East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Pay What You Want and other urban legends


There’s a discussion going, on a friend’s Facebook profile, about how Pay What You Want (PWYW) offers don’t work in Italy. The punters will simply get the stuff for free, because that is what everybody wants to pay.
Someone comments that PWYW never worked anyway, and brings the example of that Stephen King novel that was released in 2000, and was a total failure.

I am not a Stephen King fan, but I remembered the thing from 2000, the ill-fated serial novel The Plant, so I went and checked a few numbers – and indeed, Stephen King’s PWYW experiment made him a meager 470.000 dollars.
Total failure, right?
The novel was never completed, and that is indeed a failure for a novelist (the rule is “thou shalt finish what thou start”) but the reader response was good: 70/75% of the people that downloaded the installments paid the suggested price of 1 buck or more.
The Pay What You Want model worked.

I think certain projects fail because we are told they cannot work.
Case in point: in the same discussion, somebody else mentions Patreon, that in Italy “fails to take off.”
And yet I have a healthy Patreon, with over forty Patrons, most of them from Italy, and they pay my energy bills every month, for which I am infinitely grateful. They help me keep on track and they remind me daily that I am not writing in a void. And I write for them stuff I would never write for the general market.

Could I have more patrons and make more money?
But considering two years ago when I started I was told “It will never work,” well, I will not complain, and I consider myself living proof of the fact that such things work. Maybe they remain small scale, maybe they grow slowly, certainly they need a lot of commitment and some planning, but they work.

But we are constantly reminded that “in Italy is different” and in the end we start believing it. We don’t try it, and we do not get involved with other people’s projects that are doomed to sink. And in this way the prophecies of doom fulfill themselves.

It goes the same with writing: you can’t make a living writing is the general wisdom.
Well, so far I made it.
But when I say that, many just reply I’m a liar.
I’m not.
Penniless, mired in debt and with a stack of payment overdue notices? Sometimes.
But not a liar.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Pay What You Want and other urban legends

  1. Man, this is pure gold. Five year now writing full time and going on. But it takes primarily the right state of mind. You got to handle your fears, changhe your believes, be a different kind od person, do different kind of thing. Maybe got to be a sort of warrior monk of writing, maybe a fool. For sure different. Beeing comes first. Then you do. And encouragin outcomes streghten your identity as a writer.


    • I agree that the state of mind is essential.
      There are moments one feels like throwing everything away – but they are just moments, it’s all right. Then you go back to the keyboard and you start again.


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