The Micropayment Model

Why do we keep coming back to the micropayment business model?

The funding debate continues. And the word du week, this time around, is an oldie-but-goodie: “micropayments.” In the current issue of Time magazine, Walter Isaacson, echoing David Carr’s request that someone “invent an iTunes for news,” makes his case for “a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video for a penny, nickel, dime or whatever the creator chooses to charge.”

Isaacson’s proposal, like Carr’s before it, has been roundly criticized. Clay Shirky—who takes exception to the term “micropayments” itself—pointed out that “that users don’t like being nickel-and-dimed.” Andrew Sullivan argued that asking people to pay even incrementally for journalism won’t work for the simple reason that “there is too much good content out there for free.” Kay Stieger, writing for Think Progress, took issue with Isaacson’s “disdain for the advertising dollar,” writing that “it’s unreasonable to expect media consumers to take on the entire burden of the cost of information production.” At Rough Type, Nicholas Carr called micropayments “a heck of a longshot and not worth pinning one’s hopes on.” Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by Slate’s Michael Kinsley declaring that “You Can’t Sell News by the Slice.”

Yet even those funding proposals that we don’t end up adopting as A New Financial Model for Journalism can still be instructive, if only because discussing them helps clarify one’s thinking about online business models. With that in mind, we want to hear from you: What are the problems with the micropayment model for funding news? In what context could that model work? Why do we keep coming back to business models that have failed in the past? And what, when it comes to online journalism, would you be willing to pay for?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.