Sunday, April 20, 2008

Opt-in payments for writers

It was good, this morning, to see Tim Worstall namechecked by Nick Cohen - as the UK's answer to Matt Drudge, no less.

Cohen has some justifiable concerns about the economic viability of writing in an age where the web is conditioning us to expect content for free:

Briefly, the net allowed the transmission of professionally produced and edited news, books, music and analysis to anyone anywhere in the world with a connection. But the golden age couldn't last because the net users weren't prepared to pay for decent content and the web degenerated into mediocrity.
I don't quarrel with his main thesis, but he didn't examine one phenomenon, the rise of a few reader-financed journalists like Michael Totten who, so far as I can see, have been able to sustain prolonged periods of in-field writing on the basis of voluntary support from their readers.

There have been several attempts but no identifiable leader has emerged in what might be an interesting and important micro-payment technology, one that would allow me to set a payment figure of my own choosing, set up a list of beneficiaries rather as I set up feeds in my rss reader, and have my account debited regularly and the payment shared between my chosen recipients.

In other words, one possible future includes the ability of readers not to choose what is often the least bad newspaper and pay for it, accepting the editors' choices of writers, but rather to choose themselves which columnists they want to read and, therefore, pay for.

I have a feeling that while Tim Worstall and Nick Cohen would succeed under such an arrangement, there are others who wouldn't. The demise of a self-selecting class of journalists might be no very bad thing.

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