Flat Rate Micro-Payments

A couple of years ago, I had a very interesting discussion with the then coordinator of CopyNight, Joseph Price. We both were lamenting the failure of micro-payments and brain stormed systems that might overcome the lethal friction even the micro-est of payments encounters. At the core of our discussion was a sort of micro-escrow, where you pay in some small, lump sum like a subscription service, but could then apportion out small amounts of that balance easily as you consume media.

I was please to see Xeni post on BoingBoing about Flattr which is very close to the idea Joseph and I imagined. The new service, which is in an invite only beta, is being developed by Peter Sunde of The Pirate Bay. Other than the high level model, details are scant. I like the idea but am forced to remain skeptical by the shuttering of TipJoy. They tried something similar but may have been doomed by a bit too much complexity. Flattr looks simpler, about as straightforward as adding a PayPal donation button to your site. If the financials prove to be solid, Sunde may have a winner on his hands. I certainly will be giving it a try as soon as I can.

The other thought that occurs is how this shows that The Pirate Bay folks have a more evolved conscience than perhaps most give them credit. If Sunde felt that all media should be free, why would he build such a service or even more specifically explain it in terms of supporting artists in the introductory video? Even if Flattr isn’t successful, ultimately, it is going to be a valuable experiment, helping us better understand what doesn’t work and what eventually might.

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