Give away your best stuff for free and people will become fans, and a percentage of those fans will end up paying you. But is this really true? Can you put the genie back in the bottle?
We all saw how it happened with the traditional media. Whenever a news site put up a pay wall, we just skipped to the next – free – news source. When customers get used to getting content for free it’s hard to charge money for the same content later.
When I started this site, a friend of mine advised against charging money for it. People can find free comics tutorials on YouTube, why would they pay for it? Nevertheless, I have people paying for access to my premium program every month. People I am sure would NOT be paying for access, if I hadn’t already built trust with them through all the free content here and on the newsletter.
And speaking of building trust, have you noticed there aren’t any ads on this site? That’s because I made a conscious decision not to try and cash in by putting blinking banners and sponsored content here. This is my site and my message, end of story. The reason I can keep the site up and running is because of the awesome people who sign up for premium access.
If you’re a semi-pro artist I’m sure you use stuff like Instagram to promote your art. Some artists are wary of putting their content on these platforms as it might get stolen or copied. And while it certainly happens once in a while, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You can post work-in-progress or detail shots rather than finished artwork and your followers will be just as happy. Besides, the more loyal fans you have out there, the bigger the chance that they will let you know if your work shows up in weird places.
A lot of web artists are having success with Patreon or other micro funding sources and others again use their free online comic as promotion for a printed copy. It turns out that a lot of people are actually willing to pay for something you already gave away for free, because now they have a relationship with you and want to support the work you do. The pay-first-get-content-later model has been turned on it’s head and artists need to navigate this new world. But it seems a lot more people are finding ways to make money on their art without being chosen by the gatekeepers previously needed to connect with an audience. There has never been a better time to create your own job, even though it may be a patchwork of tiny income streams.
That said, I sometimes worry that by giving stuff away for free, you could be attracting the wrong audience. I mean, if people sign up to get something for free doesn’t mean they will ever pay you a dime. You could argue that the reason they go for your free stuff is because they are freeloaders. While posting our art on Instagram may very well help build an audience, it could also have a downside. Are we not just training people that art is something that should be available at your fingertips for free?
I realize this post doesn’t provide many answers. If there’s one thing I want you to take away, it is this: Be mindful of how and why you give away free content. Focusing your efforts on getting followers and likes on Facebook is not a sure-fire way to pay the bills. And unless you have a buy-button on your site (or a sign-up or support-my-Patreon button) you could very well be running in circles, trying to fill a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. You need to be able to capture some of those visitors, convert some of those likes and clicks into cash. Maybe not right now, but some day when you have a favor to ask, a book to launch or a Kickstarter that needs support. We all need to eat. And likes aren’t that nourishing in the long run.
Katherine Williams says
I think everyone’s different with respect to choosing to pay or not to pay for something. It’s a bit ironic that we pay the cable company for internet access, then want all online content for free. Pretty sure porn’s still popular and that’s a paid service (I think)! Actual stats on this would be good, but since many people have chosen gossip over investigative journalism (based on their choice to NOT pay), I’m not sure we’ll ever know.
I am seeing an increase in subscription services, however, so some people are definitely choosing an ad-free experience. John has some insights into why people choose to pay, rather than scour the internet for free content: https://www.jonathanrozek.com/information-products/.
Palle Schmidt says
Thanks for your insightful comment! Thanks for including that link too, great article.
Adrian Patangui says
You know it’s kinda hard to tell that other people take other sites for GRANTED In my case, (i admit) i used to rely on tutorials on different sites. i have visited blogs that only focus on the art being or to be produced but they never (maybe not all but some), focus on the ethics on the process within the making. you know, your site might not be the “perfect” place for other aspiring artists like me, but it has all the ingredients to succeed in this industry (the comic industry). i am saying this not because i am commenting on your post, not also because you helped me and others, and lastly not also because you share stuffs for free, but because it is TRUE. I really recommend your sites to others cause i know what and how they change the artists’ point of view.
There might be free tutorials on other sites (not only comics but in general) but there are still these sites, though they provide access with payment, are the ones which provide, maybe not be best, but the better access which are convenient and really help people to pursue their careers or whatever their purposes. And your site is one of them.
Art is nothing but patience, and that is something tat other people do not understand. i always put those words in my mind and i use that as motivation because whenever i produce art, it always take days for me to finish. my point is, the reason why people take other sites for granted is that they never considered the ethics. they only took the art itself but not the way it is done in the process. they never considered the people behind the site.
Palle Schmidt says
I appreciate the kind words, Adrian. I try to be ethical and I try to be honest – even when honesty hurts! You’re absolutely right that patience and understanding the artistic process is just as important (if not more) than knowing how to make “good” art. The mindset aspect of creating interests me, so I can’t help but share those insights. Glad you find it helpful!