The newspaper and magazine industry is clamoring for Internet micropayments. They've realized that nobody is going to pay even 50 cents to read a news article - what they probably don't realize is that people might not even pay 50 cents a year for full access to everything.
Trust me, I'd love to see micropayments work. If I could just get 1 red cent for a full years access to this site, I'd net an extra $20,000 a year. A whole dime per year would be $200,000. Yeah, seriously: imagine the kind of money the big web sites could pull in. Bazillions, without even charging very much at all to individuals.
But - nobody wants to pay nuttin.
Ungrammatical as that may be, it's reality. While you might theoretically be willing to pay me a penny a year, it wouldn't just be me: every site you visited would want to hit you up for that much or more and those pennies (or dimes) would start adding up. Unless you really, REALLY need the site (like this site, right?), you are going to balk - not merely because of the money, but also because of the annoyance and the time it would take.
We envision the typical scenario to be where a user pays a monthly fee for access to a wide-ranging package of premium content. One example of a "package" might be full access to the WSJ [Wall Street Journal]; another "package" might include the top 10 business publications. Google believes that there is real power and benefit to publishers in providing these sorts of broad, multi-publication access passes.
Presumably a site like this would be bundled up with a bunch of other D-List sites or offered as a promotional add-on: "Look! You get access to Ars Technica, Mikes' Hardware and over three hundred other technicals for just $12.00 per year!"
Ars and Mike's would get $11.00 and the rest of us would beg for the pennies.
Or, for those who dared to go it alone, Google might offer something similar to
the way they help us sell books now. They'd provide a preview and a way to pay for full access:
In the case of premium content, the syndicated content would only contain
a free preview, and would embed monetization units for micropayment and subscription.
There's nothing that says these models can't mix: a preview page could also make you aware of a package bundle that would give you what you were after today plus a year's subscription.
But will it work? I think there will be resistance from both the consumers and the providers. Consumers aren't going to embrace a subscription model unless all the free sources dry up - it's Gresham's law for the web. In turn, the content providers aren't going to risk switching their model unless they see the same trend. I just can't see this happening easily. Oh, the newspapers will try it, that's a given. But after a few months of drastically diminished traffic, will they be able to stick to it? It will be a game of holding your breath under water: sooner or later somebody will come up for air and the rest will follow instantly, gasping and sputtering.
I found it notable that Google doesn't see this as replacing advertising:
Syndication through affiliate networks may be another option for distribution and monetization of
premium content. This mechanism has proven to be successful in the overall e-commerce
system and may also be successful in the context of premium content. News publishers can
decide to package their content (or a rich preview thereof) with appropriate branding and
advertising units and encourage third parties (e.g., other newspapers) to host the syndicated
content package, exposing it to a broader audience. Publishers would derive revenue from
advertisements embedded in the syndicated package, as well as traffic from the embedded links
back to the publisher. In the case of premium content, the syndicated content would only contain
a free preview, and would embed monetization units for micropayment and subscription. In
addition to providing e-commerce and advertising platforms to support publishers' content,
Google can provide the technology for convenient syndication and embedded hosting of the
content-monetization components on third party sites.
Well, I can tell you this: if I could make even $20,000 a year from syndication, I'd drop all the advertising and I think most content publishers would feel the same way. Newspapers wouldn't - too greedy and set in their ways. Nor would Google WANT lots of sites trading this for advertising, but I think we little guys would follow that path..
It's going to be interesting. The experiment WILL be made. How you and I react to it will determine what happens next. If we play along with the newspapers, other sites will follow and eventually the whole web could be subscription based.