A macro approach to micropayments

Lots of folks were talking about micropayments for journalistic content this week (example).

One thing I’ve mulled over is a daily fee that’s quite small (say, 50 cents? Maybe even less). I think this is easier to accept than a fee per article; most articles are so short, and really, you might only read the first two paragraphs.

An entrance fee — say, to a park — lets you use almost everything in the park, for as long as you stay. Some special activities (boat rentals, campsites) might require an additional fee.

I’m imagining a kind of token ID, sort of like a gift certificate code. (These must be secure, because every e-commerce site uses them.) The difference would be that you could use the same code on any computer, logging on and off, for the specified period of time. (The code would expire after 24 hours, for example.)

The code could be in use by only one user at a time.

I like the idea that I could hand my code over to a friend when I had finished with it for the day. So what? It’s like pass-along readership.

I suppose the bean-counters would want to chain the code to a user ID, so no one else can free-ride on my code that I paid for. But I think that’s a wrongheaded approach. Bad enough you’re making people pay for something they expect to get for free.

By additionally tying it to a user ID, you would require people to surrender their privacy rights. I can tell you here and now, I won’t do it.

So let me be a good neighbor and share my copy with someone else. When I read a newspaper at breakfast in a diner, I always leave it behind for someone else to read.

6 Comments on “A macro approach to micropayments

  1. The biggest problem with all this I suspect is not necessarily the willingness of people to pay for journalism (though, to be honest, I think they are less and less inclined to do this), but making the effort to actually do so.

    Anything that puts up a barrier between user and content will drastically cut usage, be it registration, making people watch an advertisement before seeing the content they click through to, or making a payment.

    The payment thing is a double whammy. I may (possibly) be prepared to pay my 50c to read the New York Times. But I can’t put coins into my computer. So I must be a member of some payment mechanism (PayPal, Worldpay, whatever) and so be able to pay through that, using my passwords and such. Or I must have my credit card to hand and go through the palaver of using that. Really – it would have to be extra special and useful content for me to do that, and 99.9% of the time online it isn’t.

    The other issue is the difference between consuming paper-based content and online content. I may well pay $1 or so for a newspaper to read on a journey, or with a cup of coffee, but I’m much less inclined to do this for online content. Online, I’m much more likely to be reading an individual article that I find through search, or via a blog link. I don’t sit down and “read the paper” in the same way.

    Some attempts are being made to think around this problem. There are a few donation-based models now up and running that take money you put in a central pot and distribute it around web sites of your choice based on your actual usage. But as this is a charitable model, you’d have to be very motivated to set that up.

    Could you make this sort of model compulsory? Maybe. But I think it’s the breaking of the link between the payment and the physical object of the newspaper that’s at the heart of this.

    Breaking music albums up into MP3 tracks has destroyed consumers’ willingness to buy actual albums. Similarly, the breakup of content on the web has undermined consumers’ willingness to buy newspapers as newspapers online.

    So, unless any suggested payment mechanism can accommodate much more promiscuous online reading patterns, I think it’ll be a non-starter.

  2. You know, if something like that existed, I’d build a site that allows people to pass on their tokens. Massively. Think of a big cabinet full of tokens – somebody wants to read an article, they take the token. They’re done, they put it back. That’s the way computers use scarce resources, and it works wonders. It won’t work wonders on media industry’s accounts, though.

  3. @stk – That’s why the tokens have got to EXPIRE after the time limit. That’s also why the profit police would argue to tie the tokens to a user ID — so they can make you a criminal if you pass along your token within the time limit.

    Codes work for product registration as well as for online discounts and coupons. It has to be doable.

  4. I think if we make it an Apple app store type payment system it would remove much of the hassle of payment. When you register for the site you put in your credit card info in then when you want an article or access to the site your credit card just gets dinged without going through all the hassle of a regular purchase.

    It’s going to take a meeting of the minds with the major content providers and a willingness to accept declining traffic for a bit to change consumers web viewing mindset.

    Part of the problem is that payment has to be an all or nothing sort of affair. Lots of people have tried payment for premium content above the free stuff. I know I’m not willing to pay for it. I’ll just look at the free stuff and go on.

    Millions of hits that can’t translate to revenue doesn’t do anyone any good.

  5. I object to the per-article payment because — unlike a song I buy at iTunes — I am likely to read the article ONLY ONCE.

    Even paying one cent might make me feel angry if I paid and then, after viewing the full article, found that I did not want to read much more. This happens a lot when I’m reading newspaper stories. I start to scroll (on a Web page) and discover there’s nothing else of value down there — or on the subsequent pages. If I had paid for that one article, now I’m annoyed. And the next time I consider paying for an article? I remember that lousy experience and say “Forget it!”

    The difference with a song at iTunes — besides the dozens of times I will listen to it — is that I have already heard enough of the song, or I know the artist well enough, to be SURE that I will like this song.

    You don’t get that certainty if you buy an article on having read only the first graf or two.

  6. Pingback: This week in media musings: Advocacy journalism’s (bogus) failings and more paywall options | Mark Coddington

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