Companies Test Paywall Solution for Monetizing BitTorrent Bundles

Stephen Yagielowicz

LOS ANGELES — Trying to grow beyond its reputation as a haven for content piracy, BitTorrent has joined forces with Thom Yorke of musical group “Radiohead” fame, to test a paywall solution for monetizing BitTorrent Bundles.

The new initiative is reportedly the first time that fee-based Torrents have been tried, in an effort to determine consumer’s willingness to pay for digital content delivered via the popular peer-to-peer (P2P) BitTorrent protocol — which relies on the customer’s contribution of shared computing power as part of the download deal.

“This first paygate, we’re doing as a test,” says Matt Mason, BitTorrent’s chief content officer, who notes that while this is a test, it is a test of a finished product. “We’re going to move quickly so that other artists can use paywalls.”

Yorke’s new solo album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” offers free audio and video previews of the single “A Brain in a Bottle,” via BitTorrent. The entire album, with seven additional songs and album cover art  is unlocked and available for download for $6.

“If it works well, it could be an effective way of handing some control of Internet commerce back to people who are creating the work,” Yorke stated. “The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey.”

BitTorrent Bundles add a packaging protocol to traditional torrents that enable publishers to secure a portion of the Bundles’ files behind a pay wall, in much the same way that premium adult websites and other online memberships and subscriptions have worked for years, but in a more integrated fashion that adds the user’s e-mail address into the equation, which is required to initiate a full download.

It is a swap of free content in exchange for the customer’s e-mail address that is familiar to many adult content markers and a tried-and-true method of monetizing digital media, but BitTorrent’s Bundles go far beyond collecting e-mail addresses to collect cash as well.  

For its part, BitTorrent will reportedly charge 10 percent for Bundle payments — importantly, this fee is after the merchant pays the transaction fees — making the Bundle fee an addition, not a replacement for the fees normally associated with online content sales. The paygate currently accepts PayPal, which is itself problematic for porn mongers, or credit cards, said to be available in more than 140 currencies.

Mason explains that BitTorrent sees its Bundles as a way to fix the problems that artists face when using the Internet for online sales and distribution. He notes that more than 10,000 content creators including authors, filmmakers and musicians, signed up to use Bundles since 2013 — with more than 450 current Bundles accounting for more than 100 million downloads.

As for the future, Mason hints at threshold-based Bundle gates, where after unlocking the first gate, a customer may find an additional gate that is only unlocked by the publisher after a certain threshold sum is achieved — such as a musician offering a free bonus song once a million album sales are made.

“We’re doing this because we see a way to do something good,” Mason concludes. “If there wasn’t a way to do something good, we wouldn’t bother with it.”

The concept is intriguing, and also offers a new take on crowdfunding that is sure to find some traction; and while it is uncertain as to how welcome the adult entertainment industry is to participate in the new BitTorrent Bundling system, anything that reduces the friction between content publisher and consumer is bound to get a second look.

For more information, visit the BitTorrent Blog.