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How can you make money by giving your stuff away online? This article lists a dozen different streams of revenue used by free-content professionals.
As a writer, musician, artist or filmmaker, you might worry that posting your work free of charge on a website is risky. However, the benefits (building an audience, receiving feedback and encouragement) usually far outweigh the costs for a beginning creator.
Once you have built up an audience of people who are accustomed to enjoying your work without paying, monetizing is usually a matter of combining multiple revenue streams. Not every item on this list will be an option for every creator or their work. Some require a lot of capital or expertise. Pick and choose, and explore your own ideas, to create a business model which is right for you.
Books, CDs, DVDs and Physical Media
One of the surprising truths about the free content model is that once your audience cares about your work, a portion of them will pay you for the same comics, songs, videos and stories that they have already enjoyed for free. Some of them want to have the work in a tangible format, and many just feel it’s right to support the artist and the work they love.
If there are recognizable logos or images associated with your work, some of your readers/viewers/listeners will buy wearables, toys, and other merchandise just for the brand association. You can also sell clever and funny merchandise which has little or nothing to do with your work.
Directly soliciting “support” from your audience in the form of monetary donations does work. But to continue working in the long run, you need to hold regular pledge drives and offer a system of rewards for varying levels of donation.
One of the most powerful tools for generating revenue online is the recurring subscription. If you frame your “donation drive” in the form of a subscription (recurring payment), then your audience will keep paying you until they cancel. You won’t have to ask them for support next year. Offer bonus content and special recognition to entice subscribers.
Ads on your website pay you money directly, at no cost. Advertising supports many websites, including this one. But do your research carefully. Different advertisers pay wildly varying rates. Those with the top rates typically require some minimum level of traffic to accept your site.
Once your audience loves your work, you may wish to start related works on separate websites. This has the effect of multiplying your web traffic and the various ways people can pay you. Just make sure you can handle the extra workload, so your main site does not suffer and you don’t burn out.
One of the hottest new revenue opportunities for independent creators is the mobile app. These are difficult to develop yourself, but companies are springing up all the time to help bring new paid and free apps to smartphones and tablets. Free apps are ad-supported.
For songs and art, it’s possible to split the content between a free low-resolution web version and a paid high-resolution download version. For writers and comics creators, look at selling .PDFs as e-books.
If your characters or your songs become popular or interesting enough, you may get offers to license your intellectual property in other works. Someone may want to make a film of your book, or a game of your webcomic, or use your song in a commercial. You can also seek these agreements out yourself. Make sure you understand your rights and seek legal help before signing a contract.
Games, Animation, and Other Treatments
There is nothing preventing you from making a game out of your comic yourself. Or creating animated videos for your own songs. If you hold the rights to these things, you will probably make more money than you would by licensing.
Speaking Fees and Performances
If you become known for your work, you may be able to ask for a per diem or speaking fee to appear at an event to discuss it. Fan conventions usually do not pay a monetary fee, but you can sign on with a speaker’s bureau and look for academic and corporate events which will. Musicians can use free music and videos to get people into paid seats, and book more gigs.
Remember that free content is advertising for you. If your podcast or free novel or viral video gets a lot of attention online, it might just get the attention of publishers, agents, and production companies as well. You might start your next creative project with a contract in your hand.