Flattr is a new service which describes itself as a social micro payment platform that lets you show love for the things you like and helps support the people who create it.
I do really like the idea of Flattr, but sadly I think it is a model that has several major barriers to success. Flattr, in a nut shell, works as follows: you pay a certain fixed amount per month (in my case about £5) – as you encounter items that you want to reward (be it a photo, a video, a blog post, a useful widget etc.) you hit their ‘Flattr’ button. At the end of each month Flattr splits your monthly payment equally between those items.
So if you Flattr 5 items, they get £1 each; Flattr 50 items, they get 10p each; Flattr 500 items in a month, and they get 1p each. Once signed up for a monthly payment, you can then get ‘Flattr-ed’ for your content.
Here is Flattr’s video which explains the concept:
The first issue is critical mass: you can only Flattr someone if they use Flattr, and thus far there are precious few sites I have come across which do.
This obviously means that the sites I have ‘Flattr-ed’ have got a big chunk of my £5 pie, and to be fair Flattr is still in private beta, but eventually I will stop using the service if I can only reward a handful of sites.
The reverse is also true – how long will I be happy giving website space to Flattr buttons if no one uses them to Flattr my content?
Flattr ultimately need critical mass to make it work, and quickly – it needs sites with Flattr buttons and users with Flattr accounts!
Communism or Capitalism
Ultimately there is a fixed pot of money floating around Flattr. This means one of two things will happen:
1) Everyone will end up receiving from the Flattr pot roughly the money they put in.
2) A minority of users (the content producers) get back more than they put in and the majority (the content consumers) get less than they put in.
Option one (which judging by the top items on Flattr is quite unlikely) means that the only winner is Paypal (who charges a transaction fee on each monthly payment) – we all may as well just use Facebook ‘Like’ buttons.
Option two will only work if the majority of users are willing to be content consumers – users willing to pay (albeit a small monthly fee) for content that is available for free and to not receive money for anything they produce.
Whilst I would love to think we live in a world where this could happen, it is more likely that Flattr will end up consisting of a minority of content producers who make some money and the majority of content producers who do not – this is not a model that can last long term.
Flattr need to attract content consumers, and convince them to reward content they love (“don’t just ‘like’ something – love it!).
Will the pounds look after themselves?
Quite a few reviewers of Flattr has suggested it can replace ‘Donate’ buttons as an income source for content producers. I am not sure this is true – when I do decide to donate, usually for software I am using on a paid-for project, I will donate £5 – £15. If I only used Flattr, then it would be more like pence – of course more people will donate, but will the pence add up?
I would love to be a part of an internet where consumers of free content volunteer to reward their favourite content producers. Sadly I do not believe this is the case (yet?), and I think Flattr has a big mountain to climb to succeed.
In the short term I will continue to use Flattr in the hope that I am wrong – if you would like to give Flattr a try, give me a shout on Twitter (I am @daylightgambler) as I have a handful of Private Beta invites to give away!