The Guardian

London

The Internet is coming close to answering the question creative people have been asking for years. Can an individual with a talent for writing, drawing, photography or music use the Internet, not to create millions but to make enough to liveand do what they want to do professionally?

What’s more, the answer may well turn out to be a hesitant yes. Six years on from the start of the popular web explosion, people are adjusting to paying for content on the Internet. The Wall Street Journal announced recently that its subscriber base had brought in $80 million last year. The Guardian started to charge for some services recently. It goes on.

But the real excitement isn’t with the large content-producing companies. The original and most obvious ways of making a living in the creative arts have usually been advertising, sponsorship and patronage and the Internet is no different. Weblogs, once again on the cutting edge of the Internet, are starting to move in this direction, with the recent launch of two major advertising services — Google Ad-Sense and BlogAds.

Google Ad-Sense is the public version of the system. It provides ‘text ads’ — small, text-only ads, tailored to the content of the page they are displayed on — and pays the site owner for every ‘click-through’. Many people are finding that Google’s Ad-Sense is making them money. The most successful are sites that are tightly focused on their subject areas. Advertisers do not buy ads for each site directly but rather on keywords and topics and it is up to Google to share out the advertising. A good match between advertisers, site and audience benefits everyone, without the advertising buyer requiring an in-depth knowledge of the subject areas weblogs and sites.

Advertising, however, is not the most cutting edge of business models. For that, we need to visit the concept of micropayments. “If you think about it,” says graphic artist Scott McCloud, “for any kind of content on the web, the natural price per unit of these things should be under a dollar.”

The idea of being able to charge for content worth only pennies has long appealed, with the theory being that given small enough prices, a smooth enough system and compelling enough content, people will be happy to pay a few pence for a good read or a useful programme.

But no one has, as yet, proved that micropayments can work. McCloud is confident that things are starting to turn. Could anyone make a living doing this? “There are probably about a dozen people in online comics who could do so,” he says. “All of the signs are good.”

When McCloud’s Bitpass trials were exceeding his expectations, CafePress.com announced the launch of its book service. You upload JPegs of your designs and the site will create an online store to sell them, taking care of the payment, production and delivery, and then giving you a split of the profits.

CafePress’s book publishing service launched last year is simple to use. Writers lay out their books on their ordinary word processor, choosing their own typefaces and spacing, and then save this as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

They then upload this file on to the CafePress system from its web page, choose the size, type of binding and price and CafePress builds an online store for them to sell it from.

When a customer orders a copy, the book is printed specially and dispatched from the CafePress warehouse. The difference between the base cost of the printing and distribution and the price set by the author is then given to the writer.