The Crowdfunder’s Dilemma

I was just tweeting about this, and I decided to make it into a blog post.

I acquired two new patrons today, one at $5 and one at $1. The $1 happened in between when I noticed my total had gone up by $5 and when I finished posting about it this morning. Obviously I appreciate both of them, but I think many people would be surprised to know how much I appreciate the $1 patron.

It rarely fails that when I draw attention to my Patreon, I’ll get someone telling me “I’d love to support you, but I couldn’t afford more than a dollar a month and I’m sure that [would be insulting/would devalue your work/wouldn’t be worth it after the fees].”

As I said on Twitter, I think if everybody who had ever read any of my work and thought about giving me a dollar but then thought better of it for one of those reasons had done so, I’d already be rich.

In Sir Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, the ever-astute Moist Von Lipwig makes the observation that there are a lot more poor and struggling people to do business with than wealthy ones, even if as individuals they can’t afford to do much business each. There are certainly more people who can afford to tip the occasional dollar or sponsor an author to the tune of a dollar a month than there are ones who can drop a hundred dollars or pledge ten dollars a months.

The simple fact is that the fees taken out of an online transaction are never going to cost more than the transaction itself grosses, and whatever is left over is more money than a crowdfunded artist would have without the donation. This is true whether we’re talking about recurring sponsorship through Patreon, or one-time transactions such as PayPal tips.  The fee structures we deal with are also often different and usually better than the ones you’d be using as an individual on a personal account.

And far from being insulting, the simple receipt of a dollar is very rewarding. It’s an almost tangible reminder that the work we do has value, that it is valued. We know—or at least I do—that if someone gives a dollar as opposed to five or ten or even two, then a dollar is probably what they have to spend at the moment.

And honestly? I don’t think a dollar is a bad price to pay for the type of entertainment I’m typically peddling. You can buy a lot of songs and some TV episodes for a dollar. I’ve tried to sell short stories for a dollar, with somewhat mixed results, but I think it’s a good price point for such. I need to ultimately make more than $1 total for a short story to be “worth it”, but that doesn’t mean any one person has to give more than a dollar. Or even that any one person has to give a dollar.

This is the thing about crowdfunding, and I’m saying this a lot lately because it needs to be said, but the “crowd” must always precede the “fund”. The only thing worse than people not giving $1 because they’d feel guilty is people not reading my work because they feel guilty. If you’re part of the crowd, be part of the crowd and know that I welcome and appreciate you.

So be very clear, when I talk about this whole “I assure you, a dollar is worth it” thing, I’m addressing people who have a dollar and are on the fence about plonking it down because they can’t convince themselves it will be worth it or appreciated. If you don’t have a dollar or aren’t sure it would be worth it in the sense that you might need it yourself, all I can say to you is: thank you for reading. I hope you continue to enjoy my work, and tell your friends if you think they’ll like it.

Don’t worry if your friends can’t afford to pay, either. This isn’t a pyramid scheme. You don’t have to recruit paying members to move up the ladder. If I post something in a place the public can see it, I’ve made a decision that the public can read it. No guilt. No shame. Enjoy, and spread the word.

But for those of you who have the dollar: please, trust me when I say that it’s worth it. It’s super worth it. Believe me when I say that there is more security to be found in several thousand appreciative fans paying a dollar each than in a single wealthy party like a publisher an advance of several thousand dollars. If I had my choice of either scenario, I would go for the multitude of individuals with their individual dollars every single time.

Simply put, a large number of small patrons accords more security and independence than a small number of large ones. That’s part of why I chose this path.

The problem is getting people to realize and believe it. As exciting and helpful as it is to get a notification that says I have $10, $25, or even $100 waiting for me as a token of a reader’s appreciation, I think if we can normalize the idea of the $1 tip as a standard nod of respect to the creator of something one has enjoyed or learned from, there will be a lot more security in being an independent creator online.

How to get there is really the challenge.

Writing and blogging about this topic is part of how I’m working towards this. Pitching my Patreon as a one dollar bet or dare is part of it.

If you want to help? Throw a dollar into my jar, or someone else’s. Join my Patreon as a $1 donor. And tell people you did it. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.