Neo-Patronage / Pay what you Want

This text has been translated into Español

At the time of this writing [note: late 2005], searching Google for the term ‘neo-patronage’ (and ‘neopatronage’) returns only a handful of matches. Few of them have anything to do with what Another Sky Press means when we use the term ‘neo-patronage’. That said, there are, and have been, some similar ideas floating around the net for some time (and some variants have even been put into practice). The following definition (and site implementation) of neo-patronage is our own, carefully crafted from years of thought and debate on the subject, and with respect to those who have tried variants of this before. Idealism in action. Theory in practice.

(the origins of patronage)

“During the Renaissance, most artistic and scientific work was supported by an extensive system of patronage, encompassing both royal and holy courts. Patrons—such as kings, dukes, cardinals and other authority figures—recruited eminent artists, musicians, astrologers, natural philosophers and others as clients. Often they commissioned particular pieces; would-be clients often dedicated their works to powerful men in order to attract them as patrons. In return for support (both social and financial), clients enhanced the reputations of wealthy patrons through association with their own work.”
Wikipedia entry on Patronage

Patronage in this form was, and is, rife with problems. Two of the most obvious are:

  1. The patron controlled the project that the artist worked on.
  2. Only the rich could afford to become patrons.

Patronage in its original form was essentially a way for the rich to enlist talented creatives to do their bidding. Yes, great art came out of such arrangements – we are not debating the merit of something such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But the fact remains that it was done at the behest of someone other than the artist himself (in that case, Michelangelo).

(the evolution to neo-patronage)

Neo-patronage is an (r)evolution of patronage enabled by the connectivity between artist and audience offered by today’s technologies. At its core, neo-patronage is an honor/trust based system of financial support for an artist that comes from the artist’s collective audience, rather than a single individual or organization. The sum of all patron contributions becomes the means and incentive for the artist to continue his or her work.

This multitude of patrons is responsible for the two most important differences between patronage and neo-patronage:

  1. The sense of ‘ownership’ the patron wielded over the artist is completely diffused. The artist is free to continue creating as he or she sees fit, and isn’t beholden to the vision of his or her supporters.
  2. Spreading the cost of patronage over many patrons means anyone can become a patron simply by contributing to an artist based on their interest in the artist and their own financial ability.

In practice, the money the artist receives via neo-patronage serves two purposes:

  1. It is payment and ‘thank you’ for work already completed.
  2. It is the funding that allows the artist to continue to produce new works.

It is essential to understand that there is no line between these two purposes – if, for example, the artist decides to retire and pursue other activities, all future contributions would fall firmly into the first category by default. That said, if an artist is receiving contributions they have a strong incentive (both financially and artistically) to continue to create.

This duality of purposes for a contribution is a significant improvement over traditional patronage where the patron essentially became lord over the artist. Under neo-patronage, there is no longer a power dynamic between artist and patron since everything is voluntary on both sides of the equation. Patrons simply support artists they like and artists simply continue to create in hopes of further support from both old and newfound patrons.

Everybody wins.

(no art held hostage)

This differs significantly from the so-called Street Performer Protocol, written by John Kelsey and Bruce Schneier. Under that system, contributions are held in escrow until they reach a predetermined amount. At that point, the work is released to the public. We do not believe this is a viable methodology because we do not believe work should ever be ‘held hostage’, even by the artists themselves. The authors themselves admit that this is exactly what is happening with their protocol, stating “another way to think of this protocol is as a kind of ransom note”.

It is our belief the Street Performer Protocol is anti-audience and would result in a high number of ‘unpublished’ works when the artist set ‘price’ is never met. The inability of the audience to determine the value of a work before they contribute makes it difficult for a work to ever reach the critical mass of approval necessary for publication. Quite simply, the Street Performer Protocol is in direct contradiction to our first core concept – the audience is the sole arbitrator of value.

Stephen King attempted a variant of the Street Performer Protocol with his online publication of ‘The Plant’. He released this book chapter by chapter with a $1 payment required per chapter (later raised even higher!). He set the rules – if 75% of his readership made this payment, he would continue with the next chapter. This was a high profile venture doomed to failure for a myriad of reasons, the most obvious being – what if 26% of the readers simply didn’t like a chapter? Even if a reader did faithfully pay, it’s possible under this system that after paying for the first ten chapters (and thus out $10 without even a hard copy to show for it) the end of the book still might never materialize. ‘The Plant’ was, in fact, aborted after many people had already paid for several chapters.

If this implementation had been embraced by authors on the net, we’d have a plethora of never finished books to read. We at Another Sky Press applaud King for trying something new, but regret his ill-conceived and inherently flawed implemention. Given the project’s high profile combined with his ridiculous expections and requirements for ‘success’, he set back the whole of internet publishing and trust/honor based payment when it ‘failed’. Here’s Wikipedia’s and’s take on Stephen King’s publishing of ‘The Plant’.

This is why we at Another Sky Press provide the entirety of our works online for free. We make no demands on our audience, we simply request that if you enjoy what we offer you that you show this via contributing to our authors or directly to us. We believe in you, and we can only hope you believe in us.

Embrace the future.

Support that which you love.

Thank you for reading,
Another Sky Press