Models Promising and Scary
Making microtransactions work for publishers is as daunting as it is enticing. A more efficient, "friction-less" system for vendors and consumers could open up whole new models: targeted article bundles, day and week passes, timed access to select areas of a database, to name a few possibilities. "You're going to see content providers become more savvy in how they repurpose and package content for the Internet," says Javien's Poole. Many feel that lowering content prices will goose online sales considerably. One of eMeta's clients, a physics publisher, moved pay-per-view pricing from $16 a pop to $5 and saw sales increase seventeen-fold, the company claims.
For non-traditional content areas such as gaming and dating, many argue there is a pent-up market need waiting for a better payment model. "I think the demand is there," says Lynam. "There's a ton of interest on the supply side. There's money to be made."
Or lost. The cruel irony of microtransactions is that at the same time it opens new markets for content, it also lowers the floor on pricing. What is a news article at MSNBC.com or a video clip at CNN.com worth to consumers in an open market of vast alternatives? No one really knows yet, but surely microtransactions will put more control over content value in the hands of consumers. Used to a subscription system where they controlled distribution and pricing, publishers could finally have to face a painful reality of the digital age: de-packaged content is de- valued content.
As Crosby says, "This is an area most publishers are afraid even to think about."