Crowdfunding webcomics: the role of incentives and reciprocity in monetising free content

Dowthwaite, Liz (2018) Crowdfunding webcomics: the role of incentives and reciprocity in monetising free content. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The recent phenomenon of internet-based crowdfunding has enabled the creators of new products and media to share and finance their work via networks of fans and similarly-minded people instead of having to rely on established corporate intermediaries and traditional business models. This thesis examines how the creators of free content, specifically webcomics, are able to monetise their work and find financial success through crowdfunding and what factors, social and psychological, support this process. Consistent with crowdfunding being both a large-scale social process yet based on the interactions of individuals (albeit en mass), this topic was explored at both micro- and macro-level combining methods from individual interviews through to mass scraping of data and large-scale questionnaires.

The first empirical chapter (comprising of two survey and interview-based studies) investigated how members of the webcomics community made use of the Internet and social media to read and post content, interact with other readers and artists, and how they monetise these efforts. Creators and readers were found to use a large range of websites for webcomic-related activities; social media and the ability for creators and readers to get to know each other online is hugely important, often as important as the content of the work itself. Creators reported having diversified ‘portfolio careers’, and avoided relying on a single source of income as any one might fail at any time. The use of social media was found to be vital to all stages of the monetisation process; primarily because creators must build a dedicated community that is willing to spend money on them. Crowdfunding was found to be one of the biggest routes to monetisation, particularly as it lessens the risk of creating merchandise, combines selling items with a strong focus on interaction, and allows the main creative output to remain free.

The second empirical chapter reports a large-scale scraping-based study of webcomics crowdfunding campaigns across the two major platforms most commonly used by creators, namely Kickstarter and Patreon. The two platforms were shown to exhibit distinctive characteristics. Kickstarter follows the traditional rewards-based model whilst Patreon is subscription-based, a model which is rising in place of paywalls which have traditionally failed. Both Patreon and Kickstarter provide varied benefits but also some dissatisfactions were found. Kickstarter does not equal a steady income and Patreon rarely provides full-time income levels. Even when Kickstarter projects are hugely successful, they rarely do more than pay for the fulfilment of a particular project specifically, which does not tend to cover living expenses or provide a wage. While Patreon does allow creators to receive a recurring income, this rarely exceeded $1,000 a month.

The final empirical chapter reports the findings of a study of psychological attitudes amongst crowdfunding backers and considers this in the light of psychological theories of giving and reciprocity. The study investigated why backers are motivated to give to webcomics campaigns, and their underlying attitudes towards giving, including factors that may convince them to give more. The main reason for backers to choose to support a crowdfunding campaign was found to be because they are existing fans of the specific webcomic or more generally, the campaign’s creator. The other main motivation given was the intention to more generally support the surrounding community. These two motives were strongly manifest amongst backers on both platforms, but they lead to different behaviours as Kickstarter backers tend to consider rewards more important than community. Kickstarter is more self-regarding and directly reciprocal, Patreon more other-regarding and generally reciprocal. Patreon backers are not more or less altruistic but they are more motivated to give by all reasons other than rewards, which they do not consider important. Both selfish and other-regarding reasons are involved on both platforms, and neither seem to crowd-out the other.

In conclusion, people tend to pay for free content because i) they are fans and they want to own an item related to that fandom, or ii) they are fans and they want to be supportive and allow that fandom to continue. Overall, subscription-based crowdfunding was implicated as being the most suitable for creators who work on the internet, giving away free or intangible content, such as podcasts, webcomics, or livestreaming, whilst creators who work offline with tangible products that may appeal to a wider audience may find more success with rewards-based funding.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Houghton, Robert J
Spence, Alexa A.
Mortier, Richard
Keywords: crowdfunding, reciprocity, incentives, altruism, webcomics, attitudes, motivation, social media
Subjects: H Social sciences > HM Sociology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering
Item ID: 50969
Depositing User: Dowthwaite, Liz
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2018 04:41
Last Modified: 08 May 2020 08:15

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