On passion projects and working for free

I’ve launched a lot of new products and businesses over the years. But Anime Origin Stories is the first new endeavor I’d characterize as a passion project.

Normally when I start something, I think, “OK, how am I going to fund this?” When I wrote Build Your Anime Blog, for example, I priced the book and limited my time working on it so that once it came out, my royalties would amount to a decent hourly wage.

I didn’t do any of this for Anime Origin Stories, because I didn’t think it would be very big. (Usually I survey my audience and test if business ideas are viable, but not this time.) I impulsively decided anime fandom needed an archival project, and that I, with my master’s in journalism, was going to be the one to make it happen!

But I was wrong about interest. Anime Origin Stories turned out to be very big! I’ve gotten more than 105 responses and counting now. And because I write custom follow-up questions to each participant, I’m not very fast at getting through them.

Over the weekend, I managed to plow through 30+ surveys and write follow-up questions, and it’s only because on Saturday, I hardly did anything else! I’d say that overall, the time I’ve spent making the site, coming up with questions, and posting stories totals more than 20 hours. I’m putting as much time and effort into it as one of my paid gigs.

I’m not saying this to make you feel bad for me. Not only did I choose to invest my time in this way, but I’m having a blast doing it. Everyone’s stories are so intensely personal and yet entirely relatable—it’s almost like we all have a hobby in common or something.

Still, it’s the opposite of what I normally do. In the past, I’ve turned my hobbies—writing, watching anime, building Gunpla, even lighting candles, into revenue streams. For Anime Origin Stories, I’ve turned interviewing, a thing I usually do for money, into an unpaid pastime.

First, let me tell you why I normally monetize everything I’m interested in. My secret is that I want to minimize the time I spend working and maximize the time I spend actually living life. I figure if I can turn the things that give me joy into income, I won’t have to work as much.

I realize this doesn’t work for everyone. Upon hearing this, some people tell me that turning their hobbies into jobs would make it so they could never enjoy their hobbies again. But I am obviously not one of those people. I know I need money to live, and I know I have a finite amount of time alive, so I got creative with where that money is coming from.

Like many people who have not studied economics in the slightest, I dream of the day everyone gets a universal basic income. I fantasize about the things people would create just for the sake of it, not because they have a paycheck on the line. Until that day comes, (or more likely, doesn’t), I’d say money is the largest motivator I have to get up and do things. But—it’s not the only reason I do stuff, and Anime Origin Stories is proof of that.

Still, work is work, whether you get paid or not, and I’d rather get paid. Considering how much of my time it’s taking, I will be including affiliate links on Anime Origin Stories soon, most likely in the sidebar. I’ll also be working on a paid ebook that compiles the first 100 interviews—plus some original research by me about each decade—for sale later this year.

While money can certainly taint a project, I don’t think it does by default. I don’t think Gunpla 101 is less genuine or speaks less to my belief that “Gunpla is for everyone” because it also happens to link to the tools I use and kits I build. I don’t think, had I launched the site with zero affiliate links, people would say, “Wow, Lauren is so noble and self-sacrificing.” I don’t think anyone is saying that about Anime Origin Stories now.

If you’re in the same boat, and your hobby has turned into as much work as a second job, don’t worry about being judged for adding a monetization factor. When my friends launch projects that include paid products or Patreon, I’m thrilled to support them. I’d be even more excited if, thanks to support like mine, they could do their thing full time.

And finally, thanks for helping to make Anime Origin Stories a success to the point that it compels me to write a post like this.