Donation Culture

Several of my friends at LiveJournal considered the permanent account sale recently, trying to decide whether to pay to make their account permanent. The ones who did often framed it to themselves as their way of saying thanks for a service that they have used extensively. I eventually decided against the permanent account, as I’m not convinced I’ll be using LJ in 6-7 years. But I did sign up for a paid account earlier this year, despite not using the paid member features, as my way of saying thanks.

I’m trying to find ways to support the services I like on the Internet because I can afford to now. I donate to Questionable Content regularly, I finally paid for TextPad, I’m an ESPN.com “Insider”, etc. Of the six books I reviewed in my nonfiction roundup, I bought three of them because they were written by bloggers that I read. Even if I didn’t like the books, I felt that buying their book and increasing their Amazon rankings was a way of saying thanks for all of the free content I have enjoyed. Buying CDs or T-shirts at concerts is a similar tactic.

I wonder how many people are like me, though. How many people pay for a service that they can get for free? Will enough of the audience donate for free content to continue to thrive?

Then again, y’all convinced me that people will generate content purely for the satisfaction they get from the act of creation. There are motivations other than money, or I wouldn’t spend hours each week blogging. So maybe creating a culture of compensation doesn’t matter.

And even for those who are motivated by money, the best route may not be donations or subscriptions, but ad revenue. The creator of the ludicrously addictive Desktop Tower Defense game is apparently making close to $10,000 a month from Google ads.

I feel that I have the obligation to acknowledge the value of content I like. I’d feel terrible if somebody whose work I enjoyed stopped doing it because they were not being sufficiently rewarded. There are different ways I try to do this.

  • Direct monetary compensation as discussed above, in the form of donations or buying swag.
  • “Google juice” in the form of links to web pages I find valuable. Not that I have much link power, but every little bit helps, and with AdSense, higher PageRank translates into money.
  • Sometimes all I do is write an email to the person thanking them for their work – I still get a thrill from every such email I get, so I hope the same is true for others.

I’m not sure where culture is going, but I hope it’s moving in a direction where people donate to the things they like, creating an opportunity for more people to make a living at activities that they enjoy rather than having to work day jobs to support their creative outlets. It makes me feel good to donate to people whose work I appreciate, especially when it’s completely voluntary on my part. I have no idea how the economics work out, but the idea of giving away content for free and then depending on donations appeals to me as a test of the collective culture of humanity.

P.S. Speaking of donations, I really appreciate the person who bought a cell phone via my Amazon associate link. Thanks! It made me so happy that I moved the link up the sidebar just now to be more obvious 🙂

4 thoughts on “Donation Culture

  1. The “give the content away for free and sell accessories” model seems to be a winner for webcomics. There are a lot of cartoonists making a living that way, and even more who can at least pay their hosting bills with donations. I don’t know that I’d call it a lucrative way to make a living, but pimping t-shirts and printed collections in the sidebar seems to work for most people (unlike trying to get a syndication contract)…

  2. P.S. Speaking of donations, I really appreciate the person who bought a cell phone via my Amazon associate link. Thanks! It made me so happy that I moved the link up the sidebar just now to be more obvious

    I try to use your Amazon link nowadays if I’m buying something–I got a few books recently. However, I whiffed when I bought a DeWalt cordless circular saw–sorry about that.

  3. I’m happy to buy a t-shirt or somesuch, if they’re actually good, but definitely don’t want the bother of making a specific donation- I’d actually prefer to see a couple of ads than have to spend my time.

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