Thursday, February 5, 2009

Saving the Newspaper Business

In the New York Times Opinion section today, there's an article discussing the possibility of micropayments as a source of revenue for newspapers.

Essentially, you'd pay a penny for an article or a nickel for an hour of access to a web site, or something like that, and over time that $30 per month you'd spend would fund that paper's journalistic endeavors. But who's got an extra $30 or $50 or $100 a month to pay for that stuff these days? Not enough people to support all but niche subscription sites.

The key to making the micropayment work is to get the payment from the ISP, not the user. Think about it: Cable companies pay millions of dollars to their content providers like ESPN or the Discovery Channel so that they have those channels to to offer subscribers. Why would we be paying both our ISP AND for the content we can get by getting online?

Since our shortsighted and stupid ISPs would never do this (remember, these were the greedy morons who wanted to charge extra for optimal web surfing speeds), what needs to happen is this:

Google realizes that its quest to organize all the world's information is compromised by a lack of quality investigative reporting and journalism. It also realizes that the current ISPs are greedy and shortsighted. So it commissions (with the blessing of the Obama administration) a nationwide network of high speed wireless service *for free*. At this point, everyone paying $30-$60 per month for high speed access now has extra money to be charged a micropayment calculated by Google.

If you scroll down in the Times article above, you'll see that the primary objection to micropayments is that the user will have to go through the trouble to decide whether a given article or link is worth two cents. That wouldn't be an issue if Google added it up for you and sent you the bill - likely $20-$25 per month, less than you're currently paying for access. Google would also sell far more ads and would be hugely profitable. (In the interest of avoiding a Google monopoly, perhaps another company (Microsoft or someone else could offer wireless access in many areas as well).

Problem solved - Newpapers get their revenue, users still pay the same or less for high speed access, and Google/Microsoft/Yahoo get their cut for administrating it and also by selling ads.

The big loses are the telecom companies, no longer charging us for use of their "pipes".

But they had it coming.

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