Vimeo's Virtual Tip Jar Invites Viewers To Chip In

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From teenagers strumming guitars in their bedrooms to big studio executives in Hollywood, there are a lot of people trying to figure out how to make money from online videos. The video-sharing site Vimeo has just added to their site a feature with a time-tested history in the real world — a virtual tip jar.

Electric-bass player Brian Compton has been a musician for 20 years. He plays with a three-piece band on a San Francisco street corner and hopes for tips from afternoon commuters. He estimates that less than 1 percent of passersby actually leave a tip.

Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor says that if Compton took a video of this performance and posted it online, he might do better. "There's a lot more people on Vimeo than there are on your average street," Trainor says.

Now, if someone watches a video on Vimeo and likes it, there's a button that functions like a tip jar. Hit the button and you can pay anywhere from $0.99 to $500 if you like the video. This is hardly the first time people have tried to solicit tips online, but Trainor says people are more open to it now. Just look at Kickstarter, a popular crowd fundraising website where users can contribute to creative projects.

"That relationship of directly connecting and supporting ... a creator is something that we really feel has just caught a lot of steam on the Internet," Trainor says.

The much larger video site YouTube lets artists make money by running ads along with their work — YouTube has more than 800 million unique visitors a month compared with Vimeo's 17 million. But Vimeo has a different vibe than YouTube — from it's very beginning it was geared more toward professionals.

Back on the street in San Francisco, musician Brian Compton is skeptical about the virtual tip jar. "You're not connecting to the customers," he says. "You're going through some Web designer and some corporate whatever to get them to get to you — whether it's a penny or a dollar."

Also, Vimeo takes a 15-percent cut of your tips.

Still, for video artists who don't have the option of playing on the street, Vimeo's virtual tip jar may provide an opportunity to make some money online.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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