Micro-Payments vs. Crowd Funding

In a recent Tweet LA Times media columnist James Rainey commented.

“Hector Tobar colmn on low property taxes for wealthy country clubs from story 1st funded by micro-payment site Spot.us http://bit.ly/5Yzz6N

This was quickly followed by Steve Rhodes

“@LATimesrainey @spotus is crowdfunding I’d think of a micro-payment site as one where people contribute after a story is written.”

James noted the difference:

“Thanks to @tigerbeat for correcting me. Spot.us is a pioneer in crowd-funding, not micro-payments. My apologies.”

To some extent – I think it’s splitting hairs. But I have an ongoing post that tries to do just this about journalism rhetoric.

So let’s take a moment to split those hairs even more. How would we define the difference between micro-payment and crowdfudning. I don’t think when the donation comes in is the difference maker.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be the person who should or does define these terms for anyone other than myself. But as I put thought into it – I might as well share them. This way as I engage in conversation with people about these concepts I have something to refer them to that shows the transparency in my thought.

Although I think Steve made a good point to say Spot.Us is crowd funding, I don’t think it’s when the money comes in is the defining difference between community funding or micro payments. After all, compared to the amount of money advertisers usually throw at newspapers the $10-$20 people contribute to Spot.Us is “micro.”

As an example – look at Paige Williams recent example of reporting through small contributions. The contributions came in after the story was done. But what she did, whether we call it ‘micro-payments’ or ‘crowd funding’ is more akin to Spot.Us than the metered system proposed by the NY Times.

I’d argue the defining factor is transparency and control about where money goes. For every Spot.Us pitch and in the case of Paige Williams, ReelChanges documentaries, Kickstarter projects and more – a contributor knows where their money is going and it was their choice.

Compare this to what the Miami Herald is doing in asking for contributions (or NPR) which leaves little to no transparency or control over the money.

I believe this is the defining factor between ‘micro-payments’ and ‘crowd/community funding.’

Dictionary Definitions

Micro payments allow an individual to contribute a small amount of money towards an organization. That money is under the organizations discretion.

Crowdfunding allows an individual to contribute a small amount of money towards an organization. That money is under the individuals discretion.

I would argue that giving transparency and control to the community is a good thing. That’s the argument for Spot.Us and other community funded projects.

I’ll say it again.

NPR could start doing community funded reporting tomorrow and blow Spot.Us out of the water. The Miami Herald could as well.

Imagine this page of Spot.Us filled with NPR pitches from around the country.

Imagine a NY Times payment meter or a Miami herald tip jar where, after you pay, you get to decide what beat your money goes towards?

It isn’t hard if you try 😉

What does the organization loose? It gains good faith, creates a small extra incentive.

Nothing too radical. Just a simple choice: “Thanks for paying to see more NY Times articles. Where would you like your payment to go towards (i. Political reporting (II. Environmental reporting, etc. There could even be an “I don’t care – spend it how you want” option, but at least it is THEIR choice, not the organizations.

That is the difference that I make be

2 thoughts on “Micro-Payments vs. Crowd Funding”

  1. That’s a good point about transparency and I also think it’s a good thing.

    But I don’t think $10 is a micropayment. That could be a monthly subscription price. A micropayment needs to feels like I’m paying my fair share for just what I’m taking.

    Unless you look at it this way. The $10 benefactor is paying the micropayment for the thousands of people that will read it for free.

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