Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The “Pay-What-You-Want” Experiment

Two months ago I decided to change all the free Griffon Publishing Studio material at my DriveThruRPG.com e-storefront to “free/pay-what-you-want” status (often abbreviated as PWYW). While these offerings were still technically free for the downloading, this option offered readers the opportunity to pay what they wanted for them either at the time of download or after perusing the material.

The One Bookshelf family of e-publishing websites initiated the PWYW option a few months ago. I’d read some initial feedback from participants, most of whom saw this as an opportunity to down-price small PDFs -- normally priced around $5 or less -- and make them available for free or whatever readers wanted to pay. I saw this option in a different light from the perspective of already free products; it served as a kind of “tip jar” enabling folks to make a donation to creators as a token of appreciation, even for something normally offered gratis.

This development occurred just as I was preparing two new, free PDF files for distribution to promote my Pulp Egyptand Heroes of Rura-Tongasystem-neutral game supplements. Unfortunately I’d already released The Labyrinth of Set before learning of the pay-what-you-want option, so my data for that month remained skewed, with “tips” counting only about half the month; throughout June 235 people downloaded it and several generous donors dropped $3.50 in the “tip jar” through PWYW donations. I released The Paranoia Pitin July as a free/PWYW offering from the start and had decent results; 123 people downloaded it and generous donors dropped $12.51 in the “tip jar,” a little more than the equivalent of someone purchasing the actual Heroes of Rura-Tonga supplement at full price. I promoted both free PDFs on my usual social networking sites and the Griffon Publishing Studio website in conjunction with a 25% off coupon on the purchase of the related sourcebooks; several customers took advantage of discounts each month. During that time -- after I switched all my previously free PDFs to free/PWYW status -- other PDFs brought in $2.40 in “tips,” though that’s “found money” considering everything was previously offered for free without any option for monetary appreciation.
Considering these remain free PDFs supporting game supplements offered for a price, I’m thankful to get a little additional income to invest in future projects. I’m flattered by people’s generosity; had I small enough PDFs for sale that I’d set at free/PWYW, I fear I’d find disappointment in meager donations. At this point, as I release any free, promotional PDFs for existing or future paid supplements, I’ll set them as “free/PWYW” for whatever it’s worth.

I don’t release enough low-priced PDF publications to consider marking them down to free/PWYW status; I’m still old-school in that I release supplements with substantial page counts (i.e., more than 16, sadly remarkable in a marketplace with products of 1-6 pages often priced at less than $2); naturally these take more time and effort and I’m less likely to let them go for free, though I try pricing them fairly and offer occasional sales and coupons. Releasing free/PWYW support material for larger paid product has served as and remains a core marketing strategy for Griffon Publishing Studio.

Other publishers who’ve “marked down” already low-priced PDFs to free/PWYW have shared positive results. I’m encouraged that they report an overall generosity on the part of a few readers to make up for others downloading such files for free. It’s a balancing act publishers accept; sure, many people won’t pay anything, and a few people “tip” fairly, but the PDF makes it into the hands of far more readers than it would have if offered at a set -- even a low -- price. It ultimately serves to support related games and boost interest in a publisher’s offerings, free, PWYW, or paid.

I remain grateful to my many fans, followers, and friends who support me with their encouragement, positive reviews, and their purchases and tips.

As always, I encourage construction feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.