, Flattr introduced their new take on an automated micro-contribution service to fund creators on the web. The monthly subscription service let people voluntarily pay their favorite creators automatically as they browse the web. So, what is it like? and will publishers sign up for free money?
Update (): Flattr has discontinued its automatic browser-based monthly micro-payment subscription services.
Flattr 2.0, briefly known as Flattr Plus, is a new direction for Flattr. The service has been around since 2010 but hasn’t gained any traction with creators or publishers. The old Flattr required websites to embed a payment button — similar to the Facebook and Twitter sharing buttons you see everywhere — and required users to find and click on these buttons to pay-up. This was a cumbersome experience and Flattr couldn’t get either publishers or users to adopt it.
The new Flattr
The reimagined version of Flattr has been in development for at least 18 months, and the service now does away with their website buttons. Instead, users install the Flattr extension in their web browsers and it keeps track of how much time you spend on websites and awards them Flattrs based on how much attention/time you spend on a given website.
“A Flattr” is a token share of a user’s monthly subscription. The exact value of a Flattr will vary based on how much each user contributes into the system and how many Flattrs they’ve given out in the current subscription period. Users can set their own monthly contributions starting at 3 USD with a suggested subscription of 5 USD.
The extension is mostly set and forget. You won’t need to interact with it. Just install it and let it do its thing in the background.
The old model required creators and publishers to sign-up for and embed Flattr into their websites. In the new model, any unique URL can be Flattr’ed whether that website operator have registered with Flattr or not. At the end of the month, Flattrs for websites that haven’t got a registered recipient is removed and user’s contribution is divided out among the participating creators and websites.
The model is the same as Brave Payments, except that Flattr did the sensible thing and made a browser extension instead of a full web browser to run their payment platform.
What websites can be Flattr’ed?
Any. The extension is mostly built around rewarding domains, but it also works for individual creators on larger platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, WordPress, Soundcloud, Medium, Flickr, and even the GitHub code hosting and developer website.
However, the extension as of version 0.3.356, only automatically gives out Flattrs to domains on their allow-list. More on the list in a later section.
The extension awards the first Flattr to a domain after a few minutes of use. It maxes out at four automatic Flattrs per 24-hour period per domain, but users can always click the button in their browsers to manually reward a page more.
The extension gives out Flattrs at a reduced rate on video websites including Daily Motion, Twitch, Vimeo, and YouTube.
Anyone website, content platform, or multi-author blog can implement a system where individual creators receive the contributions from their own pages. Flattr have integrated with the APIs of some of the web’s largest platforms. Smaller websites can let users input their Flattr IDs,. and have the platform insert a meta element with this ID into pages created by that creator. It would work the same way as websites that let guest authors replace the AdSense token with their own token for pages they’ve created to share on ad revenue.
The running attention-counter resets after a few hours, which hugely disfavors websites you visit ones a day, but don’t spend a lot of time on in one sitting; such as a web comic strip or short stories or poems on Twitter.
I’ve been part of the closed beta period, and have noticed a few problems with how the extension works. Most annoyingly, the per-domain reward system doesn’t work well on content platforms like GitHub or YouTube. You may spend more time with the videos from one creator, but the extension might not award a Flattr until you move your mouse to stop the video that automatically started played after the video you choose to watch. Similarly, if you read multiple articles on Medium – it’s kind of game of chance which of the author’s you read will be Flattr’ed.
The new Flattr extension only has official support for Firefox and Chrome, and can be installed from the Flattr website.
The extension also works with most WebExtension or Chromium extension capable web browsers that can pretend to be either Firefox or Chrome during the installation process including Vivaldi and Opera, but not Microsoft Edge. Flattr can also be installed on the current beta version of Firefox for Android, if you’re interested in Flattr’ing from your mobile device.
Flattr doesn’t have a strategy for the mobile web. However, you can login to Flattr.com with Firefox 57+ for Android, choose ‘Request desktop site’ from the Firefox menu, and then you’ll get the option to install the extension.)
The extension looks good and does its thing. It does, however, require more memory than any other of the 16 extensions I’ve installed in Firefox. It’s not designed with performance in mind. Not that you’d notice it on newer hardware, but the optimization potential is huge.
By default, Flattr will only work automatically on the 37 800 domains found on the “Flattr enabled list”. This is a allow-list of domains maintained by Flattr where the extension will work in unattended mode. Any page on any domain can be Flattr’ed, but that requires that the user manually add their favorite websites to the allow-list while their on it.
The tyranny of the default suggests most users won’t ever change any settings, but Flattr have created a nice way for websites not on the allow-list to prompt their visitors to turn on Flattr. The Flattr extension icon will turn blue to remind you to turn it on on websites you’ve visited at least four times in the last month.
The entries on the allow-lists were initially seeded from the Top 100 000 domains list offered by Alexa Internet. The list was filtered by Flattr to ensure it only contained websites their users “would want to Flattr”. Flattr hasn’t been all that forthcoming about how they manage the allow-list but have suggested that websites that frequently receives Flattrs from subscribers will be added to the list. The company has also suggested it might hand management of the list over to the community at a later time.
Will creators, publishers, and people sign up?
Flattr was acquired by Eyeo GmbH in , the company behind the unpopular-with-web-publishers Adblock Plus browser extension. This relationship may make larger publishers hesitant to get into a business relationship with Flattr. However, having such a close relationship with such a popular extension may also be a great asset.
Eyeo may have plans to integrate Flattr or directly into or at least prominently advertise the Flattr service in their Adblock Plus extension. This would put Flattr in front of 25 million users who’re unhappy with how the web is monetized through ads, and possibly a little guilt over denying publishers advertisement revenue. Such a partnership could be hugely beneficial to Flattr as a platform for funding the web.
Readability already proved that people are willing to sign-up and pay a monthly fee to help support their favorite online publishers and creators. They couldn’t get publishers to accept the payments they collected on their behalf, however. Unlike Readability, Flattr won’t set aside money for publishers who’ve yet to sign-up. They’ll count the number of times a URL is Flattr’ed and present this to publishers as evidence that they should sign-up.
Patreon is another more recent example of a service where more than 1 million people have signed up to pay on average 12 USD per month to their favorite creators individually. Flattr’s model is based on more people making many more and smaller contributions to more creators. Flattr resembles the old Google Contributor program (since discontinued) and Brave Payments more than Patreon.
Registering with Flattr doesn’t cost creators or publishers anything. They don’t have to turn their content over to Flattr, or spent time and money integrating with the service. Creators need only sign-up and link their various social media accounts and websites to their Flattr accounts to receive their dues. Publishers will also need to submit proof that they own and operate their domain under a given business name, but honestly — it’s free money. Why not take it?
Micro transactions, big fees
The foe of any web service that charges small amounts of money for anything is the high fees on international credit card transactions. Transactions cost between 0,20 USD and 0,50 USD per transaction plus roughly 2 % of the transaction sum. The fees are roughly halved in Europe compared to the rest of the World. On top of these fees, the payment processor — the service company that verifies and performs the transaction on behalf of the merchant — wants a cut as well.
Flattr charges a flat 9 % payment processing fee every time they charge a subscriber’s credit card for their monthly due. A 6 USD monthly subscription will cost subscribers 6 USD but this translate to a 546 USD monthly contribution. On top of this, your bank is likely to charge a currency conversion fee when applicable and possibly another transaction fee.
Flattr also charges creators and publishers 7,5 % of their monthly revenue, which is a roundabout way of hiding Flattr’s own cut from subscribers. The total amounts of fees is 16,5 % of what subscribers pay into the system. (The fees are indeed stacked.) Additionally, Flattr charges creators again with a 3 USD fee when they want to withdrawal money from their accounts to their bank account.
The fees might sound high, and they are, but they’re the cost of the convenience of a credit card based system. Alternatives do exist, such as the Brave Payments and adblocking browser platform which is built on a crypto-currency system which for many users would result in even higher fees.
Update (): You can check how much you pay in fees and how much each Flattr token is worth using the Flattr worth and fee calculator.
Fees compared to Patreon
For comparison, a typical 5 USD contribution processed every month on Patreon — a competing subscription platform where people sign-up to pay their favorite creators — leaves 4,36 USD1 for creators compared to 4,18 USD2 on Flattr.
The smallest subscription on Flattr is 3 USD per month, and it works out to 2,51 USD2 for creators on Flattr or 2,55 USD1 on Patreon. A 12 USD monthly subscription would hand over 10,88 USD1 to creators on Patreon or 10,02 USD2 on Flattr.
The average monthly contribution on Patron is 12 USD. A creator would have to collect ⅒ from 29 or 1 % from 287 Flattr subscribers’ monthly 5 USD contributions to make the same as the average Patron member pays an individual contributor per month.
To put things in perspective, 1 % of a 5 USD monthly Flattr subscription is still a solid 1090 % increase on revenue as compared one-to-one with the industry average revenue from one pageview with online ads. A tiny portion of something is always worth a great more than practically nothing.
The biggest differences in terms of their fee structure is that Patreon doesn’t charge a flat payment processing fee, which can benefit subscribers especially in Europe, and only keeps 5 % for themselves compared to Flattr’s slightly higher rate at 7,5 %.
What happens now?
The Flattr website doesn’t make a great pitch for why anyone would want to subscribe to the service. Flattr introduced a new partner program along with the relaunched service, and it appears they’re hoping to convince creators and publishers to convince their own audiences to sign up, and achieve a network effect with multiple networks growing up around individual creators.
I don’t expect that Flattr will work on nearly as many websites as the old Google Contributor program reached. Contributor worked automatically on all websites with Google AdSense advertisements without requiring any additional work from website owners.
Publishers have been reluctant to sign up for free money from services like Flattr in the past, something that also have been a huge problem for micro-payment platforms to reach a critical mass of people. Whether Flattr will beat this trend and secure large publishers, small creators, and all their readers and fans remains to be seen.