Make Mine Micropayments

Here’s an article which outlines MIT professor and e-commerce pioneer Ron Rivest’s latest idea: a means of averaging out internet purchases in such a way as to allow for a profitable and sustainable system of micropayments.

I read the article and I’m not entirely clear on exactly how this idea is supposed to work, nor how it could be applied to the world of webcomics. Anyone care to explain it to me?

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.


  1. The article is saying that getting paid $.50 every time somebody does something, on average, is the same as getting paid $10 every twentieth time somebody does something.

    The customer throws $.50 in the hat every time they buy something for $.50 – but the seller only gets a payment about 1/20 of the time – but when they get paid, they get paid 20x what they would have.

    It decreases bookkeeping a lot.

    For webcomics? I don’t know – it probably still won’t make McCloud’s vision of each webpage visit generating, say, a penny, come true – even if you get paid only ten bucks every thousandth time (on average) someone visits – the cost of these theoretical transactions would still be higher than a penny, I would think, or any other reasonable number for what one visit to a single episode of a webcomic might be.

  2. I don’t really think micropayments will be more than a theory for quite awhile. People are certainly more willing to do commerce on the ‘net than they were when people started offering it (Considering today we have several name brand organizations people have established a trust in and turn to because of their reputation. You don’t see many people doing E-business through “Bob’s credit transactions,” or something like it. You see it through Paypal and such.) but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pay for everything.

    Give people the option, pirate music as MP3s for free, or pay for them? Unless you’re totally honest, or just always want to ensure you can download a track you want, you’re not going to pay for it. Even if people were offered the service at a decent rate, you couldn’t get them to pay EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY DOWNLOAD A SONG. You could get them to pay a subscription to download as much as they want or a certain amount, but per song adds up. Same thing with webcomics. I’m not going to pay to view a comic when I can read something else for free, or even another webcomic for a flat rate.

    Plus everyone’s notion of the internet is, “Hey, cool. This stuff’s for free!” Music was once passed around on bootlegged tapes or heard for free on the radio. You want people to pay for it when they can get around that? Everyone thinks comics should be free, too, and the more popular sites understand this. I don’t charge anything for my strip. Any money to be made would probably come from complementary goods, like books and magazines, merch in the shop, or possibly donations.

    McCloud’s theory of micropayments belongs with other economic theories of what the internet would be like if everyone didn’t want to get around paying. Until the process of smaller payments becomes a more possible reality, I don’t see it as a feasable solution.

  3. I’m not entirely sure that the concept of whether people are willing to pay for a song or not is the problem. There are plenty of people out there who buy CD singles, who used to buy album singles. And though I don’t, I would be willing to pay 50 cents for a song download, or for a comic. I already pay a pittance a month for Modern Tales. Why not for other comics? (I have to admit, even TotalFark looks tempting to me).
    Using an algorithm to do this seems odd and nonsensical, but the credit card system is odd and nonsensical so this seems like a good fit.

  4. I think BoxJam is probably right here although I wonder if KeenSpot was like twice as big (say 100 regularly updating active comics, okay that may be like 4 times as big if you use that criteria) whether something like this could work for it. But if you have an organization like KeenSpot involved it might be simpler to go with a subscription model than some complicated averaging formula. This story’s idea would have to have every site sign up with the Averaging Bureau to make this work – that’s just not going to happen. Too chicken and egg unless one of the established credit card companies took it on and why would they?

    I do think we’re moving past the “everything has to be free” attitude the Internet had. I for one am hoping, hoping, that one of the music services gives me what I want (mp3s) for a reasonable price. I will gladly pay for reliability (no bad mp3 to download) if they don’t try to tell me how to use the music they sell me.

Comments are closed.