Wall Street Journal to introduce micro-payments

For the past few years, The Wall Street Journal has pretty much stood alone as the only mainstream online newspaper to charge for access to its content (the New York Times abandoned their online paid-subscription model in 2007).

If you're thinking that this is an out-dated model that will soon be retired, you'd be wrong. In fact, the WSJ is planning on broadening its fee structure, allowing people who can't justify the $104/year subscription fee to purchase single articles via a micro-payment system. This new plan is set to roll out this autumn, according to the Financial Times. No prices have yet been specified.

With advertising dollars drying up for both print and online media, newspapers and periodicals are hurting, with newspapers taking the worst of the beating. Just ask the Boston Globe. The papers have to do something to save themselves. But will charging for online content really work?

The common assumption is that we're all used to getting everything for free on the web and that we won't pay. (Obviously current subscribers to the WSJ are the exception to that rule, presumably since the WSJ is a business tool that subscribers feel they can't do without.) But why won't we pay? Is it a question of price or convenience? Or some intersection of the two?

For a micro-payment model to succeed, it'll have to be virtually invisible. If you want to charge me $0.15 to read an article, I'm more likely to balk at the hassle of figuring out how to get you your three nickels than I am at the cost. If you want to charge me $1 to read it, then I'm more likely to go off to find an alternative source of the information I want. Make it cheap enough, and easy enough, and buying the content from you becomes a better time and money value than going to look for it elsewhere. I'll be interested to see if the Wall Street Journal can find that sweet spot of value/convenience.

But that's just based on my personal values and preferences. What about you? Would you ever pay for online content? Do you already? If you don't, what would get you to do so? Please leave a comment and share.

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