Desperate Times Call for… Micropayments?

by Emily W. Sussman

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Image via

Take heart, desperate news media companies: Just because a decent micropayment system hasn’t taken off at any point in the last decade doesn’t mean a good one — if and when it came along — wouldn’t hold the panacea to your economic woes.

David Sarno’s LA Times column this week urges newspapers to quit complaining and start doing some “mad science” in the form of converting their free-riding online readers to (gasp!) paid readers.

Most news media sites, Sarno points out, have skulked away from charging readers, mainly because a particular piece of content is usually available elsewhere on the web for free (and advertisers will flock accordingly, they fear). But what if, instead of demanding some huge flat fee for a subscription, a reader was only required to pay for what he/she actually looked at? Yes, it might be annoying on the user’s end to be continually metered and/or asked multiple times for payment (however small), but desperate times call for desperate measures, Sarno asserts.

Sarno poses the obligatory Big Question to his readers: Would you pay for content? But that may be beside the point. If, as he suggests, news companies start pooling their efforts (and walling their content) behind a unified micropayment system, his readers would have no choice. 

Total comments on Sarno’s column: 66

Yes, I’d micropay for news articles: 24 
General sentiment of supporters: Yes, I’d concede to pay for online news if virtual charity becomes the only feasible way to save dying news-gathering institutions. But if I paid, I’d expect them to be ad-free.

Don’t nickel-and-dime me: 27
General sentiment of naysayers: Try offering content that’s actually worth paying for, or that isn’t available somewhere else for free, and maybe we’ll talk. Better yet, try harder to make the ad model work and we won’t have to have this conversation.

I’ll pay, but I’d rather do it in a subscription than via micropayments: 9
General sentiment of conditional paid-model supporters: The information is valuable to me, so yes… after all, I already subscribe to the print version. Just don’t make me pay twice for the same content across different platforms.

Micropayment price point suggestions: 3 (1 vote for 2 cents per article, 1 vote for $1 per week, and 1 vote for Kindle’s $9.99 per month LA Times subscription.)


4 responses to “Desperate Times Call for… Micropayments?

  1. Heck, I’d make MACRO payments to keep the New York Times coming to my door. The article in this month’s Atlantic about the possible demise of the Times in print form scared me to death. I guess I’m just too old to understand why people believe there is a free lunch in journalism.

  2. Successful new media outlets are often collecting their micropayments in exchange for something: a t-shirt, a dvd, whatever. I wonder if that doesn’t bring in more than an almost charitable micropayment. The non-profic avenue is sensible in some cases. Other than that, micropayments might be OK, but I’d be interested in the tradeoffs of micropayments versus other creative ideas.
    Thanks for the IVP.
    BTW. Try the adCenter Publisher beta –

  3. A decent micropayment service has just arrived in the form of OneTouch On-line Purchasing. Check it out at or sign up at for 2 free downloads

  4. The idea of subscription based micropayments sounds very appealing. This should really be treated as an additional revenue stream, which can be technically implemented now, while IVP discussions continue to be that….just discussions.

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