My Pay What You Want Mission Statement

Credit: Brian Sterling CC-BY-SA
Credit: Brian Sterling CC-BY-SA

My PWYW Creation Myth

Once upon a time, far back in the mists of time – and, more literally, in the hill mists of Guilin – I heard a travellers’ tale about a wise old Chinese doctor. This antiquated physician, they said, would sit cross-legged at the entrance to his modest wooden hut, high up in the mountains, chewing on the end of a long pipe, twisting his long moustaches and waiting for the sick and the dying and the pilgrim seekers to make the rugged ascent to his clinic.

He’d listen to their ailments, lay his hands on their brow, pick rare Chinese herbs from dusty bottles on the shelves and brew some concoction on a small brazier above an open fire. At the end of the consultation, this wise old doctor would hand the patient a glass vial containing some esoteric unction or tincture that would cure their ills.

The grateful recipient would look up expectantly: “How much do I owe you?” The doctor, returning to his pipe and moustaches, would simply smile a crooked smile and raise his palms to the heavens: “Pay whatever the cure is worth.”

This wise old Chinese doctor was the first person I ever heard of who was using the Pay What You Want business model. I was astounded and, ever since, I’ve wanted to trust in the fairness and generosity of humanity enough to copy him. Now I do and I am.

My PWYW Philosophy

PWYW stands for Pay What You Want. It is also known as Pay What You Can, Pay What You Like or Pay What Your Heart Feels. Whatever you call it, the meaning should be clear enough, but I find it does confuse quite a lot of people – as it confounded me, once upon a time – so it’s worth spelling out:

I, the writer, don’t put a price on my books. You, the reader, set the price – How much is this book worth to you?

Why? #1

I believe that creative ideas should be freely distributed, shared and spread. This means that, in order for artists to survive and create, their audience needs to step up and support them. My work depends entirely on your generosity.

Why? #2

I write these books for you, the reader. I am driven by a desire to inspire and fire new ideas in your brain. But, sometimes, the brains that most need my words belong to people who can’t afford an expensive book. It would break my heart to cut these people out of the deal.

So look at PWYW this way: If you can and do pay a fair price for the book, then you are helping me to help other people who can’t afford it. That’s some amazing karma coming right at you!

Why? #3

To be honest, when it comes to my work, I’ve always shied away from money and financial transactions. I find money inimical to good creative work. In fact, this money-creativity antipathy is a scientifically-verified phenomenon.

Furthermore, I find money and transactions between people to be alienating and encourage selfishness. I’d rather use a business model that depends instead on generosity: yours and mine. I promise to release my work out onto the internet and you promise to pay what you can, when you can, so that I can carry on releasing my work out onto the internet.

Why? #4

As an avid consumer of creative works – books, music, theatre, stand up – I would love my favourite artists to trust me with PWYW.

When Radiohead released In Rainbows as PWYW, my heart swelled with love because I felt trusted and liberated from the corporate-curated world of the music business. Needless to say, for the first time in years, I paid for new music.

Three things I love about PWYL:

  1. You can suck it and see. There is no barrier to entry (as the economists say) for reading my books. You can try it out for nothing, so why not?
  2. I get some immediate feedback: If you think my book is worth £10 rather than £5 (or nothing) – that tells me a lot about how good you think my book is! (It’s obvious, really, isn’t it?)
  3. I get my worldwide audience, but on your terms. If I charge even only £1, that’s still a lot of money to most people on this Earth – and would be ruinous for over a billion people. If the exchange rate between my country and yours happens to suck at this moment in time, that’s no reason for you to miss out on my books. I have enjoyed generous hospitality in many countries around the world; it would be a tragedy if the way I did business meant my ancient Chinese doctor couldn’t afford to read my book.

I can’t put it any more bluntly than this:

  • If you’re broke: Take my books for nothing. If you love them, then keep coming back – I’m not judging you. If you get lucky later in life, then you can chip in.
  • If you’re not broke: Think about all the other people you’re helping get these books by stumping up a fair price. You’re a veritable patron of the arts, dude.

Enough of me; here’s Paulo Coelho:

Credit: WEF CC-BY-NC-SA
Credit: WEF CC-BY-NC-SA

I’m by no means alone in believing that the free sharing of ideas is the future for happy, well paid, creative workers and happy, entertained, informed readers, listeners and watchers. Here’s what Paulo Coelho has to say about people ‘pirating’ his work:

“The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever. First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey.
Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall. The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD.
It’s the same with literature. The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.”

Support Our Mission to Free Ideas

If you want to support our (see bottom for who “us” might include) mission to liberate ideas, then please pay a little extra when you buy my ebooks, donate to the battle fund using the PayPal button below, or buy one of my paperbacks – they are gorgeous.

As far as I’m concerned, donating is loving. I’m no doctor, but when you ask me how much, I will smile and reply, “Pay whatever you think the cure is worth.”

Questions You Definitely Have:

What is Gumroad?

Gumroad is a sales platform that accommodates PWYW. I use Gumroad to deliver my ebooks. Their website is super clean and yummy, so don’t be scared. For full disclosure, at the time of writing, they take 5% + 25¢ for every transaction – so you’re going to buy in bulk, yeah? 😉

How do I use Gumroad?

On the individual book pages:

  1. Scroll past the pretty picture and click the big red button on the right hand side: “I want this!”
  2. That takes you to a PWYW page.
  3. Fill in your email address and your name (so I know who to thank). Then fill in your card details and type into the box how much you want to pay (thanks!).
  4. A receipt will appear and you can click “Download” to get your book. You’ll also be emailed a download link.

DONE. For extra brownie points, if you’ve got a Twitter or Facebook account, share away 🙂

On my author page:

  1. Hover over the book you want and click the big red button: “I want this!”.
  2. A little box will pop up saying: “Name a fair price”
  3. Enter your number and click “Add to bundle”
  4. Then carry on shopping, or go straight to “Pay” in the top right corner.
  5. A little box will pop up asking for your email and your card details if you’ve named a fair price over £0 (thanks!).
  6. Click “Get”.
  7. A receipt will appear and you can click “Download” to get your book. You’ll also be emailed a download link.

DONE. For extra brownie points, if you’ve got a Twitter or Facebook account, share away 🙂

What happens if I paid nothing and now want to give you some money?

One of the big reasons why I do PWYW is so that people can suck it and see. I love that I can do that. But what if you’ve sucked and seen the book – and you absolutely loved it! Is there a way you can reward me after the fact?

YES! There are a few ways.

  • The easiest way is probably to use my PayPal account to bump me a tip. Thanks!
  • You can also use Gumroad by going back to the book’s page. It will automatically remember you and should show your receipt again. In the top right hand corner of the receipt, you’ll see a little link to “Give more”. Click that. Thanks!
  • Alternatively, you can just buy another of my books for real money! 🙂
  • Or, best of all: buy the ebook in delicious paperback. They are pretty and you’ll have a physical thing to remember me by – or a great gift for a friend. Keep the circle of giving going.

How much should I pay for your books?

Simple. Answer for yourself: How much is my book worth to you?

If you’re still struggling to answer (and I know it can be difficult): What do you usually pay for ebooks? What do comparable products cost online? This can vary enormously, from book to book, from seller to seller, but generally I’d say that £5 is the going rate for ebooks that I enjoy.

But, honestly, if you want you can take my books for free. No problem. I’m not judging you. You have much more to offer me than money. And maybe one day you’ll offer me something that I need, just when I need it (I’ve already had an offer to share a beer in South Africa!). This PWYW thing depends on generosity: mine and yours.

Wait – why can’t I buy from Amazon?

This is a complicated one – I’m in the process of writing a fuller answer. In the meantime, check this out. And that’s just the tip of the nastyberg.

Wait – why can’t I get your paperbacks as PWYW?

Unfortunately, publishers being publishers, books being books and postage being postage, I can’t offer pay what you like on physical objects, only my ebooks. Maybe this will change in the future – who knows? In the meantime, my paperbacks are kind of a premium product for people who really love me. That’s you, right? 🙂

PWYW – isn’t that a town in Wales?

No. You’re thinking of Pwyll, a prominent figure in Welsh mythology and literature, the lord of Dyfed, husband of Rhiannon and father of the hero Pryderi.

Incidentally, Pwyl is Welsh for Poland. I once got mistaken for being Polish. I was destined for Pay What You Like.

My PWYW inspiration

Here are some people and things that have inspired me to go PWYW. In no particular order:

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