Money, Shared Story Worlds, and You

This is the sixth in a series of posts regarding shared story world design

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins by

Chances are you’re launching a SSW in order to make money. Maybe not enough to retire on, but more than zero. If so, you have a lot of options for opening the revenue doors.

Presuming you aren’t planning to “sell” your project to another party such as a VC, a non-profit, or media company, the obvious way to make money from your content is through direct monetization of your content (a poster, book, DVD, etc.). [crowdfunding – like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other services – is increasingly common, too, but I’ll cover that in a future post.]

The most common way to make money directly from content is what I call transactional or commodity monetization, where you sell discrete content for a fixed price. You pay Amazon a one-time fee, they ship you a book, and you own that book. You buy a ticket at your local movie theater, you watch a movie, then you leave.

Another option for direct monetization is subscription or service models. For example, you pay a monthly fee to your Internet provider, and they allow you to use their system to access the Internet. Or you buy a one-year’s membership to a theme park, allowing you to visit it as many times as you want for a fixed price. For a shared story world, you could charge a fee based on a set time period during which you will provide paying customers access to certain content. If the customer’s subscription ends, they stop getting content.

Subscription models are appealing for a couple of reasons (you get money upfront, you can project cash flow easier, etc.), but they also require more work to sustain than transactional models. If you promise your audience a short story each week in exchange for a few dollars a year, you’re on the hook to deliver. Miss your deadline, and you’re going to lose some customers.

And of course, you could have a hybrid model, where some of your content is made available under a subscription model, while other content is sold under a transactional model. I believe hybrid models will become more common as audiences increasingly demand more options for accessing content.

Regardless of the model you choose, be aware of pricing norms for your market. For example, digital novels are selling everywhere from $0 to over to $20, but most are below $5. Still, don’t fret too much about choosing the “perfect” price for digital content.

Now, the wonderful thing about digital content is you can change the price at any time and immediately see how it affects sales. Most self-published authors do this on a regular basis, trying to find the perfect price point: the price that maximizes their total revenue. Remember, you aren’t trying to maximize volume of total transactions – you’re trying to maximize the amount of money you put in your pocket. In some cases, these two goals are not tied to the same price.

While direct monetization of content is likely to be your main source of revenue, other opportunities include:

  1. world-related merchandise (Zazzle and CafePress are the leaders in inventory-less merchandise production and distribution)
  2. world artifacts (replicas of clothing, weapons, etc. from your world)
  3. online advertising or sponsorship deals (unless you have a ton of traffic, you won’t make much, but every little bit helps)
  4. donations (often called the “tip jar,” this open-ended offer for audiences to make donations can also provide another small stream of money, even in cases where audiences are already paying for content)
  5. real-world events (e.g., bundle a personal reading with a signed copy of your novel or DVD)
  6. licensing (if you find success with your SSW, you may be able to strike licensing deals with other parties such as marketing firms, consumer product companies or media companies; you may even find an vendor willing to strike a revenue sharing deal with you to create world artifacts, which means you have no up-front out-of-pocket expenses)


Some Questions to Consider:

  • What are all of the possible revenue streams you can create based on or around your SSW?
  • How much of your content will be made available for free, for sale, or through a subscription plan?
  • What services/resources will you need to produce and fulfill anything you sell (content, merchandise, etc.)?
  • For your digital content, what is a market-friendly initial price point (and should that be your starting price)?
  • What world artifacts can you extract from the SSW and make available for sale?
  • Once you start building traffic, how can you monetize it (many a company will pay dearly to get reliable access to a known, targeted demographic, even if it’s relatively small – if they believe your audience is their audience, they will want to market to them)?

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