Street musician walking up steps

Street musician walking up steps

Payments in History: Patronage, Then and Now

Erin M. Sarris

Erin M. Sarris

Erin M. Sarris is the managing editor of ngenuity journal. With more than 10 years of experience in payments, she oversees all aspects of the publication to ensure it covers a variety of topics related to financial services.

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Editor’s Note: Working in the payments industry today is beyond fast paced, with new technology and tools evolving every minute. As part of this series about payments in history, we wanted to take a look back at how the exchange of value has evolved over the long term, as analyzed through the eyes of today's payments professionals. Just how is the modern payments space evolving to adapt to these age-old dynamics?

Many artists have found themselves sleeping in a van or singing on street corners for change while struggling to make a living. These sacrifices are thought of almost as a rite of passage for those interested in the arts. The time it takes from creating art to being discovered can be long and discouraging, requiring creatives to struggle to get noticed and survive. While chasing the artistic muse might be a noble pursuit, it isn't always well paid.

This lack of financial support for the artistic community has been an issue for thousands of years, leading to the development of the patronage system. The concept of being a patron of the arts goes all the way back to medieval times, when the rich and wealthy would provide artists with financial support and encouragement. William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Wolfgang Mozart are just a few well-known artists or creators that were once sustained by royal patronage. In return, the benefactor, or 'patron,' would be entitled to regular updates on the artist's latest works and be presented with them upon completion.

Royals from Europe, Japan and other societies would become patrons of the arts to help spread some of their wealth and surround themselves with creativity and beauty. In some cases, the artists would even help validate the king's position or religious affiliation by glorifying his chosen political or spiritual views. Painters, poets and writers were all paid to produce religious artworks that might be given as gifts to the church to help the king curry favor with the high-ranking religious officials and noble families.

In more modern times, artists have typically been supported through public trusts or charities that have replaced the role of a patron. For example, the British Royal Family has set up multiple patronage charities and foundations to help nurture the arts. However, even this model is changing as consumers become more connected and low-dollar recurring payments become more affordable to facilitate.

How is patronage taking shape today?

Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon have helped bring patronage into the digital age by providing creators with a way to generate a steady monthly income. Here's how it works:

  1. Members of the site make a monthly contribution to the creators they like often as little as a couple dollars.
  2. In return, they get exclusive content from those creators.
  3. Instead of an artist having one sole wealthy benefactor, a number of fans can make smaller regular financial contributions.

While Patreon might have the best name recognition for now, there are many other sites in the same space. Of course, Kickstarter is a well-known platform for inventors and creators of all categories. There are also niche sites that cater to specific types of creators, like Podia (which boasts no transaction fees) or Kajabi (for those who want to teach).

The Patronage System, Then and Now- In the past: One wealthy patron provided steady financial support to a creator. Today: Many enthusiastic supporters can regularly fund a creator's artistic pursuit.

Payments by the patrons

Yet, for now, Patreon is the clear frontrunner in this space. It uses classic methods to transfer money instead of innovating new ways to pay. Like many popular sites that cater to creators and other freelancers, Patreon pays out at set times of the month via PayPal or direct deposit to a bank account. International creators can get paid through PayPal or Payoneer.

Creators can offer a few tiers for fans who want to support them, each with its own price and special perks. Once a patron chooses one to 'patronize' someone, it's just a matter of inputting payment information and selecting a billing plan. Patrons are given multiple payment options, including PayPal and credit or debit cards. Billing can be monthly or per post from each creator, up to a monthly maximum set by the subscriber.

The creators on Patreon keep most of their income, but the platform will deduct nominal fees (typically 2.9 percent, plus 30 cents) before the withdrawal. At tax time, creators must prepare to claim this income on their tax paperwork and potentially pay taxes on the income. Aspiring creators, however, are far from satisfied with one stream of income and continue to test new ways to receive money from fans, including systems like Venmo or Square's Cash App.

Looking back to move forward

The subscription model that Patreon uses is unique and enticing for creators who simply want to make a living doing what they love rather than focusing on collecting unpredictable amounts of spare change. Now, instead of waiting on the next commission, artists can feel free to create while fans support them. 

It's a modern take on the age-old concept of patronage — all powered by the payments industry.

The statements and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of TSYS.

Other Articles by Erin

Erin M. Sarris

Erin M. Sarris is the managing editor of n>genuity journal. With more than 10 years of experience in payments, she oversees all aspects of the publication to ensure it covers a variety of topics related to financial services, including mobile, B2B and emerging technology.

Erin has written for publications of The Chicago Tribune, RedEye and Metromix.com, as well as The Washington Post's Retirement Living, TV Guide, Washington Spaces, Columbus Valley Parent and The Peoria Journal Star. She graduated from Bradley University with a bachelor of science in political science and communication, and from Columbus State University with a master’s in business administration.

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