It’s also… a start. Check the funding level series again. We’re almost at the point of making FTTE secure. More work is needed to get the whole slew of content production services on a firm footing. If I’m going to launch a podcast, as people keep asking me to, further support is called for.
Meanwhile, in the spirit of transparency, I have to say that things are getting harder beyond these projects, mostly because of politics.
First, I live in the United States, and the current federal government has decided to make my health care much more expensive. Yes, I’m referring to the Trump administration and Congress each taking a whack at cutting back the Affordable Care Act. The ACA really helped make my business possible. See, being a startup of two employees (myself and Ceredwyn) meant we couldn’t benefit from a major health plan involving thousands of people. To be honest, the first year of business nearly failed simply because our pre-ACA health care coverage was insanely expensive. Daily I considered the classic bad American idea of just not having coverage for myself, and hoping I wouldn’t get sick or hurt. Welcome to the USA, readers. So Obamacare, by providing lower cost insurance, helped make Bryan Alexander Consulting succeed.
And that’s precisely what the federal government is targeting.
Second: the state of Vermont, where we currently live, made a strategic decision not to expand broadband coverage or speeds. This is clearly a massive mistake, but it’s one that’s locked in place for at least two years. So we will either have to spend a great deal of money and time to set up an office somewhere in the state that has basic internet for our purposes, or, more likely, to move to another part of the country. That also requires a great deal of time and money, not to mention a side order of heartbreak.
And third: as my readers know, America has determined to continue the financialization of higher education. Our youngest son, Owain, is setting off for college later this year, meaning we get to add another layer of student loan debt.
And for a fourth: rising income inequality makes crowdfunding a somewhat counter-historical strategy. As I’ve documented (for example), the growing wealth and influence of those living in the economic stratosphere has led a rising number of academics and creators to turn towards cultivating the richest as patrons. It’s a Renaissance-era paradigm, and might not be the best for a modern democracy. I’m avoiding that here by doubling down on lower-case “d” democratic crowdfunding.
At the same time, my future of education media success carries with it its own costs. A growing audience – hurrah! – means higher charges for content hosting plus higher fees from Mailchimp. Making more media also means more storage needs (cloud hosting, backups, external hard drives). Making the best quality of media has meant purchasing better hardware (mics, headphones, tripods, videocamera, even a new laptop), software (Microsoft Office and Adobe cloud services, Scrivener), and networking (connectivity in airplanes, airports, hotels, really anywhere people charge for speed). Looking into making a podcast and more video means still more gear.
All told, our family’s household expenses are rising significantly, and perhaps drastically.
If you value the work I do – this blog, the FTTE report, the Future Trends Forum, the book club – please help me make it happen by supporting it on Patreon. If you want me to fire up a podcast, you can help it come to life on Patreon. If you want all of this content to be openly available for free, show your support on Patreon. If you value independent work on the future of education, despite rising and horrendous politics, please contribute on Patreon. I don’t think we can do it without you.
*About being independent: apparently this isn’t clear to everyone, so I’ll say it again. This is a standalone operation. I am not a paid part of any institution, nonprofit, company, or government. My wife and I run Bryan Alexander Consulting, and BAC generates our entire family income.
There’s no safety net for us. We don’t have a trust fund, or a family benefactor, or an angel investor.
Therefore we do everything we can to stay afloat. And we aren’t beholden to any controlling entity, so we’re independent.