The corruption of micropayments

Greg Horowitz raises an issue with micropayments that I haven’t seen discussed, one I’d think the heavy-duty journalists would be fretting about: If readers can buy individual articles, then won’t their writers be judged on the revenue they bring in and won’t their editors be motivated to assign more of what sells. Now I believe journalism needs market pressures to be responsive to its market. But every time anyone talks about giving the public what they want, some purist will respond worrying about the corruption of that: the Paris Hilton factor.

  • zywotkowitz

    Not the “Paris Hilton” factor … the “Maureen Dowd/Seymour Hirsh” factor.

    Noone will pay for gossip, since by definition gossip will start flying around the net on its own.

    But while people might be willing to read a new “quality” article by Michael Lewis, it’s not clear that they are willing to pay for dull “objective” news, or non-partisan analysis.

    If micropayments for “serious” material could work, Olbermann and Beck or Dowd and Hirsh would be the ones most likely to succeed.

  • Robert M.

    Brand + Gossip = $ …not sure it’s enough.

  • http://mediaflect.blogspot.com/2009/04/crovitz-brill-in-new-pay-journalism.html Dorian

    This trend began the day pageviews started being measured. All over — not just at Gawker — stories started to be evaluated on how many “hits” (terminology has since changed) they got.

  • http://www.joemescher.com Joe Mescher

    Then again…

    Micropayments could also ‘Free’ journalists into the world of ‘Freelancing’, turning them into paid guns for hire, working for multiple publications…

    The market will determine what sells, right Jeff?

  • http://www.y-rd.com Ellie Behling

    On one hand, some days I wish I was paid per story. I do find that people are more likely to actually click on the things I worked harder on. But on the other hand, I still agree with this post and think paying journalists this way is a corrupt way to do things. I don’t like the territory it gets into. There are boring stories we need to write as responsible journalists, and if no one paid me for them, I’d stop writing them.

  • http://www.tomatom.com Ed

    Already we are seeing a migration on the web to only seeing the top stories on websites. What about the interesting quirky and niche stories?

  • http://cellar.org Undertoad

    Please read Clay Shirky on micropayments.

    http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/why-small-payments-wont-save-publishers/

    The entire micropayments discussion is a waste of time. They won’t work. They never work.

  • http://alexandraschmidt.com/ Alex

    a “purist” like you, jeff??!

    add this to the running list of of veiled defenses of the “old way.”

    can’t wait for these contradictions to be sussed out in the light of day. then, and only then, might we hope to come up with a true new model for journalism.

  • Tobe Berkovitz

    Wow. Just like TV news.

  • http://marketingbyjake.blogspot.com Jake Posey

    If I recall in the book, that is the beauty of Google and the Internet. Journalists are no longer held hostage by the local audience. The journalist can now reach a worldwide audience. Instead of selling stories by the article, newspapers, though, could adopt the Skype model where the readers buy credits and they are used up on their story reading.

    Digg should be the first one to adopt this model. Give the option to the journalists to charge readers for their stories. It would attract mainstream journalists to their site and let the crowds decide if a story is worth paying for in the mix of a bunch of free stories. Publishers could also post pay-for articles on the Digg website in hopes of opening up a new revenue stream.

  • http://www.networkcultures.org/geert Geert Lovink

    Not if the payments go to the author directly. Micropayment systems can prevent the old broadcast media danger of Paris Hilton by going P2P from day one.

  • Marco_Lugon

    Is the effect (on journalists) of micro-payments really that different than the affect from page views? If no one reads a story you wrote, you won’t get any page views, and your editor will be disinclined to have you write more stories … they’ll send it to the person who is getting page views for their work. The main difference is that you’re making people pay it up front; rather than later (via their ‘presumed’ attention to the ads).

  • Ryan

    The fear of micropayments infiltrating journalistic decisions is the same as the fear of the page view. As an online editor, I’m careful not to let page views cloud journalistic decisions, nor will I use purchased articles to make editorial judgments should we go to a micropayment model. There will likely be sites, and some successful ones, who leverage payments for stories, but I think the more established journalistic organizations will prevent that from happening, much like the page view.

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  • http://www.znak-it.com Greg Golebiewski

    Journalist who fear the market and micropayments remind me of US teachers who for years have been fighting any proposal of “standardized” measures of their work. No exams, no peer review and certainly no vouchers. It seems that poor journalist just like poor teachers will always be the first to fight the market.

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Ryan wrote: “As an online editor, I’m careful not to let page views cloud journalistic decisions”…
    Let me get this straight… You’re saying that you don’t let your user’s desires or evidence of their needs influence what you write about? You write what you think they *should* be reading, not what they tell you they *will* read? That might make you feel good, but does it do anything useful for your readers?
    This seems like a means for guaranteeing that you’ll whatever audience you might still have…

    Your attitude reminds me of endless efforts to get my 16 year-old daughter to eat her vegetables… I put them on her plate because I think she *should* eat them even though she doesn’t want them and rarely eats the things anyway. The result is that she only has dinner with me because its free and she has no other choice. If she had a choice, she’d probably eat elsewhere — in some world where they only had steak, potatoes and ice cream and didn’t even know that broccoli existed. In any case, what I can do as a parent is very different from what you should be doing as a journalist.

    bob wyman

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  • OkinKun

    I recently read the book “Rainbows End”, and in it is portrayed a future where micro-payments are common for almost everything you do, in relation to the digital world… Thankfully I doubt this will ever become the norm. The book was written a few years back, during the time when micropayments were being tried out by various online companies. Thankfully, for the most part, all attempts have completely failed.
    Users hate micropayments, and it is impossible to create a micropayment system that they like, due to the nature of such a thing.

    It has nothing to do with the content creators liking it or not, the users will have the end say in this. And simply put, they wont participate in systems that use micropayments, microtransactions, or any other system that charges you frequent small fees for useless digital junk.

  • http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/ Tom Foremski

    Virtual cash could be used by newspapers as a surrogate micro-payments system for online content. For example, local advertisers could pay readers with virtual cash in exchange for viewing ads or filling out a survey. A local furniture store might offer virtual cash to readers of the “Home” section of a newspaper.

    And newspapers could use virtual cash to pay for reader generated content. Newspapers could create a real economy around trading news services and content.

    This is a much more engaging business model than selling an ad – a marketing message sitting inside a box – easy to ignore and increasingly ineffective.

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