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Interview With The Micropayer

Here’s the interview that we promised yesterday regarding IndieKarma, the new kid on the micropayments block. With any luck, some of the concerns in yesterday’s comments section may be addressed here by IndieKarma honcho Brad Patterson, and we’ll have analysis on IndieKarma’s service tomorrow. Play nice, kids!

Fleen: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Brad. For starters, what’s your title at IndieKarma?
Patterson: I’m the founder, and I run the show on day-to-day basis.

Fleen: What are the plans for IndieKarma?
Patterson: We launched a week ago, and right now we have no idea what to expect in terms of growth, or the behavior of that growth. We intended to initially go site-to-site, looking to sign up groups of sites that are related and have common traffic — like webcomics collectives. Since Jason Kottke linked us last Friday, signups have actually been quicker than would have liked; right now we’re going try to continue to focus, digest the traffic spikes, and continue an active development cycle. Expect IndieKarma 2.0 in two to four weeks.

As a result of the unexpected rush, I don’t know if we’re in a position to actively solicit people to sign up with us yet, but we will get there. Originally we were aiming for blog market, but the more we looked at it, the more it seems we’re better suited to the comics/independent creator area. That is, sites with a strong connection between reader and content provider, where the reader comes back repeatedly for that content because they enjoy it. Right now, we’re excited to get our first handful of customers in webcomics.

Fleen: Okay, what blogs and comics have signed up? [Note: At the time of the interview, the IndieKarma website recorded about 130 websites and 340 users; as of this writing, the numbers stand at 199 websites and 443 users]

Patterson: We’re going to put up a generated list of the top traffic sites using IndieKarma. Right now we have a chicken-and-egg problem: without sites, users don’t have anybody to give a penny to, without users, sites have no reason to sign up with us. We think going to solve it with a site-by-site approach. If we can get one GOOD site to communicate to their base, then word of mouth ought to help us grow into that reader base. If the creator sees that they’re getting money that they wouldn’t have otherwise, other sites will sign up.

Fleen: Webcomics have a history of being excitable when it comes to micropayments.
Patterson: Since webcomics weren’t our original focus, we don’t know as much about them as we want to. We’re unfamiliar with who the main players are, but we’re learning. We want to remain a neutral party in the philosophical arguments about micropayments; we think it can work, we’d like to help out creators with a new source of revenue.

Fleen: Is the contribution amount configurable?
Patterson: The plan over next week or two is to have it configured by the individual user — they’re going to be able to say, “Here are the sites I visit that use the system, I’m willing to give more to these particular sites.” Or, “In the future, these sites that use IndieKarma and I don’t like, I don’t want to give any money to them.” The user can configure their profile to control their giving.

Fleen: How are users tracked as having been to an IndieKarma site?
Patterson: It’s a browser cookie, which expires in an hour, but I’ll have to verify the details with the programmer.

Fleen: What’s the dispute-resolution mechanism?
Patterson: The user agreements are held over from our previous company, PixelPass (which featured transaction amounts of a dollar [US], and used a different model — obscured content, unlocked by payment). But given the amount of a contribution, we don’t think that anybody will be too upset if they give a penny that they didn’t mean to.

But even a penny an hour adds up. We’re assuming that sites like blogs and comics are essentially consumed in a page view — you come by, get today’s update, you aren’t really clicking around all the links. At a penny per page view, you’re talking about US$10 CPM [note: cost per 1000 impressions; term used by on-line advertisers to determine rates].

Fleen: Can the user configure the contribution interval? For example, if a webcomic has an active forum, the user might visit repeatedly during the day.
Patterson: We hadn’t thought of that. I don’t see why not, it would be a natural extension of the configuration we have in mind.

Fleen: Is PayPal the only option for funding an IndieKarma account?
Patterson: You can also use a credit card, but the minimum amount to add to the account goes up to US$5.00 because of processing charges.

Fleen: How do recipients get their payments? What threshold triggers a payment, and what form do they get paid in?
Patterson: Payment is by PayPal transfer; over some arbitrary amount (US$100), we’ll send a check instead. Payment to a website is by request, with a US$5.00 minimum; we’re not advertising, so we don’t have to make them wait 60 days while we wait for somebody else to pay us. If they make a bunch of money on the first day, we can transfer it immediately.

Fleen: How is IndieKarma going to make its money? Will there be fees, or will you be working off of a float from the accounts?
Patterson: Of every dollar that gets earmarked for a creator, PayPal is going to take 10 cents for themselves. IndieKarma is going to get 15 cents for facilitating the system. That leaves 75 cents for the creator, which they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Fleen: What’s your marketing plan and budget? Are you going to be able to develop this service widely?
Patteron: We’re still figuring out the plan as we go. The budget is undisclosed, and we’re self-financed.

Fleen: Do you really think there are enough kind souls that will use this to make it worthwhile?
Patterson: Yes. These days, readerships are now sufficiently educated to understand that content providers aren’t necessarily making it financially, or doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. We figure a lot of readers wouldn’t mind supporting the whole process. Hopefully, it could lead to less advertising on sites, and that would be a great thing. One thing we have been playing around with is a ability for a site to remove advertising [from the page delivered] if a reader is paying a penny; there all sorts of things we’d like for the provider to be able to do if the user pays a penny. These are all development things that we’ll really start to explore in the next month or so.

Fleen: How do you plan to get people to refill their accounts after the novelty has worn off?
Patterson: We’re going to find out. We don’t know yet. There is a customizable banner [that identifies IndieKarma sites, at the bottom of the page] that’s configurable by the content provider; there’s an ability for the provider to communicate the campaign … they could make it larger and more annoying if they wanted. They could put in characters or a miniature comic that reminds people that they can be supported with IndieKarma. This is a new business, a new idea, and we’re going to continue to solve it.

Something that we’ll definitely do over the next month is generate a listing of supporters of a particular site, in the penny amounts that have been donated to that particular site. We’ll allow the end user to perhaps leave a bit of text, link back to wherever, so it’s almost a way for the end users to get a sense of who the other end users are. It’ll allow them to give more, if they want to be seen as a public supporter of that content. They can of course remain anonymous if they prefer to.

That’s it for today. Join us tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.

Do they have any opinion on how IndieKarma might turn off readers who don’t want to pay? As shocking as it may sound to webcomic artists, not everybody wants to give them money (in fact, most people don’t), and being constantly bugged to sign up for IndieKarma could drive some fans away in droves.

How about kids who don’t have paypal or credit cards (which seems to be the majority of my own readers)? Do they deserve to be hassled? Won’t somebody think of the children?

How about sites like Order of the Stick, who can’t keep to their update schedules? If I have to check back five times a day to see if the new comic is up, do I wind up paying five times?

How about people who read comics over RSS feeds? Do they get bugged?

And isn’t it ultimately easier to just donate to sites you enjoy then deal with this penny a visit business?

Like most people, I’m gun shy about micropayments. I don’t like how they isolate people who don’t have the convenience of paypal or credit cards at their disposal. If you spend a lot of time on forums or in archives you’re going to end up donating much more than a penny. I’m all for finding new ways of rewarding creators for their work, because let’s face it, what they do is a full time job in itself, but I’m not convinced that micropayments are the answer.

At this point, I don’t really think that the isolation of people without credit cards is much of an issue: most ATM cards are now credit cards, and most banks now give you the option of purchasing “gift” credit cards.

I’d imagine that you can individually tag pages for micro-payment use. Forum pages, link pages and the like would fall outside of the micro-payment umbrella.

My biggest problem with micro-payments has always been that I’m extraordinarily lazy when it comes to online transactions. Unless I’m going to a site with the specific goal of shopping (knowing in advance that I’ll need to take my wallet out of my pants) I find most systems of payment clumsy. What I hope IndieKarma can provide is a system like the toll-booth EZPass: a relatively simple way of facilitating small transactions that frees me from the burden of remembering passwords, carrying my wallet and wearing pants in the daytime.

Micro-payments are an inevitibility. At some point, governments will wise up and stop wasting resources by minting small denominations of money, making decimal transations entirely digital. It’s cool to be able to have some input into their implementation.

Good interview Gary!

Loose from the debate, this business strategy has at least a charming ring to it – A good and humble approach as micropayment models go.

Indiekarma might be one step ahead of the game too! Active readers are looking for new ways to associate with particular webcomics, and would certainly jump at a Supporters Page with penny rank or an optional bit of text.

It’s all about badge value with these kid today!

As micropayments go, I find this idea oddly palatable. I have a hard time seeing it as a main revenue source for anyone, but if you could toss it up on your site unobtrusively, what’s the harm?

Well, it’s not entirely unobtrusive. Every time a non-subscriber visits, a nagging IndieKarma “dock” pops up on their screen. See the demo page:

It’s not as bad as a pop-up by any means, but it’s still something that could grate on a visitor over time. For every reader who wants to give you money, there’s a bunch who don’t, and this is the sort of thing that could drive them off.

I think it’s a nice idea to make it easier for people to give you money if they really want to, but you can’t stop thinking about the majority who don’t want to pay. Not everyone is a rabid fan; some are casual readers who’d be happy to look for entertainment elsewhere if you tick them off.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call IndieKarma a “micromiddleman” or somethin’? I think “micropayers” are the people who actually PAY those tiny amounts, right?

Good discovery. It’s nice to know people are still trying this.

I tried this and it seemed to cause a security issue with IE6 for PCs depending on how cookies were handled. Unless this can be done in a way that is transparent to the user, I don’t want to throw up an obstacle for the sake of a penny.

[…] Uncategorized So now we’ve heard from IndieKarma how they’re intending to do things. With a couple of days time to reflect, some things stand out as significant achievement, and some things will need to be addressed. On the positive side: […]

I e-mailed Mr. Patterson to find out if there was a way to sign up without the obtrusive dock. He responded, saying that would be coming in version 2.0.

I emailed their ‘help’ address a couple of days ago with a suggestion: I suggested an option that lets you reverse the behavior of the indieKarma dock. That is, instead of displaying a “please sign up” message to people are not iK users, it could just display a “thank you” message to people who are. That way, you don’t annoy casual visitors as much, but give some feedback to your regulars.

[…] Uncategorized SO I guess Christopher C. Livingston’s nefarious plan worked out pretty well. By posting a comment on Fleen and linking to his comic, he managed to devour my allotted studying time this evening and also compelled me to write this post about him. […]

[…] Uncategorized This page wrote about what might (or might not) be the ultimate triumph of no-hassle micropayments; we promised at that time to keep an eye on the service, and so we’re briefly revisiting IndieKarma today. […]

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