Can micro-payments mean big payoff?

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: There's been a lot of chatter the last week or so about newspapers. Not what's in them. But whether they'll be around to break the next big story. Well, this week the Wall Street Journal announced that readers can either subscribe or pay separately for each story they read online. They're called micro-payments. As newspapers struggle to find a model that works that got us thinking about other content online and whether people are willing to open their wallets for the things they want. Staci Kramer is the co-editor of paidContent.org. Thanks for joining us.

STACI KRAMER: Thanks for having me.

Vigeland: This is certainly not the first time people have talked about the idea of micropayments, but certainly one of the largest publications to be putting it into practice. Is it going to work?

KRAMER: Well, since we don't know what they're actually going to do, it's really hard to say. For instance, we don't know if what they're talking about is $1 payments or 5 cent payments. Will you, for instance, buy a pass that gives you access to a certain number over a period of time? If by paying do you get a one-time read, or do you get the ability to use it to do other things?

Vigeland: Well, aside from niche publications like the Journal, is anyone else successfully charging for content?

KRAMER: Well, charging for content, yes. But how they're doing it varies from company to company and from site to site. In some cases, what they've been successful at doing is in getting people like say at ESPN to sign up for the ESPN Insider, which gives you early access and more in-depth access to sports gossip and sports news and information. And with it you get a magazine, which is different from signing up for ESPN the magazine and with it getting access. Which you can also do, but the idea here is if you're willing to come find us online then you're also a reader for our print publication.

Vigeland: You know, the journalism world is still obviously really grappling with this. But, you know, you look at, for example, the music industry. And it took them a while, but now people do pay per song on the likes of iTunes. So is it possible to take that example and say, well, maybe we could learn from that?

KRAMER: Well, I think you could. But one of the big differences between using music, just to backtrack a little bit, is you like to hear music over and over again. You usually don't like to read the same story over and over again.

Vigeland: Unless it's really, really great.

KRAMER: Yeah, really great. But you might want to go to the same Web site over and over again. Because you like the way that they write or you like their approach. So how do you match that interest with the ability to very quickly charge someone for something, or the ability to layer on?

Vigeland: When you look at content in general on the Internet, are we moving toward more free content, or more paid content? And here, of course, we are talking about pretty much everything with the exception of retail. That's an obvious one, but is there a trend one way or another?

KRAMER: I'm going to say we're moving toward a time where more people, more news organizations, are going to be willing to experiment with pay than probably at any time that I've ever seen. People are accelerating their search for alternative sources of revenue. And they're looking at the cable model. It's as much about looking at the cable model as it is about looking at the iTunes model.

Vigeland: Yeah, we all said we would never pay for television, right?

KRAMER: Well, we all said we would never pay for television. We all said after we pay we wouldn't pay to watch HBO or you wouldn't pay to watch Showtime. And yet Showtime is having a banner year with subscriptions, even in a down economy. People are willing to pay when it comes to them the way they want it. And that's what everybody is searching for right now. How do you find that intersection? Not just the price that someone is willing to pay but that willingness to pay for something they can't get in any other way. And that's what it is, that's what people are searching for. And the problem is it's different for every publication.

Vigeland: Staci Kramer is the co-editor paidContent.org, which is a free site, by the way. Staci, thanks so much.

KRAMER: I appreciate it.

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