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Always tryna pocket that cash.
Image: Chesnot/Getty Images

Imitation is the sincerest form of petty theft.

Facebook invited some page owners to try out its Fan Subscription service Monday night, a new feature that directly competes with Patreon. But the terms of the agreement and Facebook’s history with page owners have caused many to scoff at and shirk the offer.

Namely, page owners report that the terms of the service enable Facebook to take up to a 30 percent cut of subscriptions. That’s in comparison to Patreon’s 10 percent, 5 percent of which go to fees and processing, and the other 5 percent that Patreon keeps. 

The other clause putting off pages from joining is the assertion that Facebook (and its affiliates!) will get lifetime rights to use creator content however it wishes, even after a page stops using the service.

Facebook is offering the subscription service for no fee at first. But its terms say that it retains the rights to change that at any time.

Page owners that received the invitation are also aghast because of their previous relationship with Facebook. Changes that Facebook made to its algorithm in recent years have severely limited the reach and ability to earn ad revenue from content posted on Facebook.

Facebook’s move on Fan Subscriptions is typical and telling in a couple ways. It shows how Facebook continues to add more tentacles to its business, further horizontally integrating to be a digital everything service — primarily by copying the successful business models and services of other companies. Facebook has recently launched ventures in dating (à la Match), direct selling (à la Craigslist), home services and reviews (à la Yelp), and much, much more

Facebook’s tendency to mimic also extends into its bread and butter business of social media. It directly stole the whole concept of stories and ephemerality from Snapchat, and Facebook recently launched its own version of short-form video platform TikTok, called Lasso.

Patreon, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with Facebook’s business. It is supportive of its creators using any platform however they wish, and many creators do use Facebook to communicate with and manage their communities. But when I spoke with Patreon co-founder Jack Conte and SVP of Product Wyatt Jenkins at their creator conference, Patrecon, in December, both expressed that they were trying to build a business and a payment model that was as fundamentally different from the way current internet giants manage content, users, and data.

“We don’t want to be where people digest content,” Jenkins said at the time. “We’re not obsessed about engagement, or what part of the video people are watching. That’s just not our game.”

Facebook, by contrast, wants to serve fans who subscribe “exclusive content” — the rights to which it will retain long after creators leave the platform.

“I’m tired of this system of converting attention into dollars, and using advertising to fund and finance the web,” Conte said. “You can be paid what you’re worth, instead of what tech platforms want to pay you.”

Ironically, Conte’s rebellion against the web as it is has apparently been an attractive prospect to Facebook. Facebook initially launched a very limited fan subscription service in 2018. But it only went wide this week — about a month after Patreon announced that it had grown its platform to 3 million users, who will surpass $1 billion in contributions paid to creators in 2019.

Will the appeal of Facebook’s massive reach be enough to sway page owners to Fan Subscriptions? Given the backlash to the terms of the initiative, that’s not looking likely. Besides, Patreon seems to know what its users want: transparency, a clear value proposition, and for the company to get out of creators’ damn way.

“We’ll just stay that central hub for creators to own that relationship with their fans, and have no algorithms between them and their fans, because that’s what they’re pissed about,” Jenkins said in December. “They’re tired of someone unilaterally deciding how many views they get, and changing algorithms, and doing all that work. They’re tired of it. That’s why they come to Patreon.”

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