Imagine a store that lets customers pay what they want. Now, picture that store as an online marketplace that features music, movies, photography and books. Toss in tools that pull together fans of the artists and you have a good idea of what Kroogi.com is all about.
The site, which has been popular in Russia and eastern Europe for more than two years is now going global, founder Miro Sarbaev said. The transplanted Russian technologist now calls San Francisco home, but he's really living in many cultures thanks to Kroogi.
Sarbaev is hoping to change the culture of how people pay for content on the World Wide Web, positioning Kroogi somewhere between the set pricing of online stores like Apple iTunes or Amazon.com and downloading content without paying.
He calls it the "gratitude economy," and its developed with some surprises.
"A lot of people give money. A lot more than I expected," Sarbaev said in a phone interview. "The average contribution is between three and five bucks, and about 20 percent of the people pay. I think that's fairly high."
He added that some artists are getting contributions from more than one-third of those downloading their content. The site now features many musicians, as Sarbaev said music creators are "having the most trouble in the new economy" and are the group most in need of immediate help.
Kroogi, however, is open to all creative types, including photographers, filmmakers, artists and writers. It's easy for artists to get their work into the store. Simply open an account, start a creative project and upload content. Artists also need a PayPal account, as it's the method of payment used by customers.
Kroogi keeps 15 percent of the donations.
Fans can browse artists on the site, listen to songs and download them to their computers. Optional payments happen during selection and download.
"Some artists reach out to their fans and supporters to assist them for funding their project," Sarbaev said. "(Artists say) we made it, and took it this far with our own means. Now we need help to take it two steps further."
He cited an example of a photographer who published a book and is reaching out to his audience to find a translator to help make the book available to an English-speaking audience. Sarbaev said some artists have gotten contributions of hundreds of dollars from their fans.
The site is also a virtual meeting place for fans that Sarbaev likens to a concert hall or movie theater where people discuss what they heard or saw.
"It's a different type of network, unlike Facebook or Twitter, where people talk, but not necessarily to each other," he said. "We believe in the power of large numbers. If a lot of people pay a little bit, everybody will benefit. Making it so attracts a lot of people."
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