Posted October 8, 2012 2:54 pm by with 0 comments

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People have always been happy to pay for newspaper and magazine subscriptions, as long as the words arrived printed on actual paper. Asking those same people to buy that same content in digital form is another story.

A few outlets have had success with paywalls on the majority of their content, but it’s hardly the norm. Now that tablet usage is increasing, digital magazine subscriptions are on the rise, but still, they usually come as a bonus when you get the printed matter in the mail.

Oddly, people are much more likely to purchase ebooks. In the UK, Amazon now sells more ebooks than print books, so why aren’t people buying short articles online?

Google thinks the key might be micropayments. Instead of asking a reader to pony up $35 for unlimited digital access to an entire newspaper, Google wants to sell articles individually for $.25 to $.99.

The system, which runs through Google Wallet, is currently being tested with three content providers, Oxford University Press, Peachpit and DK. When a websurfer hits paid content, he gets a portion of the story for free and then there’s a banner with the price to continue. The rest of the article is there but shaded out, so you get a good idea of what you’re paying for.

In order to promote good faith, each article comes with an instant refund button that can be used within 30 minutes of the purchase. The idea, of course, is to make people more comfortable with their buy, but the opportunities for misuse are huge. (Google says they’re monitoring for this.)

If you’d like to see this system in action, click here for the DK Knitting Tools Tutorial page.

What they’re building is iTunes for content instead of music. A song for $.99 is an impulse buy, a $9.99 album not so much. The difference is, we listen to songs over and over again. How many articles would you read more than once?

I think that micropayments could work out very nicely for any site that posts tutorials. I might want to reread the instructions for creating a craft project or building a web site. I’m assuming that once you’ve paid for an article, you can go back as often as you like. Google doesn’t mention that.

Now, what about non-evergreen content? A diehard fan would pay $.50 to read an exclusive interview with their favorite star, but what’s to keep them from sharing that information freely with other fans once they buy it?

Other areas that could work are educational resources (an alternative to buying a whole textboook, maybe?) and business data. If you were very good at it, you could use this system to sell short stories. People pay for efiction books, so why not?

I think Google Wallet’s micropayment option could be a great source of revenue for the right content producer. Will it become the written word version of iTunes? As a writer, I wish. As a consumer, I doubt it.

What do you think? Did you read anything on the internet today that you would have paid for if you had to? Other than my column, that is. . . . 😉