Why I’m Not A Fan Of Tip Jars

No, I’m not talking about the jars at your local sandwich or coffee shop to give a little extra for those who made your food just the way you want it. I’m talking about tip jars that authors put on their websites to allow patrons to give a bit of cash to support their favorite wordsmiths.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for authors making money and readers supporting their efforts. But my reason for not liking them comes from a recent email I received.

A person who had previously pirated my books mentioned they loved them so much that they wanted to contribute monetarily. When I said, “Great why don’t you buy a legal copy for yourself or for a friend,” they balked. They instead ask me to provide a tip jar on my site so they could (a) pay what they wanted to pay and (b) cut out the money-grubbing publishers and just give to me.

I’m all for empowering readers, and there are many authors who are happy with “pay what you want” pricing models, but I can’t think of anything else that the consumer gets to choose their price for. I can’t go to a movie and say I only want to pay $3 to see the show, nor can I convince the person making my mocha that $2 is my best offer rather than the $4.50. It seems reasonable to me that the people who created (or have signed a contract to sell/distribute) get to set the price. If you think it is too high, you don’t buy it or wait until it goes on sale (which is happening a great deal these days. I myself have recently picked up ebook versions of Lies of Locke Lamora for $0.99 and Promise of Blood for $1.99).

But it’s the cutting out the publisher part that is the reason I’m most opposed. Look, I’m a hybrid author and in some cases I assume the role of author-publisher and therefore all bucks stop with me, but when traditionally published I’m an army of much more than one, and all those people who played their parts deserve to be compensated as well. I have some complaints about modern publishing (life of copyright contracts, low thresholds for declaring a work out of print, requiring ebook/print/audio rights rather than breaking them apart, and the royalty rate on ebooks which I think isn’t equitable) but these are the rules they have put forth and by signing I agree to play by them.  I think if people saw just how much time and effort goes into all the things that publisher does for the final product, they would agree they deserve to get their cut as well.

This is why I don’t have a tip jar.I would feel compelled to give any money that came into it to have the publisher’s cut given to them, and there just isn’t any easy mechanism to do so. Money in publishing flows to the author, and that is as it should be. Accounting for and transferring the funds in the other direction would be too much of a hassle for my publisher to implement.

Now, for those that are self-published which makes them both the author and publisher – well then I say – go for it. You are not hurting any third-party and if a reader wants to add a bit to buy you a cup of joe that seems just fine.  So maybe it’s not tip jars per se that I object to, just the notion that publishers care only about money and don’t contribute anything to the product produced. This is certainly not the case…so if you like a traditionally published book, and want to support the author…please do so by buying a copy and include the publisher in your appreciation as well.

Avatar of Michael J. Sullivan
Michael J. Sullivan

I’m a fulltime fantasy author whose debut series, The Riyria Revelations was published by Orbit as three volumes: Theft of Swords (Nov 2011), Rise of Empire (Dec 2011), Heir of Novron (Jan 2012). I have a new series, The Riyria Chronicles which will contain: The Crown Tower (Aug 2013) and The Rose and the Thorn (Sep 2013).

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar of Sylvia Lin
    September 23, 2013, 2:19 pm   / 

    A webcomic I read has had tipping for years. I think it’s pretty standard in certain areas. Best part about the virtual tip jar is the option not to participate! ^,^

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