Or, As We Say in Sweden…

Got an email the other day from a consultant named Ben Sauer, wondering what I thought of Flattr. He’d even Googled “Scott McCloud Flattr” with no luck.

If he was surprised that I’ve kept my mouth shut this long, I can’t blame him. I’m a little surprised myself.

Flattr is a “social micropayment” (or, if you like, micro-donation) system that gives users the option of donating a lump sum each month that can then be proportionally distributed among content creators that the user visits.

The amount is up to the user and can be as little as a few bucks.

It’s not a bad idea on the face of it, and it’s getting a little extra attention because of the involvement of Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.

These days, when micropayments come up, I tend to stay on the sidelines. I’m enough of a poster boy for what didn’t (couldn’t?) work in 2005, that I doubt any favorable attention from me is going to do anyone any good.

But the Pirate Bay connection is an interesting one, because it highlights the fact that what we think of as paid content markets are, on some level, becoming de facto donation communities for those of us who could get content elsewhere for nothing, but just decide not to.

“Willing sellers and willing buyers” was the phrase I kept coming back to. Even in 2005, I wasn’t interested in unbreakable paywalls or DRM, I believed that if there was a simple way for users to pay a little for the content they liked, enough people would do so to keep comics afloat without the need for coercion.

I was marked down as wrong in 2005, and there’s no guarantee that the makers of Flattr won’t suffer the same fate, but I’m glad somebody out there is still trying.

If closed systems like app stores and dedicated devices wind up putting paid content back into the driver’s seat, a lot of comics pros and the companies they work for might have reason to celebrate, but a community-based solution would make me a lot happier.

Does Flattr look like a community-based solution any of you would want to support?

Discussion (8)¬

  1. thirtyseven says:

    In the small but growing German Webcomic Scene Flattr is gaining more and more users and supporters (and I will include it in my webcomic with the upcoming redesign of my website – whenever that will be…).
    Everybody I have talked with who is using it over here is gaining more money through Flattr than through any other service (Project Wonderfull, Ad Sense, etc.).
    So to me it looks like a very good approach so far.

  2. maileguy says:

    The pay for what you like with no requirement worked for me. (Till I lost my job, anyway!) I don’t read anything I have to pay for, now because I can’t before because I didn’t like the model. There is enough stuff free that it doesn’t interfere (I follow fifty or so web comics, and while I donated to several, it was because I wanted to, based on content. I wanted to see them continue. But maybe that’s just me. Luck and best wishes to Flattr – and you.

  3. Laroquod says:

    I’m glad to see the more thoughtful leading figures pointing out more and more that a walled garden app store is not the ideal solution to everybody’s problems. Five years may seem like forever in the webverse but it’s not long enough to know that something like voluntary micropayments would never work. We are still well back in the ‘nickelodeon’ era of this medium and anything can change any year, because the basic logistics of discovery change, every year. Media is such a multi-headed hydra now, with new heads popping up monthly, that it’s as amazing to me that anyone can be conclusive as to what economic model is best for comics, as it is that anyone can be conclusive about things like, ‘4:3 should be the ratio of reading on the web because many web frames are shaped that way and new readers can’t comfortably navigate things not shaped exactly to their viewing frames.’ Can’t they? Are we sure? How about next year?

    Some concerns are of their time and only of their time. Maybe when it all shapes up we’ll find that people no longer think of the web as in need of one aspect ratio on one payment model, and never will again.

    See what I did there? 87

    • Scott says:

      Okay, off-topic now, but…

      I think the real challenge is to separate temporary technological circumstance from those basic human tendencies that never change. Like where our eyes are in our heads, or the desire to create seamless believable fictional worlds we can lose ourselves in.

      (Also, never said “exactly” or “4:3”)

      But yeah, I agree with the general point. `8v)

      • Laroquod says:

        Yeah sorry if I put words in your mouth by implication. I was inventing an example of a certain ilk. I don’t think I really buy the eyeball thing but totally with you on the need to create a immersive experience, although that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘seamless’. Seams really exist, in nature. Maybe we just haven’t learned to exploit them artfully enough. Sometimes you can make something disappear in plain sight.

  4. This is the first I’ve heard of flattr, and I’m intrigued. Thanks for bringing it up!

  5. metatim says:

    I’m a Flattr user. It hasn’t reached the feeds I follow regularly, so each month I have to seek out Flattrable content (which is an interesting behaviour modification in itself), but I like the model so much I’m keen to see it thrive.

    There was one instance when I naturally came upon a piece of content that I wanted to Flattr, and was able to, and it felt incredibly good to be able to make that donation in just a couple of clicks. That good feeling is exactly the fuel that this kind of solution needs to run on.

  6. OH!
    You ARE agreeable!

    I don’t know where to post this really, so I’ll dump it here.
    I know, I know! It’s horrible of me to go off topic this way, but at least it is apropos Sweden (I live there) and you (I’m currently reading your second book, and it an I are getting along famously)

    You “tell” us (on page 139, in the last panel)
    take note of how montage is a largely unexplored territory. Well! I did! I just now encountered something baffeling, an example of how words can be part of the visual stage in comics. Phew… What a mouthful.

    Here is something that sure brings onomatopoeia to the next level!
    Not a comic, no, but still important!

    Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt!
    (I can understand that some do not stomach this kind of input, but please, watch it for the sake of the words!)