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Whatever happened to micropayments?

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/09/05

Way back when the web was young, we all thought we faced a future where newspapers would go digital and we'd pay a few pennies for every story we wanted. Why hasn't that happened yet?

The future was said to be one of micropayments. You saw something you liked the look of? Pay a few pennies and download the whole thing.

This was going to be one of the big money-spinners, a way for online newspapers, in particular, to make a killing from their back issues, and a model for a new micropayment economy.

But most sites that have charged for content have done so with a subscription fee - the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Economist. Micropayments just seemed to go by the wayside somewhere.

Now the buzzword is syndication. Syndication can "save content", says the Industry Standard, quoting Salon's recent financial woes and several content producers who are following the syndication path.

But syndication is primarily a business-to-business transaction. It also fosters the repetition of the same content in dozens of different places. How does the consumer get their hands on fresh, interesting content - and pay for it?

One space where micropayments seem to have caught on is for e-texts, such as the short stories available from Fictionwise. There have also been rumblings that as Paypal expands globally, it may become a standard for online micropayments.

But it seems we're still a long way from that dream of endless micro-priced content.