Saving journalism with a button

Imagine if every online news article, feature, interview, column, video or slideshow had a click-to-read button – like the click-to-share buttons (for Twitter and Facebook) or the RSS feed button. This simple button would charge you a tiny read fee, perhaps 5 pence/cents for standard article, as much as £$1.50 for in-depth mixed media content.

Daily use could be capped at a chosen amount, say £$5, after which an additional security click would be required. Users could top up their read-fee accounts by direct debit or with regular payments, along the Skype or PayPal models, or with contactless payment system.

The system would, of course, require all media outlets to sign up to it – and institutions like the BBC with its licence fee and other public/charitable bodies mightn’t be able to – but this seems to me the only viable way to maintain quality journalism, in-depth trusted reporting from knowledgeable correspondents into the coming decades.

Because, I don’t think people have a problem with paying for journalism; they have a problem with the bureaucracy it currently entails: registering, filling forms, entering bank and other personal details. It’s a faff and, because of that, most people would rather not bother climbing a paywall.

This one-button, simple system – like the tap of an Oyster card, the click of an Amazon payment button – means there is a just one-off registration system to read whatever you want.

The readfee system would always offer the first, say, 30-50 words for free. This would act like a teaser for longer articles on the journal site or on aggregators and social media, like Facebook, and provide enough news for scanning eyes. I anticipate that the real payout would be for exclusives and feature length content. Ads could be dispensed with entirely or adopted into the new system.

Micropayment systems are, of course, not new – they have been proposed in the past and several are already in use (this system shows success). But they fall down for two reasons, because they are not universal and they are not simple enough to use – they may require a separate browser, for example.

This is why I propose a universally adopted one-button payment system.

Media houses could be in charge of their own article rates – I expect that market forces would lead them to standardise fairly quickly. Special offers and other enticements could be agreed within the button operating rules. But, the rules should agree a minimum payment, even if it is as little as tuppence. The button would display the number (price) of the article.

Now, all we need is for the first news organisations to sign up – come on, are times not bad enough!

3 thoughts

  1. I can imagine people writing only 30-50 interesting words of an article even more than they do now, then!

    I think you’re right that the bureaucracy is the biggest problem with these things, though. It’s interesting to think people wouldn’t mind the money very much. Who wouldn’t rather pay the 2 cents the ad makes than dodge cleverly placed ads to scroll down?

  2. I like the daily cap to keep myself from mindlessly click, click, clicking on all kinds of useless stuff- I’d rather pay a small fee and read the good stuff!

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