You don’t work for free. What you do is a valuable service – valuable enough anyways to get paid to do it. So why do you post videos, review restaurants, comment in forums, write articles, and do countless other things on the web for free? Sure, you may enjoy them, but you also may enjoy your job. Regardless, since you are producing something of value, don’t you deserve to be compensated? This article will argue that it is not only rational, but also inevitable, that websites will monetarily reward their users for contributing to their sites.
Almost every web user is also a web contributor. You contribute when you review restaurants on Yelp.com, discuss a particular problem in a forum, or upload a home video to a video sharing site like YouTube. By taking all those actions – and many more that you most likely regularly repeat daily while using the web – you are benefiting thousands or even millions of web surfers, who because of you know where to eat, find a solution to a problem, or get entertained for a few minutes. Moreover, you are benefiting the website you contribute to by adding the content that is their lifeblood; after all, Yelp, a forum, or YouTube would all be nothing without user submissions.
And you do all this with little or no reward to yourself, save the satisfaction you get from entertaining or helping somebody out.
From an economic perspective there is an enormous imbalance here. A popular video on YouTube might draw hundreds of thousands of viewers who will not only enjoy your video but will also see the banner advertisements that YouTube earns its profits from. At the end of the day you have entertained hundreds of thousands and made buckets of money of YouTube while you received nothing but a good feeling from your contribution. You are a volunteer, giving up your time and money with no tangible benefit to yourself.
The web is a community of volunteers like you, and it isn’t working out too badly; indeed, websites like Yelp and YouTube are full of useful information and entertaining videos, almost all of which were volunteered by their users.
But imagine if everything you want in your life outside the web was contributed to you by volunteers instead of paid for by working professionals. For example, would farmers grow fruit and vegetables and share them with you so you could eat?
Some very kind farmers would happily donate their time, expertise, and product to you, but most would not. Seeing no tangible benefits, and knowing that farming is a laborious task, farmers would most likely farm much less. There would be a serious food shortage.
Just as there would be a food shortage, there currently is a content shortage on the web. Although it might sound absurd at first, since the amount of content that does exist is staggering, what exists now is only the tip of the iceberg of what it could be; it’s those few kind farmers donating their time, land, and effort to making you full and happy, but it excludes the vast majority of those that are in it for the money.
Imagine the quantity and quality of content that the web would contain if popular websites paid users for their contributions. More people would put serious time and consideration into videos they posted on YouTube; it isn’t just a project for fun and popularity, but an investment in something that can tangibly reward you. Some people who are funny, talented, and entertaining, but who would otherwise never pick up a video camera, might be inspired to do so if they could be paid for it. The same could be true for people who write restaurant or product reviews, answer questions on forums, write recipes, or contribute free articles to online magazines. Quality would likely also improve, since the quality of your contribution (measured by star ratings or popularity) could be intricately linked to how profitable your contribution is.
But is this sort of scenario, where contributors get paid for their content, even possible? Yes. The reason websites like YouTube are purchased for $1 billion dollars is because they have the potential to make that much. They make such immense sums of money through banner advertising. A very popular video on YouTube – one that alone brings in a million viewers or more – might make YouTube anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 in banner advertising. Of course YouTube could not pay its contributors all of that, or else it would not be a profitable company able to support its employees, bandwidth costs, and copyright lawyers, but it could certainly pay its contributors a slice. Payment over the web is made simple with tools like PayPal – all YouTube would need is your e-mail address and they could make an electronic transfer to you.
In fact, some YouTube wannabes like Revver.com and Blip.tv (as well as a host of others) do exactly this: they pay you for your content. Revver seems to have a particularly interesting business model where they add advertisements to the end of your videos, and only get paid (and therefore pay you) when the advertisement is clicked on and someone actually goes to the advertiser’s site.
Is the system open for abuse? Couldn’t I just keep on clicking on my own video’s advertisements? You could try, but it wouldn’t get you very far: the same algorithms that would catch YouTube if their employees were repetitively clicking on the advertisements on YouTube’s site would also catch you trying to inflate your own earnings on Revver.
Recognizing the threat to their business, YouTube CEO Chad Hurley finally acknowledged that YouTube was going to move in this direction as well at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.
But so far, paying contributors seems to be only relegated to the world of video sharing. It shouldn’t be that way; users create value on websites that cover topics as diverse as car reviews to helpful pet rabbit tips. Those contributors deserve the same type of earnings a video sharer could get, if not more.
For example, I operate a website targeted at computer graphics (CG) professionals – the kinds of people who are currently working to make the next Shrek movie, or who add special effects to Coca-Cola commercials. There are droves of free useful content for these users scattered all over the web from kind volunteers, willing to share tips to use these often very complex tools, their own art and animations, and other important resources. But for the first time on the web, we are offering to share the revenue we make through banner advertising – however modest it may be – with our users. And although the website has only existed for a mere two months, it has been a smashing success – one prolific and popular user was able to make nearly $200 in our first month of operation simply by sharing his resources and art with the world. We split everything we make with our users 50/50 – so the benefit to us by this user sharing his work was $200. When you consider the fact that we now have 2,000 contributing members, and hundreds being added every week, you can imagine that this business model is not working out too badly for us.
Regardless of how good or bad it is working for us, it will at one point become a necessity for all websites in our industry to implement this sort of revenue sharing. After all, what will our competitors do now that we exist? Probably the same thing that YouTube did when faced with Revver and Blip.tv. Why would anyone on the web who knows about both our site and another decide to post their content to the other when they could be making money with us? Even for those people that decide to contribute their content and resources to both us and a competitor, their incentives are much stronger to spread the word about the posting on ShareCG.com than any other site, since drawing people to their content on ShareCG actually makes them money.
When this same logic is applied to every industry, it is clear that it will become inevitable that the web will pay you for your contributions. Indeed, this is a sign of maturity of the web community and economy, where people are compensated for their hard work and contributions.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in