Thoughts on Direct Distribution Experiments
Experiment #1 was/is the Creative Commons release "Die! Vampire! Die!" which went up for free download and distribution under a Creative Commons license back in 2008. Rather than pimp it in every available venue, I sorta released it into the wild and stood back to see what happened. The PDF itself has a small note at the end, along with the CC licensing statement thingy, inviting readers to donate via the blog in return -- assuming they appreciated it. Did it have any promotional benefits? Hard to say. There's some links and reviews out there, but it's largely, I think, just another drop of free fiction in the ocean. It might have won me some new readers, cause the reviews are generally appreciative, but there's no real way of knowing. What I do know is that any appreciation didn't translate into donations above single figures (both in terms of donors and toal tippage.)
I'm not complaining, cause without any active attempt to promote it and/or pressure for payment, it might just be like... like a busker playing the wrong music on the wrong pitch. But I kinda suspect there's an issue with these sort of optional gratuity schemes, an element of... the audience being happy to listen to the busker, but not that likely to chuck money in a guitar case. It's like people need to have the hat held up in front of them personally, because gratitude alone won't overcome inertia. I think this is generally supported by Experiment #2 -- The Scruffian Project. Here it's been fairly obvious the way donations tail off after a work has met the primary target and been made available for free download, even with the promise of a new release when the secondary target is reached.
Other observations of how the Scruffians Project has panned out: The initial response was pretty damn good, partly because of the novelty, but also, I suspect, because of a "fund drive factor" where people were being supportive as much as they were being keen. I was fairly open about being short of dosh when I kicked it off, and some very generous donations came in for the first story. Others have paid smaller amounts but paid them for each story, and this is kinda what I was curious to see -- whether, as the "fund drive factor" peaked and tailed off, regulars would stabilie it into something steadier -- basically if it would achieve the critical mass of regular small-sum donors to keep the ball rolling at whatever rate. Largely though, the tail off in interest (a typical problem with serial fiction) has pretty much outweighed this, downloads decreasing for each story. With the later stories, reminder posts have proven necessary, to sustain interest and reach the targets.
I'm in two minds about pimpage to counteract that. I've tweeted new releases and encouraged links, but I'm wary of too many blog entries serving as simply sales pitches; pushiness and self-publishing can be... counter-productive, I think. There's a mailing list set up to notify the interested directly of new releases, and there was the Christmas giveaway for donors, but that begins to slide the system away from the basic setup by withholding works from those who don't pay. Might well be the way it goes, but for now? I reckon I'm going to just let this post serve as a reminder, and wait and see if the direct link has any effect in routing passing interest that converts to the donations required to spur the next release.
In the meantime, I'm thinking that another experiment on an entirely different model is worth a try. Since I've been honing my skills as a spoken word performer over the last few years, I'm curious to see if there's a market for mp3s of readings. I'll post details of that presently though.