It was announced this week that News International is to introduce PayPal’s fast checkout system, a move that speculation suggests could bring the introduction of micro-payments for online content from UK titles a step closer.
Readers will be able to use PayPal to pay for The Times and The Sunday Times websites and iPad editions, instead of entering credit or debit card details for each payment. The new PayPal method would make it easier to introduce a micropayment system by simplifying the process for readers.
Although News International has declined to comment on whether micropayments might one day be introduced, I think it would be a shrewd move by the media owner.
As more and more content moves online but ad revenues fail to migrate from print at the same rate, it is more important than ever that publishers of online content find a better business model.
Providing a fast, simple, method for consumers to pay for online content should be a top priority for media companies who are scrambling to find a solution to dwindling print circulation and need to monetise online content in the most user-friendly and therefore profitable way.
A micro payment system could be key to this. Nowadays, consumers want to pick and choose what they read, when they read it and on what device. They don’t download whole albums on iTunes; they cherry-pick the tracks they want. It’s the same with newspaper and magazine articles.
The existing thetimes.co.uk and thesundaytimes.co.uk paywall charges non-subscribers £1 for a day’s access or £2 for a week’s subscription. For me, that isn’t particularly user-friendly when you’re clicking through from a link on Twitter or Facebook and just want to get to the article all your friends are talking about.
Having to sign up for a day or week’s use, just to get to an article telling you why George Clooney split from long-term girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis, or read an in-depth interview with Wimbledon hopeful Nadal before you head to the tennis courts, is quite frankly behind the times.
Brands have to be as flexible as possible, so that consumers can use their content in the way that suits them. That might be a day’s browsing or a moment’s fact finding but the choice should be theirs.
A micro-payment service is already being employed successfully by the Financial Times and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which both charge non-subscribers to access specific content above a set number of free-to-access articles, instead of a blanket pay barrier.
Although the Internet is peppered with failed micro-payment companies, such as Flooz or CyberCash, which failed for varying reasons from spiralling transaction costs to limited uptake, PayPal is a trusted service that has been operating for over a decade.
The company claims that its “PayPal for Digital Goods” payment method is a faster, safer and more cost-effective way for business and consumers to send and receive the smaller payments usually associated with online content.
News International is already charging for its content, so why doesn’t it do so in a way that suits its readers?