Online Content Rewarding System

Shall creative work online be rewarded? I believe so. Why can’t internet become one big Netflix? Payments for internet access can also include a share for content makers. This share can be distributed to content makers according to the popularity of their content. Possible benefits are of social, economic, and environmental nature. The online content rewarding system I propose can be introduced in any territory or community, no matter how small, as well as globally.


1. Purpose

2. Concept of Online Content Rewarding System

3. Technological Resources Needed

4. Benefits

5. Risks

6. How to Begin

1. Purpose

I want to help an imaginary online content maker (e.g. a b/vlogger, news website, artist, game developer, film creator) to earn money from content, even if their audience numbers are modest.

If, for example, I am baking bread and other people like it, they buy my bread and my work is rewarded. The same is seldom true for content makers (CMs). Most of them make zero revenues, although their content is valuable for some audiences: most of the text and video blogs, photographs, music etc are available absolutely for free.

It seems fair that all valuable work must be paid, also the work of CMs. How can we make sure that every piece of it is rewarded – in the most extreme case, even if their content is valuable to one person only?

Restoring justice to CMs is not only necessary – it is likely to be beneficial for all. Better financial motivation for creators will probably increase competition and, consequently, improve quality of their content and its value for the consumers. New business models, more sustainable economic development, improved freedom, and even lower taxes are possible for communities with the Online Content Rewarding System. Additionally, a stronger, more mature online content industry may find ways to generate additional revenue internationally, improve the community’s (country’s) reputation and attract customers to other industries of the community.

2. Concept of Online Content Rewarding System

The problem can be formulated more precisely: how to reward CMs for every instance of consumption of their content? From here, another problem follows: how to track every instance of content consumption? As we all know well, online content is being shared not only publicly, but also in closed groups and in personal messages.

I believe it is more probable than not that every instance of digital communication (also content consumption) will be somehow ‘observed’ (monitored, controlled) in the future. It might be beneficial for development and safety of the humankind if anonymized information about all digital activities is collected and made publicly available, while non-anonymized is only available to (transparently organized) police. (See more about it in my article Digital Privacy – Yes to Individual, No to Common.)

As global tracking of all content consumption is not the reality yet, a content rewarding system can be initially organized for publicly available online content only.

As public web content is consumed globally, a global system is desirable. Along with that, countries or smaller communities (localities, municipalities, online communities) may introduce such systems on their levels and benefit from them earlier, before the global scale is achieved.

When I developed a concept of Online Content Rewarding System (OCRS), I was inspired by the way a similar problem is solved for the music industry in Finland. If someone reproduces music for public (e.g. in a café), they must pay a monthly fee. (I do not know much more than this but let us imagine that these fees are then fairly distributed to those who create musical products.) This approach reminded me of big Netflix: what if everyone would pay something for access to most of online content, and the payments get distributed to those creators whose content was actually accessed?

Figure 1 below presents my concept of the OCRS.


Figure 1. Concept of Content Rewarding System.

The main elements of the OCRS are:

Certified Analytics Provider (CAP) – a company that provides web analytics services in conformity with necessary service levels. Such services are similar to what Google Analytics offers, for example.

Content Makers (CMs) – people who post Rewarded Content on the web. For simplicity, I will refer to the content maker(s) with ‘he’, ‘his’ below, but I will mean all genders, as well as collectives and corporate entities.

Internet Access Provider (IAP) – a company that provides internet access to users, e.g. Telia, Vodafone.

Operator – an organization that receives and distributes fees for Rewarded Content.

Rewarded Content (RC) – content that someone posts on the web and wants to receive payments for if it is accessed; RC is not sold as a separate product, it does not require a customer to pay a specific price to access it like for e-books, stock images etc.

Site – any internet resource, e.g. a news site, social medium, corporate webpage, online library, streaming service etc.


One or several communities (territories) desiring to introduce an Online Content Rewarding System decide what fee for Rewarded Content (hereinafter referred to as the Fee) shall be levied from every user in their jurisdiction(s) for accessing Rewarded Content. For example, an annual Fee (that may be paid in monthly instalments) can be equal to 1% of their nominal GDP per capita two years before the year in which the Fee is applied. If several territories or countries participate in the OCRS, it seems fair to make the Fee amount same for all of them because all humans (and their effort) shall be valued equally, irrespective of location.

Internet Access Providers in such territories must then charge the Fee from every internet user – natural person or in proportion to such users, if access is provided to many through intermediaries. The Fee can be charged in monthly instalments. If internet access is provided to an unknown number of users (e.g. to a corporate client that has an unspecified number of users – natural persons), their number shall be estimated indirectly: for example, the consumed volume of data can be divided by the average consumed volume of data in the corresponding territory. IAPs include the Fee into their service fees for internet access. IAPs send the Fee to the Operator.

Any Content Maker desiring to post Rewarded Content on the internet registers with the Operator and obtains a CM ID. For that, a CM specifies his country of domicile (for taxation purposes) and a monetary account to which the Operator shall send the reward for RC, if any. When posting RC on the web, a CM uses his CM ID to make sure that (accessing) his RC can be tracked.

Any Site desiring to have Rewarded Content published on them must make sure they use analytics services from the Certified Analytics Providers, or else a Site cannot have RC. Sites also provide a technical possibility for every piece of RC to be ‘signed’ (marked, accompanied) with a CM ID so that the corresponding software from the Certified Analytics Provider could read those CM IDs.

Certified Analytics Providers provide unrestricted public access to the statistics about time that users (all users, whether identified or not, paying or not) spent accessing RC on all the Sites monitored by the corresponding CAP. A CAP sums up, for their monitored Sites, how much time users spent on the RC linked to each CM ID, i.e. how much time users spent on the content from a specific Content Maker. Unrestricted public access to such data improves transparency for all (CMs, tax authorities, market regulators etc) and facilitates fight against possible frauds.

The Operator, based on the usage statistics from the CAPs:

1) Distributes the Fees to CMs, in proportion to the time global users spent on the RC from each CM;

2) Provides access to the data about distributed Fees to the respective tax authorities.

3. Technological Resources Needed

From the perspective of technology, OCRS depends on CM IDs. They can be similar to what some governments or banks use for electronic identification of their customers today. A cost-efficient alternative might be to accept IDs from popular service providers like Google, Facebook, WeChat etc as CM IDs. Furthermore, it seems possible in the future that, with or without OCRS, people will use one type of ID for all their digital activities: for public services, banking services, online shopping etc. It would make sense to use the same IDs for OCRS then.

In addition, the following is required:

1) For Operator: a database of CM IDs, including database management tools, web interfaces.

2) For Certified Analytics Providers: CM ID recognition and tracking functionality in their web analytics services.

3) For CMs, Operator and Sites: CM ID verification means. Similar to a login function, CM ID verification means are needed for interaction of CMs with the Operator and can be helpful for interaction of CMs with Sites (when posting RC).

2. Benefits

1. Fairness.

Like all people, CMs have the right to be paid for their work. OCRS will restore justice to those who currently are ‘exploited’ for free by platforms, owners of ICT infrastructure and… by their audiences.

2. More accessible high-quality content, including educational & art.

On the one hand, CMs will be financially motivated to create better content and compete for more revenue. On the other hand, they will be less motivated to charge extra for it because OCRS will offer them a convenient way to monetize it. In other words, more high-quality content becomes more accessible.

As a result, society consuming more high-quality content is likely to become better educated and developed in all aspects, which in turn brings even more benefits to all. In the past, positive results of education were, for example, better health and higher life expectancy, democratization, faster socio-economic development, faster development of sciences, more grassroot innovations etc.

3. New business models.

New business models can emerge because a new channel of revenue will exist – Fees for Rewarded Content. Both companies and individuals will probably direct more of their resources on development of original and valuable content. New alliances and ways of collaboration are likely to emerge. For example, more platform Sites may charge CMs for placing their content on those Sites because CMs will be able to earn something from that and share revenue with the Sites.

Overall, the OCRS is likely to cause higher competition, professionalization, and dynamism of the content production field. Along with that, it will continue fulfilling its basic function – rewarding even small contributors – as long as they represent some meaningful share of the consumed content.

4. Sustainability.

Currently CMs often sell goods that would otherwise not be consumed at all: branded clothes, cosmetics, perfumery, printed books, physical goods from affiliated partners – thus, CMs help increase resource waste, (over)consumption and load on the nature. When CMs can get paid for their content, they will have an alternative to pushing something else to their audiences. Users will also feel relieved if the quantity of annoying promotion messages goes down.

5. Freedom.

If a CM can earn his living by making content, it will give a chance to many people to reach economic independence, also in less free conditions: for example, in countries with authoritarian regimes, localities with monopolistic employers, places with high social or religious pressure. As a result of economic independence, freedom in all other aspects may also improve, e.g. freedom of speech.

6. Lower tax burden?

As education and culture go digital, OCRS offers a simple and not-so-burdensome way of financing them by consumers, not through governments and taxes. However, some governments may decide to finance OCRS with taxes, fully or partially, which may add additional financial flexibility to OCRS in their jurisdictions.

3. Risks

1. Total time spent on RC does not always reflect the perceived value of the content.

Is it possible to measure if a 30-minute sitcom series is more valuable than a wise saying that takes 1 second to read? More valuable for whom and in what circumstances? According to the paradigm of the service-dominant logic (Grönroos & Voima 2013, 145), value is ‘always uniquely and both experientially and contextually perceived and determined’ by the beneficiary. In other words, value is always subjective. It is, therefore, difficult to propose one and same metric for value that would make sense for all users.

I propose total time spent on RC by all users as a metric of RC value partly because time also has value. People do not want to waste it, they value their time and, thus, they are likely to spend it on some RC only if they perceive it as valuable in one or another way. This metric also seems technically suitable because time of accessing content can be uniformly measured with popular web analytics tools.

2. Fraud.

Aiming to increase their income, some CMs may lure people into spending more time on their RC by using various tricks (not by making RC more valuable), e.g. by increasing loading time of images. Some may be tempted to use bots instead of attracting real people. It may result in unfair distribution of Fees, and loss of time by users. Therefore, some action may always be needed to keep the system as transparent and fair as possible.

3. Technical difficulties.

There may be difficulties in attributing the ownership of content and estimating time spent on it. Technologies combating piracy, plagiarism and other violations of IPRs are likely to be in greater demand when much of the today’s free content gets a chance to become sources of income. Clear rules and adequate solutions may be needed for mixed content, e.g. to calculate the time spent on RC if several pieces of RC from different CMs are present on one webpage.

4. Technological inequality.

Unfortunately, some populations with poor access to ICT and financial infrastructure may be left out of the scheme above till they get access to sufficient financial or ICT infrastructure (some people live without bank accounts, convenient digital identification means, reliable access to internet etc). I hope that the share of disadvantaged population will decrease with time.

5. Corruption.

A centralized nature of OCRS with one key node – Operator – poses corresponding risks. They can be mitigated by ensuring that the Operator’s services are fully or almost fully automated, its procedures are simple and transparent, decisions are based on the publicly available information, and it has some redundant capacity in case of overload or other failures.

4. How to Begin

There is essentially no lower or upper limit of how many paying users (payers of Fees) are needed to launch an OCRS. This OCRS is highly scalable and can be applied both in small communities and globally. As a minimum, it makes sense to introduce it in a group with enough users to collect a sufficient amount of Fees for at least 1-2 full-time CMs. If 1% of the nominal GDP is used on OCRS, then every 100 citizens can support on average one full-time Content Maker (an online teacher, a musician, a b/vlogger etc) or several part-time CMs.

How much to spend on OCRS is an open question, but in view of digitization of education and cultural sphere, I believe that 1% of GDP is a reasonable rate to begin with. For example, in 2016 the governments of the world spent about 4.5% of GDP on education only (World Bank Group 2020a), and the total spending on education was obviously higher if we count also private expenditure.

To continue my example with 1% of GDP, here is an estimation of how much everyone would pay for access to the Rewarded Content. In 2018 global yearly GDP per capita was USD 11.317 (World Bank Group 2020b). 1% of this number, divided by 12 months, gives about USD 9.43/month. So much every global citizen could pay for access to Rewarded Content, either by himself or indirectly, through taxes.

Majority of CMs have little market power and, therefore, are unable to charge for what they are doing, especially since web content has been mostly free historically. To introduce OCRS, common action is needed, preferably global. Globality is also desirable because of another aspect – planetary essence of the world wide web and online content markets.

Content makers, such as bloggers, news websites, TV & film makers, game developers, storytellers, can raise their voices and make this topic more visible.

Ideally, governments would utilize their resources to institutionalize the OCRS. Governmental agencies can also play an important role in regulating the field, taking anti-monopoly measures, measures against financial, technological frauds, violations of IPRs, violations of freedom of speech etc.

Even if governments do not take the lead, larger CMs or their associations can join forces with Internet Access Providers so as to create a bigger ‘Netflix’, which OCRS is essentially: a monthly Fee is paid in exchange for access to masses of content. Such ‘Netflix’ does not need to have any technical barriers – it is enough if all IAPs available in one country participate in the OCRS and, thus, users in that country can only buy access to internet if they also pay for content. It should not be a reason to worry that users of other countries without OCRS do not pay the Fee. The users of the country with OCRS will most probably be the main beneficiaries of the system (see the list of benefits above).

Apart from CMs and IAPs, businesses offering authentication systems for CM IDs are the third main pillar of the OCRS. They are likely to collaborate with all other actors of the OCRS on commercial basis, but their responsibility is so high that strict controls and collaboration with government security agencies may be needed.

Owners of Sites will have to upgrade or rebuild their Sites in connection with placement and tracking of Rewarded Content. Providers of web analytics services will need to create new functionality in their products. Both these categories are likely to be interested in doing so. Sites will benefit from having Rewarded Content and being able to attract audiences, analytics providers – from getting paid for their services.

After OCRS is introduced, demand for protection of relevant IPRs is likely to grow faster, which will influence the market of corresponding solutions, legal services, and some public services (courts, police).

Before a solution to the problem of differentiation between human and robotic users is found, a limited version of OCRS can be used. It can apply, for example, to RC on those platforms only that have sufficiently reliable analytics AND have been effectively counteracting bot activities in the past. Some popular platforms (Sites) may satisfy this criterion already and be included into the initial list of Sites covered by the OCRS. Later, as more Sites confirm their ability to provide reliable web analytics data, the list can be extended. Finally, when a reliable solution of differentiation between human and robotic users becomes available, OCRS can be applied to all Sites on the web.

References:

  • Grönroos, C. – Voima, P. (2013) Critical service logic: making sense of value creation and co-creation. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. Vol. 41, 133-150.

  • World Bank Group (2020a) Government expenditure on education, total (% of GDP). World Bank Group. < https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS >, retrieved 04.05.2020.

  • World Bank Group (2020b) GDP per capita (current US$). World Bank Group. < https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD >, retrieved 04.05.2020.

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