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Natalie Axton
Natalie Axton

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Web Monetization for the Arts β€” Grant Report #1

Artists Respond to Web Monetization

word cloud generated from survey responses

Project Update

Our team is closing the artist survey we created and moving on to the education and outreach phase of our project. Web Monetization for the Arts has been met with interest by those in the media concerned with the intersection of arts and tech.

As for the survey, although we have a large enough sample to understand our audience and move the project forward, the response rate has not been as robust as we think it could have been were our organization more familiar to our community.

Progress on objectives

Key activities

Our key activities are:

  1. Creating and distributing a survey that asks classical musicians and small performing arts groups about their digital content strategies and
  2. Using the results of that survey to write educational materials about Web Monetization for our target audience.

In March we built our survey and began distributing it by email. We created a forwardable email and a survey cover letter.

We spent took a lot of care with the language for these documents. Web Monetization is not a familiar term to our audience. We wanted to make sure that our appeal explained our long-term mission -- to help artists build economically sustainable online content practices -- and didn't come across as "spammy."

Similarly, the survey required a lot of brainstorming. How best to approach artists and arts organizations about an unfamiliar topic? We needed to collect information that would be helpful to us in building the educational materials. We have always sought to meet our audience where they are. The survey has been an opportunity to listen to musicians and performing arts groups.

We decided to craft the survey in three parts.

  1. The first collected demographic and organizational information that could help us understand respondents' resources and missions.
  2. The second section concerned digital content strategies. We asked how, what, where and why about their current content in order to learn what respondents' goals, concerns, and optimization strategies.
  3. The final section asked about familiarity with Web Monetization and technical know-how so that we might best understand where the challenges might be.

The survey we developed was emailed to over 2,000 persons working in the nonprofit arts. We emailed contacts at music organizations across the United States. Many of them were members of the League of American Orchestras.

Some early results:

  • 69% of respondents identify as freelance artists.
  • Most respondents had less than $25,000 annual income from their artistic work.
  • 80% create original digital content.
  • Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are the primary ways respondents are currently distributing digital content.
  • 65% of respondents have not received revenue from their digital content in the past two years.
  • 81% of respondents are familiar with the term 'streaming payment.'
  • Only 7% of our respondents has ever installed a web browser extension.

We have received over a hundred responses and we're very happy with that number. It is, however, lower than what we anticipated. We suspect that we would have received more responses if our organization were more established and/or familiar to our audience.

Interestingly, Jacob had a lot of success engaging with artists in person. During the daily course of his work in New York City, he showed musicians the survey on his phone. This direct, in-person engagement was the most effective way of getting people talking about Web Monetization and its uses. We see potential for more education outreach with in-person sessions.

Communications and marketing

We created a press release announcing our project. It was shared with and by several arts publications and advocacy groups.

Broadway World picked up the story. So did Musical America.

The Texas Music Office shared our survey on their social channels. They also shared with us their list of Texas concert halls and arts organizations.

Contacts at King FM in Seattle connected us with the Live Music Project. Live Music Project shared our survey via their social channels.

Our team's affiliated publication, Raft Magazine, published a story about the project along with a link to the survey.

We were in touch with reporters at WNYC and National Public Radio. They expressed interest in our project and stated that we were too early in the process for them to do a feature.

What’s next?

In the coming days we will close the survey and run the survey results report. We will be analyzing the data in the coming weeks, as our project now turns to its education and outreach phases. We will be writing a series of articles that cover Web Monetization and its application for our audience.

Natalie will write a series of ten articles, with editorial support from Matt. We will deliver these articles via email to our survey respondents who requested them. We will publish the articles at Raft Magazine and to Medium.

Additionally, we will hold virtual office hours to answer any questions our readers have.

What community support would benefit your project?

We'd love to hear from any performing artists who have implemented Web Monetization, and how it has worked for them. Adding your story to our educational materials would put a human face on what is for many of our audience a tedious conversation about technical matters they don't understand or trust.

Web Monetization for the Arts would also like help distributing our articles. Sharing them via social media channels would be appreciated.

Additional comments

One of the challenges of working within the nonprofit arts is that, historically, the arts and artists have not wanted to talk about money. This sentiment was captured nicely by one of our survey respondents:

One of the major reasons for the dearth of money in the arts is the lack of public funding NOT a lack of resources, knowledge, experience, workshops, surveys, web based monetization schemes or any other individually based money making scheme. Promoting this kind of idea is antithetical to the future of the arts and causing harm in our artistic communities. We are not businesses. We do not make a profit. We do not "monetize" anything. Get off your high horse, start demanding public funding, and fold up this business.

The idea that art is labor and that labor should be paid opens a conversation within the nonprofit arts for artists. Advocacy groups are raising awareness about the impossible economics that creatives face. Artists want help. That sentiment was expressed well by another survey respondent:

Please encourage artists to STOP putting their music on streaming services. Only Apple, Amazon, et al make the money. Even Beyonce has a side hustle because streaming revenue is not the same as old skool album sales. Make it stop.

We think that a big part of getting artists and arts organizations to adopt Web Monetization will include educating their supporters about it. This means educating arts consumers about the economics of online content. It means explaining why people post content for free and what the long-term costs of doing that are.

We see educating the arts audience as reducing the friction inherent in adopting Web Monetization for our artists.

Relevant links/resources (optional)

Oldest comments (10)

gfam profile image

Hi Natalie!

This report was fascinating! Thank you for producing it.

I agree with your somewhat aggressive survey contributor that public funding for the arts is essential, but I don't think (obviously since I'm in this community) that it's the only means of funding. Lots of radio stations (I think NPR might be one) rely on funding directly from their audience.

While media streaming services might be diluting artistic content to the most consumable content, audiences do want to contribute to art that makes them think and feel, and I'm not sure that artists should only rely on government grants, etc.

The second survey respondent is totally right about the subscription money for music streaming services going to the platform itself rather than the artists... but I'd love for them to learn about where that situation is flipped.

Of the 65% of respondents that have not received digital revenue in 2 years, we'd love to get them on where we can remedy that situation immediately. Artists can share their work on this platform and earn, despite not having a following, or they can share their processes, inspirations, struggles, etc and earn along the way so that they can provide their finished artwork to the world for free. The sharing of the journey ends up paying for the art.

We'd also love for you to share your materials on so that our community can support your efforts. We also have tutorials that anyone can create and earn from, and challenges where we can reward creators for creating/sharing for you.

Let me know how I can best help you.

natalieaxton profile image
Natalie Axton

Thank you! I will be in touch.

chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

@lior and @yotam have you seen this work? I see connections between your research and Natalie. I wonder if we need a small user behavior special interest group. I bet @graeme has some thoughts as well.

yotam profile image
Yotam Liel

Thanks for tagging us @chrislarry!
@natalieaxton - this is very interesting; I look forward to your survey's results report!

lior profile image
Lior Zalmanson

Yes, likewise. @chrislarry thank you for matching-up.
I would love to get an interest group going around creator behavior with an emphasis on fairness (in resources and their distribution). @natalieaxton @graeme what are your thoughts and wishes?

Thread Thread
natalieaxton profile image
Natalie Axton

Consumer behavior with an emphasis on fairness interests me. In particular I'd like to know what resources help creators convert their fans into web monetization users.

The creator group I know best is small budget and independent nonprofit arts. For many of these people, online content is top-of-the-funnel content marketing, a way to get people to sign their lists and/or buy tickets for their in-person shows. So their online content is mostly a means to an end. Convert more of their supporters into web mon users and the content can earn in a more immediate way.

FWIW, I always liked the idea of France's 300 Euro culture pass, although in implementation it didn't yield the intended results. ( My long-term interest is in understanding how we can develop a platform for people to discover the nonprofit arts online, divorced from geography, so people can support the art they enjoy no matter where/when it's happening.

natalieaxton profile image
Natalie Axton

That sounds like fun.

graeme profile image
graeme • Edited

That would be awesome, I've drawn similar conclusions with the terms used - using terms like 'streaming payments', 'micropayments' and 'tipping' seems more relatable to using the term 'Web Monetization', since people are used to online tip jars like and Patreon.
We have based our new landing page on that: Web Monetization Info page - please check it out! I noticed language is really important in explaining this to casual readers/writers, who might not even care about open web and privacy.

Initially at Prototypr we were trying to make Web Monetization relatable by calling it an 'ad-alternative', or 'ad-free reading' as suggested in this article from @uchibeke , but I find there seems to be some negative connotation with mentioning 'ads'.

The same with the privacy aspect – although it's important, I get the feeling mentioning 'privacy-first' only appeals to a small niche who are activists for privacy..general readers might find it boring or even be put off by the topic – I'd love to get a better understanding of that, and some research into it could help. Since right now my conclusion is based on observation and gut feeling.

I'm planning to change this privacy part on the landing page to something around 'Earning Tips':
Image description
A native tip jar for the web, or something! Because the privacy and eye illustration feel a bit heavy, and showing a feature that has tangible benefit will probably work better.

I think the order of explaining things works better as:

  1. Micropayments/ streaming
  2. Tip jar
  3. Paywall alternative
  4. Privacy centric (mention later on, as this is a nice bonus, but doesn't feel like something that draws people in just yet)

But yes, more focused research on it would be beneficial. Also, would love to help share your work in our newsletters and website! We've actually updated the Prototypr homepage based on this whole direction - see this dev version. A goal for the site is to connect the web better, and include curated feeds from related websites (a bit like a newsreader), so if you have any more links for your project, that would be great to see if it can fit in somehwere!

natalieaxton profile image
Natalie Axton

Thanks for this. It's very helpful. Quick note to say that we at Web Monetization for the Arts had a lot of internal conversation about the term "Web Monetization" because we knew that our arts people would have no understanding of it. It seems, based on our survey results, that some think Web Monetization means a very general 'make money online.' So they think that "web monetization" includes everything from tipping to ads to merch sales to online donation forms to Patreon. We also worried that the term would lead some of the people we cold emailed to think that we were spamming them.

"Streaming payments" feels like the best term for this audience, as they are mostly trying to monetize video, and streaming video is a familiar item.