If you’re like me, you probably contribute to a project on Patreon. You may have even started a project on Patreon yourself, or are considering doing so.

Patreon boasts about its success: “8 million+ monthly active patrons … 250,000+ creators on Patreon … $3.5 billion paid out to creators.” Other sites run articles like “How Much Money Can You Make on Patreon?” and “25 Patreon Statistics You Need to Know.” There’s even a Patreon project devoted to collecting and publishing such statistics on an ongoing basis.

Occasionally you’ll find someone injecting a note of caution, as in a relatively in-depth analysis from five years ago. But the one set of statistics I could never find was about exactly how Patreon earnings were distributed across the whole set of projects, including what typical Patreon projects could expect to earn, and whether there was a straightforward way to characterize that distribution of earnings. So I decided to try doing that myself.

If you’re interested in the gory details, see “Distribution of Earnings Among Patreon Projects Charging by the Month.” The document is CC0-licensed, as is the R code used to create it. However the actual dataset I used (from Graphtreon) is not publicly available; if you want to replicate my work you’ll need to pay for the data yourself. (For what it’s worth, I don’t have a problem with Graphtreon charging for this; it took work to collect this data, and it has commercial value.)

One way to think about Patreon is to think of it as its own country (or state, or province), one with a population of over a hundred thousand. More specifically, Patreon had about 220,000 projects that reported their number of patrons as of December 2022, but only about 130,000 of them reported nonzero earnings from monthly charges. (About 80,000 projects didn’t report their earnings publicly at all, a few thousand charge by the podcast or video, not by the month, and a few hundred reported zero earnings.) Those are the projects I looked at in my analysis.

If Patreon were a country (“Patreonia”) then it would be by far the most unequal country on earth. As you can see in the left graph above, project earnings drop off extremely fast once you go past the top-ranked projects. In fact, the drop-off is so extreme that it’s better visualized using a so-called “log-log” plot, like the right graph above. While the top projects on Patreon earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, the median project (half earn more, half earn less) earns $25 a month, or less than a dollar a day.

This level of inequality is greater than in any country in the world; if you’re familiar with Gini coefficients, the coefficient for “Patreonia” is 0.84, while the country with the highest level of inequality is apparently South Africa, with a coefficient of 0.63. (A Gini value of 0 means income is equally shared, while a value of 1 indicates “perfect inequality” — one person gets all the income, everyone else gets nothing.)

I find it helpful to consider “Patreonia” as consisting of four separate groups of projects, each ten times larger than the last; together these four subsets account for almost all of the projects that I had valid data for. You can think of them as communities of different sizes and economic circumstances.

### Patreon Heights

The first group, the “0.1%” of “Patreonia,” consists of the top 100 projects with nonzero earnings from monthly charges. The median project in “Patreon Heights” had almost 3,900 patrons and a monthly income in December 2022 of almost $25,000, or about $300,000 a year. This corresponds to an especially affluent neighborhood in an especially affluent county in the US, like Loudoun County, Virginia, which has a median household income of around $150,000, the highest of any US county.

### Patreon Grove

The second group, the “1%” of “Patreonia,” consists of the next 1,000 projects with nonzero earnings from monthly charges. The median project in “Patreon Grove” had almost 800 patrons and a monthly income in December 2022 of about $4,200, or about $50,400 a year. This is well under the current median household income in the US, which is about $70,000. A US county with a comparable median household income and population is Crockett County, Texas, a rural county in the western part of the state.

### Patreonville

The third group consists of the next 10,000 projects with nonzero earnings from monthly charges. The median project in “Patreonville” had just over 100 patrons and a monthly income in December 2022 of about $650, or about $7,800 a year. This is well below the US Federal poverty line of $12,880 for a single-person household, and is lower than the median household income for any county in the US, even lower than that for Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, the poorest jurisdiction for which the US Census Bureau has data. (The median household income for Adjuntas is around $12,000 a year.)

### The rest of Patreonia

The fourth and final group consists of the next 100,000 projects with nonzero earnings from monthly charges. The median project in the rest of “Patreonia” had 5 patrons and a monthly income in December 2022 of about $28, or about $340 a year. This is comparable to incomes in the poorest countries on Earth, places like Somalia, Uzbekistan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

### Patreon and the “creator economy”

At this point you might say to me, “Frank, these are really stupid comparisons. You can’t compare someone running a side gig on Patreon to a person eking out a meager living in the world’s poorest countries.” And you’re right, but: Patreon, Substack, OnlyFans, and similar services are pitched to “creators” as a way to earn at least a partial living by “monetizing” their “content.”

Not a month goes by without another blog post, news story, or website heralding the “creator economy.” It’s attracting the attention of venture capitalists, who’ve funded a host of startups, all eager to help you realize your dreams as an artist, writer, musician, filmmaker, game designer, or “influencer,” in return for just a few percent off the top.

But the reality? Not so rosy. What I’ve tried to do is to put some more numbers behind that assertion.

P.S. to math-savvy web developers: If you’d like to put together a different kind of “how much money can you make on Patreon?” calculator, it’s pretty easy to calculate the odds of a project earning more than a given amount of money on Patreon. Patreon earnings for the month I analyzed were best fit by a log-normal distribution with μ of 3.33 and σ of 1.84. So to estimate the probability of earning more than *x* dollars, you can plug *x* into the formula for the log-normal cumulative distribution function (you’ll need the erf() function for this), and then subtract the result from 1. For example, the probability of earning more than $100 a month is 0.24, or about 1 in 4, while the probability of earning more than $1,000 a month is 0.026, or less than 3 percent.