A reader writes:
Contrary to what a number of your readers have said, micropayment systems exist on the Internet. iTunes has a micropayment system, as does Skype. In both cases you have to prepay and have a credit in your account. I have always thought that micropayments for Internet content is an obvious new business foe Skype. I am sure that a system could be worked out for content providers to register with Skype with a portion of the revenues going to Skype and the balance to the content providers.
Another outlines "two fundamental problems that need to be addressed before paying for content at reasonable rates can come about":
1) Readers won't pay upfront. Think of it like busking: The performer doesn't pass the hat until the show is well underway. Any sooner and it feels – to the audience, at least – like begging. That's not so much of a problem for known commodities like the Washington Post or New York Times. Not only have their readers been reflexively paying for the hard copy for living memory, they also have a huge cachet trade on.
2) Readers can't pay a little. Due to the way online payments are handled, it's practically impossible to create a micropayment system without entirely subverting the major credit card companies and banks. They will not support such an effort, except under their own terms, and right now the cost of change is greater than the cost of continuing their existing business model.
But other models are possible.
Let's throw away the "box of writers" approach to content development and try a thought experiment: Why not leverage wit and intelligence, popularity, news … all the things that make a piece worth reading, but mix them more tightly into the warp and the weft of our online existence? Knowing what we do about human nature, what’s to stop someone from creating a social networking service that operates using cash as a measure of social connectedness and influence?
The mechanism would be simple enough. Members join for a nominal fee, not high enough to be painful, but enough so that someone would have to make a deliberate decision to join. It would have to be enough that, for many, peer pressure would be necessary to drive them into the fold. Once there, an algorithm would identify the most connected, popular and useful writers of the community and award them a share of the pot. Call it a Social Credit Union. (More on this idea here.)
Right, you’re probably thinking: Exactly how many seconds would it take for someone to begin gaming the system for money? The answer is alarmingly simple: as long as people like something and/or find it interesting, who cares? As Randall Munro so aptly put it: "Mission. Fucking. Accomplished."