There's not a huge amount I can add to this, as people have replied pretty thoroughly! Again, as people have already said, the cutting-out of the middle man means that I'm willing to give my money - I can see that it's going straight to Amanda and not to this person and that person until it's finally cut down to a tiny percentage of what it was and is finally passed on to the person I wanted to give it to in the first place.
I don't mind paying for art, especially art that has had such a profound effect on my life. Amanda gives back to us a personal connection, interaction and a far more intimate experience than most artists out there. We see how the merchandise develops - god, we're given the chance to design it ourselves! For everything we give, the way I see it, we receive as well. And I'd rather spend my money on merchandise and music and art for someone I respect and admire, than to a middleman somewhere else because the artist hasn't asked directly and there isn't a way to give money directly, or to someone who I feel isn't going to give back and doesn't have the time for the individual fans (and instead just vaguely - and occasionally - addresses with the collective 'fanbase' as a whole).
Okay, so I can't afford to bid at the webcasts, but again am not going to criticise those who can. It's a personal choice. Amanda asks directly, and people give directly. Nobody's being conned, nobody's having to pay ridiculous charges to websites on top of the money they're giving. Besides, I'd rather pay less for a concert ticket and be able to go even when I have an extreme lack of money and am living on a student budget - and then, if I dig some money out from somewhere, donate and/or buy merchandise in my own time, when I CAN afford it - than not be able to go to a gig at all because it's £50 a ticket which is far too much for me to afford to spend in one go. The low ticket prices meant I could go to all of the recent gigs in London AND buy merchandise, because Amanda keeps her prices down and finds other ways for us to support her. I'd rather it were that way, personally. Oh, and, y'know, have several hugs and exchange words with her after every show. Someone said on the blog comments that Amanda doesn't give back. I think the very fact that right now she's READING all the comments would suggest otherwise...personally, I feel that we get far more back than we give. And at the same time, it doesn't feel like we're paying for her to give it back; we're giving of our own free will AFTER AFP has worked so damned hard to make each one of us feel connected.
So yes, I've probably repeated everything everyone else has said, but I think what I'm TRYING to say here is AMEN, Amanda. Keep doing what you do, keep giving as much as you do, because it's fantastic, and I will happily give as much back as I can. =)