An idle thought… Websites are experimenting with ways of getting people to pay for their content. Pay $ to read this article! Pay $$ to read all our stuff for a year! But I’m not sure this works in the Age of Point-At Things.
I could pay $6 for as much of the New York Review of Books as I can read in a week, or $69 for a year. I could subscribe to the Economist for $20 a month or $95 a year. Or Harper’s for $41 a year (from the UK), including the paper copy.
But, these days, we increasingly come across articles via pointers from friends (Twitter, Facebook, email) or links on other websites. We hop from one publisher to another, or collate our own magazines from these fragments on Instapaper. Subscribing to a single source doesn’t work in this case. You wouldn’t subscribe to the Economist only to read the handful of articles other people would point you towards over the course of a year.
I wanted to post a link to this article in the NYRB, of Tony Judt’s memories of London’s Green Line bus service, but I realised it’s only for subscribers. Hmm. There’s now no reason for me to link to it. No one I know will be able to read it. It’s a good article, but no one’s going to pay even a week’s subscription of $6 to read it.
There is the never-quite-arrived future of micropayments for reading individual articles. Pay-per-read. Maybe, if there’s ever a good mechanism, and the pricing is right, that might work. I could then point at that article about a 1950s bus service, and anyone really interested could stump up the, what, ten cents? fifty cents? required to read that one article.
But this seems a bit rude: I point at an article, knowing that people who follow my recommendation will have to stump up some cash to read it. I’m going to feel bad if they then don’t like it. And they’re going to be less likely to pay to read anything I link to in future.
Perhaps, instead of a pay-per-read service, there should be a pay-per-point service. I pay some money up front, and I can point people at the full article for free. I’m the one who wants people to read it, so let me treat them to a free read. That seems more polite. “Here, you should read this, you’ll like it. But no pressure: it’s on me!”
I don’t know how it could work technically. Some kind of limited-time and/or limited-views token in the URL you use? Something that would check the referers and only let people in if they came from your website?
Maybe it wouldn’t work, but it feels like it should. It would be nice.