March 4, 2005
Become a Micropatron
Designer extraordinaire and long-time blogger Jason Kottke has taken the plunge and quit his day job, to blog full-time. Referring to that excellent comics issue of McSweeney’s, that I too greatly enjoyed, Kottke writes,
Chris Ware notes that “in the past decade or so, comics appear to have gained some greater measure of respect, due in no small part to the number of cartoonists who have begun to take the medium seriously”. This is me taking online personal publishing seriously because I feel it deserves as much.
Alright! … but, um… how’s he going to pay his rent?
Interestingly, instead of using ads to supplement his income as popular sites sometimes do, he writes,
I’m interested in exploring other avenues with a special interest in discovering sustainable ways for other folks to do things like this as well. … I’m attempting to revisit the idea of arts patronage in the context of the internet. Patrons of the arts have typically been wealthy individuals, well-heeled foundations, or corporations. As we’ve seen in many contexts, the net allows individuals from geographically dispersed locations to aggregate themselves for any number of reasons. So, when you’ve got a group of people who are interested in a particular artist, writer, etc., they should be able to mobilize over the internet and support that person directly instead of waiting around for the MacArthur Foundation or Cosimo de Medici to do it.
Kudos to Kottke! I’m very interested to see the electronic tip jar kind of thing become a reality. I’ll be following Kottke’s experiment closely. And I’m always excited to see folks quitting their day jobs and going for a dream, at least for a year or two, making the necessary sacrifices — Kottke’s moved to a cheaper apartment, expecting a much lower income, etc. It’s a stressful thing to do but it’s very rewarding, in an overall-life kind of way.
I tried to observe for myself how much effort it felt like to throw a buck in Kottke’s electronic tip jar. (Yes, just a buck — so maybe I’m only a nanopatron.) I had already had a PayPal account set up from the past, but I hadn’t used it in a while, so after clicking the “Contribute” button I still had to do the work of looking in my files for my password, and then had to fill out a small webpage form on PayPal. It wasn’t anywhere near as quick and easy as a real-life tip jar — I think once one-click electronic tipping exists, it’ll be much better.
Actually, what I’d like is to be able to simply click to drop in a quarter, and get that satisfying ‘clink’ sound. If I’m tipping for something I really like, I might click a few times and enjoy hearing several clinks. (I can’t get that “Ma-ia-hee” out of my head! Damn you Nick!)
March 6th, 2005 at 6:32 am
Some data points for where this sort of “patronage of the readers” has been done that I’m aware of, in case anyone’s interested.
Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka runs SomethingAwful, the most successful example by far. With a $10 registration fee for the forums and over 50,000 registered users, plus additional fees for various things (like access to old archives, a custom forum title, buying back an account after being banned, etc.), Lowtax over the past 5-6 years has taken in some amount of money probably in excess of $500,000 (although he doesn’t disclose the figure, he does say it is enough to live on).
Rusty Foster, founder of Kuro5hin and creator of the Scoop software that runs it (and now also runs several other blogs), had a fundraising drive a few years back that netted somewhere over $30,000. He also introduced “textads”, simple unobtrusive text-only ads that were not part of any network, but mostly purchased by users on the site for a relatively small fee. Some users used them to advertise their own businesses; some used them to link to their own diaries in a $10 vanity splurge; etc. After some time Rusty got somewhat burned out on Kuro5hin I think, and ended up taking other day jobs, and the site runs mostly on autopilot now, but he likely could’ve supported himself on donations and textads if he had chosen to make it a full-time job.
Exploding Dog started out as just a website where a guy drew one-panel comics to illustrate phrases readers sent in. After a while, he began selling prints and books, and now seems to make a reasonable living out of it.
I’m sure there are plenty of other examples; those are just the ones that come to mind at the moment. One thing these all have in common is that they weren’t started as businesses, or with the intent to make any money or have them be anything more than a hobby. After some point as popularity grows, they start dabbling in a little bit of advertising or soliciting donations to pay for increasing bandwidth and server bills. After this has gone on for a while, they’ll start increasing the amount of money they take in and try to make it into a full-time job (or at least a part-time job).
The key, IMO, is to be able to honestly come across as doing what you do because you like doing it, not because you want it to be way to make money or to replace your “day job”. Initially, it pretty much has to be a hobby. If you build up a large enough fan base, you may be able to parlay it into a full-time job, because at that point your fans will *want* you to quit your day job and devote more time to producing stuff for them, and will be more than willing to help out monetarily to allow you to do so.
If, on the other hand, it looks from the start like you want this to be a way to make a living, it’ll be transparent and off-putting to a lot of people.
March 6th, 2005 at 11:09 am
Almost every successful webcomic out there has been operating on this model, some for a few years now. Penny Arcade notes this, and wonders why it’s a big deal that a weblog is doing what they tried years ago.
Another example: Homestar Runner is the full-time job of two guys, supported entirely by merchandise sales, no ads or donations. Not bad for a free Flash cartoon started in their spare time.
I’m not sure I agree that you have to somehow hide the fact that you’d like to make a living doing what you’re doing. I mean, yeah, you should like what you’re doing, which means it’ll pretty much have to be a “hobby” to begin with. Most people can’t get a small business loan to start a website whose business model is, “I’m going to beg for money.” But I think honesty to your fanbase often means admitting that your dream is really to do this for a living, which isn’t really that surprising to most people. I’d guess that there are plenty of people who dream of doing their hobby for a living, and to see such a dream successfully lived out is encouraging to the other dreamers in the audience.