Keeping a site free but setting up donations
February 19, 2015 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I manage my writer friend's site where he puts up (not otherwise published) longform articles for free. Film criticism, fiction and articles about literature and philosophy, close to 500 entries. Due to his ethics he is against marketing or monetising and only now after some years we are investigating donations (definitely not monetising). Is this feasible, and how do I not get this wrong?

My motivation is assisting my friend who is uncompromisingly committed to writing. Due to his ethics my friend early on in his career got fed up working for "glossy magazines", national newspapers and in academia. He only publishes in (what I'd call highbrow) magazines and on his website. The site is the top hit on Google for several film studies terms, making up most of the traffic; however the analytics also show people actually stay up to 40 minutes reading individual stories and articles. The site uses about 2GB a month which thanks to ninja firewall & crawler throttling I'm confident isn't all bots and hacking attempts; even Wordpress only eats a small amount of bandwidth due to caching plugins and a minimalist design. In fact the single image on the site is the icon for downloading a dynamically generated PDF of your article of choice for free, which people regularly do.

Our plan is to add a small, subtle donation button on each article page, possibly next to the PDF icon. This would lead to a page where a visitor can donate.
Q1. In your experience, will this be feasible and worthwhile accepting donations or micropayments that way?
Q2. Can you suggest any good payment processors?
Q3. Since this goes to a private individual, it would technically be more like accepting payment, I assume? Or is there a legal, acceptable way these can be donations - as articles will remain free?

We haven't got any experience with ebook publishing. My friend does not like Amazon, for one thing; for another I'm not sure how it would work with hundreds of articles, individually and separately. Getting ISSNs for each one? We are however just now testing out epubli to see about something like collecting articles into books and selling those. But that shouldn't exclude the donations idea, right?

I've felt stuck with this for a while; I need to do something so I can stop feeling like I'm letting down my friend (and the arts). Thank you so much for any advice you can spare.
posted by yoHighness to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: ps. I'm doing this for free, although my friend has said he will share any donations with me that's not my main motivation. Thanks.
posted by yoHighness at 7:30 AM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: Since your friend isn't running a non-profit organization, the distinction between donations and payment is irrelevant - no matter how you categorize it, this money will be considered income to him. If it turns out he doesn't get much, then he probably doesn't have to worry about reporting it - I'll leave it to him and his accountant to make that determination.

I think the easiest thing would be to use Paypal. They have ready-made buttons of various sizes, including one that says Donate - so people will not feel that they are purchasing an article but are in fact making a donation to the author to support the upkeep of the website and his work. I'm pretty sure you just copy and paste the code they give you - the image for the button isn't even hosted on your site so it really won't increase your data usage.

If you don't have plans to actually sell the articles, or collections of articles, for a fixed price, it's not worth the time and hassle of getting ISSNs for each. I think most, if not all, e-readers can natively import properly formatted and encoded PDFs. So you just need to create or modify your FAQ page with instructions for your readers on how to get their downloaded article PDFs onto their e-readers.
posted by trivia genius at 7:39 AM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: Your friend might want to look at Patreon and Subbable. These are systems set up to support creators by periodic donation - anywhere from as little as a dollar a month to much larger amounts, but slanted toward the lower end of the scale. Creators typically are encouraged to offer 'perks', which your friend may not be set up for, but I imagine you'd get a much more regular flow of $ toward supporting infrastructure costs, which sounds like what you are looking for.
posted by scolbath at 7:48 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

If he is publishing articles regularly, you may consider Patreon, which is a way to set up monthly donations to a person. You can continue to offer the articles for free, exactly like before.
posted by demiurge at 7:49 AM on February 19, 2015

I would caution against the "a small, subtle donation button on each article page." I mean, by all means start with that, but you are likely to find the conversion rates are absolutely tiny, far below 1%. I wouldn't compound the problem of how hard it is to get money off of people by also making the means to do so invisible.

But yeah, Patreon and Subbable. The perk could just be a PDF of all of that month's entries as a single PDF. Very little extra work in that.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:01 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Our plan is to add a small, subtle donation button on each article page, possibly next to the PDF icon.

I have had donation buttons for years. No matter what they look like, people are capable of completely overlooking them. I have, in fact, had someone suggest to me in public comments on a site with a donate button that I should add a donate button. So I will suggest that people have no problem at all ignoring a donate button. Your friend likely does not need to worry about making people feel pressured to donate. People seem to feel pretty darn entitled to read things for free online (me included). Actually getting money out of them entails effort of some sort. Merely putting up a donate button may get a few bucks here and there, but if you want it to be a serious source or revenue, you will almost certainly need more of a plan than just making it possible to donate. I say that to make the point that your friend really does not need to worry that simply putting up a donate button constitutes putting a gun to someone's head or something. It really, really does not. Trust me on this one.

I suggest that, for now, you go with a PayPal donate button. This is something that can be done today and then you can look into other suggestions, like Patreon, while your friend sees how this works. I suggest it so that looking into all these other options does not become the latest excuse du jour for not making this happen.

Yes, PayPal does provide a standard "donate" button. However, you can also provide your own custom image, if you wish. Given how high-minded your friend is, I will suggest that a custom image will probably be more in line with his tastes. The standard "donate" button is nice and recognizable, but probably will look a bit out of place if the site is as sleek as it sounds like it probably is.

But I will also suggest that you try to get the donate button up TODAY (even if you have to use the standard button provided by PayPal) and plan to modify the image at a later date, so that finding the perfect image doesn't become the latest excuse for not doing this. My observation has been that people who do not actually need to make money from their websites and also have high minded sensibilities seem to have an endless capacity for continuing to look for some "perfect" solution and never actually get around to doing anything effective. When push comes to shove, it seems like they just aren't comfortable asking for money for their work for some reason.

(I am talking about both ME and other people I have known who had successful websites by some measure but terrible monetization and a common theme has been "well, but, asking for money for my work would be CRASS or something". I had to wind up homeless to finally get over my discomfort with asking for money for my work. I don't recommend it as a method.)
posted by Michele in California at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you very much for taking the time to respond and for the helpful answers. I'm going to go with the suggestions of adding the PayPal button right away and investigating Patreon and Subbable.
posted by yoHighness at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, so far it doesn't look like Paypal has a Donate button if you're a private individual, and that you have to setup a business account and have an actual business to use any of their buttons.
posted by yoHighness at 3:55 PM on February 19, 2015

I am a private individual. I have donate buttons.

Try clicking on the words "Selling Tools." That should take you to a page where the ability to set up the donate button is reasonably obvious.
posted by Michele in California at 4:01 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Clicking on "Selling Tools" takes me to a page for opening a business account (and then it requires a business name etc) - maybe it's because I am in the UK.
posted by yoHighness at 4:09 PM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: It's actually "Seller preferences" underneath the "Seller Tools" button where this does seem possible. Horray! (Free eye test for me tomorrow)
posted by yoHighness at 4:14 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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