Micropayments is a topic that provokes strong responses across the industry, from those with long-held beliefs that it will go some way to saving journalism, to the sceptics who don’t believe the numbers will ever add up.

Following the news that Blendle, one of the more well-known micropayment pioneers, is choosing to shut its pay-per-article option to focus on subscriptions, the Media Voices team staked out their take on micropayments in this week’s news round-up.

Read on to find out how much we have in common in just 200(ish) words.

Chris Sutcliffe:

The failure of these high-profile schemes is not proof that micropayments will never work for news, just that their time has not come yet. Paying for items digitally – whether through Amazon or any number of payment methods – has tended to disincentivise small purchases, and the bleedover from that, I believe, is still affecting how consumers approach micropayments.

Possibly schemes like Agate’s digital ‘wallet’ based approach will remedy that, but possibly not. Additionally, as with publishers having yet to figure out best practice for acquisition when it comes to subscriptions, so too is more experimentation around the best model for micropayments required.

Whether the future of micropayments looks like a tip jar, a downloadable content-like model, or something else entirely, is still to be determined.

Esther Kezia Thorpe:

I think there’s a place for micropayments in the publishing ecosystem. They’re not going to save publishing, but I believe there’s hope for them as part of a revenue strategy, and that no one really in the west has cracked it yet.

There’s got to be a way that we can monetise some more of the 95% of people who won’t ever subscribe to a publication. For example, I wouldn’t subscribe to WIRED US (I’m in the UK) but I’d love to tip or donate to them for their amazing Facebook exposes. Same with the New York Times, which does some great media stuff but which doesn’t write enough relevant content for me to want to pay each month for them.

And this I think falls a bit more into the Twitch model, where casual tipping is hugely successful. The Guardian has done something fairly similar, although not with micropayments, but donations nonetheless.

I don’t necessarily think that the idea of paying 50 pence for an article will ever catch on over here, because the faff of setting up the payment just isn’t worth it. But if all the publishers who are setting up paywalls were more flexible with them and did say, day or week passes for a few quid, we’re verging on micropayment territory that could actually be successful in making money from drive-by readers who just want to read that one thing.

Given the increasing globalisation of media audiences, I think this sort of model is inevitable, once paywall fatigue kicks in. Something between micropayments and subscriptions.

P.S. If you don’t think micropayments will ever happen, look at how WeChat has enabled tipping for creators and publishers in Asia. We’re actually behind on this.

Peter Houston:

I think paywall fatigue is key. As competition grows for subscription dollars, falling retention rates for more established players and slow take up for newer players is all but inevitable.

A slow-down in digital subscriptions growth will lead to the development of a more mixed payment ecosystem with publishers trying to monetise the audience relationships they have established.

It’s possible to see individuals with one or two cherished subscriptions in news or niche interests, maybe one all-you-can-eat deal that gives access to a broad range of content and possibly taking up time-limited passes that would give them access to content for a day, a week or a fortnight when they travel or are on vacation.

The one aspect of this that’s still missing is mechanisms to facilitate low-value impulse buys.

The problem at the moment is the tech isn’t easy enough – it needs to develop to enable all sorts of buying behaviours with what Thomas Baekdael calls a short transaction cycle… That old web design principle of don’t make me think.


Tweet us @mediavoicespod if you agree, or if you think we’re wrong!