Microransom is a proposed strategy for comissioning talented artists to produce high quality photos and illustrations for wiki projects. The three goals of microransom are complementary:
- getting content for wikiprojects (pedia/books/travel)
- raising funds for Wikimedia foundation
- earning compensation for wikilabour
This combines the ideas of ransoms with micropayments. Ransoms are promises by people to release their content under an open source license if enough money is raised. This has been used for some books and software (such as Blender), but it does not make sense as fund-raising strategy when the content is small, that is, with the occasional photo or illustration. Thus, we turn to micropayments, a means of charging people very tiny sums of money for tiny bits of contents.
The first nuance is that we will not charge people to access content. Imagine a giant photo and illustration gallery that anybody can look at. These photos and illustrations belong strictly to the artist and can not be used in wikiprojects.
Voting with pennies
They are, however, for sale to the wiki community. The artist dictates the price and if the community raises that amount he will GFDL the content and insert it into the appropriate wiki. The prices will be rather low, something to the order for $5 or $10.
If people like a photo or illustration, they can vote for its purchase by clicking a link which debits a standard microdonation from their account (say $.05). People are allowed to make larger donations if they want; as long the fee is paid, the picture will become GFDL'd. Because the votes are so cheap and because anything more complicated would introduce hassle, all votes are final.
Artists also need a way to know what content people want them to produce. The microransom site should offer people the ability to vote for items that do not yet exist. To prevent people from getting crappy content, the pledges remain completely non-binding; they are not debited from any accounts. They serve only to give artists a barometer for where they should focus their efforts.
Artists can dictate the price they want for content. They can also modify the percentage of this price which goes to Wikimedia. The standard cut is 50/50 but some artists could grab the full profit, while others might decide to be more generous. This cut will also be displayed along with the price.
To simplify matters artists get a straight 85% cut. 15% goes to the wikimedia foundation.
Bitpass seems like a very good and simple implementation of micropayments. We could use their system to manage our microransom system. Maybe we could work a deal out so that Bitpass donate part of the 15% they normally charge the artist. This avoids double-charging (and generates goodwill/advertising for Bitpass)
Chicken and Egg?
We might have to do a lot of work getting artists on board first. Maybe we could email online comic artists who are already experimenting with micropayments (Scott McCloud) and have them do a large number of $2 illustrations to prime the pump.
Because good quality art and photos are generally harder to produce, people might be willing to pay money for it. Microransom offers artists the possibility of compensation for their efforts and so increases the incentive to work for wikiprojects. Because wikipedians understand that their payments would not only result in content but cash for the wikimedia project, they would be more inclined to pay up. This works out in reverse as well: people know that their donation actually results in cold hard content, in visible results. Microransom offers a new way for artists to earn and for wikipedians to donate money, with the happy side effect of generating new content for your favourite wikiproject.
This might be a solution looking for a problem. Maybe there isn't any difficulty generating illustrations and photos. Maybe nobody should seek to make any money for wiki (maybe it's best if this remained strictly a labour of love). I welcome your comments.