It’s been a week since I posted “How I Proposed To My Wife: An Alien Sex Story” as a “shareware short story,” for people to read and enjoy — and, if they like, to pay me a bit for it. So how has it done, financially speaking, in the course of a week? Let’s find out together, shall we?
As of 8:30pm (Eastern), 4/23/08, “Alien Sex Story” has grossed $436.43. Not Radiohead money, but you know, not bad. $146.68 of that came from people using the Amazon honor payment system, and the rest from people using PayPal. The highest amount contributed was $20; the lowest amount offered was sixty cents. 292 people downloaded the short story package, which is a number I find surprisingly low, given the site racks up 30k+ visitors daily; of those it appears about a third paid for the story, which is an extremely high percentage of willing payers. The average payment per contributor was about $4.50.
How does $436.43 compare with what I could get for the story on the open market? Actually, very well. The story is about 7,400 words long, so in a week of shareware release, I’ve been paid 5.9 cents a word, which is right in line with what the “Big Three” science fiction magazines pay: my Writer’s Market has Analog at 6 cents/word, Asimov at 5 cents/word, and Fantasy & Science Fiction at 5 to 9 cents/word. And consider that the story is still on the market — that is, that people continue to be able to find it, read it and pay for it. It’s not unreasonable to assume more people will read it and pay for it as time goes on — probably not as much or as regularly as in this first week, when I’ve drawn attention to it. But from the point of view of whether or not I’d make what I’m make sending it to the print magazines, everything else from this point is gravy.
(It’s not as much as I’d make for at least a few online sites, interestingly: Subterranean Online and Baen’s Universe pay substantially more than 6 cents/word, which is a fact I think is occasionally overlooked. But it’s true! Look it up, people.)
Now, the caveats, and why current payment success may not be an indicator of future performance, or why this experiment might not be repeatable with others:
1. This site is heavily trafficked and thus is its own good marketing, which is an advantage others might not have;
2. People who might pitch in for a first story are not guaranteed to pitch in for a second story (or if they do, they not pay as much);
3. The fact that half of the money netted after service charges will go to charity may have caused people to pay more than they might otherwise.
Likewise, from an administrative standpoint, handling your own backend is a fiddly timesucker — Amazon and Paypal automating things makes it easier, but it’s still time spent not writing.
All that said, I do find the first week haul fairly encouraging. It’s definitely not enough to get rich on, but it is enough for me to consider having shareware as serious option when I’m shopping stories, or when I’m writing a story I like but might consider difficult to place for whatever reason. Or, you know. When I’m lazy. As I so often am.