The new patron economy and its impact on events-Part 2

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I believe we are moving inexorably towards a time that is similar in some ways to an era in our past—a time when content creation will be supported largely by the subsidy of patrons.
—from Part 1 of this post

We are returning to a patron economy
In Part 1 of this post I explained why I believe we are returning to a patron economy.

Luckily, there are a lot more patrons now than there were when Mozart and Beethoven eked out a living via the largesse of nobility and the wealthy. These days, when you tip generously in a restaurant, donate to worthy causes, or volunteer, you are a patron in the patron economy. Once our core needs have been satisfied, our desires to create and share remain, and these desires, decoupled from financial reward, are now easier for many to fulfill than they’ve ever been.

How will this future affect the world of events? Events have always relied to some degree on the contributions of volunteers: family members at a wedding, conference advisory board members, and student interns, to name a few. As emphasis shifts from content to connection at face-to-face events, the contributions of enthusiastic volunteers become increasingly important, as even a few true fans can make a dramatic difference to an event.

The new event patrons
I’m writing this just after attending a four-day, 500-attendee association conference where key participatory sessions were facilitated or led by twenty enthusiastic volunteers.

Hiring professional facilitators to lead these sessions would have been very expensive. The volunteers received branded fleece jackets, a reduced event fee, and public acknowledgment of their contributions. No extra lodging or travel expenses had to be paid because the volunteers were already attending the conference.

In addition, hiring professional facilitators to lead sessions would have been a far less satisfactory experience for attendees because outside facilitators would not have had the substantial subject matter expertise and experience that the volunteers possessed. I sat in on some of the sessions, and an outside facilitator would simply not have been able to understand, let alone guide, the discussions because of the considerable professional knowledge taken for granted as the basis for discussion by the participants.

Volunteers are the new patrons
When I think back, I realize that none of the conferences I’ve organized over the last twenty years would have been possible without the significant contributions of volunteers. Think about the events you’ve organized—how true is this for you? As we move towards more participative and participant-driven sessions at events, the role of volunteers is going to become increasingly important. Your volunteers are your new patrons—ignore them at your peril!

Photo attribution: Flickr user cali2okie

The new patron economy and its impact on events-Part 1

Patron economy media 144939792_7b9828a484_oOver the last twenty years we’ve seen the slow crumbling of business models relying on paying for atoms carrying the real article of desire: information. Once, being paid for cassettes, CDs, newspapers, DVDs, copy-protected software, and password-protected services was how “content providers” (such a soulless term!) made money. These schemes are dying wherever and whenever the cost to the consumer of playing buy-my-content-by-my-rules is greater than the cost of downloading the associated bits that have had their copy protection broken.

We’re in the middle of this transition. For example, right now, the paperback version of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love is outselling the ebook four to one, even though the ebook isn’t copy-protected and is half the cost of the paperback. So perhaps people still like physical books. I don’t expect things to stay this way for long.

A few years ago I got into a heated public argument with software freedom activist Richard Stallman about how I might be paid for the four years I spent writing my book. (At the end of his presentation, Richard complained that he had never spoken in front of a more combative audience. We took this as a compliment.) When Richard told us we should give our content away, I asked him why anyone would bother to spend four years writing a book. He told me, scornfully, that I should give the book away and make money in some related arena.

I have to admit that now, knowing the bald economics of writing, I’m more sympathetic to Richard’s point of view than I was when we sparred. If the book continues to sell at its current rate, it will take another year just to earn back the money (for editing, copyediting, interior design, cover design, and copywriting) I spent creating it. That’s before I start receiving any compensation for the time I spent writing it! Meanwhile, people are hiring me to design, organize, and facilitate conferences, and I have to sell many books to equal the income from a day of consulting. Richard, maybe you were right.

With the repeated demonstrated failures of attempts to copy-protect information and the rise of ubiquitous online content, I believe we are moving inexorably towards a time when content creation will be supported largely by the subsidy of patrons.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll explore how this shift to a patron economy will impact events.

Image attribution: Flickr user fernando