Donation_icon Kio Stark on The Literary Platform has an interesting essay looking at the success of “pay what you want” payment schemes that have been tried in the last few years for digital media. Musicians have released albums, studios have released computer games, authors have released e-books, and so on under a model whereby consumers pay whatever they want to pay in return for the download.

Stark likes the model, but suggests a change in terminology—the model should not be “pay what you want,” she feels, but rather “pay what you can.” In other words, pay a fair price based on how much money you have, not how much you want to spend.

As a maker of culture (specifically, stories), I prefer the can to the want model. Pay what you can is a radically different form of generosity that can only flourish in a community. It’s not an economic relationship between the consumer and the author. It’s a relationship between one book lover and another. Some people might want to pay a lot but can’t, and vice versa, and they’re all getting the same ‘free’ book. What’s happening is they’re subsidizing each other’s participation in a community of readers. Here’s the crux of it: I want to define cultural generosity as sharing (in both directions) and as paying what you can.

She suggests that Richard Nash’s community-based publishing company Cursor (which we have covered here a few times) might make a perfect laboratory for experimentation with this model, and hopes he will try it.

Personally, I’m not sure that the change in terminology would necessarily change how much a person is willing to pay for a given item, but I suppose it’s psychological. It’s certainly a business model worth trying out.


  1. It’s a matter of spin by freetards. See, they keep telling us that what we should do is give away everything free and rely on tip-jars. The problem is that every time someone does this it doesn’t work.

    To avoid future embarassments, they now say “pay what you can“. That way they can tell us that when their revenue completely disappears, that it’s okay because people just couldn’t pay–I mean, I’m sure they wanted to, man, they just couldn’t, so this isn’t a failure of the freetard tip-jar business model!

  2. I truly believe that this ‘business model’ is so badly flawed it should be discouraged rather than encouraged. As a customer, I don’t like being guilted into paying more than I want to. As a creator, I don’t like the possibility that people will blow off inducements to pay. How about setting a fair price and letting people decide if they want to buy the product.

    Rob Preece

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