The future of professional blogging may lie in the age-old model of tipping -- at least, that's what Salon.com appears to be hoping.
The site has just opened its Open Salon service into public beta with plans for a full launch by the year's end. The service is described as a "social content site" that spotlights user-contributed content. Staff updates the "cover" -- or front page -- twice daily to feature specific types of content on different days. Some of it will eventually be featured on Salon's main page as well.
Open Salon is open to anyone. The key, though, is the compensation for bloggers' work: As of now, the service indicates that bloggers will be paid only via a "Tippem" system, powered by Revolution MoneyExchange, that lets viewers click to tip if they like the work. So, yes, next to any post, you can type in "$1.50" and click "Go" to give the starving blogger a small chunk of change. The default amount is a $1 tip.
The idea of opening up a site such as Salon to the general public and featuring all these new kinds of content is fantastic. But is compensating contributors solely on a tip-based system the right way to do it? Sure, if everyone who visited the site threw in a couple bucks, it'd probably add up -- but realistically, any contributor is likely to get maybe a dollar or two for any given post. Maybe. We all know how tough it is to get the average user to Digg a story, let alone contribute money for reading it. You have to wonder if the typical person would even tip in a restaurant if he were hidden behind a computer screen with no face-to-face contact.
Blog networks may be notorious for paying tiny percentages, but at least they're paying something to the people who give them content. This system might seem more reasonable if it were to provide some kind of base compensation, even if a small one, onto which the tips would be added. As it stands, though, the model sets a dangerous new precedent for how mainstream(ish) media could approach the Web 2.0 world. It may seem like the magical pot of gold at first -- and I'm sure it'll pull in plenty of content -- but ultimately, one can only assume that it'll cheapen the material and lead to lower quality work. Most of the high-caliber contributors will eventually either find actual paying platforms for their writing or will move to their own individual sites where they can control the content (and maybe sell a few ads, too). For the sake of the blogosphere -- both those who read and those who write within it -- let's hope that this model doesn't become the norm.
In other news, if you liked this post, please e-mail me with your tip. I expect at least 20 percent.