They stole my idea…kind of.

Last April, I posted a blog entry about the New York Times’ paywall and how it was doomed to fail. The Times’ paywall had just gone up, and page views had gone down by 11 to 30 percent. I suggested that a more practical way for readers (and publishers) to charge for content would be a micropay system, in which readers paid a very small fee for just the content they view. This would all be tracked by a third-party service, which would track your content purchases (40 cents at the New York Times, $1.80 at National Geographic, etc.) and charge your credit card monthly. It would be far more convenient than paying a large monthly fee for each media outlet a reader frequents, in addition to having to memorize multiple usernames and passwords.

Well, the industry has co-opted my idea…kind of. Press+ is a service that provides media outlets with a paywall. The goal of Press+ is that it will become ubiquitous across all paywalled media. The outlet doesn’t have to trouble itself with running its own paywall, and the consumer doesn’t have to keep track of multiple online accounts. When a consumer wants to access paywalled content, they just log into their Press+ account and are charged accordingly.

Here’s what the Press+ website says:

Press+ is your universal account for easily accessing paid online news on websites across the world.

You’ll most likely encounter Press+ when you try to read an article or click a link on one of your favorite news sites. You’ll be asked to create an account – which takes a matter of seconds – to purchase access for a modest price. Then, we’ll keep track of your payment information so that when you see Press+ on any other website, you can log in with the same e-mail address and password to purchase access with one click.

A recent press release from Press+ says that more than 300 websites now use Press+ to meter their content.

This is a step in the right direction. You can already see this kind of universality in payments with services like PayPal, or the widespread use of your Facebook login to register with a website. But what Press+ and online publishers are still missing is the micro-pay aspect. How many people will pay $5-$10 per month per publication to access content that may very well be available for free elsewhere?

If a consumer purchases subscriptions to just ten websites—a mere drop in the media ocean—that’s $50-100 per month for a fairly small slice of the media pie. But if Press+ allowed for a micro-pay system, consumers could pay pennies per article on thousands of websites for that same $50-100.

Press+ almost has the right idea, but it’s not quite there yet.

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