Monetizing Writing

For a while, I've been looking to dip our toes into payments / monetization for writers on Write.as and WriteFreely. I've taken a “wait and see” approach to this so far, but now we're starting to experiment with some ideas.

When it comes to monetizing creative work, I'm of two minds. First, I'm very wary of the incentives it introduces, compared to creation for its own sake. But if some creative work's purpose is going to be more for commerce than self-satisfaction, I don't think there's ever a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, there probably needs to be a “stack” of different business models and revenue streams that, together, add up to a sustainable income.

As a consumer, one of my favorite creative commercial environments is the music world. Thanks to the internet, we've gone from central gatekeepers sitting between fans and artists, largely picking how fans pay and how much they pay, to a wide variety of business models and distribution methods. For example, we no longer have to go to a record store and buy an entire album, thanks to digital music stores; we don't even have to own the music we want to hear, thanks to streaming services; and now we can go directly to the artists we like and buy from them, thanks to services like Bandcamp that make music distribution on the web a cinch. Artists and consumers alike now have all this choice in what the commercial product looks like, and how it gets consumed.

There are plenty of parallels to written work, especially made online, that I think we can draw from. First, readers don't need to own every article they read — though it might be nice to have the option to keep anything they enjoyed. Writers should have far-reaching distribution through various channels, and be able to get paid through each one. They should also be able to have a direct relationship with their readers, and make more from fans who want more of their work.

Instead of “one revenue stream to rule them all,” we're going to be looking for a variety of options for writers and their audiences. Just as we've done this with distribution via open protocols like ActivityPub, we're going to do it with monetization. We're going to keep giving writers and readers choice and freedom, looking to create new open marketplaces instead of new walled gardens.

Our first experiment

To start, I'm looking at the Web Monetization (WM) standard and testing it out on Write.as, to see what might be possible. In short, WM allows readers with a special browser (or browser extension) to “stream” payments to creators on the web. (Here's a general explanation.) I've actually enabled it on this blog, so if you're using a compatible browser or extension, you'll automatically stream payments to me as you read this. And if you're a Write.as Pro user, you can also enable WM on your blog — learn how to on our forum.

Beyond this, we're having conversations about what else might be possible with Web Monetization on a writing platform like ours. Keep an eye out for more details in the near future.

Outlook

We're starting here because I think micropayments have the potential to make up one slice of a writer's revenue stack.

Most interestingly to me, it enables basically the same model as music streaming services. As a consumer, you pay a set monthly fee, and get as much content as you want from a variety of artists. But unlike those services (or a subscription you'd get from Medium or a news outlet), we can build this on an open standard that enables choice and competition among providers on both sides — very much in line with our ethos as a platform.

Of course, there are plenty of unanswered questions here, from fueling adoption to seeing how viable this revenue stream can actually be for writers. But that's why we're starting to experiment.

As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this. You can jump in on the forum thread or reply to this post in the fediverse, mentioning me @matt@writing.exchange.


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