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Max Leibman
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In case others on this board don't habitually check 50 rarely-updated favorite sites every morning...

THERE'S A NEW I CAN'T STOP THINKING! AVAILABLE!

Wherein McCloud gives an excellent bit of analysis of the morals of Napster users, dishes out many ideas of how micropayments could work with regards to what content is given and what is charged for, and incoroporates himself into still more new pictures and symbols as he makes his points.

And, I'll take his invite from the strip, and offer my own thought on what types of content could be charged for:

ANNOTATED VERSIONS

For especially surreal, dense, reference-heavy or symbollic works, micropayments could be used to access heavily annotated versions (with hyperlinks to related source material, when available, perhaps), while the comic itself could be freely accessible to anyone.

Depending on the work, this may be of limited appeal to the general public, so it might just be a way of charging nerds to recoop one's bandwidth costs. But it's a thought.

-Max Leibman
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John2two
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2001 2:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I came rushing back here to start this thread as soon as I saw the ICST this morning, but my esteemed colleague Max has beaten me to the punch.

Scott, thanks for making the arguments for micropayments clearly and concisely. Thanks for the first clear and accurate portrayal of the Napster mindset that I've seen anywhere. Thanks for finally finishing and publishing this installment. It will be much faster to just link folks to this than to have to run through the territory again and again.

Now, as to varieties of payment plans that will finally be practical within a micropayment economy. One of my faves (mentioned in the draft requirements for an IC) is that they will make practical different levels of payment for different levels of use. Coupled with a workable copyright protection technology, micropayments will allow an artist to charge:

  • one super-low price for read-once privileges on a work,
  • a different reasonably low price for read-as-often-as-you-like-from-my-server privileges,
  • a higher reasonable price for print-out-a-copy-for-yourself privileges, and
  • a higher reasonable price for keep-a-digital-copy-to-use-as-you-please privileges.

I realized the other day that I'd crossed a sea-change in my attitude toward copy protection. In the 80's I thought it was the stupidest self-defeating thing a software publisher could do to use a copy-protection scheme on their disks. Now, in anticipation of a micropayment system that would make it possible to pay reasonable prices for occasional and transient use of intellectual property, I'm getting almost enthusiastic about rights management technology. Funny though, when the economic structure (micropayments) finally comes about to make rights management workable, we may find that it becomes less of an issue because people will be willing (or even happy) to pay a reasonable price for value recieved. Dare I hope for the triumph of decency and fair play over legalistic enforcement? (dramatically)Ohh, the humanity!(/drama)

A grateful, happy man,
John

[ This Message was edited by: John2two on 2001-06-15 14:33 ]
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rcar
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2001 2:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just finished reading Scott's I can't stop thinking. He's right on the money (so to speak) Especially about the quality of the comics if we were to be paid for our efforts. If I were to make money on my site, I would hire some help. Then I could spend more time writing and drawing rather than programing. I would then be able to update more often and regular. The consumer only wins in that situation, they get a better site to read.

I like the idea of suscription base. Maybe one month, six months or year type of deal. Obviously the consumer would ave to see something before they buy, but that should be no problem. Access to some archives or a sample page. The key is keeping the price low so they shrug their shoulders and say, "why not, it's only a quarter".
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Scott Kurtz's thoughts on this here: http://www.pvponline.com/shared/nsystem/comments/18882_50_page_1.php (Complete with comments.)

Some other opinions over at the PvP forums here: http://pvp.stomped.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=4586

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John2two
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 2:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just back from reading the threads over at PvP. Please forgive me while I indulge myself in a tangential rant--

I'm getting tired of people responding to several distinct questions as if they are mushed into a single one.

  • Would a universal, ubiquitous micropayment system for online commerce be a good idea?
  • Can you imagine how it would work?
  • How would the transition period into a micropayment economy work and how messy would it be?
  • How could a webcomic subscription model work in a micropayment economy (particularly as contrasted with a pay as you go model)?
  • How would most webcomic creators satisfy the separate demands of free introductory browsing and for-micropayment non-casual browsing?
  • How would this webcomic do it differently if a micropayment economy existed as an alternative?

All of these are very different questions! All worthy of discussion. But I'm tired of feebleminded posts that say, essentially, "I think it be stupid to develop a micropayment economy because I can't imagine how Scott Kurtz would charge me for PvP when I would pay in Serbian zlotnies, and I doubt I'd want to pay what I'm guessing he might charge."

I guess I should have come to terms by now that I'm living in a world of people who don't think distinctly. I've mostly accepted that most people can't write well enough to really express what they're thinking, but I still boggle at the fuzziness of what appears to be behind their words.

Please forgive a grumpy old curmudgeon,
John
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 3:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I gotta call Scott on this one. This essay (or second half of an essay, or somesuch) takes every self-serving justification that pirates care to offer and treat it as if it were the gospel truth.
  • "It isn't about stealing" By the explanation given here, stealing is rarely about stealing. It's merely the desire to have something without paying the price for it. What do you expect, people chuckling maniacally about being part of the forces for evil? (Although there are pirates who come dangerously close to that description.)
  • That it's because the price is "too high." What does that really mean? Is it that there is some objective "right price" that would make it okay? Of course not. It means that someone out there can imagine a lower price, which will be true so long as the price is anything higher than free. The same folks that kvetch about paying $15 for a CD that only cost a buck to press would likely kvetch about paying Scott $3/year for material that only costs 25 cents to transmit. It's a convenient excuse to justify theft. It's not grounded in some objective valuation. (If you pay fifteen bucks for a CD that you'll listen to 20 times, are you really getting such a bad deal? Most people earn the purchase price in an hour, and will get for it 15 or so hours of musical entertainment. Is that such a high price to ask?)
  • Talking about how much Scott would make off of PVP if every reader paid him a quarter misses a central precept of economics: raise the price, and you lower the demand. Raise the price from free, and you're apt to lower demand significantly. Start charging a quarter, and you aren't going to turn 30,000 readers into $7,500. You are far more likely to turn 30,000 readers into 3,000 readers. (This isn't to say that there's not a commercial viability to the smaller, dedicated audience -- I suspect that if we SportsNight fans had the opportunity to pay $1 per episode to watch the series, it would still be alive today -- but one has to recognize that it will shrink the audience.)
I'm not trying to protect every claim of the content packaging and distribution industry; goodness knows I have some pretty hefty issues with the various pieces of anti-creator, anti-technology legislation that the industry has pushed through. But that doesn't turn the pirates into some sort of ethical force for reasonability.

I'm not convinced that micropayments is the optimal solution (not that there has to be a one-size-fits-all solution.) I suspect that over the next few years, we will see the development of a second tier of Internet access; ISPs will be able to offer their subscribers access to a lot of content (music, specialty news, porn, whatever) for an extra $10/month, with a cut of that money being split (on a usage basis) among the participating sites. Make it more like standard cable TV than like pay-per-view, so that people don't have to make the payment decision every time they view something. (If I had to pay a buck every time I played a CD, I'd play them a lot less!)

--Nat Gertler

(And hey, have all you McCloud fans checked out One-armed Carl yet? It's random comics fun!)
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh, and a minor nitpick: the name of the American five cent piece is a nickel, not a nickle.
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Scott McCloud
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Nat.

I can see how this essay could be interpreted as a flat endorsement of piracy. It wasn't.

The point was that there are systemic forces that fuel piracy; that those who do the initial "stealing" of music do not profit from it (they're giving it away, remember) and in fact have to devote considerable effort to the enterprise; that a system which radically increases selection, radically decreases the price discrepency and rewards those who actual produce that art and music would reduce the *incentive* for piracy; and that micropayments would be a key to accomplishing that and therefore worth implementing, should they become practical.

I'm aware of the demand problem you mentioned, that's why I phrased that one very carefully, postulating a scenario where those same 30,000 would be paying 25 cents a month, without a specific transition. The idea of Scott Kurtz ONLY switching over in a sea of free content is obviously a non-starter, but if micros did catch on for certain specialized content first and gradually became normalized and familiar to users, I don't think a penny a strip would drive his readers away in droves.

ISP subscriptions would create a monstrous NEW middleman, every bit as toxic as the ones we have now. I'm proposing a possible alternative because I believe we *need* an alternative.
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2001 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just because online pirates do it generally without immediate financial gain, that doesn't mean their motives are philanthropic, and more than someone who invests in spray paint and time practicing should be viewed as philanthropic when he "tags" a building for all to see.

And aside from finding some way to fix rates, I don't see where that ISP tier deal inherently creates middlemen any more onerous than those that would be needed to process micropayments. I see both instances more as involving yourself with a distributor, rather than a publisher.
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clahey
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 7:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

One major problem with the idea of ISP deals is that you get a small group that gets to choose what is viewed. This leads to the problem of having very little choice in what you get to see. Things will only get paid for if enough people will care about it for it to be worth the middleman's money.

However, in a micropayment system the middleman doesn't make any choices about what gets seen. The consumer gets to make that decision.

There are other problems with the ISP tier deals. The audience is limited greatly by those accessing the ISP. The consumer must pay a large amount even if they only want a small part of what's available.

Thanks,
Chris

[ This Message was edited by: clahey on 2001-06-17 07:42 ]
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rcar
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 8:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last night I read through the PvP boards and was ready to react with some strong statements. Then I decided to think about it over night. I am glad I did. I was able to absorb all I read and think about it more clearly. I am starting to doubt the micropayments now. If you compare it to cable TV, I pay $35 for cable , would I then make micropayments for every show I want to watch? People pay $20 and up for internet access, should they also be nickeled and dimed to death to visit sites?

I read somewhere that corporate sites that don?t generate a lot of traffic would pay for say PvP (Scott, don?t you love that everyone uses you as the example) to be on their site to get the traffic. Then the issue of it being exclusively on their site would come up. But that could be worked out by contract and amount of money. Also the point of controlling your site would come up, so there should be a hands off clause in any contract. I don?t know if this has been discussed or even an option anymore, but another way of possible payment.
I guess what it comes down to is, am I putting up a cartoon site to make money or to show people my work. If I want to make money, I should figure out a way before I offer it for free. Or, generate the traffic first so you have a more sellable product.

What I don?t understand is why people are getting angry because we are trying to figure out a way to be paid for our efforts. I don?t think anybody is trying to become the next Bill Gates. Except Scott Kurtz who is trying to buy a Porsche. (Just kidding Scott. I read that on the PvP board.)

Randy
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 8:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since the cost of supporting an additional site on the pay tier would be minimal at best, I don't see any reason why the company that packages the tier would try to exclude anyone. The more sites that offer tiered material, the more attractive their tier package becomes. They would no more prevent your material from being available on a tier than they would lock out your site from the ISP's Internet access.

The micropayment people could reject your site just as easily as the tier folks could.

Are some of these methods going to prevent people from accessing your site? Of course. Anything you do to charge people money wll turn people away.

Will people be paying for access to a lot of material they won't bother with? Sure! This is the cable TV model. Right now, there are seventy-some channels being sent to my TV. I'm watching none of them. Most of my watching time is spent on channels that I could get for free. Many of the channels I could not see myself ever watching a program on. Half a dozen of the channels are in languages I don't even understand. But I'm paying a reasonable price for access to the things that I do want, so all the other stuff doesn't bother me at all.
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DanSTC
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 8:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm...The best way I could see the pennies-and-dimes system working, is if you could easily set up an "online fees" account of some kind. As in, there would be a special service where you deposit cash, and use that set-aside money to spend online. Using a system like this could produce some interesting results, such as sites being able to hand out free samples to goers.
Most likely, the way the service would make money would be from a reasonable monthly fee charged to the site's owner. (Uh-oh...trickle-down.) One way or another, I'm very sure that this idea has already been kicked around quite a bit.

Oh and on another note; Hello everyone. I'm new to these boards, but not to Scott Mccloud's work. Greetings.
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John2two
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To me, all this wrangling about an online packaging distribution tier and the analogy to cable TV packages misses the point. Packaging deals are necessitated in traditional media *because* those media can't support use-measuring feedback as well as because a micropayment economy doesn't exist.

What we micropayment enthusiasts are saying is that when a micropayment economy becomes available, it will open up a cluster of previously unavailable and previously impractical ways of paying for what you want to enjoy. Analogies to the present situation are inappropriate because a whole new set of options will change the dynamics of the market.

In the 1800's, the only transactions that used cheques were big-money transactions between rich people and companies. All "normal" day to day commerce was in the coin and paper of the realm. In the 1950's, checks and cash were common, and revolving charge accounts were the newfangled instruments that were accepted some places and not others. In the early 2000's, we have come to rely on our debit cards, credit cards, and online bill payer accounts so much that many people hardly carry cash and haven't written a check in months. But even in this generation, there are still many people who use only cash.

Different monetary instruments transform economies. They rarely supplant older forms, but they often enable new kinds of commerce to flourish. I believe that a universal, frictionless, peer-to-peer micropayment economy is both practical and inevitable. When it arrives, many flavors of commerce that previously may be seemed unimaginable will become routine.

John
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Scott McCloud
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 1:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A new thread on Slashdot called "Scott McCloud on Comics and the Internet, part 2" has sprung up. Most either seem to think I'm Scott Kurtz or just want to explain why no one would want to pay $2.00 for every Web Page, or Why CDs cost more than a dollar, or some other argument having nothing to do with what I wrote...

*Sigh*
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DanSTC
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 2:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't feel bad, Scott. Half the people posting on the slashdot forums usually don't have a clue what they're talking about anyway. It's usually a lot of ranting, and I see quite a lot more ad homenim attacks going on rather than actual debate on those forums. It is pretty sad when the message gets ignored due to wholesale ignorance, though. But then, that's the internet for you.

[ This Message was edited by: DanSTC on 2001-06-17 14:12 ]
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 2:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Packaging deals are necessitated in traditional media *because* those media can't support use-measuring feedback as well as because a micropayment economy doesn't exist. "

But even in the formats where we're used to paying by the unit or the increment, we are now seeing a push toward the more blanket subscription. Video rental places are offering rent-all-you-want-for-$X/month, with a limitation on how many items you can have out at once. Music companies are setting up access to entire libraries of music for a monthly fee. Phone companies, finding that tracking and billing individual calls are actually a large portion of the costs of their operations, have moved toward simply selling large blocks of access time and will likely soon offer flat-rate, all-you-can-use domestic service.

Asking people to pay for something is never frictionless. The fewer points at which they have to make that payment decision, the less friction you'll have.
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 4:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Re: Slashdot, PvP Forum, and other postings-

It's true that many of the opinions expressed display a disheartening MISinterpretation of the issues as well as a knee-jerk "what, me pay?" attitude, but I think we all realize that these people matter- they're the intended audience- and customers- after all.

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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 8:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My darling wife, The Lovely Lara, just happen to point out an item to me that is yet another example for the point I just made. AMC Theaters is experimenting in some cities with a new deal: for a fixed rate (under $20/month), you can see as many movies as you want, up to one a day. Ebert answers as question about this in his Answer Man column. http://www.suntimes.com/output/answ-man/sho-sunday-ebert17.html
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DanSTC
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2001 11:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

True, Greg. Presentation of and reaction to the idea is everything, after all.
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John2two
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2001 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

..we are now seeing a push toward the more blanket subscription..


Good point, quite true. This angle affects my argument, but I don't think it refutes it. I'm not arguing that subscriptions don't work. I'm saying that their are situations where, even if subscriptions are offered, micropay-as-you-go still could fill an important market niche.

Even when you buy a 2000 minutes/month phone plan, you know that the minutes are measured. You know that if you are stricken with temporary insanity and loan your phone to a teenager for a week, you will pay for the minutes beyond your plan allotment.

As for the cinema, remember that they make most of their money at the snack counter. Giving you a "bargain" to get you inside the door more often doesn't sound to me like a capitulation to the overhead of selling individual tickets.

As much as they provide benefits to the company in not having to report each usage instance, I think part of the appeal of these subscription plans (I'm thinking here particularly of phone plans) is the consumer saying "I trust you not to overbill me so much that as long as my bill is not more than X/month, I don't need you to even list the events for me." The consumer is saying that the charge for each call too small to be worth worrying over.

Once a micropayment infrastructure comes into being, I can imagine much microcommerce happening on very similar terms. I tell my microbanker, "Automatically pay all these penny charges that come in, and tell me at the end of the month only the total of how much I racked up. If anything comes in as a single charge in the $10-100 range, pay it automatically but list it separately on my statement. If anything comes through over $100, email me that it will be paid automatically in 48 hours if I don't object."

But that's just one model of how it might work. You can bet that all variations that might work will be tried, and in 20 years most folks will settle down into a few prime models that seem to work acceptably for most situations.

John
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rcar
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2001 10:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

After reading many, many posts and, for me, arguing on both sides, micropayments seems the most popular solution for both the artists and the consumer. Of course it won't hit the streets running, but in time it will be. People just need to get used to it. But now what? Do we, as a group pursue a micropayment system? Or do we wait until someone figures it out then adopt it?

Randy
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rcar
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2001 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was just over at the comicon forum http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/forumdisplay.cgi?action=topics&forum=Online+Comics&number=8&DaysPrune=45to see what they are saying about micropayments. It seems KeenSpot http://www.keenspot.com/ has started a one year subsription to premium comics on their site. So far it is working out for them.
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NatGertler
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2001 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I'm saying that their are situations where, even if subscriptions are offered, micropay-as-you-go still could fill an important market niche."

I won't disagree that it can have a place -- although as a consumer, I would prefer to deal with a subscription tier, both so I'm not thinking about every click and because the micropayment system requires some privacy limitations (I must be identified in connection with the specific site in order to be billed) which are not inherent in the tier plan (the provider need only know that I have paid for the tier, and does not need to connect me to the individual sites that I use... which isn't to say that they won't do so.)

And actually, I think that privacy aspect will be a driving force toward this tier support, with the killer-ap being porn access (which has been a killer-ap for so many things in the past).
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