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.


  • Slightly off topic here, but as you linked to Instapaper in your post, any chance of posting your Instapaper 'starred', username? It's often really interesting to see what people have starred, partially if you already read and enjoy their sites.

  • On Instapaper I'm My reading and starring of things there is rather sporadic.

  • Regarding the manners of pointing someone towards a paywall: I find it odd that while we might balk at causing others (friends) to potentially waste pennies on our suggestions, there's no cultural resistance to potentially exposing them to advertising messages. Do we have some natural instinct on what personally constitutes an inappropriate level for commercial pitches and then assume this is universal among peers? (And is there a direct cost-in-pennies translation?) It's odd. I've only really experienced a similar reticence relating to pages that have unusual plug-in requirements.

    Regarding the "pay for others" idea, I've had similar thoughts recently over the possibility of using a variation of a threshold pledge system to draw popular articles out from behind paywalls.

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17 Jul 2010 in Photos

17 Jul 2010 at Twitter

  • 7:07pm: @jwheare So maybe if I had to go all the way down the road to get sugar, that would be thoroughly garnered?
  • 6:58pm: Why do people only ever garner attention? Why not, "I'm just popping next door to garner some sugar"?
  • 5:04pm: @tobybarnes I switched from iScrobbler to the app and then forgot and quit that leaving me with NO ACTIVE SCROBBLING! The horror.
  • 4:04pm: Ugh, just listened to 22 tracks before realising scrobbling wasn't switched on. My entire life has been a waste.
  • 3:32pm: @suegyford I'd like to see all of Jim Emerson's "102 movies you must see":
  • 1:44pm: @tomtaylor They always seemed quite good when I used to go. Maybe it's changed, or some assistants are better than others...?
  • 10:57am: People queuing to get in to Breakfast Club. Weirdoes. The Diner it is!
  • 10:23am: Breakfast Club o'clock Club.
  • 10:15am: Today's Pilates class was only tiring because of the endless chattering of the supply teacher and her CD of new age music.

17 Jul 2010 in Links

On this day I was reading

Music listened to most that week

  1. Ikonika (29)
  2. Harlem (16)
  3. Tune-Yards (12)
  4. Serena-Maneesh (8)
  5. Paolo Conte (5)
  6. Louis Armstrong (5)
  7. The Roches (5)
  8. Andreya Triana (5)
  9. Digital Mystikz (3)
  10. Gang Starr (3)

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