The Results (and Questions) from My Donation-ware Tutorial

18 Apr 2011

felt_box_tutorial

So, about two weeks ago, I tried a little experiement in Free and Sustainability. I released this project tutorial as both a free how-to on the blog and a "donation-ware" PDF with a full-size pattern. The idea was, you could have the project for free, but if you wanted to support crafty content here on CraftyPod, you could also click a donation button and chip in a dollar or more.

The results of this experiment have been very interesting, and I think it's important to share them and discuss them. It's very clear to me from all our recent discussion that many of us are seeking ways to make free content on our blogs more sustainable, so the best way to find these solutions is to work them out together.

donationware_results

So first, here's the data.

I am so grateful to Georgene Lockwood, Elizabeth Devereaux, Chris Miser, Alexa Westerfield, Sarah Wood, Susan Beal, Mirja Marshall, Mary Corbet, and Joanne Ososki for their donations. Seriously, their willingness to support free crafty content gives me great hope for the future of craft blogging. I so appreciate your engagement and kindness, Ladies!

Do I wish there had been more donations? I'm not going to lie to you: I do wish. Because here's a little more data:

dinationware_time_in

Those nine donations total $41.50. Granted, that's $41.50 more than I've made on most other tutorials on this blog, but when you do the math on how many hours I put into this presentation, it comes out to getting paid $2.96 per hour.

That's better than getting paid zero dollars per hour, of course. But is it enough for me to continue making free tutorials? I honestly don't know. But actually, I think I'll tackle that subject in another post.

Horse
Image by Marvee-sama, via Flickr

Looking a gift horse in the mouth?

I'm worried that, by sharing all the ways these results aren't that sustainable, I risk belittling the kindness of the nine people who supported my experiment. I don't mean to – in fact, I am wholly grateful that there was a response at all.

Here's why I'm trying so hard to point out what goes into these things and what comes out of them: we are all gaining a lot from the online crafty community. But are we all putting enough back in? And how honest are we being about the kinds of value we'd like to get in exchange for our efforts?

For example, when I launched this experiment, I never quantified how much money in donations I would need in order to consider it a success. And I only realized this once I realized that I was disappointed about having so few donors.

In a world where time and energy are aways scarce, how long can any of us continue to put good work out there with no hope of compensation? At what point does a sharing-based community begin to take responsibility for itself in economic terms?

I am certainly not saying we need to make this community a "pay to play" experience - not at all! There should always be room for Free and Paid. But are we actually making enough room for the latter?

Agave Ribbon Loops
Image by cobalt123, via Flickr

Closing that loop

I'll mention this, too, although it's a little dicey to do so. I did hear from a lot of fellow bloggers who were curious about how this donation-ware model was working out, because they were eager to try it out on their own blogs. And for the record, only one of those inquirers (Alexa) actually made a donation.

If you asked me but didn't donate, I am not trying to slam you for that! But I think it brings up a very interesting point: these sustainability models can really only work if we're willing to "close the loop" and support as well as share.

I don't think it makes sense to assume that "all those non-bloggers out there" will step in and support us, and we can let our fellow bloggers off the hook. Because let's face it – only another blogger can understand how many hours it takes to make a good tutorial. And the mainstream audience has a much more passive attitude to content than we do. So honestly, who's to make the donation-ware model go, if not fellow bloggers?

I actually think this donation-ware model has real possibilities, because it takes a "product" (tutorials) that we all consider to be of high value already, and then gives those of us who consume it a very easy, low-cost way to help support it. A donation of a couple bucks is way less than a print magazine subscription, and it directly helps your neighbor or friend keep making the content you love to read.

So I'd love to see lots more of us releasing donation-ware work. And I think that more of us can take advantage of this model if more of us are also actively supporting it.

Your Turn
Image by manon.paradis, via Flickr

Your turn - what are your thoughts?

…Here's what I'm curious about after this experiment:

• Do you have an interest in using the donation-ware model on your own blog? How would you do it differently? And what kind of response would make it worth your time?

• If you decided not to support this tutorial, what led to your decision? There's no judgement here – your feedback is veluable for us all. Was the project not appealing? Too holiday-oriented? Was the presentation not clear? Was it too grabby?

• What kinds of tutorials in general would you be most willing to make donations for? (Not just here, but anywhere?)

Comments

Hi, Fiona - Absolutely, there's plenty of future earning potential in this tutorial. I'd love to report back at maybe 90 days and six months - that could be useful. I chose this 14-day period mostly because, in my experience, that's the "acute attention period" for a tutorial post - especially one with a specific holiday focus.

You raise a good point about the Easter specificity. I chose this project largely because I thought that, as an experiment, something with a rather finite interest period might give clearer data than an "everyday tutorial." But of course, Easter is far from a universal holiday! I agree that these boxes would be awesome at other times of the year, but I feel that to convey this in tutorial form would (as you mentioned) lead to even more hours invested, and at some point, I think you have to draw a line of relative profitability.

You and Tricia both point out something really key - that in the feed-reader environment, we move pretty fast, and details often get lost. I agree that the PayPal button not appearing in feed readers was a bit detriment. (I had all kinds of struggles with that dang PayPal button code.)

I like your suggestion of posting the photos but not the how-to. This is something I've done in the past with tutorials I offer for sale in my shop: http://shop.craftypod.com/catalog/2 Although so far, I haven't seen much response, perhaps there's a tweak to try with the donation model rather than a straight price.

Actually, one of the things I wonder most about this experiment, you've hit on the head: can any of us really identify what we would donate for? Not only are we awash in online craft projects, most of us have a long list of WIPs already. I know I mostly save project ideas to refer back to later, but I rarely make a specific project from scratch.

...This kind of brings my thinking back to the whole idea of "supporting the blogger rather than buying the project," and it may also raise some pretty huge implications for how we all perceive the value of what we're creating. But perhaps that question is best set aside for another day. :-)

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! I learned some good things here.


I do take it as a positive response, Pippa - and I thank you for sharing your thoughts. You're right in saying that not everyone who viewed the project had intent to make it.

I think that actually raises an interesting side-question: what constitutes a tutorial more people will use? And maybe even this: how much should we really be bringing values like "usefulness" into a donation decision? In a way, when I have the opportunity to donate to another blog, my donation is a response to all the content that's come before whatever it is I'm actually making a donation for. In the number of craft projects I look at on the internet every week, how many of them are actually of immediate use to me? Not that many, really. I wonder if we don't need a reframe of what "donation-for-tutorial" actually means. To me, it's an act of support for the blogger, not really a needed purchase.

...And I totally get that not every crafter will think of that the way I do. Ack- actually, I hope my response to your response will be taken as a positive, too! I can go on and on about this stuff. :-) Thanks again!


Hmm interesting question. I suppose it could be overcome slightly with a 'donate to running of blog (or something like that)' fund, but it might not get the same reaction because people tend to feel that they want to receive something back when they hand over money. Even if it is a pattern that they are not likely to use for a while.
I think that for me personally I am more likely to donate to a blog I like than to a specific tutorial if I am not likely to use that, purely for the reason that I would feel like I way paying for something I wasnt going to use if I payed for the tutorial (even if it isnt technially paying as its voluntary) but am more willing to help support blogs I like and use as I tend to use them more for inspiration than direct 'How To's'
I will also put into the mix that I am a student at the moment so tend to be quite stingy wiht my money and definitely dont have any time to do the things I see on blogs at the moment. So any potential payment from me is only likely to come once I finish and get a job (which scarily is only a few months away...)

I also have you on my google reader so will still be coming by even if you arent adding any more free tutorials. I added you as I enjoyed what you put but also so I dont forget about this website when I do finally get some free time and come back and see what inspiration you have for me.

xx


Yes! Thanks, Tricia - I am looking for honesty here. I think everything all of us have to say here is important and revealing and useful to the community.

You raise a good point, and that is that not all of us see our participation in the monetary side of the community the same way. Of course, your willingness to give attention to advertising does support those bloggers who have sponsors, and I'm sure they appreciate your engagement there.

I also like your point that different fundraising models appeal to different people. Personally, the public radio pledge-drive model you're describing drives me up a wall, though I understand its necessity. I'm much more a fan of a smaller, once-in-a-while donation request.

Thanks so much for commenting here!


Hi, a very interesting read. There is a lot of work that goes into these things and im sure that a lot of people will be willing to chip in a little for a tutorial that they have found useful.
But I will make a few little comments on your experiment that will hopefully help you to balance up the data to help make future decisions on this subject.
The number of people that would have looked at the pattern is not necessary the number of people who have actually used the pattern, some people will just look at it to see what others are doing. For example I looked at this tutorial when it was put up because I find it interesting but I am not planning to make the boxes as it is not something that I would use. The same would go for other bloggers who asked you how it was going, they would be interested in the results of your experiment but would not be expected to donate if the actual subject matter is not of use/interest to them at that point.
You may find that for other subject matters you have a much higher percentage of viewers who donate to you.
Overall I think that this is a good way to go if you are questioning sustainability because it gives a choice and if you were planning to put it up for free it gives you a way of making a bit back. Also I imagine that if you do it more often the setup of the donate button etc will take less time each time (hopefully).
Hopefully you will take this comment as a positive response, but just if working out percentages etc you cannot assume that everyone who viewed it will have used the pattern
:D keep up the great work x


At the same time, many of us learnt the craft for free from a relative, so the idea of "if you learnt it for free, pass it along" is still heavily engraved on our minds.

Thank you SO much for your kind words. It's true that my career is going really well, especially if you consider I've only been at it seriously for about a year (my birthday this year will mark the 1-year anniversary of the start!), and you're right, I guess if no one can see your talent, you can't get places, which is why I offer one small token of free in exchange for the possibility of keeping your interest as a future customer.

You ask "once people are willing to pay for our skills on a professional level, does it make sense to keep giving them away for free?".... maybe not? Maybe we've given away enough of our time and knowledge (it'll always be available for them to use on our blogs, etc) and we should centre our efforts on making a living?


Right you are - I'm beginning to think it may be time to let my archives (which are pretty big by now) be the Free content in future, and just reclaim the hours for my own creative endeavors. I'm starting to feel like the value I'm giving away may not actually be that valuable in the current landscape of over-abundance.


I think it could work for Crafty Bloggers. You personally give so much away for free.
Do you think that if you offered some of your work for donation on a regular basis that might kind of attune the community to it as a concept?
I didn't see the box tutorial at the time, but it strikes me that almost all of it was there (or seemed to be) on the blog and perhaps people felt that there was nothing "extra" to donate for?
Maybe if there had been just a few teaser photos?

I am happy to pay for what I will use. I use your eBook on blogging for example and it's excellent.


Definitely, I thought along the lines of not sharing the whole tutorial. In the end, I decided to put it all out there, because I really wanted the donation to be a choice, not a requirement. Thus far, I haven't had enough sales of the tutorials I offer for sale to have me believing that this model would work much better.

All this said, I still do believe in the model. But perhaps we need to lose a chunk of the inspiration we're all enjoying for free, and then we can evolve a landscape where more of us are willing to participate in a donation model. Perhaps at the moment, we're just too abundant in Free.


.i think your idea has a lot of merit,and would be very happy to support this type of system. However,and maybe I am just a very small minority, but I do not have a credit card, paypal etc. I only use cash(have a over spending problem).Having said that i do support dedicated artists the right to be paid for their time and their artistic talent. Regads plasticless Eileen 


Thank you so much Kelly! I adored the fact that your donation was labeled, "Funding for Research Initiatives." :-)

Flattr is a BIG subject, and I've been planning a post on it forever. I'd love more and more of us to be using this tool. because then the dollar amounts are even smaller, and support becomes an ongoing practice. Thanks for the feedback on the placement of my Flattr button!


Thank you so much for your donation, Marti! I'm really glad that seeing the numbers is helpful. I worry about being the bearer of falsely bad news, because a few other bloggers have told me that this donation-ware model works well for them. (I think it's up to these folks to tell their own stories, though, so I'd rather not name names.)

Honestly, I don't think it takes a readership of any size to make a donation-ware offering work. It just takes a readership who's invested in your support – combined with an offering that inspires support. And that's available to any blogger, regardless of his or her traffic numbers.

We're so lucky that we can have these conversations as a community and analyze what works and what doesn't.


Your words mean a lot to me, Carolina - this isn't easy stuff to talk about, and it's always uncomfortable to talk about money. I just hope that the visibility helps further our conversations as a community, so we can evolve some workable models that keep us all creating and sharing!

The offline idea is intriguing... I wonder if any other commenters here have pursued selling printed tutorials to brick-and-mortar outlets? I mean, I know there's a thriving market for knitting and crochet patterns produced this way, but I wonder whether the model would work for other craft projects? And, what's the profit possibility there? How much would a retailer pay wholesale for copies, and how much would the public pay retail. Anyone have some experiences to share here?

You're absolutely right that the life of a digital tutorial is infinite, and so this project can continue earning well into the future. In my experience, 14 days is usually the "acute attention period" for an online tutorial on my blog, so this gives us a basis for discussion.

I've been thinking a lot about how much I would need to make on this kind of tutorial in order to feel like it was worthwhile. Here's where I come out at the moment: based on 14 hours of production time, if I made $100.00 in donations, I'm making about $7.00 per hour. That's still a lot less than I make per hour selling tutorials to magazines and websites, but it's at least more worthwhile for a personal project. If you figure that the average donation has been about $5.00, that only requires 20 people to donate. And that seems pretty achievable to me - though there's no way to know what span of time that happens in.

Thank you so much for commenting here and sharing your ideas. I really appreciate it!


Yes! I do have interest in using the donation-ware model on my blog. I think I'd put something at the end of the post, like you did, "Love this tutorial? Get the printable version ..." I hadn't given any thought to what would make it worth my time. First thought: I'd want it to be similar to ad income, so $100/mo or more. For my blog, that might be a ridiculous expectation.

I missed your donation-ware post because I've been neglecting my feed reader. If I'd seen it, I'm sure I would have asked you how it was going. In fact, I think we've talked about this idea offline already. In all honesty, I wouldn't have donated. I'm in the "I donate/buy if I use it" camp.

For my fave bloggers, I try to find other ways to support them ... mentions, reviews, links, etc. I wouldn't give someone money for something (a pdf of a tutorial) I wasn't going to use.

I would be willing to donate for information I really wanted to know. In fact, I WISH there was someone that had slip stitch crochet tutorials online. I'd pay good money to learn how to do that.

If we create an ecosystem where all us makers are donating to all us makers, no one's going to get anywhere. It starts to look like a multilevel marketing scam where the best of the best will get a larger slice of a tiny pie and the not-so-best will quickly fall to the wayside only to be replaced by people hoping to become the best of the best.

If micropayments were a part of our society and culture, I think we'd really benefit from that kind of system ... but with the awful state of our economy, I don't think the idea of being free with your pocket change is on the horizon. Some people's pocket change is a huge chunk of their budget.

I'm going to try donation-ware, but I think advertising is a better bet right now. I also liked the other commenter's idea of a pledge drive. Sure those couple of weeks drive you nuts, but there is always the implicit promise that the "asking for money" will end and you'll have your normal programming back soon. People might "wait out" a finite amount of fund raising, but if they think you're going to ask for money every couple of posts, they might unsubscribe ... hmmmmm


You know, this idea of "if we all support each other, nobody gets anywhere" idea came up in one of my previous Free/Sustainability posts. And I have to say, I really disagree. I don't think we'd be creating a scenario where everyone trades the same money around. We'd instead be each investing a very little cash each month into substantively telling the people who give us value that we appreciate what they do and we want them to keep going. That is nothing more or less than a powerful re-framing of the way we interact with our media, and it's a re-frame whose time has come.

I really do think that, the longer we wait for some force outside our community to come along and rescue us all financially, the more we let a lot of good bloggers slip away for lack of support.

...And while I agree that pocket change is scarce all over, I have also learned that, if you prioritize it, you can spread some support around without crippling your budget.

Advertising absolutely works for some bloggers. I don't choose to use that model myself, as it's just too passive for my tastes, and I don't enjoy the work of managing an ad program. And advertising needs large readership, which not everyone has access to. This is another reason I like the idea of community support - then more of us have access to some income – income doesn't have to be as dependent on a large audience if your few readers care about your work enough to chip in a little.


It was probably me that brought up the trading-money-thing last time, too. You made me think this time, though, we all have our different circles of sites we visit, and different interests. I always imagine the world as just my circle of online friends. Perhaps the whole thing is much bigger than I suspect and much more sustainable.

Part of my thinking here is that I don't think people understand the effort we put into these projects unless they've done one themselves - which limits the pool of donators to ... all of us. If we could make everyone write and photograph a tutorial, they'd be a lot more likely to offer monetary support.

I bet most people would give up after a couple of hours of working on a tutorial. You put 14 hours into this. Do people understand what that means? Do people think about how much they make at two days at their job and realize that's about what you'd need to earn for your time, too? No, they probably don't.

This post gave me a idea I might try out ... a post detail summary where I list out how much time a post has taken me, how many photos I had to take, how many minutes of video I shot total. Even if I don't have donation-ware it might be enlightening for people to know the effort that goes into the post they love. Of course, I'm not sure *I* want to know how much time these things take me. ;)


Ah, that detail helps me better understand what you're saying. Definitely, if we were a smaller community, there would be danger of trading the same dollars. But I think we're a pretty vast community, full of different neighborhoods, and there's big potential for exchange among us all.

I really like that detail summary of the time that goes into your posts. (Though I agree, tracking the time is daunting. I was shocked to see I'd put 14 hours into this project.)

...And I see the wisdom in the idea of expanding beyond your current circle of friends into new people who'd be more likely to support you, because they aren't friends. But here's the thing - I worry that we crafters are relying too heavily on this mythical "mass market" who's going to come in with wads of cash and save us all. Those people don't exist. They've been raised on advertiser-supported media, so it would be even less likely for it to occur to them to donate or otherwise directly support a website they liked.

I think our friendship connections, whether light or deep, are our best engine of creating some economic opportunity for everyone.


I haven't yet had time to read all the comments posted so far, but I wanted to tell everyone reading how proud I am of you for so honestly and openly sharing your thoughts experiences, successes and disappointments as you explore the question of finding a business model or models that will sustain bloggers who are providing free content and are still trying to make their crafty business profitable.

You have a huge following of readers who love and respect you and your craft, but it still takes great courage to stand before those very people and shine a light into all the dark corners as you search for viable answers.

I will tell you one thing, ever since I decided to follow your lead and purposefully make an effort every month to support bloggers by purchasing from their shops, I am actually having a ball! I have gone through every blog in my reader and made a personal wish list and started a Christmas gift list.

I already have a flattr account and will watch for donation ware as well. You can count on me to do what i can to support the crafty blogisphere.

You have asked some excellent questions here and I am looking forward to following the discussion as it unfolds.


Mom, you just rock! :-)


Full disclosure: I am a VERY late adopter, so it's possible I'm totally wrong about things like flattr. Read my micropayment comments with that in mind. :)

Also, I wonder if you would have seen more or less income if there was only the pay model ... do you have any idea based on your other pay-only projects?


Well, my tutorials for sale haven't sold all that well - with one runaway exception: Magazine Page Jewelry (http://shop.craftypod.com/node/17). I'd hazard a guess that many of the same objections people are expressing here may apply.

When you look at my publishing efforts across the board, titles about blogging and social media outsell crafty titles by a large margin. Such a double-edged sword: it's awesome, on the one hand, that so much wonderful free information is out there for us all. But on the other hand, it probably makes us way undervalue crafty content in general.


The boxes are really cute, let me just say that first.
If I did tutorials on my largely neglected blog, I would certainly consider the donation-ware model. But, life changes made my blogging one of those neglected areas. I didn't do tutorials anyway, because I'm not really a leader. I'm a copier. I do have a few ideas for tutorials, and if things change, I'd love to do them as donation-ware.

As for response, I would think that $2.96 an hour fell into the category of riches. I am doing home day care now, and making $1.67 an hour for an infant. And, I get phone calls every week who say that I'm charging too much. People don't stop and think about the hourly cost of my time--and I think it's the same for tutorials. People just don't realize how many hours go into it.

I didn't use the tutorial because, well, I missed it. But, I wouldn't have done it anyway because I don't do felt crafts. I see so many really cute things, but felt is hard to get around here, and I just don't seem to have the knack for it.

The presentation was clear and I never gave a thought to the idea of a donation. It seems like a perfectly logical thing to do.

My personal craft style is sewing and patchwork--except not clothes and not quilts. ;-) I am also drawn to quick things--a few hours work at most.

I have a small Etsy shop, so I look for things that I can make to sell. If a tutorial catches my eye, I'll make it. If it turned out well (due to my skill-no reflection on the quality of the tutorial!), and I don't see anything about personal use, I'll contact the blogger and ask permission. If anyone ever said that re-sell permission was part of the donation ware, I'd be a regular customer. Just a side point--I've never had anyone say no when I asked--a sign of the generosity out there. I'd like to see them do donation-ware in that case.


This is an interesting point, Texaswren. I wonder how many tutorial designers would be interested in selling the rights to re-sell one of their designs for a donation. (Anyone care to comment on that?) I suppose it depends a lot on the nature of the design.

Thank you for sharing your reasons for not donating - I appreciate your insight. And it breaks my heart to hear you're making that little per hour for child care! Though I totally understand that for the parents, this is likely a hard cost to shoulder. It's true that we're all struggling with our own economic stories. Still, I do believe that it's up to each of us to decide what we feel is the fair value of our work (whatever its nature) and then stick to that.


Thank you too for posting those figures Diane - they are very interesting and raise lots of questions. I've been following your discussion on this for some time and what I think you are tapping into 'free v paid' is not just an issue for the crafty field but also for the whole wider internet. How is the internet going to work in the future? Witness the big struggle for newspapers should they charge for their online content & if so, how?

For what its worth here's a few random thoughts:

1.I didn't donate to the tutorial because we are just not into Easter so much here in Australia (like the NZ comment below), knew I didn't have time to make it & was worried about what the 'right' amount would be for a donation. I know this is a personal thing but is what I would give too little / too much??

2. Also the concept of value is important: there's just so much stuff out there on craft tutorials (admittedly most of it is not as good quality as you do with your tutorials) that's free, its overwhelming really. I have heaps of my own design projects to finish without even starting to look for new ones. However, I have done two of your e-classes on ebooks and podcasting and I just have to say they are well worth the class fee - the content is unique and delivered with insight and quality. I feel like I've learnt heaps (and am learning heaps) so I think I'm saying I place a higher value on your e-classes so I'm prepared to pay for those whereas in the crafty field I feel overwhelmed with possible projects.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Jen! I'm glad you brought up my classes and ebooks, because interestingly, in those areas of my online life, there's a mutually-beneficial exchange at work. People are willing to pay for my technical/marketing skills because (more often than not) these skills are helping them toward their future business goals. That's good - and I appreciate the people (including you!) who support my teaching.

...But there is a growing issue with the crafty content here. At this point, every crafty post I make (and especially tutorials) comes directly out of my personal time budget, and I am reaching a point where I'm less and less inclined to spend my personal time on work people aren't interested in supporting financially. I do see a small connection between someone coming here for a free tutorial and maybe getting interested in a class, but let's face it - the classes and tutorials aren't all that related. So the exchange with the readers of my crafty content just isn't all that clear.

It's absolutely true that there are a LOT of tutorials out there. So maybe the only way to have people value them enough to donate is to have a large swath of us give up making them. If how-to content is scarcer, people are perhaps more inclined to support it?

I have no answers. But I appreciate you contributing to the discussion!


Thank you, Bits - I appreciate your feedback.

Your mention of reading 100+ blogs brings up for me an idea I think is beginning to take hold in our community, and that's the idea of not trying to keep up with it all. I know I've reduced the number of blogs I read quite a bit in the last year, because I was spending too much time zipping through my reader and not giving any kind of meaningful witness to other people's work. I decided to take my finite resources of time and attention and spread them more deeply among fewer blogs. And I've been pretty happy with that decision, as it's given me space to comment more and enjoy more. I'm hearing similar themes from a lot of others these days.

Perhaps you're right - as a community, maybe we'll eventually evolve away from having any business interest for our blogs, and return to the good old days of sharing what we're making. But I have to say, that idea makes me sad, because as smart, creative people, I'd sure like to think we're capable of figuring out ways to support each other creatively and financially.


Thanks so much for chiming in here, Georgene! Definitely, undervaluing, especially of time, is rampant across many creative disciplines. When I was first learning to make tutorials, i was trading my time for the learning value. But now, I think those skills deserve to be treated with more reverence - and that may mean only making tutorials when I can be hired to do so. You're right - it really does come down to what you can afford to spend from your time/energy budget, and what you're exchanging for that time and energy.


Thanks, Wendi - I appreciate your honesty. And I admire the way you're making a finite commitment to your new site, and planning to re-evaluate its performance.

That's essentially what I'm doing with this blog, too – though I didn't start with as clear a plan as you have! But I think it's time to look hard at my time and livelihood, and make whatever hard choices are needed in order to move forward more sustainably.

I'll post this question - not so much in response to your comment specifically as to the tone of the last five comments I've just responded to...

I hear a very strong theme of "I want to build my business, but I don't buy from other crafters" in these comments. And I can't help asking - if everyone's a business but no one's a customer, how is this supposed to work – for any of us?


Right you are, Wendi. Your comment has helped me realize something interesting. I agree, I honestly don't seek out tutorials much either, preferring to hammer out my own designs. Honestly, I mostly buy tutorials because they're inexpensive and my purchase is an act of support for a crafty friend. (Similarly to the live community you're in.)

To me, it's like a tutorial's value is more of a symbol of support than a how-to project. If you look at my blog stats, and the kind of blog posts that get shared most often, we blog-readers still pay more attention to tutorials than most of the kind of craft blogging. So even though I'm hearing a whole lot of "I don't really need them" in these comments from everyone, I think it's true that the tutorial is still a measure of value in this community.

What's fuzzier is (as you said) how connected we may feel to other people in a digital environment, and whether that connection can translate to small amounts of financial support for more people.


Right you are, Wendi. Your comment has helped me realize something interesting. I agree, I honestly don't seek out tutorials much either, preferring to hammer out my own designs. Honestly, I mostly buy tutorials because they're inexpensive and my purchase is an act of support for a crafty friend. (Similarly to the live community you're in.)

To me, it's like a tutorial's value is more of a symbol of support than a how-to project. If you look at my blog stats, and the kind of blog posts that get shared most often, we blog-readers still pay more attention to tutorials than most of the kind of craft blogging. So even though I'm hearing a whole lot of "I don't really need them" in these comments from everyone, I think it's true that the tutorial is still a measure of value in this community.

What's fuzzier is (as you said) how connected we may feel to other people in a digital environment, and whether that connection can translate to small amounts of financial support for more people.


Thank you, Stephanie. I've been typing this a lot here already, so I'll just say that I agree that the web is awash in free tutorials, and that I think a donation-ware tutorial is more of an opportunity to support someone whose work you value than it is a need-based purchase.


Thank you, Stephanie. I've been typing this a lot here already, so I'll just say that I agree that the web is awash in free tutorials, and that I think a donation-ware tutorial is more of an opportunity to support someone whose work you value than it is a need-based purchase.


I so appreciate your honest feedback here, Michele. You know that I respect your talent deeply, and if you do offer that donation-ware tutorial, I will buy it.

Can I respond to your points in a numbered list? I don't want to be terse, just organized. :-)

1) You raise a great big issue I'm dealing with in this blog right now. Could I teach a class on donation-ware? Probably. But this blog started with crafting, and over time, I've had to add more and more income streams that are outside of crafting (ebooks, classes, consulting), because it's become harder and harder to make the crafty content here viable. What I'm searching for are some ways we can ALL use to pursue our dreams of getting paid doing what we love. Since so many of us here have that same dream, it really seems to me that we could help each other toward it.

2) You know, I encourage you (and everyone) to check out Flattr - I have my monthly limit there set to $5.00. Believe me, I live on a budget, too, and I never miss that $5.00. It's comforting to know that I'm supporting my fellow crafters tanigbly each month.

3) I'm seeing a really interesting vein appearing in this discussion: the tension between so many of us wanting to make a living doing what we love, and the fact that we don't seem to be able to assign enough value to creative work to pay for it. I'm just looking for ways these two ideas can co-exist better, because I worry that this tension will end up thwarting too many of us.

Again, I think you're an amazingly talented maker, and I hope you'll see great success. Thanks again for sharing your perspectives here - most helpful!


Dang, Sam - the survey idea is genius! Thank you for that. And you're absolutely right - one donation-ware tutorial doesn't necessarily illustrate the full range of possibilities of this model (though it has raised some pretty interesting discussion here). I'm honestly not sure at this point whether I'll continue doing tutorials on this blog at all - and that's not just a result of this experiment; it's a result of a lot of thinking I'll share in another post. What would be cool is to have more crafters who are not me try a donation-ware project and report their results.

I like your idea of re-formatting past tutorials as donation-ware. The hours involved to set that up feel daunting, but given that my top posts each month are always all tutorials, and some of them from years past, it might make sense to tackle it.

Thanks for the insights!


Diane,

I've been thinking about this all night (and chatting with a few of my crafty friends) and I think I may take you up on your call for another crafter to try a donation-ware project and report back on it.

I still want to offer my patterns for regular sale. I've had a few brick & mortar shops express interest in carrying them so I'm looking into what would be involved with having them printed. I don't want to mess with that potential revenue stream. But one of the things you found that interested me greatly was that when you attached the donation to a tutorial for a specific project, people responded by donating only if they wanted to make that project. I'll admit - that was my instinct too. So I think in addition to offering my patterns for sale, I'll put a donation button at the end of my free video lessons. Maybe I'll take a page from that study that someone cited (the one about the eyes) and put eyes on the button somewhere. :-) Or maybe I'll just make it clear in the copy requesting the donation that this is a way to keep the crafty content coming if they find the general lessons useful, but aren't interested in buying specific patterns. Maybe I'll also include info on how long it takes to make a video? I don't know. I don't want it to come off as whiny in any way. I'll have to give the "request copy" a lot of thought.

It'll take me some time to get my act together, but I think I'll be able to add this to all my May videos (that's 9 videos). I'm so curious to see what the results will be! And (I'm taking a deep breath here) I'll be willing to share the results. Hard numbers about exactly what I earned for the month and where it came from. I won't share on my own blog - because that would be weird and out of place given the rest of the content. But I'd be happy to share the results with you and let you do with the info what you will. I really appreciate the discussion you've opened up here and I'd like to contribute as more than a commenter.


Wendi, this is awesome! I would LOVE to see more crafters experiment with this model and share their results, and I like the variation you're considering - I think that's a great match with the video content you do.

If you'd like to share your results with me, I'll gladly report them here - or not, as you determine. We can talk more about it when you have some data. But THANK YOU for getting involved in this idea! I'm sure your findings will be very helpful to many.


Wow, Ruth - My perception (from the outside, of course) is that knitting and crochet may be the best hope crafters have for tutorial sales, because those kinds of patterns are hard for most of us to reverse-engineer.

My supporting brain is kicking in here, and wants to point out that your career as a knitwear designer seems to have taken some great strides of late, so maybe your Free is paying off. I mean, all the free stuff I did early on certainly brought me to the place I'm at now. The question just becomes this: once people are willing to pay for our skills on a professional level, does it make sense to keep giving them away for free?

I really respect your arrangement of one free pattern and the rest paid. The freebie-hunters will always be there, and will always consume and depart. But your model is smart, and protective of your talents. Don't be discouraged!


Alex. you're the first to make a concrete tutorial suggestion, and for that I thank you so much!


Like you need an excuse to play with plastic canvas!? :o)


HAHA! Well, it IS something other people aren't doing that much of.... :-)


Thank you so much, Jen - that's a really interesting study about the coffee!

I think the biggest distinction that's emerging for me from all this discussion is the fact that we're taking something that's been offered to us for free all over the place (tutorials), and then when we're presented with an opportunity to voluntarily contribute a few dollars as a means of thanks or support, we swing wildly over into the thinking we use to evaluate a product purchase: i.e, is it useful?

Are tutorials really all that useful in our online community? Or are they merely inspirational? And what is inspiration worth to us? So, if we refuse to support a fellow blogger because we don't think that's a "useful" way to spend our money, and then that blogger stops sharing inspiration, haven't we lost more than the couple bucks we might have donated?

Obviously, we'll have to lose inspirations on a much larger scale before this idea will have any meaning for the community at large.

Lordy, I sound so bitter there. I don't feel bitter. Just a little sad at this point. Like I'm fighting a losing battle.


I don't want to inhibit your inquiry into "donation ware".
My life and academic experience with Economics has shown me that this is may not be a new phenomenon. If you are interested, you might research the studies that Economists have done that show that demand DEcreases as price INcreases. (In the 70's and 80's there was a lot of interest in Public Television and the problem of "free ridership", and today many Stations air commercials because donations don't cover costs. ) (The statement "there's no free lunch" has been studied for decades and has many nuances.) On my desk I have a card, purchased at a craft store, created by a well-known artist, that encourages me to continue after failure. I hesitate to quote that artist and harm that person's "income stream", and I hesitate to make a "free" advertisement for the artist for other personal reasons.
I offer this comment only to encourage you to continue to find your "niche in the market" ... whatever that may be.


Thanks for your comment, Annie. I am definitely hearing people say "it wasn't something I was interested in making." What's interesting to me is that so few people (just one, by my count) have actually suggested anything they WOULD be interested in making enough to donate for a tutorial. I wonder what that elusive project is?


Perhaps you could do a survey about what people are interested in, based on a selection of different types of content & tutorials from your archive?

ie ask questions to find out what content on your blog people most enjoy, what they bookmark and come back to / use to make things from etc, and then if they'd consider donating why/why not and for which content?

That sounds like a lot of questions but it might help you focus in on what your readers want and what % of them would consider the donationware model in a tangible way, so you can better match content you want to prompt donations with the readers who are likely to donate for content (if that makes sense!)


This is a very smart idea, Lupin - thank you! An idea that probably anyone considering donationware would be smart to pursue.


Thanks for a follow up. It does make it more interesting to hear what actually happens to these new models.

I enjoy the blog and I liked the idea of the tutorial but i think the things that kept me from buying were the fact that it was seasonal and I thought I wouldn't have time to make it (yes I know I could change seasons but this was how my initial thoughts were running) and it was a box. While I love containers it didn't seem clever or anything I wouldn't have sat down and knocked out a pattern for. I guess that's what I learned from your experiment. I respond to a "how did they do that" kind of project. Not that it need be terribly complex but just intriguing and a little different. There is just so much out there on the crafty web that it takes more to draw me (and my cash) in.

What I liked about your book is that your flowers looked different from other flowers out there and there were some tricks to making them well.

I do still enjoy following the blog and know that there will be a project for me to purchase in the future. It just wasn't this one.

Don't be discouraged. You are forging new roads and there will be bumps.


I appreciate your kind words, Chppie. Thank you.


Many thanks, Natalie - it's nice to hear that this model is working well in a charity context, and definitely there are more needful causes in the world than supporting crafty bloggers. Thanks for sharing your experiences!


Wow. That was an interesting breakdown!

I don't think I'd do a donation-ware model on my blog just because I think if I were to hope for some kind of financial reimbursement/affirmation of my efforts I would simply just put it up for sale at a fixed price (perhaps even a very low price if I anticipated it to sell well). Asking for a donation seems like a very unpredictable way to earn income/be reimbursed for my time, and as somebody who also works as a freelance editor, I'm comfortable charging clients per project....so I think this affects my mindset. =) Somehow I feel that a donation per tutorial might as well be a 'tip jar' in a blog's sidebar -also something I don't highly value simply because it's not very specific and a low specificity just tends to de-value somebody's work....just my opinion!

Which brings me to your other questions: your project and paying for tutorials in general. I did not support your tutorial simply because the project and it's aesthetic were not along the lines of projects I normally work on. I pay for something I value, and single craft tutorials are rarely something I would want to pay for simply because I tend to be anti-pattern in general. I tend to see stuff and come up with my own ways of doing it, or mix projects to make my own new project. Sewing with patterns also totally stresses me out, so I realize I'm probably not the typical person when it comes to getting a response on paying for patterns/tutorials! =)

However, that's not to say I never would pay for a tutorial. Katie over at the Making This Home blog had an ebook about eco-friendly Christmas projects last year. This was a 37pgs of theme-specific projects and it appealed to me because it was so specific, offered a number of different projects, and was 'affordable'. So I think ebooks of tutorial groupings would most likely appeal to me. I would be even more likely to purchase things that explain how-to concepts not readily found on the web, however what hasn't been discussed to an extent online?! =) I'm pretty picky I suppose!

I offer tutorials on my blog (as well as link to other tutorials and free downloads) and I do it all for fun. I don't need/want to make money on my blog at this point because it's a hobby for me and, frankly, only costs me my free time and the little bit of money I'm willing to throw into my hobby. Should I later decide to sell creative ventures, I'll look at my previous free tutorials as ways that built credibility and would probably continue to offer free things periodically just to attract new interest. I've mentioned Katrina over at Pugly Pixel in the past and just have to say that her model seems quite sustainable.


Thanks so much, Juliette - there's some background information that might help here...

- What I'm attempting to do with the donation-ware model is to forge some kind of small exchange with the members of my readership who prefer my crafty content to my online class and ebook offerings. It's intended as an "entry-level pricing" supplement to my other business endeavors - a way to make the content I do for free here more sustainable.

- I have published crafty ebooks as well, and tutorials for sale: http://shop.craftypod.com

- I hear you about specificity being a value point in content. And I agree. And I've absolutely experienced the trajectory you're describing: my previous six years of free tutorials have led directly to my freelance career and book deal.

...I still think there's a large looming question in the fact that so many of us have a similar "someday, maybe" concept of turning their creative blogs into business ventures. If our readerships are all crafters, and crafters are reluctant to buy craft content because they can get it for free everywhere, then I think we need to look more closely at what we expect our business opportunities to be.


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