Bytown Business Model

MCMTuesday, May 12, 2020

One of the benefits of doing weird experiments is that I don't necessarily have to have a business model in mind when I start. Bytown is definitely one of those projects, because although I haven't been allergic money during its run so far, I haven't had a cohesive approach to earning money from it. Part of that is practical: it's hard to write something this big and sprawling while also marketing and selling it. But it's also a philosophical question that I've been outright avoiding.

Until now.

Let's take a journey back in time, shall we?


My usual MO as an experimental writer closely mimics what a lot of webfic authors do: we release our crazed scribblings online for free, then edit and perfect large chunks of text and release them as ebooks for money. This was a good strategy back in the days when ebooks weren't really a mass-market thing — but now a lot of the people who would have, in those days, been webfiction writers, are now releasing straight to KDP or other services.

It's not to say that the value of a novel isn't what it used to be, but by flooding markets with so much stuff, ebooks are the kind of hit-and-miss that webfiction used to be, making anything free seem even more dubious by comparison. It makes it a bit harder to pick up readers here on the site, and diminishes the value of any ebook versions I might do.

I'm still very much inclined to follow this approach of bundling every 3 episodes into a novel-length production, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to outrun the stigma of webfiction, so it may need something snazzier. Or maybe something different altogether...

Adopt a Character

This idea has been around for a while, but I've never tried it myself — so I'd want to try my own special spin on it. In that scenario, readers could "adopt" a character by paying a certain amount of money every month to support whoever they like most from the story. They'd get special side content just for that character (the equivalent of B-Sides and other background info that nobody else would know) and probably get a special thanks at the end of each published book. It wouldn't necessarily change the shape of the story, but it might help me see where to focus my attention when doling out scenes :)

Creating a system like that would be easy enough to do, though creating the content would require diverting resources from B-Sides (which is already happening, for other reasons). The question is what the price point would be, and whether anyone would care enough to pay. A very common theme of my creative life has been making fancy systems that nobody actually uses, so although I really love the idea of Émile having an assortment of adopted parents, it might not be the best use of my (limited) time.

Time Gates

Another popular idea is the idea of a "time gate", where content is locked up behind a paywall for a short period of time, like two weeks or a month. In this scenario, paying readers would see chapter 4 the second it's done, while everyone else would have to wait, say, a month for it to start releasing on a MWF schedule.

The trick to time gates is they depend on there being a sense of urgency amongst the community — if everyone wants to know what happens next and everyone is talking about it, people are more inclined to shell out for the privilege of seeing things sooner. This loops back to my perpetual problem of marketing: I suck at it, and I usually get it wrong, meaning it's very hard to get the momentum necessary for time gates to work.

One day I'd love to do this, but given the recent stats, I don't think I have to momentum necessary to pull it off.

Episodic Releases

This one is murkier: join the KDP surge full-force and release Bytown entirely as 30,000-word ebooks once a month. Skip investing in infrastructure and interactive components, and let Amazon (and Smashwords etc) take over everything but the writing and marketing.

Ah, but there we have the issue again: marketing. Not only that, but I'd be over my head in the KDP world that I was only barely able to survive last time because it was so new. The worst part of the KDP world isn't that it's an uphill battle, it's that you can clearly see that the people who are succeeding at it are either super A-type outgoing social butterflies, or they're throwing 150% of themselves into riding a wave they're deathly afraid of. I'm not the former, and I don't have the bandwidth to be the latter.

Which leads us to...

Stop Pretending There's a Business Model

Bytown is an experiment, but more of a format experiment than anything, and the business model that goes along with this format is what it's always been: ebook/print releases of giant chunks of edited text, if/when I get around to it. My primary objective shouldn't be to sell my writing, it should be to write it well and on time.

(note: this is where someone should come along and volunteer to sell my writing for a share of profits, just sayin')

I ghostwrite and screenwrite for money, but more and more my personal projects are sitting in drawers because I can't think of how to monetize them. Maybe it's time to stop trying, and just focus on having some fun.

So after all these words, that's where I am right now: nowhere. I'll still get ready to package things as per Free+, but I won't let myself get too distracted. I have enough other things distracting me already...

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