Just because something is free does not mean there isn’t a cost associated with it. Usually when you get something free, there is a reason for it. Maybe a company is handing out samples of their new product (so you go buy it later), or you get something free when you buy two more (thus spending more than you normally would). The old adage “if you’re not paying, you are the product” holds true just about everywhere, including online. The aim of this post is to convince you to start paying for “free” online content, or at least, understand the benefits of paying for it.

We hope we’re able to do this, and we challenge you to challenge us if you don’t agree after reading this article…

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

It’s true (and is an even older adage than “if you’re not paying, you’re the product”). Imagine a Friday evening. You walk into a restaurant, sit at a table and admire the nice decor, grab the Wi-Fi code, enjoy great service, eat a delicious and lovingly prepared meal, have a few nice cocktails, and then simply walk out. Even if this didn’t land you in trouble with the police, think about how many restaurants would be open after their first week. Obviously the right thing to do is to pay a cost that keeps this great restaurant operating and allows all the chefs and waiters to make a decent living.

Imagine after dinner, you go to see the big new sci-fi blockbuster that just opened in your local cinema. A cast and crew of hundreds worked to bring you 2 hours of joy. Now..imagine how amazing it would be if everyone could see and enjoy this movie for free? And how super-amazing would it be, if everyone involved in bringing you the movie would still be able to pay rent, eat well and be motivated to make the next awesome movie?

We understand in these situations that someone (or many someones) have taken the time to invent, create, cook, edit, market, serve and act in the things you have just enjoyed.

But the question remains: why oh why isn’t it normal to pay in some way for online content? Someone still needs to conceptualize, spend time creating, editing and publishing it, as well as promote it and pay for hosting costs (domains, servers etc). That’s before we start talking about raw materials and equipment. You as the consumer get to enjoy the content and be informed, educated, entertained, or pleasantly distracted by it, but you probably still don’t consciously pay anything to the creator for it.

The thing is, as said above, when something is ‘free’ you as the consumer are the payment: your data, your clicks, your potential ‘conversion’ – you pay for it in one way or another, so why not choose to consciously pay the creator, rather than being a commodity for the advertiser that’s funding their content?

If paying creators directly was more widespread, online creators could be freed from needing to have advertising (or at least as much intrusive advertising) on their sites, and could create what they really want to create (and what you really want to see/hear), without being bound by advertising agenda, or without being forced to try and sell you ‘upgrades’ or do things on the side to earn something for all the work they do.

Another reason you should be consciously supporting creators is because the traditional advertising models are not sustainable anymore. Until recently the internet used advertising as the main source of revenue, and user experience was in many cases secondary to making that sweet, sweet ad cash. However, this is dynamic is shifting rapidly. In some markets, over 30% of people are using ad blockers to take back control of their online experience, meaning that ads alone can no longer support the internet. Without an alternative, the future is an internet where only those with the deepest pockets can afford to get your attention and we hope you agree that’s not an internet where it’s a fun (or fair) place to hang out.

Just in case we haven’t convinced you yet, here is something profound from an early Flattr adopter from back in the day. He said something like this:

Paying for something serves two purposes. I get what I paid for, but I also enable the creativity of the future.

With this post, we’re pretty sure we’re preaching to the choir, so we won’t harp on about it. Instead we’d like to tell you about how we’re trying to provide a solution. Since the issue of monetization on the web is one that really belongs to everyone, we created Flattr to be a solution that can be used by all: with a small monthly subscription you can support all of the content you actually enjoy online, effortlessly. The power of Flattr really shows when there are a lot of people using it, and that’s why it’s important that people who love the internet (so pretty much everyone) understands that the current way the web is financed is unsustainable and unfair, and that each individual has the power to contribute in a small way, which eventually makes a big difference.

Supporting creators means an open internet where free speech, good journalism and great creativity is still possible.

Your attention is worth something, for creators, and for the free and open internet. Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: if it’s free you’re paying for it somehow and we know we’d certainly rather consciously pay the creator for the work they do. What would you rather do?


Convinced? Sign up as a contributor on Flattr here for as little as $3 per month to support the creators you care about, and spread the word so together we can work towards a better internet for all.


Note: this post was edited to better reflect our philosophy about online content.

3 thoughts on “Why everyone should pay for online content.

  1. Flattr should be a lot more insightful, far-sighted, sensitive and empathetic towards his customers! Why?

    Because Flattr apparently does not realize that within the european union alone there are 24 official languages ​​and in europe up to Ural and Bosphorus almost 40 languages!

    In this way Flattr ignores the cultural diversity and individuality of 500 million europeans!!!

    That’s why I won’t join Flattr until it shows its internet-pages in all the european country flags and allows every european citizen to switch to her/his own language-theme.

    If that won’t came, Flattr stayes what? Exactly! Bullshit!

  2. Hey Frohmund, thanks for your message. You’ve raised a great point and we are fully aware that having translations of our site is important. We’re still quite a small team and capacity to do this is limited, but it is something we’ll look to do in the future.

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