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Paying for What’s Free – A Business Waiting to Happen? July 10, 2009

Posted by ficial in Blogroll.

It’s always an interesting point when I find myself wanting to pay for something (i.e. an internet service) that’s available for free. Usually there are some special features or improvements that are available with the paid version of a service, but that’s never what drives me to shell over money. Instead, I find I want to pay either because I think the service is a good one and I want to reward the inventors/providers, or else I think the service is good and I want to make sure the providers stay in business and continue to produce good things (or a combination of those two). I’ve recently really been enjoying Pandora, and now that it looks like they’ve got the legalities and licensing straightened out, I’m happy to give them $3/month. However, even with the couple other services to which I subscribe (flickr, unfuddle, and until recently also LiveJournal), I certainly could spare another $10/month to encourage, reward, and support people doing cool, good work. Generally this goes to one or several web-comic artists.

Interestingly, I also find myself with the same desires and inclinations for things off the net as well, or at least partially so. Often when I come across a beautiful sculpture or painting, I’d like to be able to send the artist a few dollars – the lasting joy of experiencing a good piece of art is easily worth 1/4 of a movie ticket. Similarly, as I’m especially enjoying a song on Pandora or some other internet venue, I’ve love to every-once-in-a-while be able to send a dollar or two directly to the artist. Or if I find a library book I love, I wish there were a way I could directly give the author a bit.

So, here’s the business in a nutshell:

  • publicworks.com (or some such thing) – a community web site with all the standard basic stuff. The special sauce is…
    • users may buy a certain number of points for $1 each, either by individual lot, or as a subscription/regular allowance
      • users can give those points (or fractions thereof) to other users
      • either one-time event, or they may set up recurring events
    • users can cash out any points they have at a ratio of 1 point = $.95¬† (or whatever it needs to be to keep the site running and the employees paid)
  • primary marketing is to creators of works that are abstract, freely reproducible, and/or freely experience-able
  • secondary marketing is to consumers/users/viewers of said works

Insane? Great idea? Hopeless? Useless? Would I be the only user? I can’t imagine I would – there seem to be many sites that happily support themselves with a pay-pal-driven Donate button.

Anyone feel like working on such a thing…?



1. Josh Szmajda - July 13, 2009

People have been trying to get micropayment systems to work for a long time now, with little success. I’ve heard theories on why this is: it’s too hard to use, not omnipresent enough, or people just don’t care. I’m not really sure which it is these days. It could just be that nobody has ever come up with a really compelling system to make them work.

I like your idea of converting to a micronized, electronic currency. I think given the appropriate set of tools (easy to use website, plugins to social networking sites, and especially mobile-device-based apps) it could be a workable system.

Have you done any research to see if there are websites similar to what you’ve described out there? I know there have been efforts in the past, but I haven’t kept up with them, so I don’t know if they’re working.

Also if you decide to move forward on this, I’d be happy to help out in whatever way I can.

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