Money, Art, Paid vs Free Content, and the Internet

A partial history of how artists, cultural producers, and content providers have experimented with funding and support models during the Internet Age.

Every new technology comes paired with a new crop of creative people who explore that technology. The earliest web code has ASCII art ebedded in it. After the film camera was released at the end of the 19th century, thousands of new photographers were born. Today, millions of people are Instagramming their lives. The shift to digital content and creativity, while ripe with explorations, has been mired with the problem of how to monetize and support that creativity. This timeline chronicles a partial history of how artists, cultural producers, and content providers have experimented with funding and support models during the Internet Age. The resulting picture shows a shift both in how people are looking for funding as well as who those funders are. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Ever since the days of BBSs, the internet has made it easier for us to find 'our' people. Some worry that the ease of information exchange has led to a more homogenized world, but I’d argue the opposite. We can now find the only other marker cap collector in the world and strike up a conversation. Niches can be hyper specialized and personalized because their reach is global. It isn’t a surprise, then, that the tools and platforms we use to support these sub-cultures will be equally idiosyncratic. Paywalls work for very dedicated users; Kickstarter works for pre-sale and projects with wide appeal; Sunday Soup thrives on community. Perhaps Net Art hasn’t found its tool yet, but the problem itself has been a [fertile ground]( for exploration.;xNLx;;xNLx;As the internet leaves its teenage years, standards and best practices for how we use the technology, where we draw the line on privacy, and how we support the people who make digital content and move our culture forward are unanswered questions. This is the fun part.;xNLx;;xNLx;_______________________________;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;Information for this timeline was compiled from a large variety of (mostly US-based) sources, but there are a couple of major contributors: ;xNLx;[This list]( about Net Art, compiled by Will Brand for mention in [this article]( in [Art Fag City]( ;xNLx;;xNLx;[This article]( about the history of media paywalls featured in [The Week]( ;xNLx;;xNLx;*Tiki-toki does not allow for ongoing projects, so anything with an end date of December 2013 means that it is ongoing.;xNLx;;xNLx;_______________________________;xNLx;;xNLx;Eleanor Hanson Wise is the co-founder and director of [The Present Group](, a project-based initiative that blurs the line between art production, commerce, advocacy, and philanthropy. She has developed a program for TPG that includes an [art subscription service](, a [web hosting service]( that funds an intermittent [arts prize](, and [Art Micro Patronage](, an experimental exhibition platform showcasing and funding artwork online. TPG is currently developing [The People's E book](, a people-funded online tool to allow everyone to make e-books easily and for free.

1996-06-01 00:00:00

Olia Lialina sells website code, but maintains right to control access to code.

My Boyfriend Came Back From The War (1996). (A lengthy interview about this process exists, conducted by Tilman Baumgartel.)

1996-12-01 13:02:24

Commissions from Non-profits

1997-01-01 00:00:00

Wall Street Journal implements "hard" online paywall

One of the first US national newspapers to implement paywall, only a year after launching $50/yr

1998-01-25 00:00:00 starts selling shares after incorporating years earlier

etoy.SHARE is a high risk investment with the prospect of profit in cultural values. "etoy.SHARE" is a radical transformation of art ownership in the digital age. The rigidly limited number of etoy.STOCKS available on the market replace the idea of the (physical) original art master piece. The art- and culture value etoy is limited to 640.000 etoy.SHARES (equals 100% of the etoy.CORPORATION).

1998-02-01 00:00:00 paywall

After a one year experiment with a $20 yearly subscription fee, drops its paywall. 20,000 people had subscribed, but the free area of the site was receiving ~400,000 monthly visitors.

1998-02-01 00:00:00

Get Sponsored/Commissioned by a big company.

Sheisido sponsors Cygnet, an online art gallery. Levis sponsors Redline, by Ben Benjamin of Altoids sponsors Mark Napier.

1998-02-03 06:15:47

Open Source Initiative Started

Directly following the announcement by Netscape that they were going to open up their source code, OSI (Open Source Initiative) was jointly founded by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens in late February 1998. It was conceived as a general educational and advocacy organization to execute the same mission agreed on at the Free Software Summit held in April 1998.

1998-04-01 00:00:00 passes 200,000 paying online subscribers

1998-10-01 00:00:00 membership model

For $25/year members gain access to extra editorial content, memebership lounge discussions, and other benefits, physical and event-based.

1999-01-01 07:52:12

Museums Commission new works, only accessible on their website

In the early 2000's, some museums have a short lived experiment with net art.

1999-08-16 00:00:00

MTAA develops a series of ideas and offers up the ideas for commissioning.

The “Website Unseen” project offered one hundred titles for art web sites that MTAA promised to build for $US 100.00 per website.

1999-09-23 12:37:52

Paypal product launch

Initially focused on "beaming" payments from palm pilots, Paypal becomes the primary way to transfer money on the internet for smaller producers.

2001-03-01 00:00:00 Premium

Exclusive content with no ads. "Only readers can keep the independent press alive," implores editor David Talbot.

2001-06-30 05:49:20

0100101110101101.ORG and EpidemiC sell a virus in limited edtions, while also "open sourcing" the code

The code appears in three different versions in the pavilion: It is printed in large letters on a banner (3:4m), it is to be seen on a computer-monitor (the computer cannot be operated), and, interestingly there is 10 golden CD-ROMs hanging framed at the wall, which also contain the virus.

2001-08-28 11:25:04

Creative Commons founded

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

2002-11-01 00:00:00 introduces paywall workaround

Non-subscribers can now watch a commercial and then access content.

2002-12-01 00:00:00

New Langton Arts sells symbolic pixels in traditional art auction, but on ebay.

"On the one hand; this auction follows the tradition of art organization fundriasing auctions by selling donated art works; but we are also updating that tradition with regards to and commenting on present issues of how valuation happens with a intangible art medium by not selling whole or discrete art works, but by offering instead conceptual portions (points, pixels, chapters) of art works." - Richard Reinhart

2002-12-01 00:00:00

Use Google Ads! by Cory Archangel

​Kurt Cobain's suicide letter with Google ads placed on it.

2003-08-01 00:00:00

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Section Paywall

Initiated with a price of $4.95/month or $39.95/yr along with free access for print subscribers, the paywall came down 21 months later. After a 61- 97% drop in readership of the affected section, the paywall is dismantled.

2004-02-08 18:07:09

National Network of Fiscal Sponsors formed

Marking a growing trend in non-profit policy towards fiscally sponsoring non-incorporated projects, in 2004 7 organizations came together to collaboratively define and build the relatively unknown, and greatly misunderstood, field of fiscal sponsorship within the nonprofit sector.

2004-09-15 23:22:04

Popularization of the idea of WEB 2.0

Popularized by Tim O'Reily at his O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference, the main idea behind Web 2.0 is that its sites may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where people are limited to the passive viewing of content.

2004-10-28 07:34:47

Artist Pension Trust

Artist Pension Trust is a model that allows artists to buy into shared future financial security by donating 20 works of art over a 20 year period. It was started by entrepreneur Moti Shniberg and economist Dan Galai with the intent to provide emerging and mid-career artists with a retirement plan.

2005-02-17 19:32:16

Kiva: micro-Lending

Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

2005-08-26 14:52:47

Million Dollar Homepage

Alex Tew, a student from Cricklade created The Million Dollar Homepage in August 2005 when he was 21 years old as a way to pay for his upcoming schooling. 5 months later, he was a millionaire. in Wiltshire, England, conceived Though not conceived as an art project, the attention it changed the way people thought about money, participation, and attention on the internet.

2005-09-01 10:23:14

Subscription Art Services

In the past decade there has been a rebirth of the subscription model for distributing and funding new artwork, gathering steam around 2010/11.

2005-09-18 00:00:00

New York Times, "TimesSelect"

Charging $49.95/yr or $7.95/mo, it allowed subscribers (and print subscribers) access to the newspaper's columists and archives. Though the project was considered a success, bringing in $10 million/yr, their "projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” -Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site. This is partially due to traffic resulting from the growth in search engines.

2006-07-13 02:42:03

Buy art prints online

Good printers and low overhead led to the birth of numerous art sites selling and distributing all level of artists' prints.

2007-03-01 23:30:29

Food supporting Art: Soup Network

The Soup Grant is a grassroots model for funding small to medium sized creative projects through community meals. The basic formula is that a group of people come together to share a meal and that meal is sold for an affordable price. All the income from that meal is given as a grant to support a creative project. Grant applications are accepted up until the meal, everyone who purchases the meal gets one vote to determine who receives the grant.

2007-04-13 01:22:41

Collective Foundation Grants

In it's one year activity period, The Collective Foundation, run by Joseph del Pesco and Scott Oliver, awarded three grants that raised their funds through non-traditional means.

2007-06-29 21:25:21

Regional Regranting Program initiated by The Andy Warhol Foundation with Southern Exposure

After years of planning, Southern Exposure Gallery and The Andy Warhol Foundation tried out a new way to reach and support the sizeable population of informal, non-incorporated artist collectives and their alternative gathering spaces, publications, websites, events and other projects.

2007-09-24 20:58:32

Tanda Foundation

The Tanda Foundation was a peer to peer funding model for creative practice based off of the Mexican Tanda practice that rose out of an inability to use a banking system.

2007-10-01 00:00:00

Financial Times adopts a "metered" paywall

Pioneering a new model, readers get 10 articles for free before being asked to register, then are awarded with a further 30. After that, they are asked to pay an annual subscription of up to $325.

2008-04-22 21:24:17

Git Hub launch

GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects. As of May 2011, GitHub was the most popular open source code repository site.

2008-05-13 01:22:41

Co-Op Bar

by Steve Lambert for the Collective Foundation

2008-07-21 05:56:16

Launch of Apple AppStore

After a year of independent developers "jailbreaking" the iphone and creating their own applications, Apple launches the App Store in conjunction with the iphone OS 2.0.

2008-08-04 11:57:46

Gallery commissions artists to create GIFS, sells them in unlimited editions.

67 animated gifs made by 26 artists were sold for $20 each at the "Graphics Interchange Format" exhibition, curated by Laurel Ptak, at emerging Brooklyn art space Bond Street Gallery.

2008-09-15 15:19:28

Waffle Shop

Led by artist and professor Jon Rubin, the Waffle Shop was an art project, a restaurant, a community space, a talk show, and conglomeration of multiple funding sources - benefitting the community at large, the city, the students of Carnegie Mellon, and Rubin himself.

2008-12-01 19:40:02


Indiegogo released first to the film industry, and soon after opened up to all creative industries. They allow you to keep your funding, even if you don't make your goal, but there is a higher fee applied to the funds.

2009-01-01 06:25:45

Make it into an iphone/ipad app

The birth of the App Store in 2008 opens up a new funding and distribution platform for technology-based artists.

2009-02-01 22:33:07

Amazon FPS (Flexible Payments System)

Amazon FPS (Flexible Payments Service) is an Amazon Web Service that allows the transfer of money between two entities. The service was launched as a limited beta in August 2007, and later in February 2009 was promoted to General Availability. Kickstarter was built on this platform.

2009-02-08 18:07:09

Time/Bank by eflux

a platform initiated by Julieta Aranda & Anton Vidokle, where groups and individuals can pool and trade time and skills, bypassing money as a measure of value. Time/Bank is based on the premise that everyone in the field of culture has something to contribute and that it is possible to develop and sustain an alternative economy by connecting existing needs with unacknowledged resources.

2009-04-29 19:32:16


Advancing crowd funding to a whole new level, kickstarter's launch and visibility has changed the way people fund and discover projects. At time writing, Kickstarter has pulished that more than 4.2 million people have pledged over $655 million, funding more than 43,000 creative projects through their platform.

2009-09-23 23:34:21

First Art Prize in Grand Rapids, MI

2010-02-01 01:25:18

Tradeschool 1

Started by the founders of OurGoods, the first iteration of Trade School occured at GrandOpening in the Lower East Side of New York City. Over the course of 35 days, more than 800 people participated in 76 single session classes. Classes ran for 1, 2, or 3 hours and ranged from scrabble strategy to composting, from grant writing to ghost hunting. In exchange for instruction, teachers received everything from running shoes to mixed CDs, from letters to a stranger to cheddar cheese.

2010-02-01 23:17:16

Rafaël Rozendaal starts selling web works through the transfer of code and domain name, along with owner's contractual agreement to maintain online presence.

His development of an art website sales contract has become a new standard. Though the works are exhibited freely on the internet, only one person can own them.

2010-02-01 23:30:29

Web Hosting to Support Artists

The Present Group launches a Web Hosting Arm that uses the profits to fund an annual arts prize, The Present Prize

2010-03-18 19:40:02


A Swedish based microdonation provider founded by Peter Sunde and Linus Olsson.

2010-04-17 21:08:37


Paul Chan starts publishing artist e-books in 2010 through Badlands Unlimited. starts commissioning and selling e-books in 2012.

2010-11-01 05:40:32

Ourgoods Barter Network

OurGoods is a community of artists, designers, and cultural producers who want to barter skills, spaces, and objects.

2010-11-03 14:14:40

Make it into clothes.

Money, Art, Paid vs Free Content, and the Internet

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