Peter Sunde, one of the founders and former spokesperson of BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay, recently debuted a new venture…one that will actually make content owners money instead of bleeding them dry. The project is in the form of a service, called Flattr (get it, like flattering?) that aims to generate cash from a monthly subscription service, offering content consumers the chance to ‘show some love’ to their favorite online sites via a ‘flattr’ button, as well as paying them.
This button works similarly to how social content discovery sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit work, but it would be less focused on news and moreso on music and film content (we think…the site simply claims, “We aim to make people share money on the internet”).
From what we can understand so far, the system deals with micropayments; all the money donated from users each month is collected and doled out by the amount of times a site or artist was ‘flattr’ed. Minimum monthly fee for subscribers is €2, and that money is divided up evenly by the amount of sites they ‘flattr’. This way members that want to reward a band or an author or site they enjoyed can do so their own way. So think of it like Digg plus Google Adsense.
Take for example, if a user puts in €5 a month and ‘flattr’s 30 sites in one month, 15 cents goes to each site (after 10% commission). Sure that can add up but niche artists certainly won’t be getting any hefty pay days. Most likely it will conjure up a long-tail syndrome; popular sites that many visit will snowball and get the largest slice of cake (like in the site’s video example) and a few fluke indie/viral hits will make a profit. This hardly means niche bands and sites will get their due, and isn’t that who we’re really rooting for?
And as for the ‘button’ culture of Reddit and Digg, its fake “props” brings news and the odd viral sensation to the niche online community that is interested in collective intelligence (or in this case collective intrigue or hilarity)…with music/film it’ll be an even more niche community. Especially with music, rabid fangirls can spam sites to help get favor for their rockstar of the month, or elitism can set in with just how ‘mainstream’ fans want their bands and…it just gets messy.
Now the name itself is obviously in the vein of other social content sharing sites like Flickr and Tumblr…but why have they been so successful? Not because of the catchy, cutesy name, but because they’re free. Also sites like Digg and Reddit are successful because they’re extremely open-ended and a majority of the most popular ‘read’ and ‘dug’ and ‘stumbled’ stories are news stories and silly viral sensations…not exactly premium content worth donating money to.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very noble cause but given Sunde’s credentials of setting up and running the most successful illegal file-sharing site, the transition will be a bit shaky. Hypebot said it best that his vision is “encouraging users to donate money to many of the same rights holders that he once helped them grab content from”.
The cynic in me says Flattr seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to try and reverse what The Pirate Bay popularized, and they’re playing nice to seem more legit. It’s still taking a commission off of artists getting paid…and the few consumers that really do want to support artists usually do so by buying MP3s and seeing them live. Also, having a user willingly hand over financial information to a company related to one that has been under criminal investigation for ‘aiding copyright theft’…I simply can’t see that happening. Just because the brand is popular doesn’t mean people automatically trust it. That’s like entertaining the idea of paying a Crip to be your personal bodyguard. This would make much more sense if there were a trusted service behind it, like Paypal.
The timing of it also seems to be a bit suspicious. There might be interest in the service because of Sunde’s célèbre but I can’t see it lasting longer than the appeal process…which coincidentally has been timed for ‘early 2010’.
Currently in private beta, Flattr is due to properly launch at the end of March 2010. There hasn’t been any news of who has signed up yet but it’ll be interesting to see who takes the bait and wants to give it a go. It’s only then that we can really gauge which direction Flattr will be going, it still seems a bit too vague.
Not to be entirely pessimistic though, Sunde does have good intentions, an article from the BBC claimed he “hoped it proved popular among the vast number of niche sites run by passionate amateurs that have a small, dedicated audience but which struggle to cover their operating costs”. It is a very innovative idea, placing a monetary value to the already popular social discovery network could greatly benefit content creators, but for it to be successful the user base has to be significant.
Who knows though, if the service draws in enough users it could become the foundation for a successful micropayment system and radically change content creation on the Internet. That however is instilling a lot of faith that people will become enthusiastic about paying for online content, and as sites like Sunde’s The Pirate Bay proved, not many do.