Here’s another example of the macropayment stuff I’ve been talking about for the last few days. John Klima is editor of Electric Velocipede, which I have never read but I know of because he has published William Shunn and I heard about it on his podcast. Now (via SF Scope) I found out about this offer of lifetime “benefactor” subscriptions. $20 normally gets you a four issue subscription to Electric Velocipede, but $150 gets you a lifetime subscription.
To sweeten the pot above the normal lifetime subscription offer – which is generally a wager being placed on longevity – he’s including copies of everything he has previous published (and still in stock, of course, because he can’t give you what he doesn’t have.) This actually reduces the threshold a lot, because without it you are betting on whether there will be 30 more issues of the magazine. If yes, you come out ahead. If no, you are behind. Now, you need there to be approximately 15 more issues but even so you get a care package of stuff right out of the gate. As I understand it, even better is that you are not subscribing to Electric Velocipede per se but John Klima, so any magazines or anthologies he edits, you will get a copy. That seems like a good deal to me.
This is another example of the principle of giving those who will support your projects and pay money an opportunity to pay more all at once for more stuff. Another macropayment in the wild. Thanks, John Klima, for helping make my point for me.
As it happens, today I listened to a few weeks old episode of the GIllmor Gang, the one from August 22. In it, they talk about Pandora and tip jars and micropayments, the same sort of things I was discussing yesterday. Despite Doc Searls talking up his VRM stuff and my enormous respect for him, I think that’s the wrong path and Cory Doctorow is on the right path. It doesn’t matter how frictionless you make the money pipe, the selection energy it requires you to think about how much to tip makes it unworkable. I get pissed off having to decide whether to give a wait person 15% or 18% or 23% most times I’m in a restaurant. I don’t want to have to decide whether to give a musician $0.03 a play or $0.05 or whatever. Just the thinking about it is too much trouble.
The quip that occurred to me listening to them talk about it is “think less about the tip jar and more about the tipping point.” Consider 100 fans who might tip $1 apiece. I think you’d be better off if you could convert 2 of them into the Kevin Kelly style “1000 true fan” types who will give you $50 this year, and each year until they stop being a true fan. You make the same $100 that way, but you’ve got an annuity and evangelists and a deeper relationship with the people who do kick you dough.
The more I think on this subject, I think “go big or go home” is the way to go.
In his column at Locus Magazine, Cory Doctorow has a piece on “macropayments.” It lays out a lot of his thinking in giving away his books for free, but also refutes the whole philosophical basis of micropayments at the same time. I like this bit:
Taking someone’s money is expensive. It incurs transaction and bookkeeping costs and it incurs emotional and social costs. Micropayments have historically focused on eliminating the cash overheads while ignoring the intangible costs. For a writer whose career might span decades and involve hundreds of thousands of readers, these costs cannot be ignored.
At various points in my career I’ve been involved in micropayment type startups. I’ve believed in the idea and it always made sense to me in the abstract and theoretical. When Scott McCloud wrote his defense of micropayments, I agreed and cheered along with him. However in the feet on the street sense, it’s impossible to note the relative lack of success of micropayments (remember Bitpass) versus the kinds of projects Cory lays out in his essay. It emphasizes to me the technocratic divide – geeks are always trying to solve people problems with technological solutions, and that seldom if ever works.
I’m working behind the scenes as an advisor to a new media/old media hybrid that is in a bit of a funding crunch. I’m almost wondering if the ideas Cory raises aren’t perhaps the way to go. Rather than looking to get $10 from thousands of people, what about getting $1000 from a few hundred people? When you look at the distribution of people who gave money to fund Jill Sobule’s next record, $70K of the $86k raised came from donations of $100 or more.
Maybe there is something to that, focusing on a few larger donors. In a way, that’s a shame because my leanings are to be communitarian and get lots of people involved. It may be that in terms of generating dough quickly, it is actually more effective to go big or go home.
In a slightly related topic, this is why I priced my stuff packages the way I did. I could have done it more cheaply but then I’m doing all the same work for less profit. That profit has bought most of my equipment and kept my podcast running at close to break even for four years. After a period of inactivity, I actually sold some more stuff packages recently which helps out. If you’d like to pull on that rope, you certainly may. Not only do you help the show, you get to be a styling fool with some great tunes. Win/win, citizens!