I woke up this morning to unwelcome news on Twitter. A few days ago, Patreon quietly (which means, without actually notifying the people who use its platform) updated the Adult Content portion of its Community Guidelines in an unequivocally porn-hostile way:

Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. You can’t use Patreon to raise funds in order to produce pornographic material such as maintaining a website, funding the production of movies, or providing a private webcam session.

This is a substantial change after a long period of stasis. As recently as September, Patreon had not changed these guidelines since I analyzed them in detail back in 2016, when I was still agonizing over whether to solicit pledges on a platform that was then explicitly “not for porn” but which advertised its openness to “adult content” and promised to clarify the distinction in future policy updates. As I explained then:

I’ll admit I’m of two minds. I’m so offended by undefined “no porn” policies that I want to piss on the toes of every company that trots one out. But I also find myself tempted to give Patreon the benefit of the doubt just now. It’s possible they’re doing the best they can for adult content creators, in the context of a business/financial environment that is implacably hostile to us.

Notice two things. First, there are no reports going around that anybody has been kicked off of Patreon, had their money held, or suffered any adverse consequence of the new guidelines. Yet. So if this truly be #pornocalypse come to Patreon, it’s the sound of the hoofbeats in advance of the dread horseman, not the horseman himself.

The second thing I would have you notice requires your keen focus on the true meaning of #pornocalypse, which is a word that everyone, including me, throws around very loosely. But in its most precise usage, #pornocalypse is a financial term. It refers to that precise moment in an internet company’s business life-cycle where the business value of having “adult” content on the platform (popularity, users, traffic, coolness, network effects, buzz, et cetera) is suddenly outweighed by the detriment to the company of having to justify the presence of that adult content to bankers, stockbrokers, and venture capitalists. These financial-industry people are universally conservative to the point of squeamishness about sexual content in the businesses touched by their money, no matter how libertine they are in their personal lives. And so the pornocalypse always comes, as predictable as clockwork, to an internet company that’s going through a significant financial transition.

Hmmm, didn’t I recently get a bland email from Patreon about exciting developments, something about sixty million in new venture capital? Sure enough I did…

So yes. The way this works is that Patreon cannot afford to have anything in its system that might offend any of its new financial overlords. The new guidelines may or may not be followed up with new hires whose job is to go through and start throwing indy porn projects out of the system; let’s hope not. Best case is that the guidelines are to make things clear-cut so that when some indy porn site gets a bit of press buzz and the headline “Patreon-supported Porn Site Blah Blah Blah” starts trending in the business press, Patreon’s managers will have clear cause to nuke that unfortunate site from the system before Patreon’s venture capitalist backers can get on the phone to complain about reputation damage.

How much does this affect the ErosBlog Patreon? Not, I think, much; my status was ambiguous before and it remains ambiguous. The ErosBlog Patreon was fragile before and it remains fragile. This has been my position since I started exploring crowd-funding options:

I’m proud of the fact that everything I do is porn, even if it’s also erotic art curation or forensic photoarcheology or deep-dive provenance research into viral photographs or reluctant investigative journalism and cynical commentary about platforms used by pornography enthusiasts. So I’m looking for a crowdfunding platform that won’t make me lie about what I love to do. I don’t doubt that with a bit of careful fancy-dancing I could use one of the porn-squeamish platforms, at least for awhile. But I would hate to get invested (or to get my patrons invested) in a platform where the official policy is to prohibit porn officially while tolerating it on a case-by-case basis as long as it doesn’t get too uppity.

I have contacts in the Bay Area. Through one of them, I heard a sort of personal rumor that the Patreon team was committed to trying to make the platform work for adult content creators. I knew it wouldn’t survive the first big financial phase change, but what the hell; I decided to get down off my high horse and give them a shot. And so, I set up my Patreon to emphasize my digital curation and provenance work with vintage erotic art, which should be equally fine under the new wording or the old. But I’ll probably want to revise the pitch a bit to put less focus on supporting this blog, which is still a porn website in my own eyes if (perhaps) not the kind of pornographic material production that Patreon is newly prohibiting. Who knows? It’s not like any of us will get a chance to lawyerlips our way out of a ban anyway; when the #pornocalypse comes for you, there’s usually no appeal. So be careful out there, people!