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The Case Against Micropayments

Micropayments are back, at least in theory, thanks to P2P. Micropayments are an idea with a long history and a disputed definition - as the W3C micropayment working group puts it, '... there is no clear definition of a 'Web micropayment' that encompasses all systems,' but in its broadest definition, the word micropayment refers to 'low-value electronic financial transactions.'

Shirky, Clay. OpenP2P (2000). Design>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments


The Case Against Micropayments

P2P creates two problems that micropayments seem ideally suited to solve. The first is the need to reward creators of text, graphics, music or video without the overhead of publishing middlemen or the necessity to charge high prices. The success of music-sharing systems such as Napster and Audiogalaxy, and the growth of more general platforms for file sharing such as Gnutella, Freenet and AIMster, make this problem urgent.

Shirky, Clay. O'Reilly and Associates (2000). Articles>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments


The Case For Micropayments

I predict that most sites that are not financed through traditional product sales will move to micropayments in less than two years. Users should be willing to pay, say, one cent per Web page in return for getting quality content and an optimal user experience with less intrusive ads. Once users pay for the pages, then they get to be the site's customers, and the site will design to satisfy the users' needs and not the advertisers' needs.

Nielsen, Jakob, Kara Pernice Coyne and Marie Tahir. Alertbox (1998). Articles>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments


The Digital Imprimatur

Over the last two years I have become deeply and increasingly pessimistic about the future of liberty and freedom of speech, particularly in regard to the Internet.

Walker, John. Fourmilab (2003). Articles>Publishing>Online>Micropayments


Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content

The failure of micropayments, both past and future, illustrates the depth and importance of putting publishing tools in the hands of individuals. In the face of a force this large, user-pays schemes can't simply be restored through minor tinkering with payment systems, because they don't address the cause of that change -- a huge increase the power and reach of the individual creator.

Shirky, Clay. Shirky.com (2003). Articles>Publishing>Online>Micropayments



Free software is not free - it comes with an implicit obligation that you respect the rights of its creators, and that you give something back from your use of the software, from code libraries to promotion to documentation, to the larger community. It's possible, indeed probable, that this ethos, derived by programmers and engineers to solve some very real problems, may in fact be a sound model on which to build an economy.

Cagle, Kurt. O'Reilly and Associates (2009). Articles>Publishing>Writing>Micropayments


The Mental Accounting Barrier to Micropayments

Some electronic commerce projects promise dramatically lower transaction costs, so that we can achieve "micropayments", "microintermediation", and so forth. An even more advanced idea is the use of very small granularity markets for the allocation of computer and network resources. To what extent are such things achievable?

Szabo, Nick. VWH.net (1996). Articles>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments


Micropayments: Do Users Want Them?  (link broken)

It used to be a given (amongst those in the know at least) that ‘micropayments’ were the only sustainable business model for those providing content on the web. Micropayments work by charging a tiny amount for access to web content, and are touted as the alternative to giving content away for free (which doesn’t make any money) or charging for subscriptions (which is unlikely to appeal to Internet users now accustomed to freedom of movement online. The theory goes that small amounts to each individual consumer will add up to sufficient funds to keep online publishing firms in business. In recent times, however, any consensus there was surrounding micropayments as ‘the way forward’ has begun to dissolve. There is a growing feeling that the slow introduction of this method of payment is less to do with technical constraints than user requirements. Put simply – micropayments are not emerging as a ‘web standard’ because users dislike them. There are certainly a number of good arguments against their implementation.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2002). Design>Web Design>Pricing>Micropayments


Misunderstanding Micropayments

The following is a response to Clay Shirky's new article Fame versus Fortune (a follow-up to his 2000 essay The Case Against Micropayments) which takes aim at the 9-week-old BitPass payment system. I'm a long-time advocate of micropayments, an advisor to BitPass, and my online comic The Right Number is mentioned in his first paragraph, so I'm hardly a disinterested party. Still, I hope my arguments will help illuminate why I think that Shirky's logic is flawed, and why his caricature of the idea of micropayments bears little resemblance to the reality being created right now.

McCloud, Scott. ScottMcCloud.com (2003). Articles>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments


Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death

A few years ago, experts thought a new pricing model would sweep the Internet in which users would gladly pay a few cents a page for the content that they liked. It was a costly misjudgment.

Anders, George. Fast Company (2001). Design>Web Design>E Commerce>Micropayments

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