Nearly 4 years ago I wrote a post asking if anyone had figured out how to get the best out of a digital tip jar. Nobody came back with any bright ideas and I haven’t had a single penny dropped in mine in the meantime, so you’d think I might have quietly shelved the idea, but no. I’ve set up a Ko-fi page instead.
Even though it’s presumably meant to be pronounced like coffee (as in ‘buy this person a coffee at their Ko-fi page’) I see that hyphen and it’s koh-fee in my head. So it mildly bothers me every time I read it, but I’m told it has the advantage of being a recognisable brand and a set amount of money so you don’t have to second-guess what’s a reasonable tip.
Ko-fi is a free service (there is a paid-for version, which is how they make their money – you can change it so it’s not asking for coffee, for one thing) that lets people who’ve enjoyed some creative output give a small amount of money to the creator via Paypal. Like chucking a few coins in a busker’s case. The idea is it’s priced at about the cost of a coffee so hopefully won’t be too much of a big deal for any given member of the audience. In my case I’ve set it to £2, which admittedly won’t get me a hot drink at Betty’s, but not everywhere in town is that expensive.
I’ve seen a few people on Twitter mention their ko-fi page (I’ve even bunged a couple of quid in, in some cases), for instance the comedian John Finnemore who’s been doing a free lockdown series (Cabin Fever) tied in to his radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, the author Joanne Harris, the Coronavirus Theatre Club who have been providing dramatic content online for free during lockdown, and the publishing mover-and-shaker Sam Missingham.
It makes the most sense to me where they’re providing content for free in some way. John Finnemore, for instance, has done several comedy programmes on the BBC which they’ll have given him money for. The lockdown videos, on the other hand, seem to have been done by him at home to keep people (including himself, no doubt) entertained at a stressful time – buying him a coffee to say thank you seems reasonable. Joanne Harris gets royalties if you buy brand new copies of her novels but she also does story-telling and gives writing advice on Twitter so if that’s the only content of hers you consume – why not chuck some coins in her digital busking hat?
We’ve all been enjoying free content online during lockdown, whether it’s the National Theatre’s youtube offerings, RapidReel which I wrote A Ferret Too Far for, or the Slackline Cyberstories series which included my monologue I Could Murder a Custard Cream. Unless you’re also on the production side (writer, actor, director, coordinator etc) you may not have thought about how come it’s available for free. In many cases it’s because no-one who’s involved in producing it gets paid. The same goes for reading fiction online for free.
I wasn’t paid for any of the audio or video content that you can access via my publications list. I haven’t received money for fiction since 2018, though I do have the promise of payment for a story that’s due to be published this autumn. I’m often torn between submitting a story to a free venue online that gets lots of traffic so it’s accessible to as many people as possible, and trying to make money from it. It’s another argument for Universal Basic Income as a spur to creativity, but I’ll come back to that some other time.
None of this is to complain. I enjoy writing. I couldn’t not write. I’ve had a day-job most of the time (though not at the moment). But if you’ve ever read any of my stories online for free, or listened to me reading them out, or watched the monologues, and they’ve brightened up your day or made you think, then (if you can easily afford it) I would be chuffed to bits if you bought me a cuppa. Ta.