Is micropayment the killer revenue app for blogs?
No wine blogger in his right mind expects readers to pay $25 or $50 a month for access — that pipe dream is dead — and no reader would pay that, even for a great blog like Fermentation or The Pour. But what if the price were far less — 5 cents a day, on-demand? Would readers pony up?
Former TIME managing editor Walter Isaacson thinks so. Check out his fascinating cover story, “How to Save Your Newspaper.” It appears in the Feb. 16 issue of the magazine. (Credit to my boss, Adam Strum of Wine Enthusiast, for alerting me to the story.)
Isaacson uses as his jumping off point the fact that, if people are willing to pay 99 cents to download a song from iTunes, they might be willing to part with five cents to read a blog. It’s called micropayment: shelling out small, even negligible amounts of money for something you really want. “The system could work for all forms of media,” Isaacson writes, “magazines and blogs, games and apps, [even] porn…”.
Isaacson’s analysis comes as the realization dawns on us all that the future of print journalism is very much in doubt. Advertising is drying up, and newspapers and magazine cannot depend on subscriptions to make up the difference because, with almost everything available online for free, why would anyone pay for access? (I read the New York Times for free online every day, thereby saving myself $348.40 a year.)
Micropayment assumes several things. One is that readers are inherently moral and understand that nothing creative can be produced unless the creator is paid a fair price for his work. Another is that the technology of micropayment must be, in Issacon’s words, “cheap and easy.” If it takes more than a click (once the reader has registered), it’s doomed. (One model of easy micropayment familiar to motorists in the Bay Area is FastTrak: the driver sets up an account and the cost of crossing a bridge is automatically deducted with each transit.)
There is currently no working model for a micropayment approach to blogging, so far as I know, nor is there currently a technology that exists that could accommodate it. PayPal, Isaacson writes, “has transaction costs too high for impulse buys of less than a dollar.” Other emerging micropayment models include Bee-Tokens, Kindle (Amazon.com’s digital book service) and Tipjoy, which links to Twitter, which itself has a form of micropayment, Twitpay.
Assuming that the technology — fast and easy — is forthcoming, will it be a game changer for wine bloggers, the killer revenue app that bloggers are looking for? Admittedly, Isaacson’s motive for pushing micropayments is to preserve journalism for civic-minded purposes, not to enable bloggers to make money. (If print journalism dies and online journalism is free, then “who will…be able to fly off as freelancers to report in Rwanda…?”) Putting the question another way, who can afford to produce high-level wine blogs day after day, month after month, year after year, if there’s no money coming in?
Let’s crunch some numbers. This blog had 50,000 visitors during the month of December, 2008. If each of them paid 5 cents for access, that would amount to $2,500. But would all 50,000 pay? Isaacon is hopeful. “Some surfers would balk,” he writes, “but I suspect most would merrily click through…”. I, myself, am not so sure, but if only a few hundred did, it would still be more than I’m making now, which is zero.