I noticed El Santo brought up the issue of micropayments recently. Scott McCloud famously touted the idea as the way to make webcomics financially viable back in Reinventing Comics. And a number of webcomikers at the time said that was bunk. Creator Jerry Holkins flatly said micropayments “do not exist. They are not real.”
El Santo, in revisiting the issue though, points to Patreon as an example of the micropayment model actually working. He notes that some webcomic creators are making their living primarily via the funding they receive through the Patreon platform. Dozens, or perhaps hundreds (in a few cases, thousands) of individuals paying a small amount to fund the creator doing what they do. If enough readers contribute, the creator can get what amounts to a monthly salary. He pointed to Dumbing of Age‘s David M. Willis earning a little over $5000 per month from a little shy of 2000 contributors, over half of whom only send one dollar a month.
Now, one could argue whether a dollar constitutes a true “micropayment” or not—McCloud’s original definition pegged the value at basically anything LESS than a dollar—but that doesn’t consider the rest of the contributors in Patreon. In Willis’ case, a little shy of 800 people contribute five dollars a month, forty contribute $10 a month, and twenty $20 a month or more. So out of the $5000 he gets, only $1000 of that comes from these single dollar contributions. Monetarily, 80% of his Patreon income comes from those larger donations.
And that doesn’t account for income from other sources, like advertising and book sales.
Although I’ve seen few creators actively speak to this directly, I’ve seen many come to the apparent conclusion that there is no single source of income when it comes to webcomics. It’s not just that there are multiple options that someone can follow, it’s that a creator has to follow multiple options. You can’t rely on advertising alone. Or book sales alone. Or crowd-funding alone. Or… The key, it seems, is to find however many revenue sources you can, and pull in whatever you can from each one. Patreon, Kickstarter, tabling at shows, advertising, speaker fees… whatever happens to work for that creator and their particular strengths.
It’s not that micropayments aren’t real, but they’re only one venue in an array of income streams a webcomiker needs to tap into.