At last month’s media panel, somebody (I believe Adrienne Russell) mentioned the idea of micropayments for online media content. Such payments might help save the newspaper industry as well as help fund better bloggers.
The idea is that readers would pay a small fee — say a quarter or fifty cents — to read an article online. A popular story that drew a hundred thousand readers could do quite well for a publication.
Consider how the Wall Street Journal presents its news stories. It gives you the headline and the opening sentences, then asks you to subscribe. But I don’t subscribe to that paper, because I rarely want to read one of its news stories (and its opinions are available for free). But, if I could pay a small, one-time fee to read the occasional story, I’d probably pay that paper a few dollars per year. That’s not a lot, but multiplied by a few hundred thousand extra readers it could add up. Indeed, newspapers could offer monthly subscriptions for regular readers as well as micropayments for occasional readers.
At the media panel, Greg Moore of the Denver Post said a couple of things of particular interest to this issue. First, he said that newspapers might have to print less frequently. Second, readers would have to pay for online content, eventually, for newspapers to survive and thrive. I can envision a newspaper that goes to press, say, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The print edition would be stuffed with ads, comics, classifieds, crosswords — stuff people like to touch and feel. They would be big, perhaps nearly as many pages as seven days runs now, so subscription rates could at least stay even while production and distribution costs dropped dramatically. This would be the answer to traditionalists, who actually enjoy getting their hands dirty reading the paper. (I would as soon eat dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)
Under such a scheme, the Post would raise revenue from print and online ads, print and online subscriptions, online only subscriptions, and micropayments for individual stories. Publications that used micropayments would probably want to make some significant portion of its content available for free.
Bloggers (the kind with actual readers) and strictly online publications might also be able to employ micropayments for more ambitious stories.
The key to micropayments, of course, is to make them easy. A PayPal account might get the job done, or perhaps PayPal could adapt its existing program to make micropayments easier. Most people aren’t going to pay a small fee to read an article unless it’s as easy as clicking a button or maybe two.
One publication that has already combined ads, micropayments, and subscriptions is The Objective Standard. The publication shows the first part of an article online for no cost. To read the entire article, one must subscribe or “Purchase a PDF of this article” for, in this case, $4.95. (Micropayments for journal articles or specialty articles can be higher than for regular newspaper stories.)
The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of micropayments. Don’t saddle me with a long-term commitment. I have enough of those. Don’t litter my screen with pop ups and flashing lights trying to sell me crap. (That said, a third option to a subscription or a micropayment might be to watch, say, a thirty second video advertising some product before reading the article. I notice that Fox already does this for online video.) Just give me the option of paying a small fee to read something that interests me.
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