The funding structure for the channel is a sort of pay-what-you-choose model with the audience, where by default most people pay $0, but various perks and feelings of goodwill are available to those who opt for more. If these lessons add value to your life, enough so that you’d be comfortable as one of the contributing members, it would mean a lot to me (and to all the pi creatures).
Playful numerical choices in the pledge amount are appreciated.
Why this model?
In the early days of the channel, I experimented with different approaches to having it funded, like seeking larger institutions it could operate within, sponsorships (which I did for a while), etc. It’s actually quite lucky that Patreon was beginning to mature at this point. In my view, this model where people pay what they choose is the most conducive to lessons which people actually find meaningful.
When you think about it from the standpoint of incentive-alignment, it makes sense.
Ad-dependent content incentivizes hitting as many eyeballs as possible. Or more specifically, having the ad hit as many eyeballs as possible. Reach should matter, sure, but it shouldn't be the ultimate end. Income sources ancillary to content itself, like stores, public speaking, etc., draw time and resources away from the actual content. Partnering with larger institutions almost always involves a tangle of attached strings. But with a pay-what-you-choose model, all arrows point towards the videos themselves and ensuring that people have a meaningful experience viewing them.
What do people get for contributing?
There are perks, like early access to each new video, animations sneak peeks along the way, name in credits, and more. Also, because of these direct contributions, the channel no longer does sponsored content, so in some sense what people get in return are cleaner videos made without the distractions and mixed incentives of influencer marketing.
The feedback from most supporters, though, is that they contribute to say thanks for the lessons or to pay it forward for future learners.
Do you have an option for one-time donations?
For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think the channel would be what it is now without the sustained-pledge model. It makes it much easier to plan for the future and to feel okay with this wacky career trajectory. Imagine if your own salary or business took the form of unpredictable tips. Also, the Patreon page is where I concentrate all supporter benefits. If the same contribution you have in mind is spread over a pledge for several months out in the future, it stands to be better for both of us. Well, except in that it means having to set a reminder to cancel the pledge when you intend to, but hopefully the perks in the meantime would be enough to make that worth it.
Either way, I’m extremely grateful to anyone who chooses to pay for the content which is otherwise free, in whatever form you are most comfortable with.
How long does each project take?
I don’t have a consistent answer, but it’s typically several weeks. Researching/writing each lesson can take a while since I often go through many drafts and try to test it out on people when possible. And of course, the visuals take significant time.
The hope, though, is that a good visual lesson can save orders of magnitude more time for people trying to learn a topic. And beyond time savings, if the videos can spark a genuine passion for math in some people, what follows from that carries tremendous value.
Do the videos actually make a difference in people’s lives?
I’m glad you asked! Viewers frequently write to tell me that these videos turned them from ambivalence, discomfort, or even disdain for math to instead loving the subject. Sometimes it started with a topic they were struggling with which the videos helped to clarify; other times it was simply seeing a creative side of the subject not often highlighted in schools. To take just an excerpt from one such email:
I always wanted to study engineering as a kid but at school I failed Maths badly and dropped it completely. Over my gap year I started watching your videos and you explained it all in a way that just made sense and it hooked my interest. About a year later I've started my BE and I'm loving it. A Thank you doesn't even come close to how much I appreciate your work.
With each of the many notes like this, I’m sure there’s a fuller story, perhaps an inspiring teacher or an enthusiastic peer, and these videos were just one of many factors pushing them over to the light side. Nevertheless, to think they could play even a minor role in people’s lives like this is a tremendous motivation to keep making them.
Hang on, are these fictitious questions just shameless lead-ins for you to pitch me on supporting?
Okay, gotcha. Any other tenuously-related questions you want to close with?
Well, I wouldn’t mind an excuse to make comparisons with the kind money that flows into other forms of education.
Hmm…how much does an average college math course cost?
It can obviously vary a lot, but at least in the US, it looks like the overall average is around $1,800. At many name-brand schools, if one was paying full tuition, that ends up being closer to $6,000.
I don’t think these videos come close to substituting for a course, but I do think that instilling the right intuitions about certain topics can make learning from a real course way more productive. Also, call me crazy, but I don’t think one should have to spend thousands of dollars to have access to quality lessons.
Ah, interesting. What was that link for supporting again?
Who else should I support directly?
There are lots of great independent creators whose work I personally enjoy, like Matt Parker, Nicky Case, Ben Eater, Tim Blais, Primer, Wait but Why, to name just a few. Think about whose work you enjoy the most, and which has had the most positive influence on your life. Also think about larger organizations, like Khan Academy, where the freedom enabled by this more direct relationship likely makes for higher quality work. What the internet looks like is a direct product of the economics underpinning it, and we as consumers play into that.