Could Flattr be the future of making a living doing what you love?
When you sign up for Flattr, a social micropayments service, you dedicate a flat fee per month to the site. As you're surfing the web, you can click "Flattr" buttons next to a blog post, song, or podcast to put your money where your "likes" are. At the end of each month, your flat fee is evenly divided amongst the creators you've chosen.
Since the Swedish company launched last August, communities of creators (podcasters, citizen journalists, open source 3d printer hackers) are increasingly adopting Flattr as a virtual tip jar. The site's still small—70,000 users. The amounts are small, too—users pledge an average of 3 euros a month and click just a handful of times, with each click averaging half a euro in value. But as cofounder Linus Olsson told Fast Company today after his SXSW panel, the cultural impact of this kind of crowdfunding is growing.
"Taz.de, a major German newspaper, has put up a leaderboard of the most Flattr'd stories. A couple of months ago, the most-valued story got five times more payments than the next-most valued story, but it didn't have anywhere close to five times as many pageviews. What we're finding is that value and use are not necessarily correlated. We can now make statistics of value for the first time in history."
It's heartening to think of people's conscious decisions to reward content they find valuable as providing a counterweight to the tyranny of SEO. There's a poster-boy blogger in Germany who's making 2000 Euros a month from Flattr. That doesn't mean that crowdfunding is going to replace traditional media business models. One question at the panel was from a forlorn-sounding journalist for Time, who basically asked when Flattr is going to give him his job back. The answer: Not any time soon.
That’s a problem with the established media," Olsson told Fast Company. "They think in old terms—fixed price for fixed content. Of course we want journalists to have a living through Flattr. But maybe you could say it's better to have ten people working one day a week doing what they like than one person doing it full time." That's a nice idea, of course, but people's children do tend to like to eat more than one day a week.
Still, if you take for granted, as Olsson does, that the model of "forcing" people to pay for content is "broken," then the discussion shifts to how money can be used in other ways—to build a relationship between creator and consumer, as an expression of support, as a gesture of goodwill or an investment in someone's future. "It's a logical progression, from creating, sharing, and spreading content to creating, sharing, and spreading money," he says. "Money's just another tool to help people do what you think is important."