Fund Your Favorite Sites with Flattr — and Fight Fake News

It’s difficult to earn money from online content. This service could change all that.

Flattr co-founder Linus Olsson (center) with Till Faida, CEO and founder of eyeo (left), and Laura Dornheim, Head of Communications for eyeo and Flattr (right). Photo: Peter Frey.

It’s difficult to earn money from online content. Just ask The Awl, which, despite loyal readers and considerable traffic, had to close down its digital doors. Look at heavyweight publishers, too, who increasingly realize that scale and a ubiquitous brand still won’t guarantee a profit. Buzzfeed, for example, missed its revenue goal last year by $70M; Mashable was recently sold for a fifth of its 2016 valuation. And newspapers everywhere are continuing to cut staff and adjust to an online world in which most, if not all, news is available for free.

Advertising helps, but this revenue model has its drawbacks. Not only does it turn publishing into a battle for clicks where substantive content too often takes a backseat to provocative headlines or “clickbait” strategies, it also gives consumers less freedom over how the news is funded — because it’s indirect. At a physical newsstand, readers get a choice over who profits from their purchases. Online, readers can inadvertently support inferior work or fake news just by looking at it. Ideally, there should be a way for content quality to translate directly into revenue and profit. Flattr, a new micro-donation provider based in Sweden, is empowering the reader and making direct reader revenues a reality.

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Founded by Linus Olsson and Peter Sunde, Flattr is a product of eyeo, the company that developed Adblock Plus. It’s a service that allows and encourages consumers to fund their favorite content providers while at the same time monetizing their own online footprint. To participate, you download Flattr’s browser app and decide how much you’re willing to set aside each month in support of the online content you like and believe in — anything from $3 to $15. Using its browser app, Flattr then distributes this amount proportionally among the sites that you visit. Sites that you spend the most time on get the largest share of your monthly donation — but you can also manually decide how the money is distributed or else turn off Flattr altogether for those sites that you specifically don’t wish to support.

And Flattr isn’t just for funding (or Flattr-ing) others. You can sync your own online content with Flattr — your website, blog, YouTube channel, Twitter account and more can all be set up as Flattr-able entities that earn you revenue from other Flattr users whenever they visit.

Flattr page
The Flattr menu lets you see who you’re supporting and how much you distribute per month. You can also see how much you’re earning from other Flattr users.

Flattr is very new to the US, but its following has been growing as more creators discover its potential. Full disclosure: The Clyde Fitch Report has signed up with Flattr, and users of the service do support our work with their dollars. The company, however, has not commissioned this article. We aim to encourage more people to use this powerful tool to support all quality online content. If embraced by consumers, Flattr can fight fake news and clickbait while improving the sustainability of online creativity and information. This means content that isn’t just competing for your clicks, but actively working to earn your Flattrs. And as it can be used to passively support bands, films, theaters, art galleries, nonprofits — basically, anything with a website — we also think it could be a huge benefit to the arts as well.

The CFR recently interviewed Olsson, Flattr’s Product Manager, about why he created Flattr and his vision for the future of the service.

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What is Flattr? Why did you decide to create it?

Creation needs an income stream that has the agenda of the consumers in mind.

Flattr is a way for content creators to get support for their work from their fans, effortlessly. The other side of that is that it enables the people who use the Internet to consume content — who believe in a more positive future for the Internet — to very easily give back to the people whose content they enjoy.

We decided to create Flattr because there was nothing out there that did those two things mentioned above. That, mixed with a worry about the way monetizing on the Web was going, and a sincere hope that Flattr could play at least a small part in creating an alternative for creators.

Why should a person pay for online content they could otherwise read for free?

Today the only real monetization model is advertising. When all the money comes from that source, it also dictates what kind of content is created. This is why we have demonetization, clickbait and even fake news. Creation needs an income stream that has the agenda of the consumers in mind.

By paying for content, you enable creation of the content you want, not what the advertiser wants. Flattr is a payments system that enables people to contribute to creation, and that is what is needed to move the creative Internet into the next phase — the one where creativity is first and corporate power second. We wrote a little bit more about this topic on our blog.

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Why should artists and creators sign up for Flattr? Are there specific examples or case studies of creators who have really benefited from the platform?

Creators should sign up because they believe there’s an alternative solution for making money from what they create. They should also sign up because they believe in the creative Internet and want to be part of something fairer and more sustainable. Finally, we make it really easy to get started as a creator on Flattr and never require creators to do any additional work to be part of our system. They just get to focus on doing what they do best.

We’ll soon start to publish some creator showcases on our blog, so stay tuned!

What is the appeal of micro-transactions? Have you been inspired by the impact of micro-finance on the developing world?

It wasn’t the initial reason we started doing what we’re doing. We instead started out this way because we believe that many small contributions together amount to something meaningful. Also, the barrier to getting someone to commit to spending $3 per month across many content creators is much easier than, say, getting them to commit to spending $50 or $100. To really bring about change it had to be accessible and appealing to many people, not just those with extra to spend at the end of the month. Our philosophy is många bäckar små blir en stor å, which translates to “many small streams form a large river.”

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Why would someone choose Flattr as opposed to, say, Patreon?

As a creator using Flattr, you don’t need to do anything other than just create. The content you already produce is the reason why people support you — not to get a signed poster, a private hangout or something else that takes time away from creation. One thing that we don’t say is that you should use Flattr instead of additional things. Use everything that helps you create more.

Flattr is most popular in Europe right now. What are your plans to expand into the US? Conceptually, how do you see this application fitting in with how Americans consume and create content?

“Many small streams form a large river.”

Historically we have been [popular in Europe], but the system has been improved and changed to use USD and fit for a wider audience. So the focus now is really the US market, even though Flattr is usable almost globally. People in the US are very used to supporting the things they want to with money, and that is something we see at Flattr now. In terms of adoption, we’ve seen a real appetite for what we’re offering in the US, and our creator base is growing, so we’re looking forward to exploring how we can best serve US creator communities.

We’re actually coming to the US in March and will be hosting a “US launch” event in Austin during SXSW. If you’re in Austin at that time and want to come along and say hi or ask us any questions, then just let us know!