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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
 
Micropayments the big company way ::

The digital revolution has produced some startling turn arounds. The music industry's goal for generations was to package more music in the container. We progressed from our great-grandparents single song on a wax cylinder, to our grandparents small collection on a vinyl 78rpm disc, through the LP to CDs. While the copying of LPs to cassette tapes for friends in the 60s put a dent in "music industry" profits it no way revolutionised how music is sold. But CDs are digital. With music in digital format and millions of users all connected to the one huge network (the Internet) copying moved from one to few to a distributed peer to peer system (Napster et al.). Would Internet sharing kill the recording industry, high profile legal action to protect "intellectual property" (now there's an oxymoron) suggested the companies at least feared it would... And along came iTunes and the iPod, single tunes for cents....

Publishing is in crisis. No one has worked out how to operate in the new electronic environment. Some big players have the answer. According to an article in the New York Times Amazon, Google and Random House are all (severally or together?) drooling over the prospect of doing "for books what Apple has done for music".

Micropayments are the answer!

Why not get people to pay a few cents to "buy" a page at a time. As the NY Times headline screamed:
Want 'War and Peace' Online? How About 20 Pages at a Time?
Sorry to poop on your party guys, but frankly the answer is a big "NO!" No way do I want to cough up real money for 20 pages of Tolstoy... A novel is not made up of discrete "chunks" like the songs on a CD. Even the Readers Digest condensed "War and Peace" is not in the same league as the real thing. Include me out, no way no how!

Some works do come in "chunks". The article sensibly refers to recipes in a recipe book. Neat discrete "chunks", who wouldn't pay a few cents for a good recipe? Of course, to find the recipe, you'd need a good search feature... Wait a minute, it sounds like Epicurious or NZ's own Cuisine magazine website...

Forget the novels, I'll take the paperback "War and Peace" thanks. But information in chunks (hey, let's call them "lexia" sounds much cooler than "chunks") in a system that's well organised, linked and searchable... yes, I'll pay cents for a page of information. Except I can still get my recipes for free...

Ah, yes, next year it really will be the year of the micropayment ;) honestly!

PS hat tip to the excellent if:bookfor this and other stimulating news and views on the subject of the future of "books".



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