The passion economy and the self-published author: the new model and the changing formula

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

Recently a new subscription record was broken on the gaming streaming service Twitch when twenty-five-year-old Ludwig Ahgren reached a new high of 287,847 subscribers. You could say it came at a price, as it required a thirty-one-day ‘sub-athon’, or subscription marathon, whereby every new subscription added another ten seconds to his streaming time. Putting the time commitment into some context, Ahgren later tweeted: ‘Since I started streaming, the Suez Canal was blocked and unblocked.’ It is, however, a price worth paying, as Twitch represents one of many growing technologies that enables creators to monetise their content by way of a subscription package that can be purchased by fans. Dedicated aficionados who are willing to pay for access to content they love and trust represent an emerging movement known as the passion economy. We can only speculate how much Ahgren made from the sub-athon, but even at Twitch’s cheapest package of £3.62 per month, with a multiplier in the hundreds of thousands, it’s not to be sniffed at.  

This story illustrates a recent positive shift in power towards creators and their ability to be properly rewarded for their work. This in turn is fuelled by a greater appreciation of niche communities into which highly tailored content, services and products can be delivered. Online tools such as Twitch, amongst many others, help facilitate that access. And the trend is noticeably extending to self-publishing. For whitefox, this means we are increasingly seeing book projects surpass initial author expectations with regard to consumer take-up and therefore the speed of their ROI. That’s not to say client projects weren’t doing well before. But we are increasingly aware of a change in the traditional formula. Key influencing factors seem now to be less about creating day-one mass-market generic product to be publicised via whatever channels are available, and more about gaining access to more specific, dedicated audiences that are well established and directly engaged.

For whitefox, a good example is an extraordinary four-book WW1 chronicle As We Were, created by historians David Hargreaves and Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe, published in February this year. This exhaustive, 2000+ page historical chronicle has clearly hit a sweet spot amongst swathes of specialist fans. The boxed set pre-sold to almost 300 patrons who backed the speculative project to help fund its initial publication. A promising start, given each set sold for £100. The books have since received glowing mainstream literary coverage in, amongst other places, the Sunday Times Culture Magazine with an unprecedented lead solus review from Dominic Sandbrook and are now already onto their fourth reprint.    

So realistically, what does this model mean for the writers, bloggers and podcasters heading up their own micro-communities and considering taking their own content to market? To revisit the formula, let’s conservatively say you have an audience base of 10,000 and, of those, 10% are truly dedicated fans. Not just followers, but engagers who buy into your brand. If you can convert 10% of your audience to paying £12 for your book, the self-published author could be seeing gross earnings of £12K within the first few months of publication. What’s more, the shelf life of a well-produced book can last for years, so the longer-term revenue potential is high as you continue to build and nurture your communities. As with anything, there will be costs to consider, but the payoff is that you own the rights and are the main earner from your efforts. The model favours the creator.

Admittedly we won’t all be conducting thirty-one-day gaming sub-athons, and there isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to driving a successful passion enterprise, but it’s an encouraging trend. The increasing willingness of consumers to invest in content they love, combined with the wider selection of tools and monetisation models, helps provide greater choices for creators. And for the aspiring potential whitefox author, it presents lots of opportunities.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.