Patronage 3.0 Follow-Up

MCMMonday, June 15, 2009

My weekend of thinking about the future of patronage on the internet was full of code, it turns out. I built a demo of the system with a fake PayPal system and everything, which you can see here. But the process of doing so helped me realize a few key issues:

  1. The tyranny of choice could sink it. Right now I have six choices on the site, each with its own unique audience, but with a lot of overlap. The average person, visiting that page, will probably be overwhelmed by the options, and give up without supporting anything. Or wait to see what's ahead, and support that too. Cutting back on the choices seems a bit disingenuous (since I intend to write all those books anyway), but I'm fairly certain I'll have to do it.
  2. How much is too much? In a best-case scenario, it takes about two months to write a 90,000 word novel. That doesn't cover rewrites or edits. Being really idealistic, let's say it's four months of solid effort to create a polished manuscript. How much is four months of your life worth? Remember, under this system, once the goal is met, you can't expect any more money from the work ever again (you don't earn royalties from public domain works). What you earn has to last. What's a good salary for this kind of work? $60,000/year before taxes? $5,000/month, then. So a novel would be priced at $15,000. Be honest now: if you saw a number like that, would you think it was reasonable, or outrageously over-priced?
  3. Scale is a killer. Right now, I don't say how many people have supported each project, or how much they've earned. If you saw that Typhoon had only earned 8% of its total, you might think it was pretty low, but maybe worth chipping in for. But if you found out it was 8% of $10,000, would you feel the same? I know it's better to set up smaller goals that can be achieved more easily, but how do you do that for something like this? Maybe divide chapter books into "support this chapter", and picture books into "support this page"? Under that system, Typhoon would have four chapters paid for (out of 50), and it only takes twenty $10 donations to clear another! But does that work?
  4. Is it enough value for money? Paying $10 to get a copy of what would otherwise be a $16 novel is a good deal, but in this case, I can't really afford to send a finished, printed book to each supporter. Between printing and shipping costs, it would probably put me in the red. The alternative is to ask for $30 donations, but that doesn't seem like a good trade-off, I think. I'd earn ~$20 per supporter, but have fewer of them to depend on. $10 is a price you can bear to part with without thinking too much. Anything more is iffy. So what do you give them in exchange for their support? A print-ready PDF seems tacky, and their name in the book isn't that big a thrill in the end. Maybe a signed print of the cover art? It would take $2 to print and mail each one, taking 20% off my income. But it might make it seem more worthwhile...
  5. Massively scaling my current audience will be hard. Right now I enjoy modest success with an audience of very cool people. But if I need 1,500 $10 donations to pay for a novel, I need to massively increase my base, or I won't come close to meeting my targets. Marketing takes time, especially if you depend on word-of-mouth via Twitter and other systems... but if I'm writing 16 hours a day, I don't have much time to network. If I take time off to network, I'm afraid it will make the supporters I have think I'm wasting their money. I need to find a clever way around this problem, and I'm not sure how. I could increase my rate from $15.60/hour ($15.60/hour, 16 hours a day, 5 days a week = $5,000/month) and hire a marketing firm to help, but would $6,400/month seem excessive to anyone else? :)

These are problems with optics more than anything, but in a model like this, optics are everything. I can make all the code in the world, but it won't get around these problems. So while I'm not giving up on my idea for patronage 3.0, I'm definitely looking at it as a long-term goal. There's still a lot to figure out...

Comment, email or Twitter away. I'm ready for any ideas!

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