Posted 2 Mar 2001 at 14:02 UTC by Netdancer Share This

Assuming that most people here are in favor of digital content distribution (read: 'Napster', 'gnutella', etc.), has anyone actually come up with a model to get some money to content creators? I think they have a right to it.

I'm a little tired of people bashing the companies for trying to protect their business models but at the same time not presenting an idea on what to do instead. I'm not fond of the MPAA or the companies but I do like artists and I think they need to be paid or we won't get the content we'd like. At the moment, the established model is the only way of this happening. Sad, but true.

Actually, musicians are probably the worst example: They have the option of giving concerts or similiar live performances and distributing their music could be seen as advertisement. Thats not true for writers, though. Not many people I know of prefer a lecture to actually reading the book.

What are we to do? Is the whole model of producing content for money outdated? Should we look for other means of sustaining content? I'm not really sure thats the best way. For one thing, the current model for free content is advertisements (mainly in television and in web-sites) and I don't really like that either.

About the only thing I can think of is paying for the medium, that is, for having bits delivered to you (in the case of pull media like the web) or getting bits sent (in the case of push media, like e-mail). This has some advantages, e.g. spamming would be a very costly practice :), but it would mean that instead of just using the money to pay for their infrastructure, infrastructure providers would have to make deals with content providers to get them their share of the money. Privacy is also an issue -- I don't really want my ISP to know which newspapers articles I read -- but all in all, it seems like a workable model to me, after the initial problems have been solved.

I would be quite interested in hearing other peoples opinion and it seems quite odd that nobody has researched in this area so I'm assuming that I just didn't find the papers. Anyone who has usefull pointers to info on this matter is requested to post a few links. Thanks!

eek!, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 16:15 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

i go on the warpath the day that the internet goes "pay-per-download" the world over. and these stupid WAP manufactures - with their charges per page - will be my first target, _if_ WAP takes off and other moneygrabbers start forcing legislation that the internet must be paid for etc etc, you get the picture.

that having been said, i would love to be able to sell / write my book on-line. the only reason i haven't placed it up on a site anywhere yet is so that no-one rips it off.

possible half-way-house solution: i look forward to the day when it will be possible to walk into a bookshop, say, "hi i'd like joe blogg's latest novel, please". and they print and bind it with the latest xerox printer in the store, while i sit in their cafe for half an hour. they download the latest from a secure website or off a DVD (or holographic storage if it comes to that) and everybody's happy: me, the author, the publisher, the bookstore.

because some things are easier in print than stupid screens.

tipping, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 16:29 UTC by Zooko » (Master)

So far, the best idea I have heard is the simplest: tipping.

It requires micropayments (as my brother-in-law, a street performer, will tell you, you'll get a lot more money in change than in paper bills, especially if there are nice big coins like the Canadian looney and twoney and the new American gold dollar).

Tipping is something that could be built on top of Mojo Nation. Mojo Nation has digital tokens, which aren't used for micropayments (despite the widespread idea that they are, due to an announced but then abandoned plan to use them for micropayments), but for distributed load balancing. But the same digital token technology could easily be used as micropayments to remunerate artists via voluntary contributions. You'd just need someone to issue and redeem the tokens in return for real money.



patent, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 16:39 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

well, it's _really_ weird, sometimes, how some email just... pops up when you see something else.

here's a nice one, filed june 1997, by

reply to lkcl and zookoo, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 19:54 UTC by Netdancer » (Journeyer)

lkcl: The major argument I have heard so far against pay-per-view is that repeat visits should not require repeat payments. Well, thats exactly why I suggested pay-per-bit -- a request to check if a resource has changed is very small, therefore it costs practically nothing. If you have any more arguments against this, I would be very interested in hearing about them.

Zookoo: I don't know about the customs where you come from, but here in germany not many people can live from tips. Additionally, tipping is something very personal, I'm not sure wether its workable over an essentially anonymous and faceless network.

I think pretty much the opposite ;-), posted 2 Mar 2001 at 21:02 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

I am an advocate of pretty much the exact opposite point of view. I am of the opinion that the infrastructure should be viewed as a commodity and be maintained without profit motive. (by infrastructure I mean software and protocols that allow information transferral and usage) We pay content creators directly by micropayments. This way, we are able to directly contract with the artists themselves, and there can be competition amongst content creators. There is also no middle man overhead, so artists get more, and consumers pay less. This works the same way for value-added services, etc. The infrastructure needs to be open and free for this to work though. I liken it to the rail system, or the road system in the US. They infrastructure is maintained by tax money, and all companies have equal access to provide consumers with goods and services on top. This seems like a smart way to go.

reply to netdancer, zooko, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 21:54 UTC by splork » (Master)

Yes, tipping is a social activity. If you are not face to face it is less likely to happen (this is especially true in street performing as their job is often to humiliate you [directly or subtly] until you give in to the social pressue of tipping). I like the concept but (as Zooko already knows ;) I'm a big skeptic on whether or not it would work to generate a useful amount of revenue in anonymous situations like the net.

The other point in support of Zooko is that if you don't overcharge for things and make is extreemly convenient for someone to come to you, pay a small amount, and get the bits they want (songs seem to be the example of the day) rather than go get it for free with a little more hassle elsewhere, people will come to you.

financing digital content, posted 2 Mar 2001 at 22:02 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

how does one finance the creation of digital content? a very pertinent question indeed for the advogato audience. as the internet runs on our software (kinda true :), we advo's have the ability to provide next generation payment infrastructure to artists, to information producers, etc. this is a nice intersection of the power of software and real-world needed solutions. but enough idealism...

distributing digital content (for pay) proves to be difficult for (at least) two reasons:

  1. often it is of little market value (say $.01-.$.25 range -- credit cards don't *do* that low of amounts)

  2. "intellectual property" protection is rapidly becoming a pipe dream (it is trivial to both copy and widely distribute digitial works)

so solutions need to address both issues.

micropayments , the ever popular solution to the first problem, hasn't yet materialized . but i'm quite certain micropayments will arrive sometime soon. That is, as soon as technologists work together instead of trying to lock each other out of this already difficult chicken-egg problem (adoption of micropayment technology with producers AND consumers). it's time for an ietf-flavor network payment protocol.

the second issue is rooted in the traditional ip business model. the traditional ip business model goes something like this: i create x, i give you my x for $y dollars, you cannot give your copy of x to anybody - they have to buy from me. in this environment, creators are (rightfully) terrorified at the possibility of selling a single legitimate copy of their content and then everybody else gets the content from another source. i think this is called the 'sale of one'. a trend we're seeing today is that people don't respect that notion of "intellectual property". business models should take their heads out of the sand and adapt to this new environment. business models sans ip is very interesting imo.

a few possibilities:

  • tipping (using micropayments) ... too optimistic in my opinion but it has its place (free software financing i would place here as well as amateur music financing)

  • associated revenue - some have been mentioned (touring, attached advertising, merchandise)

  • traditional payments but with the efficiency savings gained from the distribution infrastructure already in place (the Net) transferred to the good's cost (micropayments here for a lot of things that are mass-market, music for instance)

  • my favorite... the also semi-famous street performer protocol (using micropayments) in which the money is made before the work is released.

i would love to see an example of the street performer protocol working - steven king's (sp?) little abandoned, half-done experiment doesn't count either! i think an open source project would be a great candidate for funding using this approach... whatever. back to the topic at hand.

notice that almost all of the above possibilities outlined above depend on a (micro)payment infrastructure. i'm looking forward to the time when i (we) no longer just write about a vague notion of future commerce technology but instead actually deliver some protocols and code to 'fix' this bug.

hope this rambling makes some sense and is helpful to you. :) if not, i'm sorry.

Old model is outdated, posted 3 Mar 2001 at 01:52 UTC by richieb » (Journeyer)

I think we've been brainwashed by the "entertaiment" industry to think about the world in terms of "content producers" and "content consumers". But this is wrong. In the digital/internet age everyone is a "producer" and "consumer".

What you reading now is "content" I produced, and no one is paying me for it. The most interesting stuff around the internet is not the stuff produced by the "industrial content machine", but by people like posters here. No one pays for its creation.

Some of the current bussiness models (like the music business) are based on distribution of physical media. The ease that replication of digitized information makes such models obsolete.

But people will continue to produce music, writing and other art - as we have through history, for the purpose of communicating with other people. For example, look at website - how many musicians have put their music up there? How many do you think live of the money they make from MP3.COM sales?

I hope that in the future the distinctions between the professional and amatuer musicians, writers and other artists will simply disappear. Perhaps more people will study music and learn to perform with their friends instead of depending on the marketing department of some large record company.

How will artists make a living? They'll get jobs - just like the rest of us. The idea of "royalties" is prepostrous. We should be rewarded for actually working, not for sitting around doing nothing.

And please don't tell how "creative work" is hard. I spend my days writing software and a lot of my code has been in production for years (some longer that 15 years), I don't get any royalties for the software working, so why should a musician, who spent less time and effort, writing and recording a song get money for it for the rest of his life? Especially if the distribution and copying costs him nothing?

Sorry for somewhat disorganized thoughts, but I've been working hard and I'm tired...


P.S. Meanwhile I've been re-learing some classical guitar pieces that I knew long time ago. At some point I'll record them and put the MP3 files up on the web. You can all have them for free...

King, posted 3 Mar 2001 at 08:03 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

How about project of S. King?
He put his book on web for unlimited download, but noted how to pay him $1 if you like this book.
He likes the results it brings to him. (~80% pays afaik).
(But you need to make it easy to pay - just a click).

global street performers?, posted 3 Mar 2001 at 12:56 UTC by Netdancer » (Journeyer)

mattbradshaw: Thanks for the anti-micropayment link! It raises some very good points about why using micropayments concurrently with content consumption can't work and I tend to agree. However, I almost completely disagree with the discussion of alternatives. Advertisements are widely disliked, too, and while aggregation indeed offers a bundling advantage, it can only be taken so far until users feel cheated. It also doesn't really offer a solution for the copying problem: If I take the content and publish it unaggregated and without advertisement, no one can make me stop.

Thanks again for pointer to the street performer protocol. This is one very cool paper -- it neatly sums up most of the discussion I had expected here and also puts copyright into perspective. I had vaguely heard of it before but now read it for the first time. Its also the first thing I've seen that actually has a sound model where all roles are clearly defined. Do you know if anyone has actually implemented something based on it? About the only problem I have with it is wether it will work (especially on a global scale!) -- and that remains to be tried, doesn't it? :)

RyanMuldoon: The problem with your proposition is that it can't be enforced. No one can stop me from paying once, then copying and distributing the content for free. Legal and technical means of preventing me from doing so are doomed from the outset -- or they will create a big brother world.

richieb: While I tend to agree that the current copyright model is fundamentally flawed (especially after reading the street performer paper), its unfortunately not that simple. Its one thing of saying that the model is flawed and another thing to actually propose something better. If it would indeed be the case that artists would have to get a "real" day job in order to make a living, the amount of music, writing and art would sharply decrease. You are quoting history, well then look at it: Do you really think that a hundred years ago the situation for artists was as good as it is today?

Royalties are an example of a different charging model. You propose that things should be charged by the amount of work it takes to produce them. There is also the model of charging by the value it has to the people who want it -- and thats what royalties reflect. I'm not sure whats better or more natural, both models have merit.

yet more rambling, posted 3 Mar 2001 at 15:38 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

i am really enjoying this discussion. as i'm just now in the process of writing some proposals in this same subject matter, this is great to refine my ideas. thanks for starting the discussion!

richieb: i agree that everybody is a producer and consumer but that doesn't erase the issue of whether or not there needs to be a means to finance that production of information. that fact (everybody is creator) should increase our desire to allow creators to be rewarded for their effort.

re: instances of the street performer protocol being used...

the closest thing i can think of is stephen king's book, "the plant". it, however, wasn't a *pure* example of the protocol. king insisted that a certain percentage , say 75% or so, had to pay the $1 or else the next chapter wouldn't come out. in a pure street performer protocol implementation, the creator would simply set a threshhold so some could carry more weight. i think that works better. btw, king's project looks to be on hold as i just checked the website . it does look to show some promise though, in their income/expense report .

back to micropayments... :)

in my last post, i don't think i clarified the point enough, if the street performer protocol is to work, individuals need to be able to chip in small amounts - $0.25 -ish amounts. lots of people wouldn't think twice at providing that kind of small financing - if it were easy. i think it would really scale and help. micropayments are so needed!

the problem(s), as i see it, is that there is no widely adopted, secure, and convenient payment alternative to credit cards available. why not? no ietf-standard -> therefore no implementation that would be helpful (mozilla, ie) -> therefore no content producers doing it -> therefore no consumers using it -> therefore we're still stuck in the dark ages of payment technology (using ads when the marketvalue is low, subscriptions and the like). the credit industry sponsored set payment protocol has strong benefits, but it carries a lot of the baggage of the credit industry. however, i think we need to steal the set idea of the dual signature. anybody aware of patent issues here? ... to do micropayments (as opposed to traditional payments) we need a divorce from the credit card industry. the risks they take and their enormous staff require quite large overhead charges for each transaction. micropayments have to be so darned efficient - not many people (automation is a lot less expensive than salaries), no risk, ... what i want, is banks to provide a debit like functionality with the click of a link . basicaly atm machines version 2. also wanted is a simple interface .

as i mentioned earlier, i think that the foundation of micropayments has to start with a standard payment protocol. i halfway designed a quick 'n dirty draft in the last year. but i'm not too fond of its form right now. if i ever get time, i would very much like to polish it. but surely (!) there exists another payment protocol that's already done. here's some starting points that i need to investigate... iotp from the ietf. at first glance, however, it looks too complex to achieve commodity protocol status. we *need* simplicity. please let me know if you have found anything better. thanks!

where do we (the free software community) fit in? when the payment protocol exists, we need backend tools to make it easy to establish a new broker/bank. we need to make it easy for the content providers by augmenting familiar tools (apache, zope) with payment functionality. we need to make it easy for the consumers by providing the client end in any app where it might make sense (mozilla, galeon, xmms, ...). we also need to push the idea of next generation payment technology.

another day, another rambling... :) back to work for me.

looks like it's being done, posted 3 Mar 2001 at 23:35 UTC by mkc » (Journeyer)


Potlatch Protocal, posted 4 Mar 2001 at 02:43 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

Potlatch Protocal

I saw this linked on the fairtunes page. I'm not up on micro-payment technologies, but it seems decentralization is very desirable characteristic of a micro-payment protocal. Espescially if we want more money to go to the artist and less to the parasitic entities.

Micropayments and taxes, posted 4 Mar 2001 at 03:51 UTC by nelsonrn » (Master)

The trouble with micropayments is the transaction cost usually exceeds the value of the transaction itself.

RyanMuldoon: The road system in the US is largely maintained by taxes on gasoline. The people who use it more, pay more. How would you preserve that characteristic in your tax funding scheme? -russ

transaction cost, posted 4 Mar 2001 at 06:30 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

nelsonm: "The trouble with micropayments is the transaction cost usually exceeds the value of the transaction itself."

i respectfully disagree. :) the entire point of micropayments is to deal with the situation you describe. micropayment infrastructure must route around traditional inefficient transaction channels. not to say that it's easy to do a secure, quick, and conveinent transaction for less than a cent, but it is doable.

i'm very new to the financial services industry, but it appears to my newbie brain that a significant chunk in the tranaction costs for the credit card companies is found in the risk they take on. "will this person pay this month, or ever?" the visas of the world spend a lot of energy making sure they get their money. lots of paperwork, lot of phone calls, lot of collection agencies, ... i think one can save a lot by simply moving to a debit model. let the computers do the work.

granted, there does exist a certain cost to any transaction, no matter how efficient. so there will (still) be a point at which "the cost of the transaction will exceed the value of the transaction" when you bring that value low enough. but that's ok. as long as we bring the transaction costs down a bit so we can open up the market a bit. there's a whole lot of stuff that $.01 - $.50 is useful for : donations, something to throw in a street performer protocol fund, webpages sans advertising, music, etc. i honestly am not all that concerned at present about a market operating in the $.00001 range. it'd be interesting to actually do the math here and figure out how low we can bring the transaction costs.

please correct me if i'm wrong here. thanks! :)

Social pressure for tipping, posted 4 Mar 2001 at 19:03 UTC by Omnifarious » (Journeyer)

I prpose a system by which you can by copies of music signed to you by the author. This signature is easily verified, and not hard to remove. It will be next to impossible to seperate the artist's signature from the information that you are the owner.

You can then make it a crime to give away signed copies of a work, and you are traceable through the signature on the work. You can, of course, give away and trade unsigned copies, but there will be a social stigma attached.

One way help along the social stigma aspect is to make it possible for someone to provide verification that they have a signed copy by giving someone an unsigned version, and a token that can be used to verif that they have a signature. You could even make this process of verification an automatic feature of a P2P system. This would permit people who have signed copies easily share their entire collection in an unsigned format. It would add a certain potlach aspect to the whole thing.

All this would rely on easy support by the P2P infrastructure, but it wouldn't require that technology be crippled. Owning a non-comforming P2P peer would simply mean that it would be hard for you to participate in the social fabric.

You would still have warez communities, and people would still get stuff from them, but they would have a vague, socially reinforced feeling that they were somehow cheating someone out of something.

It would also allow for a much more natural degredation of copyright rights. People would eventually just feel that the work was really old or the creator wasn't around, and so wouldn't feel guilty about having unsigned copies. Though signed copies may then start being treated with a great deal of respect and awe. Especially if they couldn't be obtained because the work was no longer 'published'.

You could even have another level of 'personally signed' copy. This would be a copy an artist directly gave to someone, proving the person had some sort of personal interaction with the artist. If the artist abused this and used the 'personal' signature for impersonal transactions, the value of the signature would devalue.

Money & Micropayments, posted 4 Mar 2001 at 23:26 UTC by BenFrantzDale » (Journeyer)

I really like the idea of voulentary micropayments. I wouldn't think twice about paying 10 or 15 cents (or more) for a web page or an MP3 download or to Free software projects. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having a proprietary third party be required for such a transaction. As cool a Paypal might be (I havn't used it) They still take off the top--which is fine as they are providing a service, but I don't think it is fine in the long run for micropayments.

I think a better solution would be for national treasuries & mints to look into the problem. The reason money is handeled by governments as I understand it, is to allow for comerice to be consistent and fair within the country. Now that so much commerice is going on electronicly, it seems only right for governments to create a standard way for people to cary out transactions.


General comments, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 00:01 UTC by lilo » (Master)

Some of my best work has been done for non-monetary reward. Recognition, satisfaction, use of the result. I'm a big fan of having the resources necessary to obtain food, shelter and random technological artifacts, but when you pay people in that way for services, it produces unintended effects as well. The recent tech boom has illustrated this quite effectively for much of the free software community. Distortions do occur.

Not implying I have the answers, just pointing out that the way people are compensated for their efforts has an effect on the character of those efforts. This has to be figured into any economic model.

Concerts are not enough, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 01:35 UTC by mvw » (Journeyer)

Actually, musicians are probably the worst example: They have the option of giving concerts or similiar live performances and distributing their music could be seen as advertisement.

I like to listen to the Techno/Trance genre of music, and there are only a few live acts, the majority is studio work - so public performance is not an option for these musicians.

Interestingly enough a couple of DJs makes a quite a buck with their live mixes of these musicians, a role similiar to a Linux distribution vendor. :-)

I continue to my buy my samplers, because that kind of music is played very rarely on radio, and I want to support the musicians.

A last thought is that most musicians probably can't make money like programmers do - having a day programming job and releasing some free software in their spare time - except they are members of a public orchestra (which might be unlikely for Techno/Trance artists :-)

Re: Money & Micropayments, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 01:52 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

I have to disagree with leaving this up any particular government, they will most definitely want a centralized system in which they are in control of the system.

The main problem it seems for micro-payments, aside from techincal ones, is in creating aggregators and getting them to adopt a specific protocal. It's seems like banks would be in an apt position to provide aggregation services.

Summary so far, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 09:46 UTC by Netdancer » (Journeyer)

Frankly, I don't buy into the abundance argument. Sure, bits are abundant but creativity in any form is not. Therefore I think that the gift economy theorists don't have a case. Air is also an abundant resource but that still doesn't mean you can suddenly chop up all the trees and hope that it stays that way.

Relying on voluntary contributions is a risky thing IMHO, even when a social stigma of some sort is attached. For one thing, attaching ones own social rules to the world as a whole is not only next to impossible but its also morally suspicious to do so. You also suffer from the freerider effect: While some people will feel inclined to pay at first, others will enjoy a free ride and in contrast to proposals like the street performer protocol, the voluntary approach has no safeguards from stopping that. Over time, this will make the paying people feel cheated and question their incentive to pay.

Regarding micropayments, a very important distinction has to be made: On the one hand its about having an easy-to-use infrastructure for electronic payments that doesn't have a fixed transaction cost but a percentile based cost, therefore making transactions that previously were in the order of the fixed cost viable. I think everyone would like that, however, its just a tool, not a solution. The other thing commonly associated with micropayments is the ability to pay-as-you-surf, i.e. you just click a link and the payment is done automatically. That on the other hand is something entirely undesirable (as outlined above and in the links mattbradshaws first posting contains) and also completely useless for the case at hand because its unenforcable (I can still copy and distribute without paying).

All in all, I still think we only have two proposals that are economically sound:

  1. paying for the medium
  2. the Street Performer Protocol

voluntary vs mandatory payment schemes, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 15:26 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

i'm really wrestling with the voluntary vs. mandatory payment issue. which works better? i think something absent from our discussion, thus far, is the end goal of the artist' work/content. here's some stream of conciousness scribbling.

artists (producers, content creators, whatever you want to call them) have several goals while doing their thing. examples include:

  • making the most money
  • getting their work out to the most people
  • balancing the above - getting their art/message out while still being able to pay the bills
  • other stuff i can't think of cause i'm tired

a few days back, i was a bit surprised reading a napster debate in a christian musician rag. i found a handful of christian musicians (whatever that is... another story :) wholeheartedly supporting napster simply for the fact that 'getting the message out' was a higher priority to them than getting a buck from a record sale. tipping would be prove to be very appealing to this crowd. no limitations in getting the music in the hands of anybody who wants it. and there would be still be some income possibilities. another example would include the free software community. often it is the goal to provide software to everyone, poor kids in third world countries, etc.

in most instances, though, perhaps the primary goal is making as much money as possible. after thinking about this, it isn't necessarily mutually exlusive with voluntary payments. as the content is more widely distributed under a voluntary payment scheme, it serves as free advertising and could lead to more 'tips'. and it would be a shame, when operating under a mandatory model such as the street performer protocol, if the threshold is unmet and nobody received the content AND no one received any income.

the conclusion i'm coming to is basically that both models are useful for different circumstances. let the artist choose which serves them the best. i'm thinking it'd be pretty sweet to have a content management system give the artist a toolset. click this button to use the street performer protocol (mandatory payment) model. click this button to use voluntary tips. different strokes for different folks.

seeking clarification, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 15:32 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

netdancer says of micropayments : "... doesn't have a fixed transaction cost but a percentile based cost ..."

i'm from missouri. please explain the above to me :) thanks!

btw, i'm not *really* from missouri

potlatch protocol, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 15:44 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

after reading the potlatch protocol, here's some quick thoughts...

i believe the system is doomed to failure as a result of the enormous burden it places on the aggregator(s). collecting promised micropayments is so very difficult. especially without a network payment protocol and having to rely on an expensive traditional transaction cost. i'm also not really sure why several different brokers using the same protocol wouldn't be a better form of decentralization. the final nail in the coffin of the protocol is the ease to which is permits attacks on aggregators. the same signed receipt could be sold to several aggregators. it was an interesting read though. and perhaps i've misread the details.

Re: potlatch protocal, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 16:55 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

The aggregators could work in a number of ways which would be economically viable. They could work purely on credit, you deposit a certain amount of real money to the aggregator and when an artist redeems his micropayments the transaction would be automatic, automatically withdrawing the proper amount from your account and depositing it in the artists account possibly at a different aggregator. Say you didn't have enough money, they might pay anyways but give you a fine in the process. This operation will vary from aggregator to aggregator, but it would be assumed that aggregator would operate in an economically sound way. Most likely the proccess would be automated to reduce tranaction cost.

Also, I think once a decentralized micro-payment infrustructure is in place, you could implement a number of protocals on top of it. Some artists might prefer potlatch, others might prefer street preformer, yet other might prefer another protocal. I have to admit I don't know whether voluntary payments would work in practice.

mattbradshaw writes:

"i'm also not really sure why several different brokers using the same protocol wouldn't be a better form of decentralization."

I assume the brokers would handle payment in this system.

"the final nail in the coffin of the protocol is the ease to which is permits attacks on aggregators. the same signed receipt could be sold to several aggregators. it was an interesting read though."

I don't understand this, maybe you mean if aggregator had to track you down for you to pay. I assume for the system to work you would have to have a designated aggregator chosen by you. Therefore the receipt would only be good for that aggregator.

this just in, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 17:23 UTC by Netdancer » (Journeyer)

Jim Carrico of contacted me and mattbradshaw by e-mail, pointing out that potlatch is not just for voluntary contributions but can be a generic micropayment system. I encouraged him to sign up here, well see what happens. He pointed out that potlatch is not meant to be the all-fullfilling solution but rather serves a specific need. In that light, and after re-reading all the stuff, potlatch looks much more interesting (to me) than it did at first.

mattbradshaw-Clarification: Sorry, that sentence really wasn't very clear. What I basically meant is that the basic difference between normal payment and micropayment is that normal payment methods take a fixed cut, say 5 cents of every transaction, which is bad if you just want to pay 5 cents or even less. Micropayments usually take much less and from what I've seen, it seems to move to a percentile based system, so instead of just going to, say, 0.005 cents, it goes to 1% of the transaction, therefore making it suitable for really micro payments. None of this -- and that was my point -- has anything to do with pay-per-view, which is unfortunately often attached to the concept.

potlatch revisited, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 17:32 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

hmmm... taking another look at potlatch after an email i received.

btw, the designer of potlatch dinsdale needs some cert'n so he can contribute to the discussion. from an email i just received, he's got lots of great stuff to say. :)

paying for the medium, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 20:51 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

Paying for the medium is a very bad idea. In this system, we would institutionalize third-party distributors. That makes people like the RIAA and MPAA permenantly in charge, which is probably the last thing that we want. It also encourages proprietary file formats, which will build-in copy protections. This is also a very bad idea. We will have technological impairments on Fair Use, and all sorts of extra headaches that we just don't want to deal with.

The whole cool potential of the Internet is the person-to-person distribution model. We are supposed to be able to remove the need for big businesses and assorted third parties to publish our own creative works. So, we need a solution that makes the infrastructure a commodity, and moves value over to the actual content. How do we do that? Have contracts with the creator and consumer directly. Some creators can have mandatory micropayments to get at content, while others could go for a "tip jar" method. It needs to be simple to do, and it needs to be consumer-oriented. Making mandatory systems that have stringent copy protections is just asking for a warez culture to develop. Having a system that is meant to encourage quality work and consumer satisfaction is the only thing that can succeed in my mind.

This means several things. First, it really does require open protocols, file formats, and (ideally) operating systems and software. Why? We need to level the playing field so the little guy has as much opportunity to create and publish as the established players. Ideally, we need a better method of information searching and categorizing - much-enhanced metadata. That way consumers can *find* the little guy's work if he or she makes something of interest. Then, we need a simple, standardized "tip jar" system to pay content producers.

I think that the biggest reason that micro payments haven't worked so far is that each time, you have to fill in your credit card information, etc, to pay someone 25 cents or a dollar. That's just a pain. A secure, but easy to use mechanism where all of your information is already stored on your computer, and you just type in a password, amount and click on a button to send the payment to any distributor. That would be much more convenient.

Furthermore, if we enhance the metadata system, no matter how we get the file, we can see who the original content creator is, and send them a tip as we see fit. The reality of the Internet is going to be filesharing. There isn't going to be a way to control or stop it, because it is just too convenient. So we may as well embrace it, and take advantage of what it has to offer. If it were simple, I'm sure a lot more people would pay what they see as a reasonable amount for various things, be it songs, software, or interesting texts.

Transaction cost, posted 6 Mar 2001 at 06:38 UTC by nelsonrn » (Master)

The problem with micropayments is that the transaction cost exceeds the value of the item being told. By transaction cost, I'm referring to everything that hinders the purchase of something. Everything involved in getting it from the seller to the buyer. There are multiple parts to a typical transaction cost, but the one that dominates is human attention. Human attention is the only commodity that has been going up in price over the long term. Everything else has been going down: the cost of trusting a vendor, the cost of money, the cost of safely transporting the item home.

You can't wave this problem away by saying "Oh, but these transactions are going to be for hundreths of a cent. People will always click yes without thinking about it." Um-hum, sure, and people never have huge long-distance bills that give them a heart attack. The whole point behind micropayments is that they're supposed to add up for the vendor. Well, if they add up for the vendor, they're going to add up for the buyer as well.

So every purchase needs human attention. You have a similar problem with venture capital. VC's only want to lend out millions of dollars. That's because every investment takes some of their attention. They're only willing to spend that attention if it's going to be worth their time. Sure, they could make lots of small investments, each with a big risk of being totally lost, but then what value do they bring personally? They can't bring any, because they can't split their attention that many ways. And if they bring no value, in the long term the free market will squeeze them out.

Go read Clay Shirkey's article, linked above, by, um, you. Didn't you read the article that you linked to? I think he puts forth a pretty good case for the failure of all previous micropayment schemes. -russ

pay-per-bit, posted 6 Mar 2001 at 15:02 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

pay-per-bit implies tracking. implies privacy concerns. can't have everything, i suppose :)

re: transaction cost, posted 6 Mar 2001 at 15:47 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

nelsonm: i have indeed read clay's article and disagree with him. :) i thought it would be nice to display the opposing view , if nothing else but to refine the ideas of micropayments. i'm sorry if my earlier post wasn't entirely clear on that point. clay's article also did an excellent job at describing the troubled history of micropayments, lots of promises and nothing here today - a point i was trying to make. we attribute the absence of a micropayment infrastructure to different things. i believe that micropayments aren't here today because of a lack of open standization and cooperation. the lessons from internet version 1.0 have been forgotten. clay believes the blame falls elsewhere (in the notion of micropayments itself) and is 'unfixable'. anyhoo...

i believe clay's arguments, however intelligent he is, are unconvincing. btw, i really do respect clay and his writing in the p2p space is simply amazing. i just don't think his ideas here add up. so now that the disclaimer is out of the way, this is why i wholeheartedly support micropayments and reject the aforementioned article's claims.

clay's article can be summarized fairly easily. he believes that micropayments are going to fail because, as nelsonm also described, the transaction cost includes the expensive consumer decision. he makes the claim that micropayments are a complex payment option and create user anxiety. he attributes the failure of micropayment system adoption to the fact that 'users hate micropayments.' hmmm...

i don't consider myself an abnormal consumer/user, and i would welcome micropayments (as a consumer/user). why would an expanded, less limited marketplace be a bad thing? which would i fret over less - an expensive subscription or a quarter given to try something out? traditional $15 cds or 50 cent singles? i think i understand what both of you are trying to say... that the $0.50 single might be less than the cost of the decision. ok, so let's give the decision cost some form of quantification - say it costs 50 cents. then we have the cost up to a buck. in a traditional payment setting i've seen singles for like $4. the decision for that (traditional) transaction is going to be higher, but we'll ignore that for now. so we have $1 vs. $4. users hate better prices? maybe i'm just not catching the point here, though as it seems so obvious to me. i almost have to be missing something. and i'm sorry if i'm learning this slow. thanks for all the help. :)

clay says, "Beneath a certain price, goods or services become harder to value, not easier, because the X for Y comparison becomes more confusing, not less." i agree with this. deciding at prices in the $0.01 cent are difficult but another range of prices, in the $0.25-$0.50 range are also impossible (using open, accepted technology) today. i *can* think very clearly and easily about those prices. and micropayments open up that price range market.

another point of clay's i want to take issue with is where he states, "... users will be persistently puzzled over the conflicting messages o 'This is worth so much you have to decide whether to buy it or not' and 'This is worth so little that it has virtually no cost to you'..." i think that we're learning value != price.

i'm sorry i'm linking to jakob so much, but what he says really hits home for me. i think a lot of micropayment opponents (not necessarily clay) basically want everything to remain free, relying on status quo advertising financing, and labors of love. which would be great! i don't really mind advertising all that much. but it's just not realistic! micropayments really 'fit' lots of problems.

the one statement that leaves me a little worried is where clay writes, "... (businesses) that use micropayments offline share one characteristic: They are all monopolies or cartels ...". and he gives familiar examples of phone/electric. is that true? i am having a difficult time thinking of a counterexample. it is disturbing if the only time micropayments are used offline are where the consumer has no choice. perhaps this can be attributed to simply the typical low cost of information-ish goods/services as opposed to physical goods/services found offline.

as netdancer stated, what are the alternatives? financed through advertising? that doesn't work anymore, advertisers surely won't continue to throw dollars at ads that just don't work. subscriptions cause me more decision anxiety and lock me in. aggregation == subscription. the list goes on...

if i misunderstood your (or clay's) reasoning, please help me out! thanks. :)

now to finish writing up some potlach protocol thoughts. btw, thanks mslicker and dinsdale(jim) for clarifying some potlatch ignorance on my part. actually... it's time for class. gotta go!

Making Voluntary Micropayments Efficient..., posted 6 Mar 2001 at 17:40 UTC by cbbrowne » (Master)

... Requires somehow grouping them together.

Obviously, if the "transaction cost" is $0.25 per "banking transfer," you probably don't want to do a transfer for every $0.01 "micro-tip."

On the other hand, if I pay for 200 $0.01 "microtips" via one transfer to a middlecritter, and that middlecritter groups together 4000 $0.01 "microtips" together to give to a recipient, the efficiency rises Rather A Lot.

The critical thing to do to implement this is to create a reasonably "open" sort of "microbanking" industry.

A not-unreasonable thing to do would be for "microtips" to basically just be "clicks" that drop a few bits of information onto a server:

  • Who's the would-be payor?
  • Who's the would-be payee?
  • Perhaps some information on what the "tip" is about, such as date/time, and some bit of info to identify (say) a piece of music or a book or a web site...

At the end of the month, after dropping 500 "tips" into the bucket, I might take a look at an overview report, and approve/increase/deny actual transfer of the "microtips" to the recipients en masse. Note that increase part; if I concluded, at end of month, that a particular piece of music was truly wonderful, I might send the group a $5 tip rather than merely $0.01...

Ideally, this should result in a standardized protocol so that lots of organizations could run "microtip servers," so that this wouldn't be a bottleneck where (say) someone like winds up exerting strict control over who can receive "microtips."

potlatch thoughts, posted 6 Mar 2001 at 21:45 UTC by mattbradshaw » (Journeyer)

jim carrico, known as dinsdale here on advogato, sent some informative email to me regarding his draft potlatch protocol. he put the contents of that email on his current diary/activitiylog until he has a certificiation level permitting him to contribute to the discussion here. it is to his email that i am replying here...

first of all, i want to say that the protocol is really quite thought provoking. especially in regard to the payment being backed simply by the issuer's (buyer's) reputation. thank you for thinking out of the box and pushing next generation payment technology forward! i apologize for my earlier post in which, after rereading it, i feel contained much too harshly worded criticism of your protocol (such as 'doomed to failure [insert dramatic chord here]' :). sorry bout that. i'll try to think before i write next time.

with respect to a reputation system, advogato is indeed a pioneering effort in the field. its chief benefit being an almost completely automated transfer of trust/reputation with a network flow model . i'm not sure who or what would be assigning trust in your proposed payment system though. anybody? artists? aggregators? and the most important unanswered question w/ regards to advogato's trust model -- who/what are the seeds of the trust computation? perhaps benevolant overseeers? advogato would indeed provide an easy (automated) mechanism to avoid unjustified spamming/blacklisting a certain issuer of potlatch currency.

conceptually, you might also be able to glean some information from jakob nielson's reputation manager alert box(es) (1, 2) from back in the day.

now, to raise some concerns and questions.

you state, "... If the payment is voluntary, there is no reason to cheat ..." but i thought we were dealing with a protocol that could be used for mandatory payments as well ;-)

even if the payment option being used was voluntary, people like to do mean and stupid things. i could make the argument that there's no reason for script kiddies to DoS nice people... but alas. people are mean and stupid. but also, kind and intelligent. :)

whenever money is involved, SoftSecurity doesn't cut it for me. :)

previously, i mentioned security concerns... basically that artists could use the receipts more than once -- similar to the well known and understood replay attack (kinda poor link, sorry). the signed note has to have a lifetime of one transaction, no more. we know that the payment was authorized by the consumer because of the message authentication provided by the signature (digital certificate). but we don't know if the payment is intended to be authorized *this* time because the exchanged data has nothing associating the token with this transaction -- something like a session key generated from random values... i'm getting mudied here in the details. i apologize.

you rightly pointed out that fraud could be detected and tracked. that is very true. but wouldn't it be better (especially in the light of the ever important transaction cost) to completely avoid the possibility of fraud? with the present design, every transaction needs to be verified. whether or not the verification takes place before or during soliciting payment from the paying consumers is a minor detail. the point is that this verification could be very costly. either receiving a "what the heck, i already paid you idiots!" from the consumer, or a distributed aggregate database lookup to see if that timestamp was already used. mslicker pointed out that if the token had a particular aggregator as a field, it would at least be a local database lookup.

anyways... what i'm trying to say, is that i find the notion of 'token'-based payment ummm,..., difficult for internet use. in my first payment protocol attempt, brp (broker receipt protocol) my choice of a token-based payment method was an infinite source of frustration. in fact, i decided to scrap it and redesign.

moving on...

you wrote, "For instance if i was running an aggregator i wouldn't accept any of these promissory notes without the stipulation that they would be returnable if the payer didn't actually pay - (eg. the next time i make an aggregate "buy" from that artist - this is the way newstands handle magazine distribution, they buy N magazines, sell M, and return N-M (with the covers removed) to the distributor for credit the next month) "

isn't that market friction? it just seems to me that pending payments create lots of costly risk and other associated effort. like i've previously stated here, i really like the debit model. although it doesn't really jive with a common definition of micropayments, where we sit and collect payments and then make a transfer... i still think it's less costly overall because risk and all that stuff is really expensive. a network transmission lowers in cost everyday, risk doesn't. hope this understandable.

argggh, previewing this post reveals that there is so much that i am leaving unclear. but i told you i'd post some more thoughts (yesterday!), so here they are. please take the above as constructive criticism, and really the protocol is quite elegant and workable. i'm just nit picking. something that we have to do though, if we want our payments to scale. :)

MicroPayments are ready NOW, posted 7 Mar 2001 at 04:28 UTC by andrewmuck » (Journeyer)

two cents is a nice easy small fixed value way of getting small donations.
The e-gold shopping cart interface is easy to use as well, pinch an example page and change account numbers and link targets.
It would not be very hard at all to have either voluntary or mandatory payments for accessing work, best of all is that of cost, free to set up and very small (much less than credit card) margins on transactions, 1% capped at US$0.50

Getting back to your original question, posted 9 Mar 2001 at 05:44 UTC by hiller » (Journeyer)

Assuming that most people here are in favor of digital content distribution (read: 'Napster', 'gnutella', etc.), has anyone actually come up with a model to get some money to content creators? I think they have a right to it.

I actually posted an answer to that question on Advogato a number of months ago. The Advogato version is here, or you may want to check out a later, somewhat revised version here.

Well, I wasn't answering that question precisely. I was going on the assumption that systems which guarantee that consumers pay for exactly what they use are inefficient and unworkable, equivalent to paying for roads by installing a tollbooth at every street corner. So instead, I was answering the question "How can artists distribute their work such that it's freely redistributable but still make money?"

Selling creative content, posted 16 Mar 2001 at 21:19 UTC by lemmit » (Observer)

Most comments here take for granted that an artist/author/musician _has_ to get paid for their creation. I want to question this assumption

I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I believe that most artist (whatever that means), do not in fact get their main income from selling their creation. And I know for where I live (Estonia), that it is almost impossible to make a living as an author. Main income comes from grants and newspaper articles in fact.
In the world, there are a few authors, who make millions of dollars from one book, and there are millions that make a few dollars. Same with music, where the margins are probably even more drastic.

The current system is clearly centered around publishers and the industry in general. To get published and advertised, you have to cross a threshold. That means being a genius (small percentage of us), nagging each and every publishing house you know, being turned down or generally trying to _sell_ a _piece of art_. A better alternative would be to give it away for free.

Ok, I know that bills have to get paid and kids fed, right. But before shooting me, please consider the following:
When you give quality stuff for free, you tend to get noticed (Pick an Open Source hacker of choice).
When you are noticed, you might eventually become more or less famous (Philip Greenspun - for example)
When you are more or less famous, you probably will be hired by someone not for what you have done, but for what you might do in the future (Linus Torvalds in Transmeta)

This system is by the way the classical Hollywood stereotype - in order to get a part in a movie, you have to sleep with someone in charge. That is _you_ give _them_ something. In return people will notice you and after a while _they_ might be willing to give _you_ something (money).
Never been to Hollywood though ;)

But seriously - when you think about it, being able to sell your work requires a lot of effort anyways. Why not channel that effort into public good. Unless ... the current system is a natural filter that blocks most of the crap (and some good stuff in the process).

And after all - creating artistic content is pain. That's why artist have this ... image. And value of art cannot be expressed in money. So don't.
Of course - my comments implies some artistic value in the work.

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