The Patreon experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, I have been blogging since 2005. initially at Rationally Speaking (here is the first post), then at Scientia Salon, and now both at Footnotes to Plato and How to Be a Stoic. Indeed, Rationally speaking actually began in 2000 as a syndicated “internet column,” before I had ever heard of blogging. Moreover, I have produced 132 episodes of the Rationally Speaking podcast (which my friend Julia Galef is still continuing), as well as 158 episodes (and counting) of the ongoing Stoic Meditations podcast. This without including countless appearances on other people’s podcasts, as well as a number of guest blog posts on various platforms. Indeed, I recently calculated that, on average, I put out the equivalent of four to five books of content every year. All of it for free.

Now, I am a professional academic, and I consider all the above part of my outreach activities, even though I get paid mostly for my scholarship (and for sitting on largely useless university committees). Over the last few years, however, the balance of what I do has shifted, steadily and rather dramatically, toward public philosophy. I have become passionate about the practical philosophy of Stoicism (no, not an oxymoron!), and I am convinced that public philosophy is a far better use of my time for the benefit of society at large than publishing only academic papers that will be read by a few dozen people (though, of course, I continue to do that, on behalf of the city College of New York).

But several people have pointed out to me that is fair, as well as better in terms of my own management of resources, time, and effort, to switch to a platform like Patreon, where some of the content will continue to be available for free, while other things will be accessible for a (very low, three-tiered) monthly fee. I felt squeamish about this at first, but it does seem like a fair concept, so I’m giving it a try over the next few months.

The broader picture here is that the online publishing landscape is changing, with journalists, writers, and other creative providers (e.g., musicians) struggling because we, the public, have gotten this insane idea that “information wants to be free” (and that’s how giants like Facebook, Google and so forth sell us advertisement and sell out our privacy). Setting aside the more than dubious implied metaphysics, be careful what you wish for, because you will get what you are willing to pay for. If your expectation is that you should pay nothing, then don’t be surprised when investigative journalism will disappear, and all you’ll get is an endless cacophony of increasingly ill-informed “opinions.”

Gaius Maecenas

Enter Patreon. The idea is, in a sense, a 21st century update of the old practice of patronage, which goes back at least to the Greco-Romans, in the Western tradition (and its found also in feudal Japan, traditional southeast Asian kingdoms, and elsewhere). Most languages other than English still use the term mecenate (or mecenatism), which derives from the name of Gaius Maecenas, a generous friend and adviser to the first Roman Emperor, Octavian Augustus. And of course we are all familiar with famous Renaissance patrons, such as the House of Medici in Florence, which was able to lure Galileo away from Padua to the Tuscan city. (Galileo commented in a letter to a friend that he accepted the offer because there was less teaching involved, and besides, the wine was better…)

So, here is how it’s going to work. Beginning this week, I am merging Footnotes to Plato and How to Be a Stoic into a single Patreon platform under my name (you can find it here.) New posts about general philosophy (i.e., in the style of Footnotes) and about Stoicism (in the style of HTBAS) will appear there. Some will be free, some will be accessible to patrons ahead of public release, and some will only be accessible to patrons. You can simply follow me for free at Patreon, in which case you will get access and notifications about all the publicly available stuff, pretty much like you are doing here. Or you can subscribe at the Aristotelian level ($3/month) and get the free things plus a monthly newsletter from me; or you can go to the Platonic level ($5/month) and get all the above, plus sneak preview of future public content, plus exclusive essays available to subscribers only; or, finally, you can go to the highest level, the Socratic one ($10/month) and get all of the above, plus access to the full archive of all my print-published public essays and technical papers, from the beginning of my career.

Please note that the usual features will be available on the new platform: posts organized by month with the most recent ones at the top, tags to navigate the site and zero in the topics that interest you, discussion threads per post (open ended, though I can still delete offensive comments), ability to share posts on social media, and the like. No functionality at all will be lost.

One more thing, before I go. Let me address a question potentially lurking out there: why are you doing this, Massimo, you greedy bastard? Isn’t your stipend from university enough? The answer is manifold: (i) I think it is fair to be paid for one’s work, regardless; (ii) I will still put out a lot of high quality free content; (iii) I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, where I’m borderline priced out of the local housing market, despite my academic salary; but most importantly, (iv) my long term goal is to switch to part-time teaching and devote more energy to public writing. I don’t know whether I’ll get there or when, and whether Patreon is the best path toward that goal, but that’s the goal.

I sincerely hope you will see the point of this and support my experiment. And that’s what it is. If it doesn’t work, we’ll come up with something else!

cheers,
Massimo

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39 thoughts on “The Patreon experiment

  1. Massimo Post author

    wtc,

    NYU now does have faculty housing, but I understand it’s reserved for the posh positions. That is, for the people who actually need it the least. At any rate, I’m at CUNY. It’s a state university…

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  2. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Brodix,

    Your wives don’t have any hobbies a little horse trading could be done around?

    No. She works basically all the time. Has no real interests outside of work. None she wants to spend money on anyway. I already spend far more than her on entertainment etc (though not as much as I’d like to) so I have absolutely no bargaining position whatsoever.

    There’s an element of this which may be cultural. She’s Chinese and grew up in what to Western eyes would appear to be quite a poor family. She cannot abide the perceived wasting of money, and places little value on leisure/hobbies. Like Robin’s wife, she sees philosophy as a waste of time and would prefer if I did not engage in it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SocraticGadfly

    WTC, I loved my one year of adjunct teaching, in part because it was all adult college continuing education, in a separate academic division of a multi-campus biz college from the 18-22 folks classes. But, I realized early on that making a living that way wasn’t close to easy either.

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  4. brodix

    DM,

    I can empathize. I grew up in the horse industry and all anyone ever talked or thought about were horses and other horse people. Though being poor in China probably concentrates ones attention pretty effectively. As I used to say of my own marriage; Opposites attract, they don’t agree.

    Good luck.

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  5. wtc48

    I haven’t been able to figure out which of the Patreon options is the closest to the format I’ve been used to in the past couple of years: the alternation of reading suggestions with a post on particular philosophical matters, with opportunity for comment on both. In other words, I’m happy with the status quo, and will gladly pay any of the nominal fees suggested, but I don’t want anything more extensive. It’s more a question of time than money. Living in a tiny town in rural Oregon, I have appreciated Footnotes to Plato as a window to the world of philosophy, and want to continue doing so.

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  6. Massimo Post author

    wtc,

    if you go “Platonist” you’ll get everything you got so far. The Socratic level just buys you access to an archive of all my technical papers and essays published in other outlets.

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