How to Pay Writers in Cryptocurrency

so it begins

By Maria Bustillos, Editor-in-Chief, Popula

As we prepare to publish Popula, the blockchain’s first alt-worldly news and culture magazine, to be hosted on the new Civil publishing platform, we’ve contracted a lot of brilliant writers around the globe. Popula operates completely within Civil’s token economy, which permits us to offer our contributors many new kinds of benefits. There is a lot of interest in this new model for journalism, so I thought I’d share our approach.

Everyone who works at Popula will receive a substantial portion (or all) of his or her compensation in CVL, an Ethereum-based token that will launch with Civil’s own platform in early 2018.

There are potential risks and rewards in owning cryptocurrency. I first wrote about Bitcoin for the New Yorker in 2013, and bought my first actual bitcoin for $64. I’ve incurred both gains and losses in the intervening years.

Popula offers compensation to writers in a way that reflects the risks: the higher the proportion of CVL a writer agrees to accept, the higher the total nominal value of his/her compensation. Note that Popula freelancer contracts are currently on a piece-by-piece basis, so each contract is freestanding, negotiable on its own.

The value of a cryptocurrency, like that of any currency, will fluctuate against dollars and other currencies. Writers are free to hold their tokens or trade them immediately.

Cryptocurrency and Token Launches

Token launches are an increasingly popular way to finance new projects through potential users rather than via venture capitalists. So far, most of these efforts have followed the standard Kickstarter crowdfunding model: people buy tokens when they become publicly available with the intention of supporting the product’s future development (without getting any kind of ownership in the entity). And there is another angle to this: some people buy the tokens because they think the price of the token will rise as the product becomes more popular. There have been hundreds of these events in the last 18 months, raising upward of $3 billion.

Civil is taking an entirely different approach. It’s building a real product — the Ethereum-based system that hosts Popula and other publications — in advance of its token launch. It’s not just selling an idea, with product development to come afterward. Civil is creating an innovative (and deeply valuable, and delightful, though I say it) real product that will be available to read and use on the first day of the CVL token launch. That’s why we’re choosing to launch Popula there.

There’s another reason for believing the Civil economy will succeed, and quickly: Civil’s partnership with ConsenSys. ConsenSys is a prolific developer of projects built on the Ethereum blockchain. They are probably the most widely recognized Ethereum development firm. In this raging market, such a highly regarded developer is, naturally, besieged with pitches for creating crypto tokens. But when they heard Civil’s pitch they not only agreed to help build its platform and token launch, they invested $5 million in cash and services in the company, $1 million of which is expressly for bootstrapping its early newsrooms, including Popula.

There have been questions from our freelance writers regarding potential regulations of blockchain-based markets by the SEC. I strongly believe that there will be regulations enacted eventually, but in Popula’s view they are unlikely to affect freelance writers paid in crypto, or Popula’s business more generally, at least in the near term. Concerns at the SEC are likely to center around whether crypto tokens might be considered securities and hence subject to the rigorous regulation applied thereto. In the eight years since Bitcoin launched there have been no onerous regulatory requirements for crypto users, and Popula doesn’t anticipate that will change, especially not now that so many of the big banks, hedge funds and Silicon Valley investors have invested so heavily in the future of blockchain technology. Each week that passes, practically, ConsenSys is launching a new token project. Civil will be one among many thousands of token launches, so there’s nothing novel in its approach on that front.

As for tax issues in the U.S., crypto users are likely to continue to be taxed as we are on any other income or investment.

Why supporting Civil-based publications is supporting the future of journalism

Civil supports good journalism for a whole matrix of reasons: it’s ad-free, the archiving is distributed and incorruptible, and the platform is specifically designed to be discouraging to Cambridges Analytica or “Russian” type meddling in a number of different ways (for example, we’re taking steps to discourage automated registration).

The Civil platform also supports a microtipping economy. It’s possible to microtip not only journalists, but everyone in the system (for example, a commenter whose contribution you found valuable, as an author or reader). Separately, everyone in the system — including even passive subscribers — benefits materially, a little bit, from using Civil, through a program of shared, pooled microtips; this is a revolutionary use of a self-contained crypto economy that is as yet unappreciated, and one that neatly instantiates some of Jaron Lanier’s groundbreaking ideas from Who Owns the Future?

If you are a writer: Imagine your most popular pieces, the ones that are still being read, able to gather tips from readers, many years past the original date of publication. This is an all-new payment model for our profession.

Protecting the integrity of world journalism. Blockchain systems are decentralized. Civil publications, therefore, will not be vulnerable to any random billionaire who happens to take a dislike to us, as was the unfortunate fate of Gawker, DNAinfo and Gothamist. Instead, our work will be distributed across the network of Civil supporters and thus beyond the reach of any one individual or entity. Our intention is that even in countries where the Internet is controlled, subscribers will be able to access Civil through a stable distributed network. Alterations to our archive can be made only through addenda, never through erasure. Attempts at censoring or deletion will be an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole.

Helping to create a journalism economy in which advertisers, corporate interests and venture capitalists have no control. For years publishers have struggled to come up with a business model which frees them from the compromises they have been forced to make with advertisers, platform companies and corporate overlords. Civil’s decentralized marketplace provides a framework for this freedom, permitting publishers and journalists to connect more directly with the reading public and with one another in a number of novel ways. Eventually, we believe there will be enough of us publishing, writing and reading on the Civil platform that journalism becomes a thriving economy in itself, totally mainstream and completely independent of outside commercial interests.

Journalists who publish at a Civil newsroom aren’t compensated through pageviews, in other words, so all the evils of the ad-based model will disappear. No more ad networks, prerolls or popups. No more Gamergates. No more slaving for the crumbs dropped down to us from the tables of Google and Facebook. Instead, accountability to our readers alone, and the chance to preserve our First Amendment rights and a free press for future generations.

We would love for you to be part of this effort. We invite you to visit blog.joincivil.com and join Civil’s mailing list for more information on Popula and other newsrooms over the coming weeks. Contact me at [maria] [at] [popula] [dot] [com] if you’d like to know more.