Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction

Monetising Minimalism

To keep a site sustainable, it needs to be funded to some extent. Enough at least to tread water, but more heavily if the site (or project) is to evolve to any meaningful degree. If a project can be self-sustainable by means of its own monetisation, that is the ideal situation. If however, the site and its contents are entirely free to consume, financial support must come from an alternative source.

In many cases, this isn’t much of an issue, because often these projects are born out of enthusiasm for a particular subject, or just to fulfil a creative urge. In these cases, there really isn’t much pressure for these projects to evolve or even become sustainable. But what if a project you’re involved in organically grows into something greater than you had initially anticipated, and with that, your vision for it? What if you no longer see it as a side project, but rather something that you could and want to be spending more of your time on? What if such a project is related to Minimalism?

With one of my side projects—Minimalism Life—I face a dilemma. A decision as to whether or not to monetise a fast growing site that is focused on living a minimalist lifestyle. Therein lies the fine line between meaningful growth and hypocrisy—encouraging a minimalist to buy things from you kind of goes against the ethos of living a minimal life. As the site and readership grows, so too does our own standards in quality of content and consistency—because the content needs to add some value to our readers, right? To do this, we need to work with contributors and importantly, pay them. Our current team doesn’t have the dedicated time or skills to consistently produce quality articles, for instance. So how do we hire the right people, reward our own time and effort, as well as staying true to the ethos of minimalism? As I said, it’s a fine line with very limited options.

Placed advertising is obviously out of the question. As is an online shop—that’s just more stuff. We’re not going to write and sell books, and we’re not going to take commissions through affiliate selling. We’re not motivational speakers either, so that’s also out of the question. So where does that leave us? Ultimately, it leaves us with two options: collaborations with brands who share our values, or subscription-based premium content. The former could work, but it’s not something that would be done on a regular basis—that’ll just serve to piss off our readers, therefore income would be very small. So a subscription plan would be the most viable option.

Understandably, content creation has overheads in one form or another, so if there’s an opportunity to produce valuable content with a small price tag to sustain that platform and its creators, isn’t that justifiable? Essentially, this “business model” focuses on the pursuit of sustainability, not the pursuit of money—although there’s no denying its importance.

If we delve deeper into that model, there’s plenty of other things to consider. Such as:

Who creates the premium content from Day 1 if it requires hiring a full/part-time writer?
How do we fund that Day 1 content?
How much do we charge for the subscription?
Should there be a renewal fee or a one-off access fee?
Do we self-host this premium content or use Patreon?

It’s a challenge.

If you have any friendly and constructive advice, please drop me an email.

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