Monetization Sucks Beans

There’s a bitter sort of irony that people who enjoy selling things are rarely the people you want to give money, and those folks who deserve your money are cripplingly uncomfortable receiving, much less asking, for it. Mind you, this is a terribly generic take, which (might) be true for the majority of situations, but has so many exceptions it’s bordering on a trope or stereotype. So before you skip to the comments and call me a fool — lemme break down what I mean just a bit.

The sort of predatory salespeople we often (unfairly) associate with the “used car salesman” label, are not the most effective salespeople. The problem is, they’re moderately successful. That moderate success is built on narcissism, deception, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy. They’ll encourage, and even push you to buy more than you need, and manipulate you to pay as much as they can get you to pay. The worse they screw you over, the better they feel they did — and so they’re self-motivated to be just the worst people ever. There are “crafty” versions of these salespeople, who wear the guise of giving a crap about you, but are really just more subtle about pushing those limits, and at the end of the day are only nice because it might benefit them in the long run. (referrals, repeat purchases, etc)

There are genuinely customer-focused salespeople. And oddly enough, they are the most successful type. The great irony here is that on a per-purchase basis, they are likely to make less profit. Yet, in number of sales, repeat customers, referrals, longevity, and countless other non-monetary metrics, they are far more successful than the smarmy, pushy salesforce. These salespeople are rare, and since the “crafty” salespeople mentioned above often appear to be this way — it’s difficult to find them, especially at first. But my hot take on the nuances of the psychology of sales is not what this post is about. I’m just avoiding the main point, because it’s awkward.

Beholden to NO ONE!!!

Some monetization is easy. Sorta. For example, early on (too early, honestly) in my web-comic-drawing-days, I commissioned a stuffed animal of Spot, one of the characters. I have those plushies for sale, and accepting money for them does not feel icky, because I paid for them. (I actually paid WAY too much for them, because I could only afford a limited run, and as such they cost way too much per unit, and so I sell them at cost plus a few bucks for shipping, and even then they’re way too expensive, but I digress.) I paid for them. I mark them up slightly (or not, see above), and I sell them to you. You have a tangible thing that you paid an amount of money to get.

Monetizing creativity, however, gets complicated and icky really quick. For a vast number of reasons. Let’s look at a few…

1: Creative Direction

Let’s say you decide to support my webcomic with a monthly subscription on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If I have tiers of rewards for patrons, it’s a little easier to get a sense of transactional value from your monthly donation. Maybe you see comics a day early. Maybe you get access to livestreams of me drawing. Maybe you get to see comics where Blue says swear words. Who knows. But with that sort of a system, I’d feel a little better knowing you have a transactional value for your donations. It means I have to adjust my creative endeavors in order to accommodate those things — but it works.

But most “lowest tier” support models are just a “big thank you” for supporting. And honestly, I don’t have tiered rewards set up, so if you support me (I have 1 supporter currently, at $4/month), you get nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling when you see Spot befriend a porcupine. BUT… because you’re giving me money, you might feel a bit of ownership over the comic. And that’s not entirely unfair of you. You’re helping make the comic happen, and shouldn’t you have some say on what does or doesn’t happen? Mostly no, of course, but it sorta *feels* like you should, doesn’t it?

This is far more pronounced with something like YouTube. If you’re supporting me with a YouTube Membership (I’m not eligible for monetization of any sort on YouTube yet, so don’t go try), and you’d like me to make more videos on shell scripting, and fewer videos on Kool-Aid taste tests — you might really feel like your opinion matters. And in that case, it really might matter. I mean, you’re paying me because you like the stuff I create. It’s pretty easy to feel comfortable requesting I make things that you like more often, since you’re literally paying me money. And since I’m an individual creator instead of a faceless corporate entity (like, Netflix for instance) — it’s in my best interest financially to listen to you. So… it gets messy.

2: Selling Out

If a creative person creates for money rather than the art itself, doesn’t that make them a sellout?!? WHAT ABOUT THE ART, MAN? Well… the “starving artist” trope is old and worn out, in my opinion. Plus it’s not even accurate. Have you heard of the Sistine Chapel? That ceiling was painted on commission, paid for by the Pope. Was Michelangelo a sellout? Maybe. Did that mean his art was any less art-sy? I’d venture no. It was probably better than it would have been if he couldn’t afford sandwiches for his lunch breaks. So while taking money in return for art doesn’t really make it less genuine or pure — it sorta feels icky. For some reason, if our motivation is to get paid, it often feels (and appears) like we’re only doing it because we’re getting paid. Which, is true. But is that bad? I mean, it shouldn’t be bad, but it feels like it is. Or it feels like it should be. Or… it’s very confusing, but it’s an issue creative folks have to work through.

Then, as if that whole situation weren’t complex enough, add to it the odd personal struggle many artists have with devaluing themselves and their work. It’s hard to charge a living wage when you feel like what you make isn’t work anything. Again, this disfunction isn’t true of all artists, but it’s really super mega common, and not just due to mental illness or abuse. When a creative person is creating, they’re just doing what they do. It *feels* like something anyone can do, or something that lots of people could do much, much better. (Look at my comic, y’all… if you love it, it’s not due to my amazing art skillz. Or, at least in my head there’s no way it’s because of my art skills)

So either what we do isn’t worth real money, or if we take money, we’re not doing it for the right reasons, or if we do take money we’re just shills trying to make a buck doing something that isn’t real work anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, monetizing creative endeavors is complicated. And often feels icky. And also often, it’s not something the actual creative people are good at doing even if they’re OK with doing it.

3: Being Flaky

Sometimes I can’t create things. There are any number of reasons why. For videos, perhaps I’ve lost my voice. Maybe I have a huge pimple or flushed cheeks that I’m showtoppingly uncomfortable with. At times I just run out of ideas, and need a vacation (of various sorts). The same is true with my comic, my writing, my silly cat photos, and all those other creative endeavors I do but haven’t yet shared with the world. (I’m sorry, and you’re welcome) What happens when I don’t do the thing that you are paying me to do? Will that $4/month subscriber of mine get angry if I don’t make a single web comic for a month? Maybe. And, maybe they’d be justified.

What if I fall into a fit of depression, and I can’t work at all for several weeks? I’d arguably need the monetization more than ever during those times, but it sure seems unfair to ask people to give me money for sleeping in the same underwear 7 days in a row. Heck, a few months ago, I got RSV which turned into bronchitis, and teetered on the edge of pneumonia. I’m a sickly dude, and that sort of thing happens to me. If I’m not able to be “ON” for an extended amount of time, does that mean I’m stealing from folks?

Yes, I realize there are responsible ways to prepare for situations like this. I could have a bunch of pre-drawn comics that are released automatically. I could make videos in advance and do the same. In fact, that would be a very healthy thing for me to do anyway, and I should really do that. But since I still have a full time job (because I haven’t successfully monetized my creative ventures), I can barely keep up with this just-in-time release schedule. So building up a buffer is a lot easier said than done. The flaky bit is just one more aspect of monetization that weighs heavily on me, and likely other creators as well.

No Great Answers

Oh, did you think this was an inspirational story that ended with a, “thus and heretofore we shall solve the problems inherent with funding fine arts…”? Yeah, no. This is just my blog where I think out loud. When I write out my thinky bits, it no longer has to live in my head full time. If you expected me to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything — I’m afraid “42” is the best I can do.

That said, I have discovered some things feel less icky than others, at least for me:

  1. If/when I ever get monetized on YouTube, I will not feel horrible about ad revenue. That’s largely because YouTube ads are the norm, and it doesn’t directly take money out of people’s pockets. (It takes a bit of time out of their day, which is arguably a much more terrible thing to do, but that’s another topic). I also like that YouTube has a “Premium” or “Pro” option so that you can pay a monthly subscription to YouTube and not see ads in videos at all. Creators supposedly still get paid, and users don’t have to watch ads. Once I’m monetized, I’ll be making a video about how the premium plan for YouTube is actually pretty great, and I would cancel Netflix long before I’d cancel my YouTube Premium.
  2. Affiliate marketing is really win-win. This one is weird for me, because it still feels icky. But honestly, it doesn’t cost the user any more money at all, and the creator is supported. I try to make it clear that I use affiliate links when I link to a product, but even then I feel like I’m “tricking” people in to buying stuff so that I get a percentage. And yet, it really isn’t that way. I suspect this is a personal issue I just get to work though. And my new “review” blog is me trying to add some value to affiliate links. We’ll see if that works for me emotionally and financially in the long term.
  3. Books. If (when, darn it!) I write books, I’ll be totally fine with selling them. That’s back to the transactional ideal though. You pay me, you get a book. I plan to write books that are self-published ebooks, maybe self-published print-on-demand books, and traditionally published as well. I have no problem accepting money for any of those methods. But also, writing books is hard. Or so I’m told. I haven’t done it yet. 🙂

Anyway. That’s my brain dump about monetizing creativity. It’s weird, and I don’t have a handle on how to do it properly. Perhaps I never will. But if you’re also struggling with monetizing your passions, and you’d really like to monetize your passions (sometimes, if you don’t have to, it’s a better option to not do so!) — know that you’re not alone.

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