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Linktree intros Payment Lock, paywalls creators can put around individual pieces of media

Looking for more ways to grow its revenue, Linktree knows the way to creators' hearts and wallets: by building more tools to help them make money. Today the "link in bio" startup, which has some 30 million users and drives around 1.5 billion monthly unique visits to linked content, is launching the latest of these efforts. It's introducing "Payment Lock," which will let creators build payments links -- locks -- around content and other items that otherwise might not cost anything to use, or might not even be chargeable on the originating platform, but might represent something valuable to a creators' fans and followers.

These could for example cover booking appointments on Calendly, early access to tracks or playlists or videos on platforms like Spotify or YouTube, charges to join communities on Discord, Telegram or WhatsApp, boards on Pinterest, a newsletter or podcast and so on.

Update: Well, it looks like Linktree got a little ahead of itself! After I published this (based on conversations with the company), I've been told that "the launch of Payment Lock is a beta, and its functionality is limited currently to Classic Links, i.e. simple links to items such as files, PDFs, that are not part of a larger platform integration." That means no specific companies, including those mentioned above, have been contacted for integrations at this point -- but it also means the questions below still stand for when and if they ever do. Use cases it mentions include music, videos, playlists, interest boards, charges to join messaging groups, workout plans, recipes, documents, photos, writing, and consultations. Original article continues below...

The gap that Linktree is looking at plugging is pretty widespread. Many of the platforms where creators post content today are based around "free" content, yet those platforms already have ways of gating that content, such as with password protection, or "secret" (e.g. unindexed) links. At the same time, creators themselves believe some of that content has enough demand that it could be consumed at a price. The idea here is to provide a lock around that unindexed content that people pay to open to access whatever it might be. Here's an example of how it would work:

Payment Lock would not be used for subscriptions, but rather one-time transactions. Currently the two partners Linktree is working with to power Payment Lock are PayPal and Square, which will let a user charge up to $150 through a link access.

As per the company's previous rules against linking to adult content, Payment Lock cannot be used to sell or distribute material of that nature.

As with some of the other extras that Linktree has built over the years, use of Payment Lock for now is only for those paying for its premium Pro tier. The Pro tier has launched other money-making tools before, such as monetization links for e-commerce experiences. It also lets creators "build community around ownership" of NFTs, and has the potential to add in more by way of a marketplace it launched this past summer.

Notably, Linktree itself doesn't seem to be taking a cut with a transaction fee around Payment Locks, and it's touting this as a sweetener for using it.

Buyers who pay for content access via a Payment Lock will have access to that content for as long as it exists on the platform where it was created, or on the internet at large, even if the Linktree link gets deleted, Linktree tells me.

It's not clear whether the platforms themselves have had a say in the building of Payment Lock, or what they might think of a third party building monetization into content on its platform without getting a cut of that. I imagine that if Payment Lock becomes well-used, that is one problem that could arise. Another is that the platforms themselves might try to build that à la carte charging themselves, natively.

CEO Alex Zaccaria believes that even if some platforms are making it easier to see links to other sites or a collection of other locations, there remains an opportunity to build a central repository. "Creators are still using Linktree as the place to be able to centralize all of their content, to be able to unify everything they are online," he said in an interview with TechCrunch.

And now, those repositories will have links to specific content fans can buy.

For now, it's worth a punt for Linktree because the Aussie startup has a tall order ahead of it.

Earlier this year Linktree was valued at $1.3 billion in a Series C round of funding. And so while it was created almost by accident -- Linktree was born out of a roadblock that the co-founders had when helping manage musicians' profiles online, not as a standalone business per se -- it has very much reoriented itself to making money out of the giant audience it has amassed. That may well feel like an even more urgent mandate, given that expectations from VCs have shifted and become much stricter.