Content micropayment – the savior of online news?

Last May The Guardian reported that media mogul Rupert Murdoch intends to start charging for access to News Corporation‘s newspaper websites within a year, saying, “The current days of the internet will soon be over.” He believes this change will offer a solution for he considers a “malfunctioning” business model. Many agree with him. We’re seeing newspapers fold and journalists and editors out of work. The situation isn’t being helped by citizen journalism – news reported by non-professional journalist/bloggers, the majority of whom are unpaid.

The news – in whichever form – is now being offered for free, and the concept of paying for it has people up in arms. But, if we remember, just a few years ago we willingly paid for this content. Has the internet made us cheap? Do we no longer value the role of journalism in society?

Walter Isaacson, author of February’s Time article “How to save your newspaper“, believes that the future of journalism is at a crossroads: either we rejig the current online news business model to save it or we keep the one we’ve got now – asking professional work to go unpaid – and see the institution go down in flames. He says, “I am hoping that this year will see the dawn of a bold, old idea: getting paid by users for the services they provide and the journalism they produce.” He says that the current system is profitable only for search engines, portals and news aggregators who “piggyback” on the content created by others. He also criticises ad-based revenue models as toxic since they make content providers cater to the advertisers rather than the readers.

He suggests users pay for content through micropayments according to the content accessed, much like the iTunes system. He reasons, “We have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast.” He concludes:

This would not only offer a lifeline to traditional media outlets but also nourish citizen journalists and bloggers. They have vastly enriched our realms of information and ideas, but most can’t make much money at it. As a result, they tend to do it for the ego kick or as a civic contribution. A micropayment system would allow regular folks, the types who have to worry about feeding their families, to supplement their income by doing citizen journalism that is of value to their community.

In February, Isaacson appeared on the US’s The Daily Show to talk about his article. Although it was basically a regurgitation of his article, host Jon Stewart makes an interesting suggestion for the industry’s business model to mirror that of cable news TV which charges for syndication. 

Being a bit of a cheapskate, I love that the internet is a virtual free-for-all. Paying for clicks!? It will take some getting used to, but I think it’s the only reasonable solution we have for saving journalism and a big chunk of the publishing industry.



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2 responses to “Content micropayment – the savior of online news?

  1. As I’m doing journalism in another class, I’m familiar with this debate. I hate the idea of the newspaper disappearing, as I’m an old school type of person, but charging for articles online is equally uncomfortable to me. A lot of the beauty of the Internet is its accessibility for everyone — the idea that everyone can access the same things, with no one left behind (as long as they have a computer with an Internet connection, of course). I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    • reneespeak

      Hm, that’s a good point. It’s great for people who can’t afford to pay for news, but I still don’t think it’s fair for those who work so hard creating it.

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