Crowdfunding, Micropayments and Publishers


©Naveen Jamal

I was reading an article in Fast Company about the launch of Emphas.is and came across an aspect about the model that I really hadn’t thought much about – the role and opportunity for publishers.

Publishers, too, if they take a shine to a project on the site, can secure first publication rights by funding up to 50% of the project. Publishers also, of course, have to pay a negotiated fee for the photographer’s work.

It’ll be interesting to see what stories get picked up by large publications. I’m sure it’ll happen sooner than later, but what I find more interesting is the possibility that publications could evolve the crowdfunding model and use it to fund their own projects.

Emphas.is, Kickstarter and the rest are primarily funding platforms but each has a publishing component built in as well (blogs) which make them content destinations as well. This makes it interesting. They could potentially drive enough traffic to their sites to make them viable destinations as publishers. The crowdfunding aspect could only be one part of the equation.

The Evolution of the Platforms

Crowdfunding platforms are still very new. Remember when Facebook was new? There was no such thing as a News Feed. You didn’t get links to news and random internet ephemera. But it evolved and now has become the top destination for news on the web. There’s no question these platforms will evolve as they learn from time, which will certainly bring about new innovations and ideas about to improve their platforms.

I’m certain there will continue to be new crowdfunding platforms launched in the future as well, and I can potentially see how publishers might start to incorporate elements of the crowdfunding model into their business models.

New types of partnerships between crowdfunding platforms and publishers will emerge over time as the process evolves. Several news organizations have used Spot.us to fund freelance stories that were later published, which is certainly an encouraging sign for Emphas.is. We’ll likely see plenty of experimentation and likely just as many failures before we really know how the system will work.

Flattr and Social Micropayments

Flattr allows you to essentially tip publishers and content creators for content you find interesting. It’s been on my radar for awhile now but I haven’t seen too many bloggers I know adopt it just yet, but I think it, or something like it has potential. The issue with micropayments of course is that in order for them to be effective publishers need to have a large audience that would be willing to contribute funds. Most photography blogs and magazines likely don’t have the critical mass necessary for micropayments to be a viable source of revenue, but it could be one part of the model.

As with the crowdfunding platforms, we’ll likely see micropayments evolve over time as publishers and the apps experiment with the model. One idea I think might be interesting is if a publisher created a model that allowed their audience to allocate their subscription money to different projects they want to see funded.

For example, it costs $50 for a one year subscription to an online magazine. The magazine has a section that allows subscribers to allocate that money to different features/projects they want to see produced. If the required funding amount is reached, then the feature/project is produced. If it’sn not funded, then the money goes back into the subscribers queue so they can allocate it to another project/feature.

I think something like this could work for smaller, local publishers and photojournalists working on shorter term stories. Again, the publisher would need a large enough audience for it to work at these smaller funding levels.

What I find interesting is that we’re entering a time where subscribers and fans have more control over what type of content is being funded and produced. This has its positive and negative aspects of course. On the one hand, it allows consumers and fans to be more involved in the production of stories, but on the other hand writers and photographers lose a certain amount of independence. After all, simply because a story can’t be funded, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.

Watch Closely and Experiment

We’ll have to watch closely and learn from the success stories as well as the failures. But the most important thing to remember is that we need to experiment. That’s the nature of the web. Many platforms have launched with one intent or problem to solve but quickly evolved when their users started to use it in and innovative ways.

There have been some excellent conversations already about crowdfunding which I find encouraging. The more we converse, experiment and freely share ideas, the more we’ll see these platforms evolve in interesting and creative ways.

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    Spot.Us is close to having had 100 partnerships with different organizations. Each of those partnerships are unique (like snowflakes ;)

    I too am encouraged to see Emphas.is. I’ve said from the very start that somebody could do what Spot.Us is doing at the local level and do it national/international and have more success. I hope they prove me right!