No. The very idea is flawed.

“Pay what you want” publishing proceeds from the idea that demand drives pricing. This is inherently a correct approach if the publisher is unsure of the worth of their product, or values short-term market share more than near-term profit. In the latter instance, they’re looking to expand their brand and catch eyeballs, and will most likely charge more traditional rates once they’ve achieved this. The former instance is one where you have the hobbyist who wants to monetize their hobby and aren’t interested in making money, so much as getting their stuff out there. There’s nothing wrong with either of these reasons for doing PWYW. There is no “should.”

When I started Black Campbell Entertainment, I was leaning toward the idea of PWYW, but I also wanted to make sure that if we were selling, everyone who was involved would see some kind of profit, however small. That meant paying the artists up front, cutting my editors in on the royalties. That meant these products weren’t valueless beyond what the customers wanted to pay. There were real hours, real effort put in (and I think it shows.) I set prices commensurate with similar products. If they weren’t moving, I lowered the prices to something people were willing to pay. But PWYW often means $0.00…the work put into these means they have a value we expect to at least recoup.

By not being greedy — most of our adventures are $2 — we have steady sales. Artists are paid, editors are paid, and we’ve recouped about 2/3rd the payout on the first wave of adventures, thanks to a bundle that is seeing real sales. (And thank you!!!) We put a value on our stuff. You agree and buy it, or you don’t…and don’t. That’s commerce. That’s fair.

The PWYW publishers, for whatever reason they have chosen this pricing structure, are signaling that they understand the inherent value of their product is low (because with POD and e-books, games are glutting the market) or they value dispersion over profit. I wish them well.

Second guessing their intent is fruitless.