Mass Sponsorship: New Way to Pay Artists, Journalists, and Others for Digital Work Online

art is free, sponsors can connect, artists are paid

This mass sponsorship software design will let anyone download free with a click — no registration, account, money, login, purchase decision, or other hassles required — provided that at least one sponsored copy is currently available. For the end user it’s the same as today’s free downloading (or streaming, viewing, or other access), except that the artist(s) get paid by a sponsor. Or new free copies go away until they do.

By “mass sponsorship” we mean that anyone or any organization, anywhere, any time, for any reason, can purchase any number of prepaid copies of a particular work that moves him, her, or it — music, video, images, poetry, journalism, religion, service, fundraising, organizing, greeting, recognition, or other content. And the sponsor can optionally provide a short message about anything, for delivery with each download that sponsor prepaid for, at any future time. The sponsor can change the message at any time.

This message can be a product ad — but it can also be a greeting, a personal ad, a personal statement, public recognition, promotion or fundraising for a cause, or whatever else the sponsor likes, believes in, or wants to help promote. It might be limited to, say, 500 text characters — longer than a Google ad or a tweet, because many of these sponsors may not have a website to refer to.

A sponsor can buy one, a handful, hundreds, or many thousands of copies in a single purchase, usually at a low bulk price per copy. Sponsors receive their copies as prepaid free downloads (or views, website visits, or other accesses) in a short, intuitive, easily shared smart URL, which keeps track of how many free copies are still available. Sponsors and others can share this smart URL through social networks as they choose, without encryption or other hassles — or publish it for anyone to use, in blogs, comments, tweets, newspapers, or elsewhere. The smart URL provides free, no-hassle access to the art — unless all sponsored copies are exhausted. Then it requires more payment (additional sponsorship) before it releases more free copies.

A smart URL can travel the world person-to-person, operating in many supported languages simultaneously. So sponsors and free users can be anywhere. A band in Kansas might find a cult following somewhere in China, without doing anything to look for it. Sponsors in rich countries or areas could support artists and/or free end users anywhere.

When used for advertising this system is targeted (like Google ads, except targeted by social networks plus content, instead of by search). This isn’t better, only different. But there’s more to life than money, and we foresee many noncommercial ways to engage sponsors, in addition to commercial advertising.

The whole point is income for artists, journalists, or other creative workers.

The smart URL (with its minimal public dashboard) is the key to this mass sponsorship system. All public interaction goes through it. Servicing the smart URLs is almost all that this system’s website will need to do.

An smart URL could look like this:, where ‘en’ is the current language of this copy of the smart URL (English in this case), ‘’ runs this mass sponsorship system, ‘OurBand’ is a name reserved by the artist(s) for their work on this system, and ‘OurSong’ is the artists’ name for the particular song or other work provided by this smart URL.

Anyone who clicks the smart URL will reach a minimal public dashboard, which will show a large free-download button (if any sponsored copies are currently available). The dashboard will also provide a link to purchase a new sponsorship, and probably a free-sample link as well. (The free sample is important even though the whole work is free — since it will always be available, even when all sponsored copies are exhausted, and new potential sponsors will often need to hear and/or see something of the work before purchasing it. Also, artists could use the sample to highlight their work — perhaps up to 30 seconds of sound, a video trailer, or an abstract of a text article, for example. New sponsors looking for artwork to carry their message out could stream many of these samples continuously, looking for the right one for them. Many others could skip this step because they already know what art they want to support or use.)

[Advanced: Incidentally, the smart URL is not a real web address (it does not correspond to a directory structure; instead, the software at processes the rest of the text in its own way — as if it were an argument to an application, which indeed it is). The smart URL is made to look like a URL only because people and programs are already familiar with that format, and using the same format can help to avoid miscellaneous glitches. Capitalization is always ignored in all parts of a smart UTL, so anyone can write it as they like for clarity, without anybody needing to remember what was capitalized if anything. A final slash is unnecessary, and ignored if present.]

Since anyone can share the smart URL with anyone else, sponsors can reach unique audiences targeted both by content interest, and also by informal or formal social networks. Artists (or their publishers) set the per-copy price, and may need to adjust it to maintain a balance between sponsors and free end users. Even a very low price (such as 10 cents — or even less than a cent) is no problem to administer, since a single payment can purchase thousands of prepaid copies, and access to the art (or website) is free while these last. For example, a semi-popular website might support itself at a cent a visit, with about 99.9% or more of all visitors being free (and not even knowing there is any charge), and sponsors able to get their message out to a uniquely targeted audience for one cent each. The one cent might only buy a short message, like up to 40 characters and no link — enough to shout out and support some cause. The artist (the website, in this case) can always reject the message and the money.

A single smart URL (used to market a particular song, video, graphic, poem, article, database access, or other online resource) can contain many different sponsorships – each with its own sponsor’s message. Different priority rules (e.g. last in first out, first in first out, or pay for priority) will have different social effects. (For example, in a tight elections sponsors could bid against each other for message priority, greatly increasing the income of the artist(s), which is the purpose of this system.) The artist(s) could accept a popular default, or craft their own priority rules — and sponsors can buy or not, accordingly.

Key Advantages of This Smart-URL Mass Sponsorship System

Easy practical introduction: Both sponsors and free end users have no learning curve. They have no need for any new account, or any registration, logging in, identification, or other prior arrangement. No software need be downloaded to use this mass sponsorship, not even by the artists who set it up. (Mobile and other apps can come later, after proof of principle.)M

So this system entirely avoids the “network effect” barrier (the need to somehow get a critical mass of users first, before a new system becomes worth using). People already know how to click, and how to pay online. So the first artist to use this mass sponsorship could be successful — even if nobody else in the world ever heard of it, either in the past or in the future.

Easy sharing: Bulk, prepaid downloads of a particular song, video, essay, or other work are “contained” in the smart URL — short, intuitive text, easy to email, post online, write down by hand, or memorize. Each different song, etc. will use a different smart URL. This system encourages free sharing (of music, videos, etc.) instead of outlawing it, since free sharing helps the artist by reaching more people through personal recommendation, including more potential sponsors. Remember that the artist gets paid for every free copy (or free copies go away until a sponsor buys more).

Permanent circulation and support: A smart URL need never expire but can circulate indefinitely, supporting the artist(s) as long as it can find public interest. It need never run out of prepaid copies, since anyone with access to a free copy can add a new sponsorship of any size, instantly recharging all copies of that smart URL throughout the world. These new sponsors can address their own messages to the pre-existing worldwide audience of people who already have the smart URL, which could be called the locus of that smart UL. (Alternatively, the sponsor could purchase a new, independent URL that delivers the same art — sacrificing access to the locus, but reserving the paid sponsorship for his, her, or its own social networks.)

New incentives for sponsors and others: This mass sponsorship design gives artists, sponsors, and end users many incentives to help promote work they like. It encourages a gift economy of free access to what would otherwise cost money. And this free access can help bring attention to an email, blog entry, tweet, etc.

DRM unnecessary: Copy protection should usually be unnecessary, since if enough sponsored copies are available, pirate copies will need to compete against equally free legitimate copies that do pay the creative individual or community. (If enough sponsorship cannot be found, then the artists can and should lower their prices — giving sponsors a better deal on getting their message out, while also making each sponsorship go further.) And this system gives anyone, including free end users with no money, a clear way to fundraise for the artist as well: just send a smart URL that people you know can view or listen to, then fund it if they like it.

Global distribution. Anyone can easily change the output language of a smart URL, to any language provided by the server. No translation is involved; each language simply provides about two dozen standard phrases, for standard messages that will tell end users of the smart URL, if any free copies remain, the per-copy sponsorship price set by the artist, and what kinds of payment are accepted. There’s no need to translate messages back from the bankcard or other payment system the sponsor chooses, as we can assume that a potential sponsor understands these. Artists can put other text into their smart URL’s simple public dashboard, but these will not be translated (although the artist can enter translations in some or all of the languages, and have the server use these). Anyone can change the language of a smart URL by choice of a flag or language name, or by editing the text, e.g. changing the ‘en’ in… to ‘es’ for example, or ‘de’, or ‘hans’, and use or distribute that URL in the new language. Of course anyone who gets a copy can change it “back” or any other supported language, at any time.

Seeking new constituencies: A circulating smart URL will tend to find new pockets of interest autonomously, as people share it with others they think may like it. Local or non-local constituencies that no one could have predicted may turn up over time, anywhere in the world.

Easily monetized. A small deduction from each sponsorship coming in, almost certainly 1% or less when operating at scale, should support the server and its management. All the rest can go to the artists (who may choose to negotiate a percentage to one or more marketing experts).

Economic democracy: Instead of trying to extract a small payment from everyone, this mass sponsorship sells to maybe 2% of users. (Two percent means average sponsorship is 50 copies used, which seems reasonable — especially since very large sponsorships will strongly weight the average.) The money comes from those who can pay, to get their own message to a uniquely targeted audience, and/or for many other purposes. But then everyone can access the art regardless of money and with no hassle, share it freely with anyone, help promote it to new users, help fund the artists by doing so, and otherwise be part of the community. In other words, no more paywall to participate in the culture — avoiding need for piracy in order to participate, if you don’t have access to money.

For More Information

Mass Sponsorship Example (Using [later]

What is RepliCounts? (And why isn’t it explained on this page?)

Our Previous Website (Temporary link for RepliCounts information — until we rewrite it)

About This Project [later]

Get Involved!

You can help if you have technical, artistic, business, legal, people, or other contacts or skills.

This introduction shows how mass sponsorship can help pay content creators for their online work. The open-source software design is already complete enough to use, but not yet coded.

Next steps:

(1) Get this design “on the table” for public discussion, critique, and use;

(2) Create a small proof-of-principle version, available for testing by users around the world.

Contact jj (at) replicounts (dot) org.

Page updated 2010-11-22