Micropayments are a mistake

10 February, 2009

The other day some idiot suggested micropayments for online newspapers (single page version here).

Apparently it has only taken five years or so for everyone to forget that this was exactly the model many papers were adopting online in the early noughties.

Except of course that they may as well not have been because no-one could link to their content, meaning no-one saw it and meaning they were wholly reliant on the payment model of mostly existing customers for their income. For the printed press, subscription accounts for about 10% of their income, advertising the rest. They tried to reverse this with subscription-only model online. It failed.

There are some nice quotes in the abstract for this IEEE article Micropayments: An idea whose time has passed twice? but rather amusingly the rest of the content is behind a paywall which individuals don’t seem to be able to circumnavigate without becoming an IEEE member. I will let you guess whether I signed (and paid) up.

Of course, some of the concerns about payments really can be addressed but the fundamental issues just haven’t gone away.

There are some reasonably serious mistakes in TIME’s article but the biggest oversight for me is where Isaacson mentions Amazon’s Kindle in passing, saying how it’s great that people can now buy electronic content easily – well, the Kindle gives people two weeks’ free access to newspaper and magazine subscriptions including TIME. So how much are they making from people who’ve now decided to actually pay for that content (remember of course that on the Kindle you can only view the content Amazon allow you to view and not the whole web) ? My feeling is "not much" although I am happy to be shown the evidence otherwise. For the record, the Kindle version of TIME is $1.49 a month and is rated 2.5/5.

I have no idea whether newspapers are doomed are not, but I do know that trying to charge me on a basis that doesn’t let me read an article first or prevents linking for casual readers or doesn’t have excellent provision for fair dealing reproduction isn’t going to lead to me paying for online newspapers, it’s going to lead to better advertising-led "amateur" news sources and a bolstering of the BBC.

See other posts tagged with bbc general micropayments news and other posts made in February 2009.