For some publishers and advertisers, Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad blocking services, has become the scourge of the Internet. But now, the company is teaming up with Swedish microdonation startup Flattr to try to help more publishers, writers, and artists get paid for their work online.
Flattr Plus, which was announced today, promises to pay the people who create the stories, videos, and art on the Internet that you love. To use it, you sign up and set a monthly budget of how much you’d like to spend on stuff you look at on the web. The idea is that you can seamlessly donate money to those whose work you read, listen to, or watch.
This is hardly the first experiment hoping to help more creators get paid online. For years, technologists have suggested that micropayments—where you pay a very tiny amount for each thing you read—could help fund online content. And as the publishing industry, in particular, has become increasingly concerned about ad blocking online, that idea has cropped back up. Newer startups like Blendle have touted the pay-as-you read model as an additional way to draw in readers.
Now Flattr Plus is marketing itself as an even easier way for readers to pay for what they see. Instead of paying for each story individually, it distributes the amount you want to donate between your favorite places. And yet, as the publishing industry experiments with various new business models, it’s not clear that publishers will want to work with a service developed in part by the Adblock Plus—nor that readers will pay for what they can already get for free.
How It Works
Flattr Plus lets you pay for online content with less effort, says Adblock Plus’ communications and operations manager Ben Williams. You don’t have to decide who you want to pay or how much. You don’t have to sign into different places or click to buy stories. The idea, at least, is that you surf the web like you normally do and Flattr Plus tracks where you spend your time. Then it distributes however much you’d like to spend to the places where you, say, spend the most time. When it launches in beta this summer, Flattr Plus will take 10 percent of your total donation. (Williams says 3 to 5 percent of that goes to banking fees.)
‘At the end of the day, the consumer wins if there’s a better experience.’ Jason Kint
One problem, however, is that you look at a whole lot of stuff. So even if you are willing to donate to your favorite places, the amount of money that any single place will receive will likely be minimal, says University of Minnesota professor Andrew Odlyzko.
That’s also assuming you’d want to pay to read stories or watch videos that you could already get for free. If you already see ads and pay for subscriptions to read articles, listen to music, or watch shows, you likely won’t feel obliged to pay much more. Williams argues that enough people who use ad blockers, opting not to see any ads, feel they do want to pay for the content even if they want to avoid the ads. This, he argues, is a way for them to do so.
And yet, in order for the service to pay so-called content creators, it will also need to work with media organizations, bloggers, musicians, and others with whom you spend your time. Many of whom are already facing their own concerns about how best to sell their content. While much of the online economy depends on ads, major publishers have launched subscription models online as well. A pay-for-what-you-actually-read model could cut into some of that revenue.
“How do you change the value proposition enough that people are willing to pay for something that they’re used to getting for free?” asks Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath. “Doling it out for pennies on the dime is probably not going to be particularly helpful.”
Ultimately, the partnership between Adblock Plus and Flattr is an interesting one, more so for its participants than for its model. Adblock Plus has become notorious in the advertising and publishing worlds as one of the major adblocking services, cutting into publishers’ revenue. Meanwhile, Flattr was founded by Linus Olsson and Pirate Bay cofounder Peter Sunde. (Adblock Plus owns a minority stake in Flattr.)
So, sure, publishers might be willing to experiment with new models until they find the ones that work best for them. But they’ll also have to trust that who they work with will end well for them.
“At the end of the day, the consumer wins if there’s a better experience,” says Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, a digital industry trade group (of which WIRED’s parent company Condé Nast is a member). And yet, he adds of Flattr Plus, “There’s a sense of mistrust walking in, and I think that’s a hurdle.”