Earlier in the year someone from Patreon got in contact with me about having FilmCow join their site. Patreon is a new sort of crowd-funding platform – unlike sites like Kickstarter, Patreon isn’t meant to fund individual projects. Instead, it’s a way to provide an alternative long-term revenue source for internet artists, directly from their viewers.
Most of the money FilmCow makes to sustain itself comes from YouTube ad revenue. This has allowed us to earn a living independently producing videos since 2009, however over the last couple of years YouTube has implemented some problematic site changes that have made things much more difficult for us. Most severe of these changes is the way our videos reach, or rather don’t reach, subscribers. Unless you click on the “My Subscriptions” tab (and most people do not), there’s only a short window of time in which new videos from people you’re subscribed to will show up on your YouTube homepage. The result of this is that even though we have about a million subscribers, fewer subscribers are seeing our releases than back when we had a tenth of that.
This isn’t as big of a problem for people who release very frequent content. If you’re a vlogger or commentator putting out a new video every day then something you’ve released will almost always be visible to your subscribers. For people who produce scripted or animated content with a (very) small team, however, that sort of release schedule just isn’t possible.
When FilmCow releases a new cartoon the views drop dramatically after the first 24 hours, and most of our subscribers aren’t even aware that something was released. 200-300 thousand views per video is fantastic when you can release multiple times a week, but when it takes one or two weeks to create a video those sorts of numbers are no longer profitable.
Take for example our animated short “The Doctor’s Office” from the Spatula Madness series. That cartoon will, over its life, probably earn us around $400. It took about 80 hours of work to create it. That’s $5 an hour, which is less than I made in high school working at Radio Shack. The only videos that end up earning more than minimum wage are stuff like Ghost House, because I was able to put it together in a day, or videos that happen to have some sort of massive viral impact (which are very rare and not a reliable way to sustain a channel.)
This puts us in a weird situation. The only way to earn enough ad revenue to continue existing as we do is to produce more frequent videos. And the only way to produce more frequent videos is to only produce videos that are less time-intensive to create. The point of using YouTube as a distribution platform is the freedom it gives us creatively – but that freedom is meaningless if we aren’t able to bring in enough revenue to maintain our business. I love Ghost House. I want to do more videos like Ghost House. But I don’t want to only do videos like Ghost House.
This is where Patreon comes in. With Patreon, our viewers can pledge a small amount of money per video (say, $1), and then every time we release something new they are charged that dollar. As thanks for this, our Patreon supporters will get access to behind-the-scenes stuff, in-progress artwork, commentary tracks, and other extra content.
This extra source of revenue will, hopefully, make us less affected by YouTube site changes and allow us to continue creating time-intensive cartoons. A YouTube ad-revenue funded channel rewards quantity over quality, whereas a viewer-funded channel rewards the exact opposite. I find the Patreon model to be very compelling, and if you’re a fan of what we do I hope you’ll consider supporting us there!
To finish things up, I’d like to answer a couple questions that I imagine are going to be asked:
What about the Detective Heart of America Kickstarter?
Filming for the movie is going very well! The first third is nearly shot, and I’m currently working on recording / editing that section of the movie. If all goes according to plan “Detective Heart of America: The Feature Film” should be released on July 4th of this year.
100% of the money we made from that Kickstarter is being put towards the movie and the backer rewards. I personally am not going to see a single dollar of it when all is said and done (although I did get some awesome new equipment!)
The Kickstarter has allowed us to work on a large project that we could not have afforded to produce otherwise. However, we still have a YouTube channel to run, and that channel needs some help to continue sustaining itself.
Why don’t you use the extra money from the Kickstarter to help the main channel?
I do not think that is appropriate. People put their money towards a specific project, and so that’s what their money should be used for. A good chunk of the extra money we raised does help the main channel (my computer has new software and we finally have lighting equipment for live-action shoots, for instance) however new equipment doesn’t solve our YouTube problems.
What happens to the YouTube channel if the FilmCow Patreon isn’t successful?
Hopefully Patreon will be a good solution for us. If not, we’ll have to explore other ways to keep the channel sustainable, such as high-stakes casino gambling.
In all seriousness, FilmCow isn’t going anywhere but we might have to make some changes to the type of videos we make.
How can I support this fabulous new Patreon campaign?
Right here! There’s a video on our Patreon page that will explain more, as well as information about the various reward levels available.
Thanks for reading this huge wall of text, and thanks for considering supporting us on Patreon! I’m excited. I’m also tired. It’s 5:30 in the morning as I’m writing this. That it way too late.