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Micropayments will never take off

I’ve always liked the idea of micropayments. See something you like online, probably an article but maybe something else, and tap a button to pay for it. Just something small, a token, really, like it was a tip jar. The idea is nice, it’s like a friendly paywall. And people should get paid for their work, I really do think that is true. I just don’t think that every site should have a subscription, that won’t work. You need to be pretty dedicated to subscribe to a site (thank you, Switch to iPad subscribers) to begin with, and that site is probably pretty focused on a topic you have strong feelings about. Subscribing to a random blog because of a random blog post you really enjoyed? I have a hard time believing in that.

I also have a hard time believing in an optional tip jar of sorts. ”If you like my work, please donate”, that sort of thing. How often have you done that? I do it at times, especially when I get personal help, even if it’s given without the idea of a donation. But, thinking about it, I don’t think it’s even one percent of the times I see a donate button. That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? It means I’ve read (it’s almost always an article, essay, or blog post) something that the author would’ve liked a donation for, but didn’t get any from me. How many people donate? I bet it’s a sad number. I wouldn’t dare put that sort of button on my sites, for fear of sanity, if you know what I mean.

The idea of micropayments is something different. You’d get some sort of excerpt, then a prompt that says that you’ll have to pay this and that, and you’ll get access. Sort of like you rent a movie on iTunes, or something. Sure, I’m down with that, and a tap of a button, money moves hands, and you’ve got access. I’d love that, there are definitely content out there that warrants $1 or something, and that could make a difference for the author.

Except, how would you pay? Credit card? That’s 3% off, and a fixed transaction fee (ofter $0.30), making that dollar pretty pitiful. And you, the reader who wants to pay, would have to go through the notions of typing your credit card number, and all that jazz. It’s easier with things like PayPal, all those Pay services from Apple, Samsung, Google, whatnot, and the like. But, the same issue applies: $1 isn’t a lot, and I bet there’s accounting and bookkeeping and the like where you live, too.

There have been startups who’ve wanted to fix this. None has taken off. Crypto, that’s digital enough to be a potential solution, but so far, nope. Media-savvy Simon Owens says micropayments won’t make it, whereas the rejuvenated Tumblr (!) launches a tip jar feature. All this tells me is that we’re no closer to solving the problem of creators not getting paid.

And yet, we dream. I dream of being able to make a buck on essays that’ve taken me a lot of time and effort to write, but also, to easily give it back to others who do the same. Micropayments are such a nice idea. It’s a shame we don’t have the financial system to support it.

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