The Problem with Virtual Tip Jars

Earlier this week both Bijan and MG wrote about virtual tip jars in relation to micropayments for online content. Bijan’s post is kinda glass half-full, while MG’s is glass half-empty. We continue to use the tipping comparison to imagine how we can reward content creators. I think it’s the wrong metaphor because it imagines a world of variable post-creation payment based on the optional goodwill of consumers. That’s not a reliable way to fund artists, filmmakers, writers, or anyone who wants to produce content as a fulltime job or with a reliable exchange of time for dollars. For hobbyist creators is a few dollars into the jar a nice bonus? Maybe. I’d feel weird about collecting money on my site from people who like my content (unless maybe it was a straight donation to charity). If you encounter content you like, don’t wait for some magical day of low friction microtransaction online tip jar to appear. Pay their subscription fee (to NYTimes, New Yorker, etc). Encourage the creator to use Patreon or some other service which will provide them a reliable projected stream of income.

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You’ll find me @homebrew , Seed Stage Venture Fund w @satyap . Previously made products at YouTube, Google & SecondLife. Married to @cbarlerin .

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