Marketplace Scratch Pad

Here come the tiny payments

Scott Jagow May 11, 2009

The Wall Street Journal plans to charge per article starting this fall. It would be the first major newspaper to try a micropayment system. The consensus reaction seems to be — there’s no way in hell it’s going to work.

The details are pretty vague so far, but the idea is to attract readers who don’t want to pay $100-plus per year for a subscription to the Journal’s online content. The Journal hasn’t said how much it’ll charge, but the paper’s managing editor tells the Financial Times the pricing for individual articles and specialist content would be “rightfully high.”

Techdigest sums up the prevailing opinion about this:

It makes no difference that the WSJ is a highly respected publication. Anything it scoops will filter down in a matter of minutes to the rest of the web. There’ll be no traffic sent back News Corp’s way but instead smaller sites will mop up what would have been theirs. There’s a very large element of shooting themselves in the feet here and with both barrels too…

Even if the whole internet changed to pay-per-view, it would only take one site to start publishing pages for free for the whole system to collapse and for that new site to take over.

There’s the rub. Last week, at hearings on the newspaper industry, Senator John Kerry said it’s possible newspapers could be given limited exemption from antitrust laws so they could work together on a pricing model. I find it preposterous to believe that anything of that nature will be successful on the constantly changing, highly adaptive Internet.

Plus, I doubt they’ll be much support for a newspaper “bailout” anyway. Most papers are run by huge corporations that have slowly dug their own graves and can’t ever seem to get with the “times.” Newser’s Michael Wolff may hit on a growing sentiment when he says, “Oh, for God’s Sake, Newspapers Should Go out of Business:”

We’re in the middle of one of the greatest transitions in the history of news. There will neither be newspaper nor, for that matter, the television evening news. There will neither be Frank Rich nor Rupert Murdoch nor cheap, crabbed, slow-to-respond, protect-their-own-ass, news organizations.

It’s good.

What’s your take?

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.