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Contenture Launches. Micropayment-Based Freemium Models For All. (If People Use It.)

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picture-313A few weeks ago, we wrote about the impending launch of Contenture, a monetization network for sites built around micropayments. The idea is that while traditional online advertising models work for some sites, others are better suited for custom-tailored approaches — and that’s what Contenture can offer. Today, it has launched its service is giving TechCrunch readers a special deal.

If a website owner signs up with the promotional code “techcrunch,” they will receive double affiliate commissions for a full year. A pretty good deal considering that because the way the network works, it’s in your interest to have more site owners sign up. That’s because the larger the network is, the more likely it will be that users sign up for Contenture accounts. And the more that do, the more you’re likely to get paid.

Contenture users pay a minimum of $5.99 a month, but can offer to pay more if they choose. Site publishers keep 80% of the money coming in to Contenture, while it keeps the other 20%, which is a pretty solid deal compared to other monetization networks.

The core of the service is similar to the idea behind TipJoy. That is, users paying a small amount of money to a site owner. But Contenture goes further, allowing sites to switch to a full-on “freemium” model, giving them the option to toggle certain features on and off depending on if a user has paid.

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But because it is based around a monthly-fee, we could be looking at a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Users may not want to sign up for the service because of the limited number of sites available — while sites not want to sign up because of the limited number of users. But Contenture has made it very simple for a site to install and use their service — it’s just a small snippet of JavaScript that can turn on or off features based on if a user visiting the site has a Contenture account.

This type of model is no doubt a gamble, but it’s an intriguing one. As I wrote about a few days ago, I have no problem paying a certain number of sites that I visit often and love. But those were all web services, and not necessarily content-oriented sites. The large web services are likely to want to run their own freemium models — like what Pandora is doing. Contenture would be perfect for content-oriented sites, but a lot of users have hang ups about paying for content on the web.

That’s not to say that won’t even change in some form, but today that’s a tough sell. Micropayments could be a key to unlocking such a model, but a monthly fee is a barrier to entry.

Disclosure: Contenture sponsored our CrunchCam for a few hours a couple weeks ago.

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