Micropayments: The Silver Bullet For Newspapers?

Depressing news from Philadelphia this morning: the group of investors that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

On Slate, Jack Shafer responds to Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, who has suggested that a system of "micropayments" could save newspapers. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a periodical would charge a very, very, very small amount of money for each article someone reads online.) In "How to Save Your Newspaper," published in Time, Isaacson points to "one of history's ironies":

...hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed. Instead, the Web got caught up in the ethos that information wants to be free.

Isaacson didn't convince Shafer. After he examined successful paid sites, Shafer found three things they all seem to have in common:

1) They are so amazing as to be irreplaceable. 2) They are beautifully designed and executed and extremely easy to use. 3) They are stupendously authoritative.

Although we probably won't tackle this subject on our air any time soon (we've discussed it before), tell us what you think. What could save newspapers?

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