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Web Monetization: Some Random Thoughts From A Blog Publisher

scallemang profile image Sam Originally published at widgetmag.com on ・10 min read

Repost of several posts from our website, originally published January 6, 28, February 15, and March 1, 2021.

In the interest of trying to look at web monetization objectively – even if it’s our main/only means of supporting Widget at the moment – we’re going to occasionally post about the challenges we see to it becoming a standard, ubiquitous technology. We do see it as a promising tech, but at the same time we need it to be financially viable for us to commit to it indefinitely.


User Personas

Who are our potential readers and, more to the point, potential supporters?

We’ve been thinking about the sort of person who might want to kick a few bucks to Widget and sites like ours every month, and the best we can come up with anecdotally (i.e., by just guessing) is that everyone who might support our site can be lumped into one of two groups.

User Personas

For our use case at Widget (widgetmag.com), we anticipate two potential user personas – not that we’ve converted a single damn person, though our full court press on pushing subscriptions hasn’t happened yet.

  1. People who want to patronise comedy content ‘charitably,’ i.e. they don’t need convincing, they just want this stuff to exist;
  2. People who can be convinced to subscribe by the quality/quantity of perks offered, i.e. those who need to be ‘sold’.

Persona 1

These are people who you might say just want to donate to support sites they think are doing good work. They might read and enjoy the stuff; on the other hand, they might just be voting with their dollar – basically, telling us to ‘keep up the good work.’

What might it take to convert this category of user?

Well, for our site and those just like ours, they may already be covered: e.g. the Coil comedy site lists out all the logos of the sites they’d be supporting with a subscription (and provided they actually visit those sites). If they like those sites and think that it is a net-positive that they exist, well, they know what to do: sign up with one of our referral codes and visit our sites.

What else could we be doing?

Maybe we could do more to thank them or preemptively thank them – a video on the Coil page from all of us telling them what they’d be supporting? better calls-to-action on our individual sites?

I think the main thing is a) to be a good community member and web citizen. Be the sort of person and publisher that earns trust and goodwill and that somebody can feel good about supporting. But beyond that, obviously you also need a way to get the message out about how they can support you. It’s probably good to think like a charity/nonprofit: grow your mailing list and your social follows; continually communicate about the good work you’re doing; and periodically ask for money – whether that’s through dedicated ‘fundraising’ periods or just peppering in the calls-to-action.

TL;dr: do good work and be a good community member; showcase this; and occasionally ask for support.

That’s the best we’ve got, but curious to know other publishers’ thoughts.

Persona 2

These are fans who can be converted, not out of the goodness of their heart, but because they’re getting something. We’ll write about these users in our next post on perks.

The post Web Monetization, Challenges #1: User Personas appeared first on Widget.


Perks

In our previous post on this topic, we spitballed about what we envisioned as the two user personas of our potential (Coil) subscribers.

The first group was basically those who would support sites like ours just because they think they should exist – a donor, basically.

The second group is those who want something in exchange, or as we described them before:

People who can be convinced to subscribe by the quality/quantity of perks offered, i.e. those who need to be ‘sold’.

So, how do we convince these people their getting bang for their Coil buck?

Perks

Many subscribers will likely be converted by the perks unlocked with their subscription. How do we sell these users better on what they’re getting? How can our sites deliver better perks? And how can these perks be better communicated to the potential subscriber?

Here are some thoughts on how we can communicate our (network’s) perks better and what form those perks might take:

Improved Communication

As it is, perks are spread out on our individual sites. There’s no reliable way for a user to know what sites are on the network and what perks those sites offer.

Would-be users may need to know what they’re getting before they consider converting. How do we do this? Here are some possibilities – purely spitballing, and many of these outside of our (Widget’s) authority. But maybe it gets some ideas churning:

  • For us ‘Coil comedy bundle’ sites, perhaps a microsite, landing page, or block of content at, e.g., coil.com/comedy? For example, is there a minimum-viable-product version whereby everything tagged with a consistent tag on our individual sites could be cross-posted via Zapier/IFTTT to a subscribers-only microsite, so that users can instantly have access to a bunch of stuff in once, centralized place?
  • Or a more manual version – we editors each manually provide to the Coil team [x] number of pieces of content for a central site or page? Very crufty and manual, but at least it would be curated… Maybe curation beats volume, I sure don’t know.
  • Or, can our sites be better at consistency? E.g., all of us editors agree to some sort of standard set of practices where we can showcase our perks on our site, even if it’s just a menu link – “Subscribers” – or a home page CTA. This is as-fragile-as-it-gets and subject to all sorts of human error and inconsistent UX.

The TL;dr is only identifying a problem, unfortunately, not offering a very good solution: The problem is, a potential Coil subscriber cannot be given a clear view of what they’re getting.

AFAIK, the best we have is the ‘discover’ page at https://coil.com/explore, which does list a bunch of cool sites but isn’t great at saying what perks you get from each site or from the network as a whole – “10 exclusive podcasts, which you can find here! Subscriber-only posts from over 20 leading humour sites, which are all collected here!

As a subscriber, there maybe perks out there I have no way of knowing are available to me. I guess I’m just counting on the Coil blog to notify me of anything cool and subscriber-only(?).

Can the communication and/or collation of perks available to Coil subscribers be improved?

Better Quality Perks

How can we actually create something valuable that boosts subscriptions? If all we’re doing is paywalling 1 exclusive post for every 10 we give away free, of no appreciable difference, would a potential user really give a shit about the 1 they’re missing, or would they just make do with the 10 they get for free?

We may, as a network of content creators, need to come up with more ambitious, collaborative perks. I’ve got no idea what we could actually coordinate to deliver, but here are some ideas if the will exists among our community members. All of these a) are just a partial, brainstormed list, of course; b) assume collaboration among a critical mass of Coil comedy participants:

  • Subscriber-only podcast
  • Subscriber-only Twitch/YouTube livestream
  • Subscriber-only newsletter
  • Subscriber-only web forum or Discord channel

Drawbacks: These are not perfect fits for Coil’s micropayment solution – yes, we may get the referral bonuses, but:

  • A newsletter doesn’t pay while someone reads it in their email app;
  • A Twitch stream could, if we have the subscriber counts to pay out and a solution to divvy up payments among participants;
  • A forum could be web-monetised pretty easily, obviously; I don’t know about a Discord or Slack channel (or equivalent) – don’t think so, which is unfortunate as one of those is probably otherwise the ‘default’ option.
  • A podcast can’t be web monetized if consumed in a standard podcast app (though could if made available only in-browser or monetized YouTube channel).
  • More on that…

Podcasts

Coil could be a Patreon competitor: the problem it solves – supporting content creators – is similar, and the value proposition – one payment to unlock all bonus content – is compelling.

But to try and peel off some of Patreon’s users (both subscribers and content creators), an elegant solution to deal with podcasts is needed. A way for podcast creators to be paid while users listen to their shows.

Stopgap solutions are possible, such as embedding playlists in our sites, but what is the longer-term vision to handle web-monetised podcasts?


These are just some thoughts we’ve grappled with in trying to figure out how we could actually entice people to sign up for this ‘strange, new payment technology’ and convince them that this is worth their money and – god help me – mindshare.

The post Web Monetization, Challenges #2: Perks appeared first on Widget.


Learning From Other Platforms

Lord knows I spend too much time on the web – in general as a ravenous hog of a content consumer and in my day job as a web dev. In the course of that, I’ve catalogued some integrations and features that I think could add value to Coil, and have also kept tabs on other ‘products’ that are trying to solve the reader-engagement/support question in other ways.

Feature Idea

Widget (sorry) / Embeddable Sign-up

As it is, Coil is a thing you sign up for on their site, install a browser extension, and then browse the sites you like.

Would there be value in creating an embeddable Coil sign-up form, like the donate forms from Canada Helps, e.g. – https://freeingthehumanspirit.com/donate/ – or the sign-up widgets and modals from Pico, as seen here – https://discourseblog.com/subscribe/?

This could our sites to create a more integrated UX and do our own messaging or have perks and sign-ups on a single page, e.g.

Competitors and Comparisons

Here are some other sites/products that bring interesting ideas to the ‘website subscription’ space:

  • Pico
    • I like a lot of what Discourse is able to do with Pico. Maybe none of this is technically doable, but here’s some of the cool things they offer:
    • Comments are subscriber-only, including a weekly discussion thread;
    • Merch coupons are available;
    • Exclusive newsletters are available to subscribers.
    • The more integrations or features we’re able to offer with a subscription – MailChimp integration? Discord? WordPress commenting features (or other 3rd-party commenting solution)? – the cooler this could be. Though I get that may be asking for the world and pulling dev time away from more pressing matters. And again, some of these may limit payment to the referral bonus if the 3rd-party apps don’t pay micropayments.
  • Memberful.com
    • Check out https://memberful.com/features/ to see its features and maybe get some ideas. Not dissimilar to Pico: integrates with 3rd-party newsletters; has elegant handling of subscriber-only podcasts.
  • Patreon
    • Maybe the main thing Patreon does well is get podcasts to subscribers. Unless Coil is ceding that use-case to Patreon, web-monetised sites need an elegant solution to do the same, ideally that pays out as users listen to the show and ideally that meets them where they’re at – on their phones – and doesn’t force a hacky solution like listening from a page on the podcaster’s website.

When thinking about how to try and make money with your website and offer something of value to your supporters, there are enough options on ‘the market’ that site-owners would be well advised to not rush into a decision.

That said, there’s not really a reason not to run web monetization via Coil. It’s just a script tag and Coil-subscribers who visit your site will pay out micropayments while they read. (https://coil.com/creator, for more info.) The question is whether or not to make it the core of your business strategy and the main way you amass subscribers. That’s not such a one-size-fits-all question.

The post Web Monetization, Challenges #3: Learning From Other Platforms appeared first on Widget.


Collaboration & Communications

Earlier, we wrote some posts trying to grapple with perks: what sort of perks might entice a potential Coil supporter to actually subscribe? How can we deliver effective messaging to these people to actually communicate what they’d be getting with a subscription?

I’ve got no idea for sure, but I can’t help but think we’re going to be unlikely to win over a critical mass of supporters without ‘going big.’ I don’t think a bonus blog post on some beloved sites, hidden amidst the regular posts, is going to be sufficient to convert on-the-fence subscribers.

I don’t know what is, but one idea I come back to is ambitious, collaborative (and (subscriber-only?) projects between sympathetic, web-monetized sites – like those of us in the Coil comedy bundle. Here’s some stray thoughts about what that could be, though making it happen is a whole other can of worms…

It probably starts with just talking with one another, so a quick note on that:

‘Fraternal’ Communication

Those of us running Coil-monetised sites should be talking more, sharing ideas and success stories more, collaborating more, cross-promoting more…

Our Coil comedy sites are all on a channel together in Outvoice’s Slack, but maybe more could be done to foster experimentation and collaboration between us all.

I don’t know what this looks like, but maybe a weekly newsletter from Coil to content creators sharing ideas, updates and success stories? Regular (monthly?) Zoom or Discord calls for Content creators? Ways to bootstrap collaborative projects that are less formal than Grant for the Web – e.g. a Twitch comedy night sponsored by Coil?

This need to share ideas and strategies between web monetized sites is probably the problem that the https://community.webmonetization.org/ forum is trying to solve. Hopefully it succeeds in that.

Collaboration

But what would be really cool is if communication could lead to (subscriber-only, high-value-proposition) collaboration. Just speaking as a member of the Coil comedy bundle, it would be amazing if a few of us teamed up on an exclusive podcast – whether it’s funny or it’s just ‘talking shop’ about editing humour, e.g.

Or same idea, but a newsletter, or livestream, or forum, or… just for subscribers. I don’t think any of us – barring maybe Hard Times, Beaverton, Reductress (and pardon me if I’m forgetting one or two others) – has the cachet to convert many subscribers at all. Our best shot at trying to make a go of this is by working together, IMHO. Either that, or making Coil just one part of a business strategy. Which may be the right move, but pulls focus from trying to deliver great perks for supporters.

The post Web Monetization, Challenges #4: Collaboration appeared first on Widget.

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