Monetising online content
The monetisation of online content in the context of side projects is something I discussed way too many times with both Rob and Carl. I started working on the web more than 10 years ago and I worked on side projects since the very beginning. And when you run a side project, the topic of monetisation inevitably comes up. And it's not just side projects. The monetisation of online content continues to be a relevant topic. I love to run weird experiments with my projects. Back when I was running The Gallery I tried a few different approaches. One time I emailed all the people who submitted content over the years and asked them to support directly. Another time I displayed a fullscreen overlay to ask for support. These were one-off experiments designed mostly to test what was possible in terms of monetisation. What I learned is that if you want to rely on donations you either have to set your expectations very low or you have to constantly remind people that they can—and should—throw a dollar or two towards projects they care about. But, from my point of view, that's exhausting. Constantly bothering people to ask for support is a pain, which is why I removed the link to my Donorbox from the site. It was pointless to have it there and the vast majority of the people will never consider donating unless presented with an annoying modal or popup.
So, spontaneous donations are definitely not the way to go if you want to earn something from a side project. What's the next best thing then? Subscriptions/Memberships. Those are becoming more and more common thanks in part to things like Patreon and BuyMeACoffee, but also Substack, which is pushing pretty much everyone towards monetising their content. The problem with subscriptions is that you have to provide constant value and also provide something extra to the people who are subscribed. After all, why should someone subscribe if they can access the same content for free? And that creates this weird situation where you have to paywall some content in order to make the subscription worthwhile. Which is absolutely fine; some content is worth paying for. But even on a platform like Substack, money is not distributed evenly. As it's often the case, a small % of the creators make up a huge % of the money. That will always be true and there's no way around this issue.
The only other option left to monetise content is advertising or sponsorships. I personally like sponsorships. They're the least terrible way to monetise content from a commercial stand point. And when done well, they can even provide some value to your audience. Traditional advertising (I'm talking about Google Ads and similar solutions) can be kinda nasty because you have very little control over what's displayed on your site but with sponsorships you are in control of everything. Which is why I pitched the idea to Carl of bringing back sponsors on Minimalissimo. The idea is a bit of a weird one and was very much inspired by the insanity that is the NBA world where they manage to get a sponsor for literally everything. And so rather than doing site wide sponsors, we decided to try something a bit different and come up with category sponsors. The idea is to never have more than one single sponsor visible per page and to make it as pertinent as possible to the content of the page. We’re also not setting a price for sponsors. We’re encouraging brands to pay what they feel is fair.
Will this approach work? Who knows? But it’s a fun experiment.