Micropayments for Content

Micropayments for Content

Rita McGrath at Harvard Business Review has written a blog post on why she hates micropayments.  Micropayments are financial transactions involving very small sums of money (see Wikipedia). For online publishing, a small fee would allow you to view the content for a certain period of time or for a certain number of articles.

Personally, I'm not sold on the concept of micropayments for content which is probably why I was lured to Ms. McGrath's article in the first place.

The idea has been around a long time — at least since the mid-to-late 90s — with both supporters and detractors weighing in. Millions have been lost by companies seeking to capitalize on streams of micropayments, almost all of which eventually crashed and burned. Myself, when confronted with a request to chip in 99 cents for a one-time glimpse at an article or $2.99 for a week's worth (as some of my local newspapers are doing) — well, I close that window and go away.

The author of the article discusses further the importance for any payment system adopted to consider "how the payment link of customers' consumption chains fits into their total experience". Micropayment systems have a tall order in that they need to be seamless, transparent, and achieve inevitability. Even grimmer for publishers, it's not only the micropayment experience that needs to be improved but also the non-micropayment systems too.

For the past few years, I've paid a yearly subscription to the Wall Street Journal for the print publication and the online subscription. With my yearly renewal coming up very soon, I've decided to discontinue my online subscription to the WSJ. Why would I do that? There are some very basic reasons to why I'm dropping WSJ.com. I rarely find myself reading the online content of the WSJ. I either already read the stories in the print version of the WSJ or I have found myself already familiar with the news story because I read a similar story posted elsewhere online. Stopping by the WSJ.com, unlike CNN or FoxNews, never became a daily ritual for me.

But there is another reason to why I'm dropping my online subscription to the WSJ and it may be a significant enough of a reason as to also consider ridding myself of the print subscription too. The WSJ charges their customer twice to read the same content in both print and online. As a customer, I never could shake off the feeling that I was being ripped off with this specific business model. How dare they charge me for the same content just because it is being delivered in two formats! This thought has echoed almost continuously in my head for the past three years that I've subscribed to the WSJ.

Yes, I've heard the arguments from various publishers that the way WSJ wants to do business is the direction other online publishers are going to follow as well. Perhaps, I should just accept the new business model? But you know what? [Come closer so you hear me clearly. There you go.] The Internet give customers choices and as a customer I will always make the choice that best suits my needs not the publisher's needs. It amazes me that so many online publishers have yet to recognize that this old business model of customer choice exists in the online world too.

This isn't to say that I won't from time to time be willing to pay for content in micropayments. However, I think publishers really need to be careful when they experiment with their customers in order to look for a payment system that works for them. I've had a mixed love affair with online content replacing traditional news. Too many times, I don't feel like I'm a paying customer as much as I feel like I'm a news publisher's latest victim. I never like playing the role of the victim and content providers have a long way to go before they convince me they see me as a valuable customer. Publishers you have a lot of work ahead of you and you have been warned.

This article first appeared on CMS Report.