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.
Google thinks it has the answer: micropayments and syndication. This is from Nieman Journalism Lab:
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:
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:
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.
Or not. My bet is that it falls apart noisily.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2009-11-07 Anthony Lawrence
If you just want to use the system, instead of hacking on its internals, you don't need source code. (Andrew S. Tanenbaum)