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Can Micro-Donations For Content Creators And Nonprofits Create A New Online Economy?

CentUp, a new organization that is attempting to monetize making interesting art and culture on the Internet thinks it has a hook: enticing you to give pennies to artists by helping you give pennies to charity at the same time.

Since the beginning of the Internet, content creators have struggled to get paid (just talk to your local newspaper). The idea of CentUp is to bring them a little more reward, while funneling cash to good causes at the same time.

Len Kendall, co-founder of the new micro-payments platform, reckons the problem isn’t so much that people don’t want to pay for things, but that they forget, it’s too much hassle, and the amounts involved are too big. CentUp, as the name suggests, deals in pennies. To give a few cents to your favorite blogger, all you do is click a little button and send the amount from a pre-charged account.

The contribution in itself isn’t great, but the collective amount could be. "We’re trying to increase the volume of giving by lowering the amount itself," says Kendall, who got the idea when the Kony video was going viral last year.

"There were millions of people sharing something online, but not necessarily doing anything to stop war in Africa. There are billions of things being shared every day, and we thought: 'How can we take advantage of this very low investment action, and do something with it to help the world."

Half the money goes to charity, which provides extra incentive to pay the creators something, Kendall says. "Sometimes artists find it difficult to ask people to pay. So, we felt that if we built charity into the system, it’s easier for them to ask. They can say, 'we’re giving half away.'"

CentUp launches at the end of the month, starting with a blog run by BBH Labs, a New York ad agency. Six charities will receive money at the start—Pencils of Promise, Love146, Lynn Sage Foundation, WBEZ, and Global Foodbanking Network. And the project has $15,000-plus to play with, following an eventful Indiegogo campaign (the page was taken down for a week, after a patent troll complained).

Kendall reckons the success of online creators like Amanda Palmer, Louis CK, and Andrew Sullivan, shows that people are finally willing to pay differently online, especially when there’s a charitable twist.

"We think 2013 is really the time when people are going to start paying more for content. They are realising they don’t want to pay with their attention and advertising, and they don’t want to be behind paywalls. It’s a prime time to enable people to pay what they will."