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September 6th, 2003 - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Sep. 6th, 2003

11:32 pm - Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content

Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content

Micropayments, small digital payments of between a quarter and a
fraction of a penny, made (yet another) appearance this summer with
Scott McCloud's online comic, The Right Number,
accompanied by predictions of a rosy future for micropayments.

To read The Right Number, you have to sign up for the BitPass
micropayment system [http://www.bitpass.com/learn/]; once you have an
account, the comic itself costs 25 cents.

BitPass will fail, as FirstVirtual, Cybercoin, Millicent, Digicash,
Internet Dollar, Pay2See, and many others have in the decade since
Digital Silk Road, [http://www.agorics.com/Library/dsr.html] the paper
that helped launch interest in micropayments. These systems didn't
fail because of poor implementation; they failed because the trend
towards freely offered content is an epochal change, to which
micropayments are a pointless response.

The failure of BitPass is not terribly interesting in itself. What is
interesting is the way 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

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