Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 15, 2010
My un-Flattr-ing opinion

Reader GG asked in the open Sunday thread whether I would consider using a service like Flattr for this blog. Flattr is a new thing, now in beta, from one of the founders of Pirate Bay, which would allow readers to pay for content on the internet. It is a word play on both "to flatter", and "flatrate": Users pay a flat rate to Flattr every month. During the month they click on Flattr button on various other websites, blogs or other content, for everything they like. Then at the end of the month their monthly contribution (minus a 10% cut) is distributed evenly among all the sites they flattr-ed. So if they paid a $2 monthly fee and clicked on Flattr buttons for 9 pieces of content they liked, each of the content creators would receive 20 cents.

I do not think this will work. From the side of the content creators, this is basically the equivalent of them going round with a tin can to collect alms. And for the content consumers it gives them the choice of either consuming content for free, or signing up to pay in advance for content they haven't even seen yet. I would say it is rather predictable which of the two options they would choose. I'd have more luck with a Paypal donation button, and even that one wouldn't pay for more than a cup of coffee. Basic market economy: A price of something is determined by supply and demand, and if there are enough people offering written content on the internet for free, the price you can ask for that approaches zero.
I don't know... i wouldn't donate using paypal to your site, but I'd probably donate 10c every couple of months if I just had to click a button and there are probably 10 other sites I'd do that to.

It's not much but if a lot of people did it it would add up.

I think it might work if they can pursuade people to actually sign up at all
Whilst you may not make a great deal of money, I think Flattr would work over paypal. In that to Flattr you have paid already and just deciding that you like a site. The content is still free at point of use and that doesn't change.

Whereas Paypal... hmmm I like this site... can I really be asked to go jump through hoops of making a payment.
It all depends on the content. If they get some bloggers on there that I'm already reading I might pay the €2 a month.

But as you mention, they have to add something extra. What's the bonus from just browsing the net? They'd have to sign a few A rank bloggers to start it all.
There's already been services that did the same thing for blogs and websites, or similiar in that they collected micro-transaction donations then divied them out. They all failed years ago, sad to see yet another launch.

I agree, it's pretty pointless to bother with revenue on a niche blog offering insight/commentary.

Offer something with direct value, then limit access to it via payment only, you'd see totally different demand. Or pander to a large population of web viewers and go the advertising route with pure traffic.
I think advertising already has this market cornered and it's a lot less obstrusive. Plus if people really want to give a blogger (or whoever) money, they could just donate with PayPal (I know plenty of blogs that openly accept donations).
Do not forget the demand to feel good.

That's why people give billions freely to Haiti and that's why you could earn some money with a free donation.

Should you do that ? Mmh .. In my opinion you like to write this blog, as I like contributing to it. I wouldn't feel good if I gave you money to do something you like to do. (And you wouldn't consider giving me money for commenting blog posts:).

But other people have a different PoV and might contribute.
If I like content, I usually click on the google ads or whatever pay per click thing the owner has going on his website. I sure as hell won't pay money for content that I've not seen yet.
@ Scot

Just because something failed years ago, it does not mean someone shouldn't try again. The timing may have been wrong or the mechanics too complicated.

As for payment for niche markets... I would argue you stand to make more income in a niche market you understand fully and do part time, than a big market you don't understand and try fulltime.

There are plenty of niche merchants out there making a very profitable income.

T's blog is no small fry... I'm not trying to convince him, but blogs of this nature could really reap some rewards. As blogs go, I'd say this is in the top 5% in terms of readership when looking at the blogsphere as a whole.

I really do think there is a market out there for provided content, music downloads, artist resources and movies for example that would be free to use and if appreciated a button clicked to say yeah I liked that, thank you and hopefully a bit of this money will come your way.

People already put their content out there for free, sometimes because they cant arrange a payment system or secure some kind of distributor.

I may just give this a shot when it goes live. If it does.
It depends on who your audience is. Not every "free content" is "good content", or "content appropriate for me".

If you can offer premium content through your blog, that is at the same time very unique (I cannot realistically expect to find it elsewhere) and with continuous quality (it doesnt vary wildly from week to week) I would be willing to pay a small amount for it *if you decide to make it unavailable for free* AND *if the paying process is simple and effective*.

[[I would also add "trustworthy" since I come from a country (Serbia) where it is best to doubt hard anyone asking for any money or you'd get ripped off easy.]]

In the case your decision is to leave the blog free to access, I still do not see any harm in joining a network that can land you some money - the amounts might be pitiful at the start, but with building a growing customer base (along with the growth of the gaming industry, of which I think we are only witnessing a start, not a peak) those amounts might not stay pitiful forever.

People do tend to reward quality, either by "brand loyalty" or by willingness to pay (more).

The only question that you would need to answer (to yourself, not to me) is: how much "reward" would be enough? Once the money enters the equation, motives and rules change, and what you once did for free begins to, in a way, have a price. I am pretty sure no one is immune to re-calculating what they are prepared to do for the rewards they are getting. But I do think money is good, and in my point of view, quality does not depend on motives or on being free, ie, done out of "love" or "wish to share".

And also, I strongly disagree that the Flattr idea in any way resembles "going round with a tin can to collect alms" - religions put different kinds of psychological pressures on you to "give".

Especially the tin thing (the process of I admittedly only know from movies!) which seems like social pressure par excellance, where your peer group sees and condemns you for not doing what they are doing or what they think is right, whereas Flattr would be my own choice, made by my own reasoning of pro et contra, done in anonymity, and inside my own home. But then again, I am a militant atheist, so who knows, I might be biased :)
Just read you post again, and think you have the wrong idea of what they plan to do.

And for the content consumers it gives them the choice of either consuming content for free, or signing up to pay in advance for content they haven't even seen yet.

Content will always be free and you don't need to sign up to Flattr. You pay a £2 monthly subscription for example and if you find a site, you appreciated and they are participants in the scheme you can just give them a click. Someone who isn't with Flattr and can't donate will see and benefit from exactly the same content.

It's like busking I guess, you play your tune, everyone hears it for free... someone happens to like it and they throw a few coins in your direction.
Is the suggestion that users would have to be a Flattr subscriber in order to see the websites that show the Flattr button? If so, I'd just never see those sites again. There's not one site I visit that I couldn't very easily do without.

On the other hand, if the button is just sitting there waiting to be clicked voluntarily, it's just an automated version of the shareware principle, isn't it? I imagine it would work about as well as that does.
Someone who isn't with Flattr and can't donate will see and benefit from exactly the same content.

I think you misunderstood my comment. I know that somebody not on Flattr will be able to see the same content, which is why I said that he'll be unlikely to sign up for the service. Because by signing up for the service he would have to decide to pay a monthly flatrate for internet content he hasn't seen yet.
I'll grant that most people aren't willing for to pay for content they can otherwise get for free elsewhere. Those same people will also probably tip their server 15% or more of the price of their meal in a restaurant. Barring special circumstances, the restaurant tip is a voluntary gesture, one that diverges from the economist's model of a perfectly rational economic decision.

Over time we've developed cultural expectations that certain service providers deserve tips. I hope that Paypal donations and things like Flattr will help legitimize amateur blogging as something both worth paying for and then something one ought to pay for.

This is the same issue facing newspapers in their move to online. How you run the New York Times profitably when it only exists as a digital enterprise with its stories indexed by services like Google News? Eyeballs (ie ads) won't pay the bills, so if we all value this content, our default attitude towards online content needs to change from "I leech for free" to "I pay for what I consume."
Fair enough T, I see we are on the same page.

What you state would be a hurdle. In that if you you already have said product or service, why would you sign up to Flattr?

Two reasons I think. One because there is a large cohort out there that would pay a monthly fee to Flattr in order to support resources they value. I know I do, and support 2 web pages specifically.

The second reason, and there is no indication that this will be the case... is the carrot.

If Flattr had some kind of carrot to encourage people to spend say £2 a month then I think it could take off.

What that carrot would be is a tough question, as the user is typically looking at services free at the point of use anyway.

Perhaps they could use some revenue to generate bespoke content and offers for those who use Flattr.

All food for thought.
What about a Paypal-donate button or other subscription fee to enable people to comment? Then the casuals can read your blog for free, but only hardcore readers will pay to comment.
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