Adblock Plus is teaming up with the micropayments service Flattr to create a new system called Flattr Plus, which they say will make it easy for people to pay small amounts for the articles they read online.
It remains to be seen how well the idea is received, as Adblock Plus is not exactly top of publishers' Christmas-card lists, but it certainly marks an interesting next step in the ongoing saga of figuring out how to make online journalism sustainable.
Adblock Plus, run by a German company called Eyeo, has tens of millions of people using its tools to block advertising. They can however choose to see "acceptable ads" that are nonintrusive—Eyeo controversially charges a lot of money to the largest advertisers for letting their ads through the filter.
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Flattr has been around for six years or so. Co-founded by Peter Sunde, who also co-founded the notorious Pirate Bay file-sharing site, it's a "social payment service" that lets people donate a fixed amount each month that then gets split up between the online services they want to support—kind of like a tip jar.
It's an intriguing idea but it's never really hit the big-time, partly because big publishers never bought into it. Sunde told Fortune that around 35,000 smaller-scale website publishers have used Flattr but traditional media is "not happy with implementing someone else's solutions."
The other issue with Flattr is that it requires a bit of effort on the side of the reader to decide when to send money in the direction of the website operator. That's what Flattr Plus aims to fix.
"The main difference here is the fact that it's easy and automatic," Ben Williams, Eyeo's communications and operations manager, told Fortune. "A lot of other schemes have relied on a lot of user work."
During a testing period that will run through this year, Eyeo and Flattr will further develop the algorithm that will allow Flattr Plus to measure readers' engagement with articles, and distribute their monthly donations accordingly. This is in itself a tricky proposition, as it's hard to judge whether an open tab really means someone is reading intently. "We want to do true engagement with an article, not just time spent," Williams said.
"We're sure we can make a really good version of it — we know that everything works," said Sunde.
The partnership is ambitious. During next year, Williams said, the aim is to "generate a half billion dollars for publishers"—a figure derived from getting 10 million users to each set up a monthly budget of $5.
For more on ad-blocking, watch:
According to Williams, Eyeo has spoken to publishers "quite a bit" about the new scheme. Large publishers he has spoken to in London have "approached it with caution" but see what Flattr Plus is trying to achieve: make it easy for people to fund sites directly.
"We don't need the entire Internet," he said. "We just need a small slice of it to supplement the advertising that is already out there."
With some publishers currently trying to block people who use ad-blockers, there's probably a lot of convincing that needs to take place.
Sunde pointed out that, although Flattr Plus will try to get scale by integrating with Adblock Plus, it will also be available in a standalone version, meaning people can choose to fund the websites they read in multiple ways.
"Publishers need to test new [ways] of getting revenue," he said.
Here's a short video designed to pitch Flattr Plus to users: