Micropayments: the only equitable way to reward web publishers

The more time I spend writing and publishing articles on the internet, the more I realize that trying to get paid for my efforts through advertising is not a sustainable way to make a living. I get decent web traffic, but that’s not enough. Have you seen the going CPM rates these days? I’d need to get ridiculous amounts of traffic in order to see any sort of worthwhile profits, and even then, I’m not so sure the costs of running my website wouldn’t trump my revenues or at least take a big bite out of them.

The current system is messed up. Most web publishers don’t get tons of traffic, which also means they don’t make money. They’re lucky if they break even with things like Google AdSense or affiliate programs or other some other ad programs. They, like me, don’t want to load up their websites with ads, left and right, top and bottom, inbetween the lines and everywhere else. They just want to worry about writing and publishing informative articles. They don’t want to spend ¾ of their time (or more) advertising their site and getting their buddies to vote up their posts on Digg or StumbleUpon or who knows where else. They’d much prefer to not have that headache at all, and to only write and publish. But they can’t, because the system is faulty. It only rewards the very few who get the most traffic.

Do you want to know why newspapers aren’t making money these days? Why they’re going under? Sure, blame shoddy journalism, blame whatever else, but the truth is they relied mostly (or solely) on advertising for their revenues, and look where they are now. Subscription fees were kept artificially low, and as circulation numbers started to go down, they couldn’t charge their regular rates for ads, and revenues went down fast, in a vicious spiral that fed itself.

Had a decent micropayment system been in place, the web would be a flourishing, profitable, preferred way to make a living nowadays, instead of the insane, overloaded, “buy, buy, buy, look at me, no look at me, no, I’m better, wait, my titles are more interesting, I get more traffic, I make more money, I know how to increase your traffic, I have more free stuff” nuthouse that it has become. Everyone’s desperate to publish more articles, to make the titles and text more titillating, to grab an extra click from you here and there, to make you vote or like or bookmark their stuff so they can supposedly get more clicks and votes and likes and bookmarks and more and more and more meaningless crap that leads nowhere and contributes to nothing.

Unfortunately for the world and the web, micropayments were talked to death, even in the early days of the internet, and all the fancy initiatives went nowhere. A lot of people were wronged because no one bothered to get things going. Just think, all this time, web publishers of all sizes could have been making an honest living! Fortunately, this nasty situation can still be set right.

Here’s my micropayment initiative. I think it’s workable, and more than that, it would allow a lot of people to make a decent living by doing what they love: writing, not hustling and wasting their time pushing their site on people.

First, we need all the browsers and feed readers to work with the companies or organizations that would process micropayments. Whether the functionality is built in or added through plugins is up to the browser makers and feed reader makers to decide. Users would enter their account information directly in their browser’s or feed reader’s preferences, and their micropayment accounts would be automatically charged every time they access a micropayment-enabled article, on the web or via a feed. There’d be no logging in every time, like with PayPal, which is a hassle when all you want to do is read an article.

Second, search engines and websites would display the price of the article next to its title, just like they’d display the site or the date the article was written. The browser itself would display an extra icon when such a web page is accessed, just like it displays a lock when HTTPS websites are accessed. Perhaps a dollar sign or some other currency sign would show up next to the website’s address. If the user would move their mouse over the button, the price would be displayed, similarly to the behavior of the alt or title tags.

Third, and this would happen behind the scenes, the browser itself would read the price tag of the article the user is reading, and would send that information along to the micropayment service along with the user’s account information. Notice this means the user could use their micropayment service of choice — so there wouldn’t have to be just one — and the browser or the website wouldn’t care. The micropayment service would then transfer the price of the article from the user’s account to the web publisher’s account. The transaction fees would best be charged in bulk, per 50 or 100 transactions or so, and would be deducted from the web publisher’s balance.

That’s it! It’s so simple I just don’t know why it hasn’t yet been implemented.

As for the price of the articles, each web publisher could set their own price. I propose 5 cents per view. When candy and soda costs 75 cents to $1 or more, I think no one would balk at paying 5 cents to read a good article. But let’s have a look at some proposed traffic figures just to give you an idea how 5 cents can add up.

Say you get 5,000 views per month. That’s a modest amount of traffic, but at 5 cents per view, you’d still make $250 at the end of the month. That’s nothing to scoff at. Tell me if you wouldn’t be happy with that money in your bank account!

How about someone who gets 25,000 views per month? That’s a fairly decent amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $1,250 per month. That’s already a line of income. That’s money in the bank you could be using to pay your bills, but you’re not seeing it because micropayments don’t exist yet. Isn’t that infuriating?

How about someone who gets 50,000 views per month? That’s a nice amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $2,500 per month. That’s practically a decent salary right there. If you keep your expenses low, you might even be able to live off that in the US. If you lived in another country where living expenses are less, you could live nicely on that money.

The best part is this: it isn’t free money, and it isn’t money that could be yanked away if your advertisers get pissed off with something you wrote. This is money each and every web publisher has rightfully earned through their work, and yet there is no micropayment system out there to make this possible. This means all the web publishers out there are currently being cheated out of money they could be earning. Isn’t it ridiculous and completely unfair? Think of newspapers, where dedicated journalists work, day in and day out, and who have to close when they could focus their efforts on web publishing and turn a very nice profit with their traffic!

What about developing countries? I suppose the price for reading an article could differ based on your country of origin. The micropayment processor would automatically charge those countries less per article, say 30 to 40 to 70% less, depending on their general economic status.

What about subscriptions? They’re nice but not sufficient. They’re nice because you can predict your income more reliably when you know you’ll have so many subscriptions coming in every month, but not sufficient because users don’t pay per usage. If they end up spending less time on your site, then they’ll feel like they’ve wasted their money on the subscription. Also, just in case you haven’t noticed, subscription numbers are down everywhere these days. When money gets tight, subscriptions are among the first things to go.

What about goodwill, and doing stuff for free? That’s nice, and I already do plenty of stuff for free, but the problem with goodwill is that this world still functions with money. When was the last time you paid your mortgage with goodwill? When you buy your groceries, do you pay with a smile and a hug?

Micropayments are the best way to go forward. I wish people would stop talking about them already and someone would get going with the idea. It goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that I for one would be glad to work with any legitimate company that wants to start processing micropayments.

5 Comments

  1. We live in a world of consumers, don’t we?  Our most basic assumption is that value is assigned to units of things.

    We cannot support digital products this way, however.  The price per unit gets driven so low that only the most popular product can generate enough income.

    This is the example of the music industry, of which I am a part.  Even before the net it was impossible to earn a living selling records unless you were a national star.  Yet thousands of good musicians could produce music of better quality than most of what was sold.  I contend that music, in the form of records or files, is underpriced.

    Market forces are responsible for this.  Market forces bring prices lower and homogenize product. I’m somewhat surprised that as a Romanian you don’t question the system which tends to lock out small players like you and me.

    I don’t support the unit sale model of music. I request that listeners sponsor my work directly. I ask that if they like whatever it is that I do they give me money to keep on doing it.

    It is truly a revolutionary idea. There is no one to one exchange of “product” for money, micro or otherwise. There has to be trust, but it keeps things honest.

    Visit my recording studio at http://www.steampoweredstudio.com to learn more about this.

    I found your site via the Atlantic cable post. I too am amazed art what they were able to do.

    Sent from my iPod

    Like

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