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Why Won't You Pay for Content? 680

Posted by Cliff
from the renumeration-reimbursement-compensation dept.
achurch asks: "Why are people so unwilling to pay for online content? I've been wondering about this for a while, but a comment in an older article about ring tones (along the lines of 'it's stupid to pay $0.076 for one') provoked my curiosity. Surely, for someone who can afford the money for a cell phone, a mere fraction of a dollar, especially for something you only do a few times ever, is nothing to be concerned about--or is it? If nothing else, the content providers have to recoup operating costs; if you appreciate the content, why are you so averse to letting them see a cent (yen, pfennig) of your money?" Sometimes it's not as simple a matter as assigning a price and paying for it. Just how should one charge for information, especially when the worth of such information is subjective?

"For the record, I don't approve of the RIAA/MPAA/etc. money-grubbing, but even if all content in and of itself suddenly became free (and I won't get into that argument), content is meaningless in a vacuum--there has to be a way to get that content to people, and that costs money, whether it's money to run the printing press, burn discs, or send data. Somebody's got to pay for that, or it just won't happen. What do you find so wrong about sharing part of that cost--and what would you suggest as an alternative?"

The problem with this stems from the fact that not everyone assigns the same value to content. Let's say Joe finds a piece of info on the Internet and he's willing to pay $10 for it, Jack finds that same piece of info but only thinks it is worth $2, and Jill finds the information not useful at all. Now if the information provider sets the value of that piece of information at $5, he's lost 2 customers, not one. Content providers need to find their way around this problem if they want to start reaping monetary rewards. Micropayments may be the answer, but even in that camp there are still more questions than answers (for one, a good International micropayment system needs to be in place). Why do you think people are so unwilling to pay for content (without all of the "information wants to be free" arguments, please).

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Why Won't You Pay for Content?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Every user visiting your web page; every machine mapped to a drive share; each of these counts as a "user" according to MS and must all fall under the total user limit set by the registration key.

    Nevermind that the same machine with the same software is capable of handling more. You have to pay to have a certain few bits flipped in your own hardware to enable more "users".

    Is it any wonder that Linux is making huge inroads in the server environment?

    It's the war on "unlimited use" software.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    the reason micropayments don't work is easy. People assign the value to things what they pay for them. Say I paid $1 for a ferrari because some old woman wanted to get back at her old husband. Now do you seriously think that I'll treat this ferrari the same knowing I paid only a buck for it? Probably not. The same thing holds true for micropayment. Charge a very little amount, and people either think of it as 1. a tax or 2. That the content itself is "cheap" (in the bad sense of the word). The fix to this of course is to provide higher quality content with a higher user liking to that content, and charge more for it. Sometimes, charging a small amount is actually a bad thing. (Although consumers will flame about this, because on the inside, everyone always wants to get everything as free as possible, but on the outside, people do not want to appear like a cheapskate (especially if they're rich.))
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:46AM (#97478)
    1) People won't pay for content because they're already paying for access - why pay twice?

    2) Make it easy to do a micropayment, a simple one-click thing, and you'll see more people do it. I know I can't be bothered to enter payment info for a few cents...
  • Think about the number of websites you've visited in your lifetime. Now find the percentage of them that had value to you. I'm betting it's a small single digit percentage. Thus, you become automatically discouraged from using new resources, because the fact of the matter is, most websites are useless to most people.

    If somebody found a magically convenient, fraud-resistent method of managing micropayments, they'd succeed only on making users tentative to look in new places for content, thus making it even harder to run an independant website. After all, why check out [] if you know that [] seems to provide reasonable news coverage?


  • If Slashdot did cost money, we'd have probably a fifth the users, and would probably see:

    • Much fewer first posts and goatse trolls -- they're just high school kids with no money and who only want free content
    • No (or rare) Slashdot effect
    • Fewer, but higher quality posts
    I don't know if I'd pay or not, but it might not be the world's worst idea.
  • by Chris Johnson (580) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:35PM (#97483) Homepage Journal
    I think micropayments would be terrific. In a situation where I:
    • wrote a thoughtful post for Slashdot
    • typed it up in nice 'look Ma I can program the web' HTML
    • took the time to proofread the text and fix typos and grammatical errors
    • etc

    ...well, I'll have _earned_ my 0.000001 cent. Pay me that 0.000001 cent! ;)

    Seriously, much of the thinking on this subject is already obsolete. People are talking about the Web like it's TV. It's not- the key parts of the Web are where people interact with each other, getting involved. There are a lot of places where it would make sense to pay the participants, not charge them.

    Then there's the next level: I personally have run two articles on Slashdot. Anyone can. You just have to do the work. Even without loading your to-be-slashdotted target pages with banner ads, exposure of that sort is valuable- but it is most valuable when it is not a hollow victory, when the person's put some serious effort into what's being reported on. Now, in a context of payment, does Slashdot pay those people- or expect to be paid by those people? What if there is such demand for Slashdot publicity that 'pay for publication' becomes as prevalent as 'pay to play' in live music?

    At that point you're looking at a pretty ugly situation- and to go that direction belies the amount of benefit you get just from being Slashdot. Because of the freewheeling, non-paying nature of the site, a huge amount of activity has been spawned, and Slashdot's got name recognition among linux geeks comparable to Campbell's for soup or Crest for toothpaste. This is a tangible benefit while it's in force- if you run Slashdot and interact with others while your site is thriving, you are treated differently from just a run-of-the-mill geek.

    If you can't turn that into money- well, maybe money isn't your first priority. But it's the kind of situation that could _lead_ to entrepeneurial activities- and the situation has a value beyond a simple counting of the money it directly produces. Income is cash but reputation is credit...

  • Why not have some industry-wide cooperative system to piggyback content payments on your ISP bill? Say that right now you are paying $20 a month for access. Raise that to $30 and let your ISP keep $20, leaving $10 for distributed payments. When you visit a site that recieves payments under this new system, it tracks how much you have used it and sends this information back to your ISP. Your ISP keeps track of what you have visited and how much, and at the end of the month divides up the $10 among all the pay sites according to these weights and sends that data to their ISPs, who then deduct that from the pay site's bill that month.

    The important concept here is to make the payment completely transparent to the user; no one would use cable TV if they had to drop a quarter in their cable box every time they turned it on. The privacy problems could be avoided through heavy use of encryption ("100 hits to [unique ID corresponding to] for customer [unique ID consisting of encrypted account information understood only by the payment server] on [encrypted]/[encrypted], 2001").

  • The problem with many online info "sales" is that they can't tell you whether or not the product is worth it without actually giving you the product. I have no idea if I want to look at a news article until I know if the article is any good. And I won't know that until I'm done reading it. By then it's too late to charge me for it. Since online transactions are generally done by giving out a credit card number, and people are genuinely worried about the "forgetting to opt out" charges that can come from that, people aren't willing to pay for single piece of info by giving out "bend me over and charge me for the rest of my life" access to their finances.

  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but how can I get modded down as "overrated" if no-one has yet rated me through moderation?
  • I've signed up for Salon Premium for $30 a year

    I would have been happy to do that, since Salon did have some good content. But, I didn't, because I don't think they'll be around for another year. They've already laid off a bunch of people. By actually finding a way to make money they may have actually shortened their life, unless they're getting much more CPM for those huge ads they have now.

    Heh, maybe the Democrats could bail 'em out... ;0)

  • by root (1428) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:02AM (#97496) Homepage
    In the beginning, things were flat rate because there was no non-burdensone technology to measure use. Phone usage, listening to records, viewing art, reading the newspaper, software, car ownership, land ownership. And people have come to consider this kind of use a "right". Today, it seems that the dream of every IP holder is pay per use. phone usage, the RIAA's $3.50 pay per track, Divx players, "On demand" gaming, Microsoft's new XP licensing scheme, automobile "registration" fees, property taxes. Quit paying on any of these and you are deprived use of items you thought you "bought".

    And piracy is the boogeyman used to justify most of this. Unlimited use software, and infinitely reviewable movies will someday be redefined as "theft". Its about taking control away from you. Patented+homesteaded land cannot be taken away by gov't for any reason, so they don't allow this anymore. Europeans already scoff at "lucky bastards with flat rate phone service" in the US." while phone companies move towards eliminating this ancient practice.

    It must pain the IP holders no end that their media must, in its final form, be presented unencrypted and in good quality to the eyes and ears.

    Ultimately, it'll be pay-per-thought. We'll have cybernetic devices inplanted into the bas of our skulls to meter incoming content. Video/audio can then be sent encrypted all the way to our brains where final and untappable decryption takes place. Even think "Exit light... Enter night! Taaaake my hand! Off to never never land!" and ka-CHING, your credit account is charged a small fee.

    1984 almost had it right, but misses profit as the basis of Big Brother.

  • You are SOO right!
    What we have here is an impulse to tax every goddamned thing in the universe ala britain and france in the 18'th century. Those lusers were taxing WINDOWS (heh), WIND, SUNLIGHT, and myriad other normal natural phenomenon.
    I hate to say this, but it won't be long before we'll have to take up the gun (yet again) to rectify this shit.
    Oh well. At least I've still got reloading hardware and BIG magazines available in my garage..

  • I find the ads on sites like and slashdot are often quite helpful. I generally am actually interested in the things that get advertised on these sites. I would almost pay for more ads, and would certainly not be interested in seeing them removed. In that respect slashdot is no different from any other publication. They have the opportunity to market to a unique niche of people that they can pretty much guarantee is going to be interested in a certain set of products and services. Eventually advertisers are going to realize that this is the case and sites that are able to build large targetted audiences will be able to sell advertising without too much trouble.

  • You are such an idiot. Jack wasn't willing to pay $10, he was willing to pay $2. And Jill wasn't willing to pay any money. So the only person who still wanted it was Joe, who would pay $10. Charging $5 for it lost two customers (Jack and Jill).

    Either pay attention next time, or go back to second grade and brush up on the fundamentals.
  • The dream of free and easy money pouring in from a web-site is proving to be just that, a dream. It doesn't matter if you're or some schmork with a reasonably interesting idea and some web-space. The money AIN'T comin' in, even if people's attention does.

    Slashdot is the Prime Example. It is easily one of the most popular and dynamic sites on the web, yet it's only real hope for revenue is by selling access to readers eyeballs through banner ads and maybe some 'product placement' in terms of story content. That's it.

    So very, very much is possible and available on the web at virtually no cost, that the idea of paying for content seems ludicrous, which it is.

    All the same, I can imagine the frustration that must arise when you create a popular site that draws billions of eyeballs only to find that you still have to work for a living!

    The Web is poised for a return to Glory Days like we've never seen before, where Information, Creativity and Communication are there own rewards.

    The Wild West of the Internet has proven to be extrememly fertile, but money still doesn't grow on trees, even though for a while there a lot of us thought it did. On with the Show.
  • REALITY: On the Net, space is cheap. Once you're in you're in. There is no easy way to leverage eyeballs into cash. Weep. Mourn. Get over it.

    You wan't micropayments? Get a job in Human Services.
  • VALUE is for the most part based on scarecity, but on the web there's no scarcity of real estate OR attention to soak it up. A very unique situation!

    The attention a clever site recieves is the only reward it will ever get. It's a very powerful reward, but it won't pay the rent.

    There are a lot of very clever sites out there and more being borne every minute. If KuroShite or Slashcock or whatever close their doors to non-micro-paying customers, they will have given up a full half of that which drew so many eyeballs in the first place, that is to say the ability to observe and/or participate without any sort of payment, be it in terms of cash or personal information. The tide of eyeballs is massive but extrememly delicate. It turns and shifts elsewhere at the slightest resistance.

    All this pseudo-intellectual drivel of mine cowers, of course, at the altar of Porn Almighty!

    Vices, real or imagined, will always get a quick buck from someone.

    Once again, weep, mourn, get over it.
  • Why is it that we expect /. or to pay real money to provide us with free content?

    It's up to them. They exist and they are interesting, so we come and contribute our time and attention. God bless 'em if they can how to leverage that [] into cash.
  • Or are you betting on an endless supply of enthusiasts with money and time to burn supporting a website?

    Yes, yes and YES again.

  • #1 - It cost money. There is a huge difference in peoples minds between free and even the smallest amount of money. Free can be enjoyed without thought, but if it cost money, then immediately you must think about money. Do I have enough for this? Will this eventually cost too much and I'll have to stop? Every time I click, it's costing me money.

    #2 - Ease of use. Almost every pay system takes time to use and they are not easy. If it were easy then I wouldn't have to think about the fact that it cost money. (see #1)

  • An Anonymous Coward wrote:

    ...why can't you take the $20, pay the product and then put the change to your pocket?

    Well, in reality I can. The point I was sort of fuzzily trying to make was that the units of currency themselves are not necessarily a barrier to making transactions smaller than those units.

  • Millard Fillmore wrote:

    The problem with your Ferrari example, and others like it, is that there is a cost to produce every single automobile that rolls out of the factory. With electronic content, there is no per-unit cost, and so there is no starting-point upon which margins can be based. If we are indeed a capitalist society, our people probably know this innately, and so they begin to smell a rat when content providers, who traditionally have means of support (from advertising or fixed-rate subscription) start charging per unit of content.

    First off, there is always a per-unit cost. It may be, as it is with online content, that the cost of distribution is much greater than the cost of production. But even then, just because you don't see something you can point to and say "there's an expense", that doesn't mean it's cheap or easy to make that content available to the public.

    You're also missing my point, and in the process making it for me -- the price of certain goods is dependent more on what people will pay, than what it actually costs to provide it. Consumer Internet access is a perfect example -- price pressure has pushed the typical price below the cost of production (though it seems to be rebounding a bit in various ways), making it a loss-leader in any place that a national ISP is providing service. People just aren't willing to pay what it actually costs.

    Put another way, somebody will pay $250,000 for a Ferrari, but there's no way it costs that much to build one.

    I could get into elastic vs. inelastic demand too -- demand for luxuries tends to be elastic (meaning, among other things, that the demand goes down as the price goes up) while necessities like milk and bread tend to have inelastic demand -- you need those things no matter what the price is (note that for all the talk about the "digital divide", the market still treats Internet access as a luxury, not a necessity). Cornering the market on an item with inelastic demand is a quick ticket to riches (till you get hit with antitrust action, at least).

    Monopolies do have to watch out that they don't jack up prices to such a point that they force the market to elasticize -- such as the increased use of fuel-efficient cars in the wake of the OPEC-induced gas shortages in the 70s. (Insert comment about software monopolies here.)

    Books and newspapers cost money because they are tangible things.... The content itslef has no innate value.

    Want to say that at a writer's convention? I'd pay money to see what happens next.

  • by Old Man Kensey (5209) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:41AM (#97521) Homepage
    I usually try to avoid criticizing a /. editor directly, but the comment Cliff made about the "worth of information being subjective" bears further scrutiny.

    First, everything's "worth" or "value" is subjective. I don't have much use for a hot-rod Ferrari, because I can't drive a stick and I'm not into the prestige factor of owning one. It will, however, get me to the grocery store, so I'd still pay some amount of money for one -- say $10,000.

    Some guy with a lot more money than me may like really fast cars, or want to impress his rich buddies, so he's willing to shell out a quarter-mill for the same car.

    In the Jack-Jill-Joe example, the smart thing for that content provider to do is price the content at $10. Joe pays his $10. If you price it lower, Joe will still buy it, but Jack won't buy it till it hits $2, at which point you've made another sale, but you lose a net $6. Jill's never going to buy it, so we don't worry about her.

    This is basic econ, folks. It's not about cost, except insofar as cost of production provides a lower bound on price. It's all about how much money you make at a given price, taking into account that you may make more or less per unit, which may or may not balance out the difference in sales.

    I agree with some here that we need a good micropayment system. What nobody seems to understand is that single-use pay-as-you-go and micropayment are incompatible with each other, but that is not a real barrier to micropayments. Most ATMs where I am (DC area) won't dispense less than $20, but if I need to buy something smaller than $20, I'm not screwed -- I write a check drawn on my account.

    Eventually we'll reach the point where a few players have well-known, trusted micropayment account systems. Don't look for that latter bit for a while though -- it took a long time for people to regain their trust in the banking system after the Great Depression. I know people who still haven't.

  • Certainly for micropayments anyway. If you have a professional/business account (necessary to implement e.g. a "pay me" link on your page or other arrangement) they skim a minimum of $.30 US plus some (small) percentage from every transaction. Obviously, that doesn't make sense for very small payments (~$.10 US), let alone micropayments (~$.0002 US).
  • "But I'm stupid and don't think through my ideas"

    Explain to someone that having a computer and the internet is like having a TV. You paid For the TV (computer) and you have access to some content (installed software).

    Pay a little more for basic cable (internet), and there's a lot more out there, but for the most part, it's not very good or very original, and is really just filler.

    Pay even more, and you get premium channels (pay-for contect), where there is original work, new shows, and a better presentation.

    And if it interests you, you can pay one-time fees for Pay-per-view shows (micropayments) fo content which is one-of-a-kind, short-term type viewing.

    Ask the people you're talking about if they deserve to have HBO and Pay-per-view services for free just becuase they bought a TV and pay for basic cable. The ones that say yes are hopeless cheapskates. Most rational people understand how services break down, they just need to be educated on how that service layer model translates to the internet.

    This space for rent. Call 1-800-STEAK4U

  • I think you got it backward.... Jack would be paying the 10 bucks to get it off of the net so his girlfriend doesn't dump his sorry ass for taking the pictures in the first place :)

    This space for rent. Call 1-800-STEAK4U

  • MS wants a cut? Please. When people get nickle-and-dimed to death, they want to be the ones getting each and every last nickle and dime.
  • " you actually make a significant amount of money off your website's banner ads and pop up windows?"

    Compared to what? How much they make providing the website without any money coming in? If the ads drive away users who weren't helping to cover the overhead anyway (but did cause an increase, even if very small, in operating costs), are they supposed to feel bad about that?

  • I didn't say whether I cared or didn't care about losing karma, I said that I was willing to. There are more than enough posts richly deserving of being modded down to -1 for all the moderators to whack if they can't find something to mod up. This wasn't one of them. If it had been left alone at the default 0 I wouldn't have given it another thought. I wish my post had been left un-up-moderated. The original plan was that probably no more than 2 people would have bothered to moderate it down, so the original sentiments would have wound up where they started, at 0.

    As far as karma going down without corresponding down moderations, are you implying that there is some way to cause that other than meta-moderation, or some way to know who you're metamoderating so as to target someone in particular? I noticed that a post [] of mine to a different story seems to have been labeled informative without changing the score and without a moderation total appended to the bottom of it. Has someone with too much time on their hands found an exploitable bug in slashcode?

    As to why you seem to think that they should have been modded down because somebody said it better on some *other* forum (is there anything said here that isn't?), I am unable to follow your reasoning.

    No doubt someone will come along to moderate this post down as off-topic, which, of course, it is, or knock down the score with some other label.

    I'll live.

  • He/she (it?, they? that's the thing about anonymous posters, they're so...well...anonymous) didn't say that there was an abundance of know-nothing know-it-all posts in the rarified strata which you browse, so you could both easily be right on that point. As far as Slashdot being a good site, it is when one considers the price (free), but if the price went up (which was the thoretical possibility being discussed), then its faults would be more objectionable.
  • by unitron (5733) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:22AM (#97532) Homepage Journal
    I reproduce here a reply to your post that should have been modded up, not down. I'm willing to lose k-points to do so.

    Re:Paying model (Score:-1, Troll)
    by Anonymous Coward on 11:56 AM July 9th, 2001 EDT (#58)

    No offense intended, just brutal honesty:
    I honestly doubt Slashdot would get good response with any kind of pay model, at least not in its current incarnation. Insanely biased reporting, grammar and general english-language problems in the article write-ups that would make even a child cringe, an abundance of comments from know-it-alls who actually know nothing (and I'll save you the time, yes this is one of those) ... the list goes on and on.

    Don't get me wrong, it's a good site, and I check it every day, but it's nothing I couldn't get somewhere else. Make me pay and I won't return. There are plenty of other places to go.

    [ Reply to This | Parent ]

  • by Ed Avis (5917) <> on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:07AM (#97533) Homepage
    The best content is free (or at least gratis) content. This is for two reasons: some of it is by individuals and nonprofit organizations, and it's likely to be more personal, friendly and honest than content that you'd pay for (one of the first things you learn on the web is that individual-run sites are usually much more useful than corporate ones). The other type of good free content is a web version of offline stuff like newspapers, which is good quality and free because the dead-tree sales pay for hiring writers and editors.

    Also, gratis sites are more likely to give you the opportuntity to contribute back (like Slashdot, and more generally consider Usenet, IRC and other forms of graitis Net content).

    Specialized stuff - particularly computer-related - is likely to be provided by 'hobbyist' or small organization websites. The only form of specialist content that people will reliably pay for online is stock quotes, AFAIK. Most pay sites would have to be general or 'entertainment' to get a large enough audience.

    With the exception of porn, you view entertainment partly because other people do. Part of the enjoyment of watching the Simpsons is discussing it with others and being able to reuse catchphrases and be understood. There is a positive feedback effect where something popular becomes more worth watching. If you charge for content, it won't get that snowball effect. Would Slashdot be one-hundredth as popular today if it had charged subscription fees, however tiny, since starting in 1997?
  • I think the reason most people are resistant to pay for online content is very simple: most online content isn't very good. There are a few sites and "webzines" (what a stupid word) that provide good, high-quality content. But most are crap, or at least shading to the crappish end of the scale.

    It's like the recent article about "Premium [sic] Slashdot" - what is there here that's honestly worth paying for? Links to other people's content? Commentary and opinions by people no more qualified than myself? That's not even worth $0.076 to me...

  • Most people are perfectly happy paying for a magazine that is mostly ads, but complain when they have to pay for something online, right? Perhaps it's because when they buy a magazine they have something to show for it. A magazine can sit on the couch, can be carried around, can be shown to friends, can be cut apart and hung up, can be folded into paper airplanes, and all kinds of other things. It is a physical object that your $5.00US bought. It is yours, and you can prove that. But something online is just another pile of electrons that you can't do anyhting with but read and hope it will still be there the next day. I have little interest in paying for something that I can't see or feel or tear apart if I don't like it. I would guess that is part of the reason people don't like the idea of paying for online content...
  • One poster here said "but if they have a two-tiered system, and the subscription base starts to pay for itself, they'll get rid of the free version with ads." This is entirely possible, but right now I think we're in a situation where the only press that can survive is the corporate press, or the volunteer press.

    So you have to ask yourself, do you want a professional, non-corporate, online press? One with professional reporters who research their articles and can write? Because if you do, you might as well just take a gamble and help them to exist.

    The worst that can happen is that they do in fact go subscription-only. The best is that they continue to go both ways, because you helped them to stay afloat.

  • I don't think the problem is the money. If I could surf around and get good content all day for $50/month, I'd do it. People pay that for their cable tv.

    I see three problems.

    First of all, as someone has pointed out, there isn't a good micropayment standard in place.

    Second of all, I'd be very reluctant to participate in a micropayment system that wasn't anonymous. I think we need something similar to digicash.

    I stopped buying non-geek books online, because I don't want big companies to have databases of the things I'm interested in or thinking about. Any micropayment system that's likely to be put into place will probably allow the coordinating company to put together a horribly intrusive database about its users. I'm amazed that people buy porn online -- some day that db will come back and bite them.

    Finally, there are plenty of sites like this one that keep me entertained reasonably well for free. I don't feel the need for more content. I wish there was less, so I'd spend time doing more productive things.
  • I disagree. Regarding charging for a tallied payment, I must say that sounds suspiciously like a subscription fee, and not at all a micropayment fee. (I'd also addressed this earlier.) That's no more a micropayment fee than the offer from Dr. Dobb's journal that I got today: $1.45 / issue, paying everytime that the total hits $35. (ie, $35 for a two-year subscription.)

    I also disagree about the feasability of such a group-aggregated micropament system. Though I think that it's a great idea in concept, I think that most people would hate it from both a privacy and a big-business standpoint. That system would likely require a single business (ie, PayPal) to handle all transactions, creating a little microeconomy, though controlled by a single company. Folks wouldn't like that, as you can well guess. Beyond that, we'd have to get some major credit cards to team up and work together to spread payments amongst themselves, which also sounds suspiciously unlikely.

    They're both good ideas, IMHO. It's just that the former is dodging the question of micropayments, and the latter is effectively unworkable. I maintain the necessity of micropayments, and I maintain that it will happen when credit card companies make it possible through reasonable rate structures for merchants.

  • Credit card companies simply won't work with small-transaction systems. Further, it would be a disaster for a company. Let's say /. charges $0.001 / story. I load the front page and get 10 stories, which costs me $0.01. They charge my credit card $0.01. There's a $0.25 transaction fee from CyberCash, a 3% take from the credit card company and, likely, a $0.25 - $0.50 transaction fee from the credit card company, too.

    Slashdot, of course, would go out of business within hours on a model like that. Of course, the credit card companies don't want 3% of a 1 cent transaction, either, and likely would not permit Slashdot to make such charges. And that's a shame, because I'd totally sign up for that. If they could bill my card monthly, based on my total views, perhaps that would be a bit less of a disaster (say, $0.60 / month), but we've still got a long way to go. Or, rather, the credit card companies still have a long way to go.

  • I'd pay for slashdot if there was more porn.
  • by trb (8509)
    Yes, I agree with this. Accounting would be much more expensive than the service being provided. Not to mention the privacy risks of such accounting.

    Another point is the economic difference between information and material goods. If Ford wants to build a million copies of its car, it has to spend about a million times more than for one car (more or less, after various overhead).

    At this point, I enter commie pinko mode, though I don't typically see myself that way...

    With software and information, making copies is close to free. This encourages people to take a communist (as in sharing) view, where each person pitches a contribution (intellectual, labor, economic, whatever) into the pot, and then we all share the fruit of the project.

    The Internet (and its predecessors) were built on this sharing principal, and its adherents are defying the capitalists of the world who are still fixated on the brick and mortar view of production, capitalists who want to take the efficiencies of the information economy and apply them to their traditional system of greed.

  • Most posters have cited the fact that no good protocol exists that makes it convenient and practical to pay somebody a very small amount of money. I thought about this when Scott McCloud's ICST#6 [] came out, and hit upon something I think would work. It is implementable by a single website owner without a large trusted intermediary. Though certainly a large trusted intermediary could help it to gain acceptance more quickly.

    Consumer Carl is web-surfing and comes across Vendor Vinny's website, which advertises something interesting to Carl, maybe an attractive GIF image to which Vinny holds the copyright, but he's willing to sell the image to Carl at a small fee. This sale does not entitle Carl to resell the image; he is licensing the image, not becoming its copyright holder. Let's suppose that Vinny is selling this image for a nickel.

    One immediate problem Carl faces is determining that Vinny really has something worth a nickel. Vinny may offer a free low-res or blurry image to suggest what he's got, but ultimately Vinny can defect by accepting Carl's nickel and giving him nothing, or something obviously worthless. For now I will put aside this question and assume that defecting vendors will be selected against by market forces.

    Carl isn't really going to mail a nickel to Vinny; a stamp costs more than a nickel. What Carl will do is agree to mail a $5 check to Vinny if a fair roulette wheel spin gives a prespecified outcome whose probability is 1/100. The roulette wheel will actually be a negotiation between Vinny and Carl.

    At the beginning of the negotiation, Vinny generates Rv, a large random integer, and then computes H, a one-way hash of Rv. Vinny transmits H to Carl. After he receives H, Carl generates his own random number Rc and transmits it to Vinny. Upon receipt of the value of Rc, Vinny transmits Rv to Carl. Carl computes the hash of Rv to verify that it is equal to H. Both of them can now compute the roulette wheel spin value, which is ((Rv + Rc) mod 100), and if the value of the spin is zero, then Carl agrees to mail a check for $5.

    In order to cheat, either party would need to manipulate the value of ((Rv+Rc) mod 100). Vinny can't cheat because he has committed to the value of Rv before Carl generates Rc, and Carl can use H to test his commitment. Carl can't cheat because he must generate Rc and transmit it to Vinny before he sees the value of Rv. Carl can't compute Rv from H because the hash function is one-way.

    Both parties have equal amounts of work to do. Each must generate a large random integer and perform a one-way hash.

    If it turns out that Carl must pay the check, Vinny's website will create a transcation record in Vinny's database, including a transaction number. Carl's browser will show a form, which Carl should print out or copy onto a piece of paper, giving the transaction number as well as Vinny's name and address, so that Carl has an easy time making his payment.

    It is prominently obvious to Carl that the transaction has been recorded; if he welches on the check then Vinny will know about it, and Vinny may then deny him access to any other payable goods. There's the question of how Vinny can tell whether a later visitor is the same person who welched before; Carl could make up a new user-id, or telnet to a different host and visit from there to have a different IP address, or do other tricks, but these fall outside the scope of this protocol.

    How hard would it be for a single vendor (say, Scott McCloud) to set up a system like this? He would need to provide the client-side executable for his visitors to perform their side of the protocol. He would need to explain the protocol clearly enough to convince them that it's fair. His customers would need to agree to the probabilistic micropayment idea at all, but that's actually easy enough to do: he puts a link from his website that says, "go here if you agree to the probabilistic micropayment protocol, and you can shop for stuff", and they go there and get to see low-res fuzzy versions of interesting and amusing comics. When they do the protocol, they get the high-res sharp versions, and in 1% of the cases, they are obliged to mail in a check.

  • by Bad Mojo (12210) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:16AM (#97552) Homepage
    Hahahaha! Hahahaha! Haahahahahaha!

    Ahem. Hehehe.

    If this ever happened, I might pay *JUST* to see integrity on Slashdot.

    Bad Mojo []
  • And if I may expand on this a bit...

    The content is going to stay free due to basic free-market effects. The barriers to entry are so low as to be non-existant. Therefore any idiot can start producing content. You can even produce pretty good content for next to nothing (like /.). In a market where anybody can enter, competition will drive the price down to the minimum amount that will allow the manufacturers to stay open. And since there are nearly no fixed costs, that cost is the marginal cost, which as stated before, is darn near zero.

    A meatspace example is farming. The barriers to entry to farming are pretty low. Anyone can get a loan to buy a couple hundred acres, get a load for seed/equipment/chemicals, and pay someone else to actually do the work for a low hourly wage. As a result, the cost of food has approached the cost of producing it. That is because as soon as the price of food rises much above the cost of production, somebody else will enter the market and supply more.

    The only reason that more products aren't that cheap is barriers to entry. Take, for example, CPU's. It takes a lot of money to develop a CPU, and it is very risky. The barriers to entry are quite high. There are, then, only a handful of major CPU makers (Intel, IBM (S390), AMD, Sun (UltraSpark), Compaq (Alpha)). Since there are only a few firms competing, they act like an oligopily (read: sorta-monopoly), and can charge a higher price. On the other hand, RAM is dirt cheap (as far as chips go), mainly because it is so easy to design and fab RAM, leading to low(er) barriers to entry. Can you even count the number of RAM-chip producers? I thought not.

    Now, that doesn't mean that you can't charge for information. Copyright allows an easy way to manufacture a barrier to entry (legally too). For example, take a look at how much the ACM's Digital Library [] cost (for the lazy, $38 for students, $185 otherwise, must already be a ACM member too). I pay that (and get my money's worth), because there is no other way to get that particular (and very high quality) content. The material is copyrighted, and ACM is (usually) the copyright holder (sometimes ACM doesn't have the copyright, but is one of few holders of distribution rights).

    So, yes, that's exactly it. It's cheap because there is a "strong incentive" (market forces) to provide it for cheap.

  • 1. It costs me money. The more it costs, the less I enjoy it. Right now the internet as a whole costs me about 40 dollars per month. At this price I am getting good value in exchange for those dollars. Open Source software is saving me license fees, kids are learning a lot, and don't need to go to the library as often. Long distance calls can be made now. One really long call can easily justify the cost per month. Services are ok now, but will get better.

    2. There will never be anonymous payment systems. Too much potential for abuse. I don't enjoy people knowing what I am looking at. It's the principle really. Going into a bookstore with cash means I get what I want, can read it as many times as I want, and nobody really knows that I have it, unless I tell them. This is the way most things should be online.

    3. What can they really sell that I have to get online that I need, and would be willing to sit at my computer to enjoy? Think about it. Online access to information is easy and fast, but the real value so far is in the communication, not so much the content. Hard to sell that given the current structure of the net. (This is what .net is about. Owning communication and identification in such a way as to profit from it --smart bastards.)

    4. When I actually buy content, I expect to be able to refer to it as needed anywhere I want, any time I wan't until I choose to give up that right. This applies to books, cd's --basically any thing that comes to me on physical media. I have media from 20 years ago that sometimes is interesting. How long will you have access to online content you have paid for?

    If the media is more fragile than the value warrants, then I expect to be able to make backups to protect my investment as well.

    5. Basically I don't plan on doing pay per play at all and this looks like the model that most corporations want. Some things are worth it. Concerts, movies in the theatre, shows, these all involve some experience that makes them worth doing and paying for. Hard to point to anything online that has this quality now. Nobody likes pay per play. It forces you to keep track of what you are spending. takes the freedom, fun, whatever out of the whole thing.

    Why do you think they only do day passes at Disneyland? People don't want to keep track of their cash! Would not be any fun to realise that the Dumbo ride sucks, and costs almost as much as Splash Mountain would it? Would getting a bad ride be more or less of a big deal if you had to pay again to find out? Nasty questions for a place all about fun.

    This also is the same reason the casinos like to get you to put some cash into the little cards. You just plug into the machine and just press buttons for a while. Gets the actual act of handling the money out of your immediate attention so you can ENJOY LOSING IT!

    Finally, paying for the internet until now implies that you can view most of the content and participate. If that changes, then the actuall connection to the net is worth less. How many of you think that connect charges are actually going to go down if that happens?

    Thought so...

  • You are absolutely right. No one wants to pay because of the competion by 'free' sites. When A charges for its service and B is available for free, people go to B. Simple economics.

    To come back at the example in the story: ringtones are available for free on many places. They aren't transmitted to your phone, but you'll have to type it in manually. Many, many, peoply prefer the cumbersome typing over the confort of the payed option.

    When you think this doesn't apply to websites: think again. Paying is troublesome. You'll have to do stuff to get what you want. Not paying is easier, so people choose not to pay.

  • ...indirectly. Fact of the matter is that given a free story from Associated Press, and one from the New York Times (also free, but registration required), I will choose the AP story because it's more convenient. So the paying for a site directly, every time you go, may never get off the ground, because there are site's that don't charge and have the same stuff. The exception is pr0n, where they pretty much all started pay per use at the same time, but gnutella is starting to reverse that.

    Cable TV beat this by making cable usage functionally equivalent to flipping normal channels. would you pay for cable if it meant a convoluted process every time you flipped a a patch bay?

    The keenbeans of industry realize this, and know that the one place they can reliably charge for content is in the service bills. I spend more money on DSL than cable, movies, print and whatnot each month.

    It's equivalent, only instead of per use payment, it's aggregated payment.

    Given this context, it's a lot easier to understand the AOL Time-Warner merger. They want to get paid for access to media, so they merge with the largest provider of access, and live off the service bills.

    Sony is the most hypocritical of the people embracing this kind of billing. Their music division is crying foul about mp3, but their electronics division is making money from mp3's. If you download Sony Music's mp3's from napster, and burn them on a Sony CD-R drive, you are indirectly paying Sony for those mp3's, because the money ends up in the same place, eventually, that it would had you paid for the mp3 directly...especially if the reason you bought the CD-R in the first place was to burn their music, and wouldn't have otherwise (which is usually the case for consumers these days).

    So yeah, people are going to be reluctant to charge for content which is nearly identicle to the free stuff, because people will stop coming to their site. However, a site investing in the infrastructure needed to get to their site can charge their viewers indirectly, and still seem like a free service to their audience.

  • Actually, the Internet replaced the previously reigning champ of online information - Compu$erve. Note the "$" instead of an "S". That is what we referred to it as because of the costs associated with it's Forum sections.

    In the '80s, this was the method used to get patches and support for most computer-based products (hardware and software). The free section had generic information and the chat rooms. To access the support sections of companies hosting forums there you were charged per-minute for access. Bills could be extremely high if a large patch was needed and you were limited to 1200 baud modem connections.

    Then came the Internet, and slowly companies closed their CompuServe forums and directed customers to access their new (and free) website. The fact that 1) access was now free, and 2) people could access the site through highspeed connections at work, school, and eventualy home made the pay-for-access model obsolete.

    To now, nearly a decade later, try to reimplement a pay-for-access model on top of that which has been free all along - is destined to fail. The Internet now is too large and diverse to clamp down upon. That's why so many .com's have gone under. They set up, went public, and based their entire business upon a fallacy that they can charge for content on the Internet. Once they went online, they found that too many free alternatives existed online to make any money. Poof! They exhaust IPO capital and disappear.

    Personally, I pay for things with lasting value - a book, a CD, an OS or Application's installation media, etc. I don't view this as paying for the contents of that media - I'm paying for the media itself. That's what adds the "lasting" to the value. Internet content is far too dynamic and temporary for me to get anything "lasting" from it's content. Therefore - I see very little value outside what it costs for me to connect via my ISP.

  • by ethereal (13958) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:05AM (#97563) Journal

    From my reading it's only a subscription if you wish to avoid the banner ads. Personally, I don't find banner ads annoying enough to pay to avoid them, since I've developed the fine art of ignoring or scrolling down slightly to block them. But it would be a good thing to have the option.

    OTOH, there is good content out there that I would pay for. I'm not sure if user-contributed discussion sites will ever be able to transition to full pay-per-view since the whole worth of the site is the user comments - asking users to pay in order to contribute to an online resource is basically the dumb idea that Napster's currently having.

    What we need is not smaller payments (micropayments) but bigger (or "chunkier") content. If I could pay $10-15/month to a central authority and know that I would have free reign to reload /. all day, a metered number of posts at k5, and get my daily online comics as required, I'd jump at the chance to support my favorite sites. But I don't want to follow the recording industry system and subsidize sites that I can't stand with my $10. My contribution has to go to the sites I actually want to support, and the user has to be able to specify that they want to be able to read some sites in an unlimited manner, read others in a limited manner (I only need so many Google searches per week, but I do need them), and specify that others will only be hit once per day, etc.

  • Paypal has to be able to make money off of their microtransactions and they probably cost money themselves -- they have an infrastructure that needs feeding, and more than likely pay bank costs to implement some of these charges.

    I think there's probably some minimum level at which small payments can't work due to the transaction processing costs. It's not just a dozen encrypted packets ensuring the payments, its a whole infrastructure, auditing and so on to make it work.

    It just seems unlikely that a third party can process sub-dollar charges and make any money on it. What does make sense is some government entity (federal reserve? post office?) getting involved and creating a centralized clearninghouse for financial transactions. It would still cost money, only be available in US dollars, but it would likely make transactions down to the $.05 practical for payers and payees alike.
  • by Robotech_Master (14247) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:04AM (#97565) Homepage Journal
    I was talking about micropayments with a friend of mine, and he brought up the fact that there's an expression "nickel and dime you to death" for a reason. Lots of little payments are hard to keep track of, and they add up fast; if you view 1,000 bits of web-content that cost you a nickel each (like, say, browsing through archives of a comic strip), all of a sudden that's $50.00. He feels that people aren't going to want to subject themselves to a system where it's so easy to end up owing more than you realize.

  • Here's another detail: I started getting a PayPal
    account, and noticed that my spam rate at least
    doubled after I gave them my email address.
    If they're not selling your email, someone is
    doing something clever to spy on their traffic.

    It certainly didn't make me feel inclined to
    continue with the process of getting an
  • One of the big problems with the idea of paying for stuff on line is that it's worth is reduced enormously by the fact that it is online and you've got to look at it on a computer screen with awful resolution compared to a piece of paper. And you also have to try and focus on it while the hard drive and electronics are shrieking at you at various frequencies, while you hold your hands fixed in weird positions hovering over the mouse or keyboard.

    Consider the fact that people are willing to pay quite a bit of money for computer books, even if they (or the equivalent information) is available online.

    It all comes down to the fact that computers really, really suck, in many ways.

    And the ways in which computers *don't* suck have largely to do with providing new ways for people to interact with each other on a personal level. It's got little to do with connecting to big batches of canned content.

    (Weird thought: celebrities could probably sell pen-pal rights. A well-known person can't possibly respond to every piece of random email, but maybe they could follow the email from 100 people willing to kick in $1000 each for the right to that consideration...)

  • It's really not any more complicated than that.
  • Don't buy a pig in a poke.
    Once bitten, twice shy.

    Those two little phrases sum up why I tend to be reluctant to pay for content. The times that I have, I have frequently found that what I paid for was worth less than what I could have gotten for free. Sometimes not, but it's quite difficult to tell ahead of time. And as for testimonials... Do you believe the candidates surveys? Do you believe Microsoft sponsored software comparisons?

    So there are two problems. Establishing credibility and proving incremental value. Both are quite difficult. A lot of people get bitten a few times before they learn, so there's an early bulge in the demand. Then it quickly drops off, as the ex-customers start going out of their way to avoid repeat business.

    OTOH, some vendors I deal with repeatedly. But I'm charry of new ones. And new products, even from established companies. They are so often quite disappointing. Usually I'll only purchase a new item to display support for past favors. If, say, I purchase a subscription to the Black Adder from the Kompany then it's likely to be because I've heard of their donations of software to KDE. If the product is good, then I'm likely to purchase upgrades from them. If it's terrible, I don't feel too ripped off, because it was really a gesture of support to a friend of the community.

    This wouldn't be a good business model if things cost much per each to make, but as it is it may work, and in any case, it's one that the on-line vendors need to live with. Or not, but the model isn't going away.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Yep, I've had that with Rat Shack. Odd thing, though. When I've got folding green in my hand and I tell them "I don't see why you need to know that. Now, either let me pay for my stuff or tell me you don't want my business and I'll cheerfully go down to Fry's from now on where they'll be happy to take my money no questions asked.", the cash register suddenly becomes quite happy to take the sale without any information. Money talks, loudly.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:00AM (#97575) Homepage
    1. They want me to pay blind. In a bookstore or such I can look at the actual book I'm thinking of buying and decide whether I want it or not. A lot of online content providers want me to pay to even be able to find out what information they have. I may be willing to do that for specialized sources where the reputation of the source is enough, but not for things like general news.
    2. Often the charge is higher than the information is worth. Why should I pay $15/month for access to hardware reviews from one of the big magazines when I can get more reliable reviews from other sources for less? A lot of the time this seems to be linked to size: the big sites are charging one fee for access to everything, when all I want is one small part. Mercenary, I know.
    3. The payment systems they want to use are often cumbersome, and require disclosing far too much information for my comfort. If I'm paying for the right to search for and download articles, why do they need to know what my job is or how much I make every year? No real-world business asks that kind of stuff before they'll let me pay for things.
  • I can give you my personal reason I'm averse to paying for online content: A percieved lack of value-add, with a concrete chunk of money extracted from my account regularly.

    A good example of this is Ars Technica []. I wanted to read an article []. I noticed a link to download a pdf version of the file. I figured "great, I can print it out and read it in bed!". I click the link and it turns out you not only have to register, you have to pay a monthly membership fee.

    So now I've got two options: pony up $50 a year for a membership, for which I may or may not ever want to print an article out again, or just print out the (lousy due to paged html setup) web pages.

    In other cases I'm reluctant to sign up for a site because it's one more thing to explain to the wife -- but honey, I really need this!

    I would be more willing to 'pay as you go' if I could use some form of digital cash/micropayment system that didn't hassle you to sign up and if the products in question didn't cost too much. Back to my original example, I would happily have paid $0.50 for the privilege of printing a nicely formatted pdf over the crappy browser printout. But I am unwilling to if I have to register, give out tons of personal details, a credit card, etc. etc.
  • The problem with this stems from the fact that not everyone assigns the same value to content. Let's say Joe finds a piece of info on the Internet and he's willing to pay $10 for it, Jack finds that same piece of info but only thinks it is worth $2, and Jill finds the information not useful at all. Now if the information provider sets the value of that piece of information at $5, he's lost 2 customers, not one.

    And how is this different from any other type of publishing? Magazine publishers need to set the appropriate price for their publications. Same with newspapers, book publishers, music labels.... If the price is set too high, they lose sales. Too low, they don't turn a profit. It sounds like the same problem to me. So why is this an issue? What's different?

    To my mind, the answer is perception. The Web is perceived as being this huge, egalitarian [] town square, where everyone has a voice, and everyone has equal access to what's being said. Nice dream, but it's just not true. Being connected costs money, for the content provider and for the content viewer. But these costs are hidden for the most part - I can easily see that the book I hold in my hand required resources and effort to produce. The end results are here, physically in my hands, and I have no problem paying for it.

    But I can't hold web content in my hand (unless I print it, using my own toner and paper). The costs of the web server or hosting service are hidden from me. I'm already paying for my ISP, my PC, the software that I'm running to get on the web. Isn't that enough?

    I think that is the true problem here. People don't understand the publishing costs on the web, because the costs are intangible. And while that's true, I think it will be very difficult to get people to pay for content on a regular basis.

    Oh, for the record, I would have no problem paying a small monthly or annual subscription fee to sites that I find particularly useful (like Slashdot). And the micropayment schemes mentioned a while back in Bob Cringely's columns here [] and here [] make a lot of sense to me.

  • by Badgerman (19207) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:25AM (#97585)
    This is a factor I hadn't considered in why people won't pay for content.

    I think this relates to the mistrust between people and large content providers now - do we REALLY trust the MPAA, RIAA, etc.? I don't. Once micropayments start, I do expect people to search for even MORE ways to gouge us.

    Come to think of it, the trust factor explains a LOT about aversion to paying for content, perhaps the critical factor.
  • by Badgerman (19207) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:54AM (#97586)
    I've thought about this issue myself, and first of all I don't think there's one answer. Any complex question like this isn't going to be answered simply.

    However, I believe there are several specific answers:

    ACCESS: We've got a lot of free information out there - libraries, personal sites, etc. Or we can pay a small amount for a book then hand it around making it free for the borrowers.. People like this, people are used to this. If you want them to pay, they'd like to see a good reason as to why.

    BACKLASH: Let's face it, we're tired of the RIAA, MPAA, DMCA, and all the other collections of letters that have been screwing with us. We don't want to pay because the money always seems to be going to a bunch of pompous, controlling a$$es. If people knew more money was going right to the folks doing the work, there'd be less whining.

    INTERPRETATION: Cable in my area is basically information delivery you pay for. People understand that, but payments for content on line have been pitched very poorly, and usually when someone suddenly needed a buck to keep a site going. People need to see that paying for content (in one for or another), isn't unusual in the non-computer world.

    SELFISHNESS: People don't want to cough up $$$ sometimes, even if it'll help keep a writer or artist in business.

    ENTITLEMENT: People were used to all sorts of free net services before The Crash. They still feel like things should be free.

    Well, those are my theories, my 1/50th of a dollar (US please, the exchange rate is pretty good).

  • > We pay our ISP to have access to the free stuff. If stuff is no longer free, we'll get it in a more convienent form from somewhere else.

    Also, the myriad "old timers" who've been using the Web for more than, well, just a few years, still remember the Good Old Days (tm) when almost everything on the Web was free.

    The neighborhood went to seed when the monster BBS sites that were already charging for content (AOL, MSN) moved over to the internet because they had to to stay in business. But they brought their business model with them, and lots of Venture Capital Sites (tm) adopted the same model, so we got the e-IPO frenzy and an expectation of big site revenues to go along with it. Ads aren't deemed to be paying off, so now everyone wants to charge for content, to keep that VC flowing.

    Being charged to visit sites, or having ad-funded sites cluttered with so many ads that you can't find the information you went there to find, are viewed as an increase in price and/or decrease in quality, pure and simple.

    It's kind of like visiting the junk food machine and seeing that the price went up and/or the candy bars got smaller. Who was ever happy to see that?

    Frankly, I don't think the pay-for-content model is going to work any better thant the read-our-ads model did. Partly because of what I said above about prior expectations, and partly because of what you point out about free alternative sources.

    One of three things is going to happen:
    • "pay per view" will be rejected per above, the pay sites will fail, and the Web will go back to being view-for-free, or...
    • someone will get an arm-lock on the internet that will let them extract the payment whether you want to pay or not, or...
    • enough sheep will pay for content from "brand name" sites (rather than visiting a search engine) that the system will keep limping on in some chaotic facsimile of "working", but nobody on any side will really be happy with it.

  • > > "Graphic design costs money and enough people want "flashy" as part of their web experience."

    > In my experience, it's the owners of the site rather than the visitors that want cheezy flashy stuff. Most visitors simply want easily navigated, easily read content.

    That describes me to a "T". All the images and crap not only obfuscate the content, they also increase the page-load time by 1-2 orders of magnitude over my phone link. And their overuse generally means the content that was once on a single page is now spread out over several, I get to pay that 1-2 OOM download time penalty several times rather than just once.

    I generally turn off automatic image downloads, flash, and javascript. Some sites are crippled without them, but that's no problem... there are about 28,000,000 other sites eagerly awaiting my visits, and some of them are still more interested in informing me than in dazzling me.

  • Would I pay an average of $.25 a month for Slashdot, CNet, CNN, NYTimes, Playboy, Yahoo, ESPN, SciAm, Gamasutra, Google, and 100 others? Yeah I might if they were on one bill.

    Fortunately for you, the media and telecomm titans are working 80-hour weeks to accomplish the remaining mergers that will make this possible, albeit at a slightly higher price to the consumer. :-)

    More seriously, it does get to be an incredible nuisance to juggle even a half-dozen snail mail periodical subscriptions, and I agree that people will only agree to pay for content when it is made one-stop subscriptions for content rather than piecemeal subscriptions or dime-at-a-time micropayments. And I do think there is some hope for that.

  • Why pay for what you can get for free? That's the cold, hard truth. I'm not going to pay for something without a reason. And 'well, if nobody pays, we might go out of business' is not a good enough reason.
    When everyone goes out of business, and there is only one good discussion site left, then maybe I'll pay to use it, as I have no other choice. Or maybe I'll just go outside and play catch with the neighbor's kids.

    I don't pay people to come over and fix my computer because I can do it myself. Am I depriving some kid of his job?
  • It's about ease of use. If I get the same results, subjectively, whether I pay or not, I won't pay, because it involves less work, and there is no additional reward.

    It has to get to the point where the convenience/reward I percieve is greater than that sense of loss I have when parting with my money (and the effort required to do so).
  • Well, one of many problems is the unwillingness / inability of content providers to charge realistic rates. Partly, this is due to the very low conversion rate of free->paying customers and to the high overall cost of customer acquisition, but it also seems like many providers have their heads in the sand.
    Take, for instance, LinuxGram, which I definitely enjoy. I'd even pay $20 a year for it, which is what I pay for Dr. Dobbs. But their subscription price is $100.00 a year, which I find ludicrous. Or look at the They Might Be Giants Unlimited service on For access to TMBG songs, plus interviews, they want $10 a month! Isn't that a bit shameless for access to content from a single band?
  • There are two reasons for gratis content, neither of which have anything to do with the difference in willingness to pay between different content consumers (as Cliff's spurious arguement asserts):
    1. Most online content is worthless and the consumers know it. Stuff like /. may be mildly entertaining, but the SN ratio is nearly 0. Most other online content providers are in the same basket.
    2. This is a classic example of the cartel quandry: a cartel is only stable so long as absolute control can be exerted over the members of the cartel. As soon as one member of the cartel breaks ranks (in order to increase their income by decreasing prices but increasing quantity) the cartel pricing structure collapses. With most cartels, there is a small matter of minimum investment necesary to enter the market, which restricts the number of possible players and eases the quandry somewhat. With online content, however, the barriers to entry are almost zero (especially with a fluff site like /.) hence there is no opportunity to install a cartel pricing structure.
    Since information, in general, is a fluid comodity, all profit from information properties is based on some form of cartel or monopoly. For copyrightable information, these monopolies are support by legislation and judicial action, but this only works if the information itself is, somehow, unique and valuable.

    Most online content is either non-unique or of very little value (or both. /. falls into this last category). You simply can't charge money for something that the market doesn't value or can get elsewhere for free.

    So, the point is that the vast online readership will probably never pay for most online content. The only way to squeeze any revenue out of online content is to either produce something entirely unique and unreproducable (difficult and costly to do, both because of production costs, and becuase you will probably need to defend ownership and control of the content in court) or you will need to establish a reputation which ensures a consistant readership, and trade access to that readership to third parties (advertisers).

  • by double_h (21284) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:51AM (#97598) Homepage
    • 1. Because existing online payment systems generally suck. Because I'm the lazy american consumer, and if you want my money, it is the onus of you, the content provider, to make the transaction all nice and convenient.
    • 2. Because I'm enough of a privacy freak that I'll use a CC only when utterly necessary, and pay cash whenever possible. Existing net payment systems are all keyed off of CC or checking account data, none of which offer a lot of privacy. This is very unlikely to change, as anti-money-laundering-laws are a large obstacle in the way of any potential anonymous e-cash system.
    • 3. Because I'm not a great fan of banks and big corporations, and don't like to give them money. If 20% of my donation to is a hidden transaction fee to some e-cash broker or bank (who may then resell the data to marketers or other banks), then I'd just as soon forget the whole thing, throw out the middleperson, and snail-mail cash or a money order directly to
    • 4. Because I put a great deal of time and energy into creating my own content [] (music), which I do out of personal enjoyment, and because I have a big enough ego to therefore not feel quite so bad if I'm freeloading somebody else's content.
    • Because when I allocate resources towards arts/entertainment/creativity, I like to feel like it means something. I almost never buy new books or music anymore (though I do buy a lot of used books/CDs), but I'm more than happy to support local bands, go to local small theater, give fat tips to street performers, etc. Because I like to get involved in creativity in a way more personal and meaningful than "CLICK HERE TO DONATE".

    All that said, I'm admittedly writing from a perspective where I've never had to deal with $1000-a-month server bills, or worry about going broke from rampant popularity. And that's a real issue for some people, and I agree that people who create good content deserve to be rewarded and supported in their efforts, in a way that doesn't compromise their creativity.

    But I don't see a magic solution to these issues emerging anytime soon - if ever. Because there really are a lot of intertangled issues involved, and it's taken this long (*ages* in internet time) just to get people to start asking the right questions, and thinking about the whole issue in a suitably nuanced manner.

    I'll also mention that, from where I sit, the most useful thing people can do is get involved somehow on a personal level -- create your own content, write a substantive fan letter to the creator of your favorite semi-obscure site, talk about the issues with your less-techie friends and family. I completely agree that a good, popular site can't happen without money, but I also think that untangling these dilemmas is at least as much a cultural issue as an economic one.

  • Funny thing, they ask me for my phone number, and I say no. Just no. No fighting, no "what are you going to use this for?" Just "May I have your phone number sir?" "No."

    They goggle for a second and continue the transaction.

  • I have no problem paying for content. I do, however, mind making donations to for-profit companies. I happily donate to NPR, but if Slashdot or another for-profit company were to start asking for donations I wouldn't pay. Not because I don't value their services and not because I refuse to pay for things I can get for free but because a ``pay please'' business model is a stupid way to make money. Were Slashdot a non-profit, I would certainly send money.


  • It's even better than that.

    I sign up for "Everything" with my cable company. They charge me like 60 bucks a month, and I get every channel they offer (except for PPV), 24/7.

    Let's put it this way. I love the Sopranos. It's the best thing on TV these days. But I wouldn't want to have to give you my credit card every time I watch an episode, nor would I pay 2 bucks an episode to watch it. I pay $20 a month extra to be able to watch all the Sopranos I can handle, as well as all the other stuff I can handle on 20 other movie channels (yay Digital Cable).

    If you could offer people the same deal on the net, they'd take it. But the net _isn't_ tv. Part of what makes it great is that it isn't tv. I don't want an Internet where every site I visit is controlled by one of 3 major companies.

    So, we're screwed. People are used to paying one fee and getting a bunch of stuff with it. They pay their ISP 20 bucks a month (more for cable/dsl) and expect the same sort of deal.

  • by SnowDog_2112 (23900) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:25AM (#97611) Homepage
    There's a few big reasons people are reluctant to pay for "content" online.

    One is that they don't have anything to hold in their hands in exchange for their money.

    If I buy a book, I have a physical artifact which will last much longer than my lifespan.

    I still have tapes I bought when I was in middle school.

    I still have the original floppies from computer games I bought around the same time.

    What do I get to hold on to if I buy a year's subscription to a web news site, for example? Do I get access to archives of that year forever, even if the company that made the site goes under in the next recession? Please.

    Another big reason is that if people aren't thinking in terms of buying a "thing" they're thinking in terms of a service. We pay for plenty of things we don't get to hold onto -- electricity, cable television, taxes, etc. But the thing is, you're already paying someone for the "service" part of your net connection -- your ISP.

    It's just not in the normal buying pattern of people to pay for content on a medium they're already paying for. You can get people to upgrade to a higher quality service (sure, I'll buy digital cable), but to pay for the very thing you're already paying for?

  • by D3 (31029) <daviddhenning&gmail,com> on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:10AM (#97624) Journal
    But how do you do micropayment?

    Do you pay every time you view the page? How about hitting refresh? When a new AC posts to /. and the content has now changed do you get charged again? I can see lots of people with $1000s of bills for these micropayments. Just like 900 numbers, sure it is only $1.95 for the first 3 minutes but then watch out! And they'll do things to make you stay on the phone longer. So then websites will do things to charge you as well.

  • by PapaZit (33585) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:15AM (#97629)
    I think that subscriptions, not micropayments, are the way to go. Consider Slashdot. On an average day, I see a story or two that look really interesting, and they are interesting. I see a few more that might be interesting, but they have misleading headlines, they're not what I thought they were, etc. And, there are a few that just don't interest me at all. If I had to pay per-page or per-click, slashdot wouldn't be worth it. There's too much crap between the gems. However, over the course of a week/month/year, I find a lot of useful info, and the site's worthwhile. I see this same pattern repeated across every site I visit.

    The problem with most web subscriptions is that they're overpriced. The web was supposed to bring good content at a low price because there was no middleman or shipping. However, many of the subscription sites are "content" sites (Salon, WSJ, Economist) who want to charge almost as much as I'd pay for a paper magazine. And, let's face it, the dead tree version is a whole lot more convenient. If I could get Salon for $10/year, I'd sign up in a heartbeat. I'd pay the same for slashdot. However, for $30+ year, I think more carefully about what I'm getting, and I usually decide against a subscription.


  • by tbo (35008) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:18AM (#97634) Journal
    I'll tell you why people don't want to pay for content--it's too frickin' hard and nobody is about to spend huge amounts of time throwing their money away when free content is probably available with a little more looking.

    Don't believe me? Here's my PayPal experience. (PayPal being arguably the most popular micropayment system on the 'net).
    Finally decided to get a PayPal account. Went to the site, jumped through the hoops, gave them my credit card number. Waited 3 weeks for next credit card bill so I could give them the verification number. Get bill, with PayPal transaction, but no verification number. Emailed PayPal. They tell me to fax them my credit card bill. I don't have a fax. Fuck this.
    That's why I'm not using PayPal--I don't need to, and it's not worth the hassle. Most of the other micropayment systems online either require you to install some lame program that doesn't support my OS, charge steep transaction fees, or are just too small to be trustworthy.

    What will it take to get people to pay for content?

    Good, simple micropayment system. This is critical. Imagine if a brick-and-mortar store owner told you that you had to pay him in 1957 pennies, and nothing else would be accepted. You'd just walk out, unless you absolutely had to have whatever he was selling, and he was the only guy selling it.

    Lack of free content. People will only pay for shit if they can't get shit free (easily). Duh. I've always wondered how all the pay porn sites exist when there are so many free porn sites, but I suppose people don't act rationally when they're horny and lonely.

    Content worth paying for. Most of the content people look at on the net is for entertainment (I'm counting most news in that category--if you're not the freaking President, it's not your job to know what's going on). To be worth paying for, content has to be significantly better than TV. TV content is free (sure, you pay for cable, but that's like paying for your ISP, and you don't have to think about that, nor does watching an episode of Seinfeld cost you extra), and TV is a much higher-bandwidth medium than most people's internet connections. To be worth paying for, content providers either need to come up with some very good original content, or bandwidth needs to get better.

    Reasonable prices. I am not going to pay the RIAA $2.99 for a single track at less-than-CD quality when I could either pay $12 Canadian (yes, that's right--our CDs are way the hell cheaper than yours) for the entire CD, or just download it free from Gnutella. I'll probably just not bother, if I can't get it easily for cheaper than a dollar.

    What do you really need on the internet, that you can't get from a million sites? Weather, I can always look out the window. Web comics are nice, but not essential (although I did donate to Penny Arcade []). Online technical support and product information should be provided free, and I'd avoid any company that tried to charge for it. Slashdot? I'd expect editors who can spell and fact-check before I'd pay for this (and it would be nice if they didn't ask such ridiculous questions as whether it's OK to burn private property of people who disagree with you []). The only thing I'd pay for is Google. Think about it--if you can still remember back to the pre-Google days, remember how bad the other search engines were? Think about how much time Google has saved you. That's worth something. Not much else is.
  • by gorilla (36491) on Monday July 09, 2001 @10:08AM (#97638)
    This also shows the other reason that people don't like microcharges - the content providers aren't proposing anything very 'micro'.

    Calvin & Hobbes [], 128 pages, say 2 cartoons a page, $8.76 = less than 4c per cartoon. And for your 4c, you get to keep them for ever, or sell it to a friend.

  • by ncc74656 (45571) <> on Monday July 09, 2001 @11:21AM (#97646) Homepage Journal
    Interesting to note that has started a "pay for no ads" version of their site. I doubt it is going to be very succesfull though: most people don't really mind banner ads that much.

    ...and those of us who are sufficiently annoyed by banner ads to do something about it have already taken measures [] to block [] them [] anyway

  • by crashdavis (69986) on Monday July 09, 2001 @10:28AM (#97672)
    I think the issue is INFOGLUT, both in terms of the number of sites and the expense of each one.

    There are simply too many friggin sites out there to subscribe to them. Period. People here have alluded to what a pain it is to register and give your life history and to the "camel's nose in the tent" leading to higher and higher charges, but I think those are both symptoms.

    The real issue is that I (like a lot of people I imagine) get my news on the Internet from probably 100 or 200 different sites at different times. It is CERTAINLY not worth $5.00 or even $1.00 per site per month to subscribe to all these. My opinion is that until there is some kind of aggregation model for these payments it will never happen.

    Cable/Satellite TV is a good example. I pay $50 a month for my Dish Network and I get about 180 working channels for that (no premiums of course!). Would I pay $.50 a month to get American Movie Classics by itself? Hell no. But as part of a package, I buy it and sometime I might watch it if something catches my eye. But even though it includes things I don't want, it also includes most everything I do want and it is ONE bill.

    Now that I think about it, those economics are probably about right. I pay $50 for 180 channels. Call it $5 to the aggregator, and it's $45 to all the channels, which are each averaging about $.25 a month per viewer then. Would I pay an average of $.25 a month for Slashdot, CNet, CNN, NYTimes, Playboy, Yahoo, ESPN, SciAm, Gamasutra, Google, and 100 others? Yeah I might if they were on one bill.

    The problem is that no one is charging $.25 a month and no one will be able to make any money at $.25 a month either, given that they are depending on $10.00 a month to stay alive right now. Until the Internet content industry figures out how to fix this, they are going to be broke and people will not subscribe.

  • by James Ezick (71815) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:56AM (#97679)
    I don't think people are as adverse to paying $0.076 as they are to having to deal with paying $0.076.

    For myself I like the freedom that comes with surfing the web without having to worry about what my "tab" for a particular online session is. I don't want to have to read a ten page "agreement" at every website I visit to fully understand what I am going to be charged. I don't want to deal with sites that sucker people into paying a lot more than they think they are being charged (ala 1-900 numbers that charge $50/minute). I don't want to have to give a mini-biography to every site I visit so that they can bill me. In the end I don't care about the money, I care about the time and effort that goes into thinking about how much of money is going where.
  • by bill.sheehan (93856) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:52AM (#97722) Homepage
    Why not pay for content?

    1. Very little of the content is worth anything to me.

    2. That which is worth anything provides no payment mechanism.

    3. I'm a cheap bastard.

    I didn't get rich writing a lot of checks.
    --Bill Gates on "The Simpsons"

  • by wundadog (105182) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:21AM (#97752)
    The whole point of the web is free stuff. Period. Do you think your mother bought her iMac to pay for content? She wanted e-mail (communication for free!) and the web (information for free!). The thrill in the experience is the free stuff. Do you think you'd ever hear a first-time web user say, "Hey, and I can subscribe to all kinds of magazines on the web!," or "I can buy all the music I want on the web"? No way. They are there for the free stuff. We pay our ISP to have access to the free stuff. If stuff is no longer free, we'll get it in a more convienent form from somewhere else.
  • by BaronM (122102) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:02AM (#97783)
    ...but I do object to the infrastructure.

    In particular, it seems whenever I pay for something on line, I have to

    • Hand over lots of personal information.
    • Use a credit card.
    • "opt out" of sixteen different offerings.
    • Agree to Terms of Service that basically say I an not gauranteed anything for my money
    • Agree the said Terms of Service may be changed unilaterally at any time with out notice.
    • remember yet another username and password.

    Whereas, when I buy a newspaper, magazine, CD, movie, or anything else offline, all I have to do is:

    • Select an item by browsing (previewing).
    • hand some cash to the nice clerk.
    • enjoy my {whatever} in peace

    And of course, if the product I buy offline is defective, I can return it and get my money back. How many subscription web sites have a clear refund policy?

    Leaving the question of quality aside (since most people's comments, including mine, aren't worth $.02 most of the time), paying for online content is inconvenient, invasive, and doesn't even provide a reasonable gaurantee that I'll get what I'm paying for.

    I think that about covers it for me.

  • by aiken_d (127097) <brooks.tangentry@com> on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:35AM (#97791) Homepage
    Why *would* I pay for content when I can get comrpable content elsewhere for free. People would rather not pay than pay, right? That provides a strong incentive for content produces to find a business model whereby content consumers don't have to pay. Advertising is the obvious one, but there are others.

    As long as someone's making a go of it offering free content, it's going to be pretty hard for other people in that same market to charge for content without some kind of strong differentiation (like HBO versus CBS).

    I don't see why that's so hard to understand.

  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:45AM (#97855)
    No, we won't pay for Slashdot.
  • by duffbeer703 (177751) on Monday July 09, 2001 @11:15AM (#97865)
    The Slashdot mantra has always been "information wants to be free" or "FUCK RIAA".

    Now that their shit company is going down the tubes, Slashdots 'moral crusade' takes a second fiddle to cash.

    Bunch of hypocrites.
  • I don't agree. I've signed up for Salon Premium [] for $30 a year, but I would much rather pay Salon by micropayments.

    It took me a long time before I decided to sign up, I would so much prefer micropayments because I really don't have much time to read. But then, I realized that Salon just needs the money, badly, and I would hate Salon to go down, so I figured I just couldn't wait any longer. Besides, it is great not having the banner ads there.

    I think micropayments are a very big part of the answer, but I think it is a good idea to offer both.

  • by garett_spencley (193892) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:21AM (#97894) Journal
    As far as I'm concerned I pay $40/month for internet (@home cable). That entitles me to be able to view all the content that I want (or at least that's how it was sold to me). So why should I pay more?

    It sucks that the $40/month can't go to the content providers. I do wish that the people who allocate significant resources to producing online content that I use can be compensated for their work. But from a customer's point of view I have already payed for ability to view that content.


  • by quintessent (197518) <my usr name on toofgiB [tod] moc> on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:18AM (#97904) Journal
    We are standing at the base of a Niagara falls of information with our mouths open. When someone offers to sell us a bottle of pure spring water, we say, no that's ok.

    There is the continual feeling that the next click might yield what we am looking for. But it could be dozens of clicks away. For some reason, probably because of conditioning, we choose to gamble time rather than money.

  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Monday July 09, 2001 @10:56AM (#97934)
    Ultimately, it'll be pay-per-thought. We'll have cybernetic devices inplanted into the bas of our skulls to meter incoming content. Video/audio can then be sent encrypted all the way to our brains where final and untappable decryption takes place. Even think "Exit light... Enter night! Taaaake my hand! Off to never never land!" and ka-CHING, your credit account is charged a small fee

    I believe this [] is what you're referring to?

  • by kstumpf (218897) on Monday July 09, 2001 @09:07AM (#97941)
    Although the readers here may be savvy enough to pay for content in some form, most people feel that they "already pay for the internet" when they send their check to their access provider. People don't want to pay $20 a month for a means to access content that requires further payment.

    Payment methods are definitely another major obstacle. Electronic payment is convenient at times, but as I went over my bank statement the other day, I realized what a tangled mess it actually makes. Of course its my own fault, but there's just too much recurring electronic activity on my card at this point. I tend to like paying with physical money and receiving physical goods in exchange.

    Payment has to be reliable and easy. If the payment system is intrusive, I won't put up with it. Part of the problem with charging for web content is your constantly reminded that youre paying for it. Login boxes impede normal web surfing habits.

    Although this is somewhat intangible and I havent seen mention of it, the web is flakey by nature. HTTP is stateless and connectionless. HTML, javascript and other client-side languages are interpreted differently by each browser. You really don't know what to expect from one site to the next. One site may have a great payment and access system, easy to use and well designed, but the next site might not. Most sites have terrible layouts and aren't designed optimally. Since you don't know what you'll get up front, most people aren't willing to give it a try.

    As a sort of example, surely Slashdot could benefit from interface improvements itself. No offense, but this site's design is outdated and cumbersome (reminds me of the oversized, boxy look of X with its obscure icons). To be honest, its probably my least favorite of the sites I visit. I'm not so certain I would trust this site to implement a seamless payment/access system in a way I would be willing to put up with. That being said, its still my favorite site and I still visit every day. Hmm...

    And then, there are so many sites! Even if you only want to subscripe to half a dozen, imagine what a pain it would be. More logins and passwords to remember! And you probably would not get printed statements, so you'd have to track spending on your own somehow.

    Then you have to wonder, how will pay-sites solicit new traffic. Pay for advertising? Offer crippled free content? Rely on word of mouth? None of these seem practical for most sites. The web is open by nature, and when you post a guard at gates of your site, youre differentiating yourself from the rest of the web. I dont know of anyone who's found a really solid way to charge for content and still grow their userbase.

    And of course, simply making your site a "pay site" doesnt mean youre out of the woods financially. Can you really make enough money off the people willing to pay? Maybe not. On top of what you WERE doing, you also have some new areas you'll need to spend significant amounts of money. You have to police accounts, you have to find ways to get more paying users, you have to worry about security, you have to keep content at a level of quality people will continue paying for, your service must be reliable and fast (now that people are paying for it), etc...

    I'm very curious to see if people will establish a reliable standard business plan that monetizes the web, but obviously right now such a thing doesnt exist. Eventually some entity will probably emerge as a standard way people use to pay for content (similar to paypal's dominance in its own field). Hopefully when that happens, payment really is made painless. At any rate, I think I'll wait another few years before going to work for a company with a .com at the end.

  • by unformed (225214) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:54AM (#97948)
    1) We've been spoiled. For example, Napster made music free (to the masses); now people go around saying that all music should be free. Music should not be free, musicians spend long hours trying to perfect their sound, and it's a job for them. Yet, people can't accept that because they've become accustomed to getting free music. (Same goes with software, except it's a little different when the author intentionally releases it freely)

    2) It's hard to pay for information, solely because it's intangible. Few people will readily pay for an online book. I know I won't. I don't have a problem with buying a book; I buy many books, but i want it in physical form (same goes with cds).

    I'd have to say that's the biggest reason, that we've become used to things being free, it additionally serves as "fighting the corporate power" even though the majority of people "fighting the power" are doing it to save money.

    Most geeks know what the internet was like before it hit the mainstrea; EVERYTHING was free (warez, porn, etc) similar to how Usenet is. Most geeks don't want to pay for information because we're used to not paying (in addition to wanting it free). The rest of society is jumping on the bandwagon, well, because they want a free ride.
  • by DarkDust (239124) <> on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:49AM (#97971) Homepage
    The main problem IMHO is the missing (micro) payment standard. I wouldn't be willing to give out my credit card numbers just for a dollar or even a few cents. Besides, I don't have a credit card and I don't like to have one (they just make trouble because you USE them ;-) If there would be a payment system where I could transfer money onto an online deposit and then transfer money from the deposit to someone on the net, things would be completely different ! The often-discussed micro-payment for online comics for instance, I'd sure pay 10cents or whatever for an episode of a good online comic.
  • by rknop (240417) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:06AM (#97973) Homepage

    Do a websearch. Even with a good tool like Google, most of the time (in my experience) one wades through a lot of "crap" (either real crap, or good stuff which isn't doesn't address the question you're really trying to answer). Eventually, you find what you're looking for.

    Now suppose that pay-for-content was the usual model on the internet. If you had to pay a couple of cents for every useless web page you looked at during your web search, while you were trying to find that gem of the page that made the whole thing worth it, you'd be paying for a lot of stuff that you didn't want to be paying for.

    What would happen? People would stop doing web searches. People who go with "known and trusted" sources for content-- i.e. the AOL/Time/Warner web pages, or other Megacorp-blessed web pages. If you have to pay for all your content, you will be a whole lot less willing to wade through pages looking for the unknown gem than you will be if you're paying a flat fee for all content (which is effectively the case now, where you just pay for access). This will squelch the greatest thing about the internet, which is that anybody who wants to can put something up there for other people to see. If nothing ever gets seen but the Megacorp-blessed pages, then the Internet is just a slightly faster way to get the same thing you get from Network TV. That would be sad.

    Now, perhaps this isn't the real question. Perhaps we're only talking about paying for content for a few things-- coyprighted music, specific news feeds, etc. Well, fine. That might work. But a general "pay for content" model will only have limited success as long as free content is out there. Why should I pay for a subscription to "How To Get Your Hardware To Work Dot Com" when there are lots of people out there putting up web pages with hints and suggestions for getting your hardware to work? On the other hand, I did say "limited success". While I think that any system that tried to make all content on the internet something you pay for would fail, there are some things worth paying for. Indeed, I subscribe to a couple of webzines myself. It's not much-- to the tune of $15 a year or so-- but it is paying for content. But it's very very far from a model where all or even a significant amount of the online content must be explicitly paid for.

    I *do* have something against micropayments. Micropayments mean always having to watch what you're doing. Each web page you download you ask yourself, is this worth $0.02 to me? I've been on a micropayment system, back in the 80's and early 90's on QuantumLink and GEnie. I hated it. By and large, I only used the "flat rate" sections of the services, and simply avoided the "pay for time" sections of the services. There was stuff I was interested in there, but I didn't want to have the watch the clock the whole time I was using it. It ruined it for me -- having to watch the clock made it simply not worth it. Micropayments are the same way. Let me pay a flat fee and browse all I want without worry, rather than having to keep making the decision over and over again whether to buy or not to buy.


  • by spellcheckur (253528) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:22AM (#97991)
    I go to /. and 90% of the time, I see a banner ad at the top for ThinkGeek or VALinux. I go to ESPN, and I see banners for the MLB team store and new movies coming out. I go pretty much anywhere and I get a pop up window offering me and X10 camera that I can use to spy on the babysitter.

    People won't pay for content because we're already trading eyetime for it. Advertising has always run the (non-book) publishing world. Do you think fifty cents a day covers the cost of a home-delivered New York Times? Three bucks for your newsstand copy of Playboy? Not even close.

    All those ads for cars, cigarettes, beer and allergy medications... those are the things paying for your paper subscriptions.

    Now bravo to the "online community" for filtering spam and coming up with banner-blocking proxys, but these is the same small percentage of people who tell telemarketers they wish to be added to the "no call" list and file to stop junk mail [].

    Just like in the print world, most consumers just live with the inconvenience of banners and spam, ignoring and discarding most of what they see. That's why nobody wants to pay for online content.

    As for electronic books, I won't pay for them because I want my novels in print. Once the interface gets good, I might... then again, if MasterCard puts its logo at the beginning of each chapter, I'd be just as happy to let them pay.

    This opnion has been paid for by an unintentional donation by my company, which shall remain nameless so that I may keep my job. Don't pay for it.

  • by MSBob (307239) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:48AM (#98024)
    as kuro5hin became a pay site as of today. check it at
  • by sharkticon (312992) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:57AM (#98035)

    I don't think anyone has any doubts that we can afford to pay for content of various kinds, well at least the dwindling minority here that aren't 15 year old kids anyway. The problem has never been whether we're able to pay for stuff it's whether we want to pay for it.

    Modern day Western socioeconomic culture has been deeply influenced by the "ideals" of capitalism, in which we expect things to come as cheaply as possible, and in which consumption is the lubricant that greases our lives. We exist solely to consume, and anything else is pretty much a wasteful side effect. And unfortunately, because of this drive to consume, we end up feeling that we're owed something, and that by getting stuff cheaper or for free we're ahead of the game.

    Most of us here wouldn't notice a cent or two coming out of our bank accounts for being able to access decent, high-quality content online, but if we can get away without paying, then we'll whine until the cows come home! Couple this with an almost-Luddite fear of giving out account details online thanks to sloppy computer security and media fear-mongering, and you can see how micropayments are not ready for the primetime yet.

    I think it's just a sign of the times. Just as people here would rather use Napster to get songs than find a way to ensure the artist gets paid fairly, people will always go for the free option, even when it leads to the end of the product they were after. Such is today's culture - firmly short-sighted and selfish.

  • I can provide a data point on tipping for content. I've had a tip jar [] on my web (The Idocs Guide to HTML []) for about seven months now and so far I've been tipped a whopping $78.35. Every page in the site links to the tip jar.

    The frustrating thing is that I get several emails every day telling me how useful my site is to people, but tips don't accompany the emails. About 90% of the time a request for help accompanies the compliment. I'm glad that I help these people, and I really do develop the site as an act of love, not profit-seeking, but I have to admit it's getting old being told that my site is more helpful than the stack of books they bought ... but of course they probably spent well over $100 for a stack of books but don't send me $5 for the help I provided.

    I started the tip jar as a "what-the-hell" thing. Now I'm considering taking it down because I'm worried that it's building more resentment in me than when I just didn't have it at all.

    <IRONY> On the other hand, O'Reilly paid me $16,000 to write a book for them (including the final payment approving the final draft), then decided to cancel the book []. So I'm not getting paid for content I do publish and I did get paid for content that wasn't published. </IRONY>

    Miko O'Sullivan

  • by Magumbo (414471) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:02AM (#98067)
    The problem with this stems from the fact that not everyone assigns the same value to content. Let's say Joe finds a piece of info on the Internet and he's willing to pay $10 for it, Jack finds that same piece of info but only thinks it is worth $2, and Jill finds the information not useful at all.

    Now suppose this "information" is a series of nude photographs of Jill, Jack is her boyfriend, and Joe is the nerdy kid who lives next door. What does this tell us about Jill? About Jack? What about Joe? The content provider?

    What conclusions can you draw?


  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday July 09, 2001 @04:37PM (#98068)
    It's crap. &nbsp 99.9999999999% of all 'content' on the Internet is worth exactly what we are currently paying for it. &nbsp Slashdot, Fuckedcompany and others are often entertaining, but would you subscribe to a newspaper that contains nothing but 'Letters to the Editor' and publishes everything it receives, regardless of content or relevance? &nbsp I don't think so.

    I am already 'paying for content' -- 2 daily newspapers, 4 monthly magazines and cable TV. &nbsp Why would I go on the Internet and pay for 'content' that's inferior to what I'm already paying for?

    With 'content' there's a lot of flexibility in personal preferences and choices -- it's not as simple and cut and dried as "I like that so I'll pay for it". &nbsp X might not be exactly the same (or as good) as Y, but it's close enough -- especially since I've already paid for X. &nbsp I might find your online comic strip funny, but I'm unlikely to pay you because I'm already paying for a daily newspaper that gives me 20 comics every day.

  • by Densmore (466275) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:33AM (#98131)
    People pay for content every day -- in aggregated form. They buy CD-ROMs, they buy newspapers and magazines, they purchase periodicals and books. Those physical forms are technical capable of being delivered on the Internet today, and in far more customized manifestations than their physical bretheren.

    What is lacking is a reliable transaction platform which permits billing for the use of these items on a disaggregated basis across multiple websites.

    Napster could work with a mechanism exists for a consumer to click on an MP3 music file at any participating website, and pay for that one song, collecting a set of songs onto a hard-drive and then burning a CD -- the contents of which may consist of songs with royalties owed to 13 or 15 different composers or record labels. Or a consolidating website -- an "infomediary" may wish to bundle a digital product which consists of content resources culled from a dozen other websites.

    All that is required is a mechanism for that infomediary website to reliably apportion out the bundled cost of such a product to the underlying producers.

    Clickshare's [] transaction platform for privacy-protected digital-content purchasing envisions this solution. A consumer can have one account at a most-trusted infomediary and purchase content from multiple related websites, paying just one aggregated bill and without having to register over, and over again.

    "Micropayments" are a misnomer. Some consumers may want to pay per song. Others may want a subscription or to purchase a collection. The point is to enable all such behaviors, while acknowledging that in the background, there must be a logging mechanism which will sort out the discrete royalty payments to all the constuent content providers.

"It's like deja vu all over again." -- Yogi Berra