Published: Jul 16, 2018
Updated: Jul 16, 2018

New Technologies to Empower Artists

Author: Andrew Keen
Wyatt Jenkins
Wyatt Jenkins, VP of Product at Patreon


At SHAPE this year, I moderated a panel entitled “Re-Decentralization: How Edge Technologies are Transforming the Entertainment Industry. Featuring IBM executive Janet Snowdon, SingularDTV co-founder Kim Jackson and Berklee College of Music VP of Innovation & Strategy, Panos Panay, the discussion focused on ways that new technologies like blockchain were enabling the re-vitalization of the entertainment economy by empowering artists to track their audience and sales.

It’s not just blockchain, however, that is dramatically changing the entertainment economy. Today’s empowerment of both online artists and audience is taking place on disruptive new peer-to-peer networks like Patreon, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which are empowering artists to directly communicate with and sell to their audiences.

To understand the dynamics of these new peer-to-peer businesses, I visited Patreon senior executive, Wyatt Jenkins, at the company’s funky offices in San Francisco’s Mission district. With its million users and 50,000 artists (including high profile artists like the musician Amanda Palmer), Patreon is a thriving example of this type of edge network which is re-decentralizing the entertainment business.

Why Patreon, I asked Jenkins, VP of Product. What made this serial internet entrepreneur join the company six months ago as its head of new product?

It’s all about the original democratizing, edge-like principles of the internet, Wyatt explains. The problem today, he says, is that dominant platforms like YouTube and Facebook control everything and take too large of a cut (up to 50%) of the exchange. They promised openness and choice, he says, but on today’s internet, where the network effect has triggered a winner-take-all economy, these platforms have become as powerful and exploitative as the traditional top-down media companies that they replaced.

To explain the problem, Wyatt cites the example of Jack Conte, Patreon’s co-founder and a long time professional musician. Back in 2013, Wyatt explains, Conte – who is one part of the singer-songwriter duo Pomplamoose, invested $20,000 in the creation of a compelling YouTube video. But in spite of its millions of views, Conte only received $600 in revenue and had no access to this audience.

And so Conte co-founded Patreon with the explicit goal of simplifying the relationship between creator and audience. The whole point of Patreon, Jenkins explains, is to enable an intimate relationship between creator and audience that will empower artists to build direct commercial relationships with their consumers.

Wyatt calls this an “awakening” which, as the original principles of the internet intended, new technology will successfully monetize creative talent.

The success of edge platforms like Patreon are being “driven”, Wyatt says, by the willingness of young people who appreciate the need to pay for their online content. These young consumers, he says, in contrast with what he calls the older “lost generation” of Napster users of pirated content, recognize that middle class artists – like lawyers and doctors – need to be paid a living wage for their work.

So where does Jenkins expect Patreon to be in five years, I ask.

By 2023, he predicts, a large percentage of artists will want to have a membership of their own. There’s going to be a huge shift away from today’s dominant top-down platforms to decentralized networks like Patreon. It’s back to future, Wyatt Jenkins forecasts. Back to the original democratizing ideals of the internet.

Watch my interview with Wyatt to hear more.


Andrew Keen
Andrew Keen

About Andrew Keen

Author, Commentator, and Host of TechCrunch’s Keen On

An acclaimed public speaker, Andrew Keen is one of the world’s best-known and controversial commentators on the digital revolution. He is the author of Cult of the Amateur, Digital Vertigo, The Internet Is Not the Answer, and How to Fix the Future. Published in February 2018, How to Fix the Future has been called “[a] bracing book” by Walter Isaacson, and “the most significant work so far in an emerging body of literature…in which technology’s smartest thinkers are raising alarm bells about the state of the Internet, and laying groundwork for how to fix it” by Fortune Magazine.

Photo credit Jens Panduro.

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