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Tip Jars and Pledge Drives -- Making them More Effective
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Alexander D.
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Joined: 15 Feb 2002
Posts: 177
Location: MA

PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2002 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I?m pretty new to the forum, and have spent the past few days reading through the old Commerce threads ? I saw some really interesting ideas, and had some thoughts/questions of my own that I was hoping could be explored.

I?m currently putting the final touches on a Web site that will host my first attempt at a Web comic. In the process, I wanted to build in at least the potential to bring in a little money. I?ve seen Donate buttons on some of the comics I read, and thought that seemed like a good place to start, but I?m wondering about the best way to implement this.

My first question is, should I have the donate button available from the start, or wait until after I?ve been running my strip for a few months? My initial thought was that the sooner I post a donate button, the sooner people can start donating ? obvious. But then I read NatGertler?s post, which argued that one of the big problems with donate buttons is that by the time new readers have decided they like a strip enough to donate, they?ve ceased to be aware of the donate button. Since ALL of my readers will be new readers, this pretty readily translates into no donations at all. (Note: I think the answer to this is pretty clear, but I?m hoping to sway the direction this goes with some of my further thoughts.)

NatGertler?s proposed solution was to replace the constant donate button with quarterly pledge drives ? this sounded like a terrific idea to me. Since this idea was proposed seven months ago, I was wondering if anyone had tried it in the meantime, and if so, how successful it was.

Now ? some of my further thoughts on donate buttons. My first big question is: has anyone tried posting a ?Suggested Donation? amount with their donate box? So far, I all of the donate boxes I have seen were completely open-ended, with no advice to the reader as to how much they should donate. And I understand the logic behind this ? the idea is that the reader should give only what they think the comic is worth. Also, we don?t want to scare off any readers by setting the suggested amount to high. However, I?m wondering if this is backfiring a bit. I know when I first began noticing those boxes, I was tempted to donate ? but as I was reading stuff I enjoyed, my instinct was to consider a reasonable donation to be in the range of $10-20. I really couldn?t afford to give that much, and my instinct was to think that giving less than that would be insulting. Since I didn?t want to insult a cartoonist whose work I really enjoyed, I decided not to donate at all. From having read through the forum here, I now realize that the expected donations are considerably less. But the average reader is not aware of this. In other words, by not setting a dollar amount on our hoped-for donation, we?re inadvertently encouraging the readers themselves to set the price higher than what they?re actually willing to pay. So, I was wondering if donate boxes would potentially do better with a posted dollar amount (say, $3) that really drives home the idea that small donations are just as welcome as large. Just out of curiosity, how big is the average donation made to an open-ended tip jar?

Next, I?m wondering if there?s a way to combat the petering out effect of donate boxes. Basically, what we need is a way to keep the readers aware of the donate box, even after they?ve been reading for a while. Obviously, we don?t want to do this by constantly shouting ?GIVE ME MONEY!? as that would be both obnoxious and pathetic. But perhaps there are other, more subtle ways to accomplish the same thing. Brian Clevinger of 8-bit Theater has found a way to do this ? he actually keeps a tally of just how much money he?s made on the front page of his site, much as a pledge drive would typically do. This seems a very good idea to me, as it keeps the readers checking back every week to see how he?s doing ? we simply can?t forget that he?s looking for donations. What?s more, it gets us to start rooting for him to reach his next goal ? and the closer he gets, the more tempted a person is to want be the one to push him over the top. Now, he?s only had the donate box up for a month to a month and a half or so. So far, he seems to be doing pretty well, but it remains to be seen if his running tally strategy will result in a more constant flow.

My last pondering is simply this: why not implement both a pledge drive and a donate box in a manner where they complement each other. Keep the humble tip jar all the time, but hold a quarterly ?Event? as part of a pledge drive. That way, you get that nice quarterly surge from the pledge drive, but the pledge drive itself will make readers more aware of the fact that you?re always accepting donations. The main problem with the pledge drive idea is that some people will either miss the event, or not have the extra cash at the time of the event, which means the toonist looses potential donations. But keeping the tip jar out even after the event solves this problem.

I realize this post ran pretty long, but hopefully some of my ideas will be helpful. I look forward to hearing everyone?s thoughts and feedback.

--Alexander Danner
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steve
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Joined: 20 Jan 2002
Posts: 8

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2002 11:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alexander,

You have made some good points. I personally don't do this, nor have I tipped another fellow cartoonist. Maybe because I know they do it for fun, nobody made them do it and many of us "toonist" have day jobs. Yet I still think "tipping" a cartoonist is still a great idea, but implementing it, especially on the web, can be quite an uphill challenge, to say the least. Heck if we tip waiters/waitresses, musicians on the street corner and many other professions, where we enjoy the service they are providing, then why not cartoonists? The problem is there are currently thousands of high quality cartoons on the internet today and many are for free reading. Try competeing against that, in a economical climate or society is currently in. Ouch..good luck, my friend.

But getting back to what you suggested, I do feel that you have some great ideas and I really wish you the best in implementing them, the idea I like the best is a small pledge drive. But I would like to add this, give your readers a reason to pledge. Besides just reading your toons. Like in my example, I'm trying to raise enough money to do my own book of cartoons. I needed $750. So far I have raised $375. This is outside of the internet donating. But let's just say that my readers/fans are dying to see me put out a book, or at least want to help. And I, going by your last post, ask people for a $1 each, well in no time I will have the other $375 I need in donations. I can show a running tally daily. This way people can root for me and donate until I have reached my goal. My fans will feel apart of what I'm doing.

To sum it up...."Give them a reason to dontate."

Thanks,
Steve, cartoonist of "Strange Breed"
http://www2.hi.net/s4/strangebreed.htm
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Greg Stephens
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Joined: 14 Apr 2001
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Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2002 12:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah- a lotta, lotta, lotta issues here and nothing's really been proven to work. Sure there are success stories, but there's no one recommended way to go. I agree with Steve that you've gotta "give them a reason to donate"- whether that's a stated goal- "I need X amount of money per month", "I want to print a book", "I need cash to attend the big convention & I hope to see you there", etc.- or a little gift in thanks- a special comic, or wallpaper image, etc.

I try to support as many online comic artists as I can in various ways, but I've only donated a handfull of times. Mostly, I buy their merchandise.

You'll notice that at my own comic, I neither solicit donations nor sell anything. This is a pretty clear indicator that I haven't settled on the best way to approach it yet. One day, I'd love to print a book, though.

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steve
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Joined: 20 Jan 2002
Posts: 8

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2002 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg,

I know, you are right, I was just throwing in my two cents worth. I also have a few more things to throw into the mix, of how a cartoonist can raise some $$:

1. Put out thier own cartoon book. I'm currently going thru "Page Free Publishing". They are at:

http://www.pagefreepublishing.com

2. There are two online stores you can have on your site and sell anything from mouse pads to T-shirts with your cartoon on it.
http://www.cafepress.com , http://www.99dogs.com.

3. Place a tip jar/ paypal onto your site. We have been talking about this here and in other threads.

4. Get published in weekly newspapers and magazines. I'm in several now. I usually let them use my toons for free for the first 3 - 6 months. After that, if they decide to keep me on, is $5 per cartoon. It doesn't sound like much, but it really adds up when you are in several papers.

Do all of these 4 above things and you should be able to bring in several hundred dollars per month. Not much, but that amount will grow as your fan base grows.

Steve, cartoonist of "Strange Breed"
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Alexander D.
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Joined: 15 Feb 2002
Posts: 177
Location: MA

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2002 1:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Give them a reason to donate -- Is "I've been unemployed for almost a year and am about one month from getting evicted" a good enough reason?

Seriously, if I were to do a pledge drive, I had every intention of offering "thank you" gifts. I've also signed up with cafepress.com, and have created a bunch of merchandise there. As Greg illustrates, different people like to contribute in different ways -- some like to give small donations occaisonally, some like to give in return for gifts or during special events, and others prefer to just purchase merchandise. My goal is to offer as many different ways for people to show their support as I can, so that each can give in the way they're most comfortable with.

Of course, I realize that no matter what I do, I can't make a living off of Web comics. I am doing it for fun, like Steve said -- but I am pretty hard up for cash, so if there's a chance of making even just a few dollars, I want to keep that door open.

Trying to get into local weeklies sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, my strip is just hypertext-reliant enough that it won't work in print, even though it's not really high-tech. Publishing a print collection poses a similar problem. I could try doing an e-book. Those don't traditionally sell very well -- but then again, they don't really cost anything either, and are perfectly suited to collecting Web comics. Hell, even if I only sell one, that's better than I would do if I didn't offer it at all. Of course, doing a collection means having quite a few strips done first.

Or, here's an idea -- the thank you for donations could be the e-book. This would work particularly well if the e-book includes extras. The annotated edition of the comic, essentially. Of course, I can also look to my merchandise list for pledge thank you gifts, but that would require larger donations to make it worthwhile.

That still leaves me looking for a "reason to donate" for the daily tip jar. But I think you're absolutely right in that this is the essential ingredient for successs.
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Doc MacDougal
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Joined: 23 Apr 2001
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Location: Burnaby, BC, Canada

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2002 2:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As another product or a variant of the book of collected strips--especially for content that relies on computers for its form--you could burn your material onto cds and sell those.

Doc.
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Tailsteak
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Joined: 23 Oct 2001
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Location: London, Ontario

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2002 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been planning on selling a CD archive (with extra material) once I reach 1000 strips.

My buddy Tim Dawson (of Dragon Tails) recently put up a Paypal donation box, and got something like $200 in a week. And then, after that initial surge, nothing.

If I had a Paypal account, I'd just use the money to tip other cartoonists.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2002 12:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2002-02-22 01:45, Doc MacDougal wrote:
As another product or a variant of the book of collected strips--especially for content that relies on computers for its form--you could burn your material onto cds and sell those.

Doc.


This should have been obvious, shouldn't it? I don't know why it didn't occur to me. That's an excellent idea.


Tailsteak -- from what I've read, that's the most common experience. My hope it to find a tactic that will keep tips coming in beyond those first couple of weeks. Between my ideas for keeping readers aware of the tip jar, and Steve's ideas for giving the readers a good reason to want to donate, I think it might be possible.
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gazorenzoku
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Joined: 08 Nov 2001
Posts: 629
Location: Sapporo, Japan

PostPosted: Wed Mar 06, 2002 10:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...what I want to know is, where are all these readers coming from? My biggest problem isn't getting money for my site, it is just gettting readers to come and check it out. Maybe that it because it is experimental... but still you would think that there would be a lot of people out there interested in that sort of stuff. Maybe not...

Also, I think that planing to make any real profit off your site is pure fantasy. It is possible, of course, but not likely. When I first put my site up, I thought, "I'll just ride it out until micropayments become common place, and the readers I get will help me start my own web-comic business someday." Now I realize that that is not going to happen.

But here is something I think can (and for me, will) happen. Printing your own physical book can be a way to increase viewers to your site, and your site in turn will be a great ad for your physical books. In the end, does it really matter which one brings in physical cash?

Here is my plan for success (and by success, I don't mean getting rich. I mean having lots of people look at your work, getting so much fan mail that you have to throw some away without looking at them, and getting enough income to pay for the next printing bill each month, plus a little extra to buy paper and pens).

1) Start a web comic. Have everything for free. It is ok to put up a donate box, but don't expect anything.

2) Plan, write, and draw your own physical book. It can be something entirely different from the comics on your site, or, you can make a comic that includes some stuff on your site. For example, draw a 6 page intro to your print comic on your site, and include that in the print comic.

3) Market your print comic on your site. Get people interested. Make it fun. Make people want to buy your stuff. Don't make it seem like you are needy, or get too personal with your public. Some people might support you out of pity, but what you really want is to entertain people, right?

4) Print the book. With the direct market system, it shouldn't be that difficult. From what I am told, an pre-order list from comic book shops should be enough to convince a bank to give you a loan to pay for printing. See the thread about printing your own book in this forum for more info.

5) Advertise your site in the book. Make sure you have LOTS of free stuff to read other than just the "teaser" for your print book, or people will get turned off real fast. Milo Manera's site is a good example.

6) Enjoy a readership that builds, and occasional money. At this point, you can choose which form will be your "main" form (print or digital), and persue making cash from that form, or you can just have fun playing with both forms.

I think the main question to ask yourself is, "why do I want to use this form?" Or, "what can this form offer me that others can't?"

In other words, there are certain things that print media can do that digital can't, and vica versa. Print media, being the industry standard at this time, can generally offer more security in terms of fan base and cash, but it is expensive to get into (though Photoshop ain't cheap either!)

In my opinion, the main thing digital media has going for it is that there are things you can do artistically that you can't do with print. Layouts can get a lot more interesting. Animation can be used. Color is cheaper than in print. But getting your site noticed is difficult (maybe just for me?), and making money off of it is probably not going to happen anytime soon.

So why not do both? For fun with layout, color, animation, etc., use the web. For a secure readership, money, etc., make print comics.

Of course, selling stuff on your site and including PayPal buttons are great too, but it doesn't seem like you will be able to make a living off of it....

vince

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