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Scott McCloud Tries Webcomic Micropayment 283

jaime g. wong writes "Scott McCloud's latest comic, 'The Right Number', is finally available online... for just 25 cents! McCloud has discussed the concept of micropayment for online comics before; let's all hope this idea, using BitPass technology, will succeed." There's more info via a a Comic Book Resources article, and Tycho over at Penny Arcade also has opinions on the micropayment route: "..if you have enough readers who care about your work to go through all that rigmarole, you could succeed with any business model... I see it as a model for compensation, lined up with the other models for compensation, like at the police station."
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Scott McCloud Tries Webcomic Micropayment

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  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:43PM (#6354837)
    Or will this model go the way of printed comic books?

    More ads + higher prices.

  • Re:Micropayments (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GMontag ( 42283 ) <.moc.gatnomyug. .ta. .gatnomg.> on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:44PM (#6354844) Homepage Journal
    My thought too.

    It wasn't all that long ago when an entire newspaper was $0.25. Now just one comic strip is that much?
  • by Liselle ( 684663 ) <> on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:45PM (#6354852) Journal
    I hope that micropayments catch on. Right now, you need to jump through hoops to get it going, but if the cost to the webmaster is low enough, and it becomes common enough that people use it frequently, this could be a viable business model.

    It will be absolutely wonderful for people who want to see a small amount of quality content, without having to buy the whole sack of kittens. Also, I think folks will find it invaluable as a "try before you buy" sort of thing. I don't like subscriptions, I don't want to buy your t-shirts, but micropayments have really caught my attention.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:45PM (#6354855)
    99% of web comics suck. The 1% that don't don't need to worry about payment.
  • by Liselle ( 684663 ) <> on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:48PM (#6354877) Journal
    The reason why it failed for him was because he put the weight of the model on the individual people's honesty. Over the Internet. The anonymous Internet.

    If he had simply just charged a flat rate for everyone, not this "download for free but please pay" crap, it would have worked much better. If he wanted, he could have always provided a free chapter or two. A blind man could have seen the fate of that of little fiasco coming a mile away.
  • Ironic, ain't it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:56PM (#6354916) Journal
    WTF doesn't he just setup a paypal/amazon payment link?

    Sure would be nice if you could buy an ecash card in the checkout lane at wal-mart. If the phone company can do it I just don't understand why a banking company can't.

    Fucking hell - even Hustler does it. Time for Visa to step out of the 70's.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @09:51PM (#6355197)
    There is a human cost to small payments, and you can't get rid of it. Computers can cheaply bill those fractional pennies but humans don't like thinking about them.

    That really depends on the humans, and how much the payments are. Slashdot charges subscribers half a penny per pageload. Let me tell ya: it doesn't bother me. I can burn gasoline in a car or electricity in a well airconditioned office while using an Athlon, faster than I can burn money loading Slashdot pages. I don't stare at my computers and get ulcers while nervously thinking, "Oh damn, there goes another penny to the power company. There goes another." Make it small enough and it just doesn't matter.

  • by showler ( 619356 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @09:57PM (#6355216)
    Thing is, micropayments scale precisely with the bandwidth costs of every added viewer. The more viewers you get, the more it costs you for bandwidth, the more micropayments you get.

    Advertising seems to go in levels, you don't get the extra advertising money until you meet a certain threshold of viewers. If you are just below that threshold you get 95% of the hosting costs, but not the added advertising benefits. Being stuck there can break a website financially.

    Plus, micropayments leaves you less dependent on the whims of the advertiser.

    I always found it funny that the several webcomics I've read that complain about micropayments/free hosting/whatever, and say that the sites should be able to support themselves if they just "try a little harder", are the same sites that established their readership during the days of relatively high-paying banner advertising.
  • by cubicledrone ( 681598 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @10:13PM (#6355286)
    Maybe they could like, you know, talk to their parents and sort of, ask them if they'll help. You know, parents?
  • Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @10:29PM (#6355358) Journal
    But that's not exactly "ecash." Your little brother still has a Visa number that stays with him - correct? Therefore it's not "cash" but "debit." No, these are not terribly hard to come by, although if you have bad credit you still may not get one.

    Debit cards are still not anonymous. When your little brother pays for something that purchase still can be traced to his home. When you pay cash for something, however, this isn't always so. That's why I said ecash and not debit; I was speaking of a card that was nothing but a number of an "account" with X dollars in it; you buy the card (maybe for X+$3 so the card issuer gets its service fee), and when the money in that "account" is spent you throw the card away - just like those phone cards you'll find littering any large city.

  • I hope they don't. They give most of the power to whoever runs the micropayment system. There are already too many middle men on media, and I don't want another lobbying force in there.

    Further, you can't be sure that you'll get what you pay for when you buy information without having seen it (click here to get this comic - except that this one is with a guest artist who doesn't know how to draw and is too stupid to make good jokes).

    You want a good alternative? Try the subscription model. It works beautifully, and even if you can't get what you pay for the first time, over a course of ALL the articles you can look at, you can know. Plus, it's easier to provide samples of some of the content you'll see, so that the artists won't inadvertently defraud anyone (which is very likely to happen if they do micropayments - through the use of articles that turn out to be duds).

    Finally, you have to consider the value to the customer. I don't want to put a $.25 charge on my credit card. I don't want 50 .$.25 on my card - I don't want to risk credit problems, overcharging, fraud, or any of the other problems that dealing with e-money inherently create, and making a ton of small purchases exacerbate.

    I'd much prefer a huge one-time payment so that I didn't have to worry as much about it.

    I would say that we should boycott any place that believes that micropayments are a good idea, but I don't think I have to.

    That business model is as unsound as a vaccuum.
  • by ThePolemarch ( 653788 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @11:06PM (#6355544)
    The most glaring problem with micropayments, for me, is indeed the chicken and the egg issue. In order to gain any revenue from micropayments, there must be an established based of "consumers" already. Presumably this base is built from free content. Weening them from this content would indeed be difficult. For this reason, I could see a few, high traffic sites succeeding, and the other start up sites failing in their attempt to gain an audience.

    I do indeed like the idea of an ad-free net, and one in which the "middle-men" are eliminated, but micropayments as THE system of payment presents a powerful obstacle to entry to burgeoning sites. I believe it can be a resolution, but it still has major problems.
  • by fred-rin ( 95265 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @11:55PM (#6355729) Homepage
    Personally I don't think micropayments will work because it goes against the basic way we all use the web. You fire up a web browser, you navigate to where you want to go, stuff shows up in the browser window. The stuff in that window you pretty much never worry about paying for.

    I think that when people spend money, and it doesn't matter how much, they like to have something tangible in their hands. A book, a poster, whatever. Having to pay to just look at something. Paying for gif or jpg files arranged on your screen (or flash versions, whatever) just doesn't feel like it has any value. I think people just don't warm up to the concept. Its like the whole DivX thing - it failed because people did NOT like the idea of owning a disk and having to pay for each time they viewed the what was on it. It was like 'I own this, yet I am locked out'. Video Rentals work fine, because we use something tangible, and we return it. We've paid to use something tangible, and we gave it back.

    The web is a little similar to that - we expect to be able to access stuff when we go to a site. Successful pay for content sites usually work because the gateway to that content is a subscription fee and you get a LOT of content in return. Webcomics don't work well under that because, well, its hard to produce that much content that quick ^^;;;. Comic require a lot of work of a long period of time. In fact, one of the nice things about comics is that they have the ability to improve over time because the creators get better, and they build a backlist of comics to view - the body of work slowly becomes something of value over time.

    By the time you work up to have enough content that is worth charging for, you cant suddenly make your archives pay-only. At least, I personally feel its wrong. Making something that was once free suddenly a pay thing doesn't work, and just makes people feel like they are being used and abused. After all, it's the readers who have been reading and finding the comic and the site that have made it something of value in the fist place.

    The micropayment idea is, logically, a wonderful idea - small payments for small bits of content. Biggest problem it has, to me, is that it smacks of metering - people hate being metered. People like to relax while going thru things - ask most people, they'd rather pay a bigger fee for unlimited usage than worry about what their bill will be later - even if it's more expensive in the long run. People spend money emotionally, not with the logic portion of their brain.

    People hate 'pay for what you use' models. The more media companies push this idea that it's the viewing of the content that you are paying for, the more people thumb their noses and download mp3s and fire up bittorents of DVD rips.

    Making the nature of the digital world work with the way the confluxicated human mind works is not always an easy task. While I said it wont work, I think its very much worth a try. I have a bit of a personal issue with making people pay for anything art related, because I don't feel that just viewing , listening, watching or reading anything creative should ever be paid for - there is enough money to be made in between the cracks with the incidentals that all this worry over actually getting paid for content sometimes puzzles me :) But my views on this are a little extreme, and really, I only apply them to my own works (in fact, I decided to no put something in a magazine publication because I decided that it was ripping people off to make them pay for it first)

    Yet, somehow, I've managed to survive, and its not right for me to think that others might do it the same ways I have. Maybe micropayments are the thing, I dunno, I just draw stuff, what do I know :P

  • by Dan Crash ( 22904 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @11:57PM (#6355744) Journal
    Some people treat the subject of micropayments like they're telling ghost stories around a campfire:
    "I heard the Micropayment Monster's gonna start charging us for ev'ry page we look at on th' web!"

    "Well, I heard that this one guy surfed the web one night, an' the Monster sent him a credit card bill for a million dollars!"

    "Oh yeah, well, this kid's mom that I know, she totally freaked out cuz of micropayments everywhere, and threw her computer out the window and committed suicide!"
    Settle down, kids. There's no monster. Micropayments are good, and the BitPass model really seems poised for success. It took me only a few seconds to sign up for it last night, and a couple clicks later I was reading Scott's comic -- the most enjoyable 25 cents I've spent in a long time.

    First, the idea that every website is going to start charging people per page is asinine. The sites that try to nickel and dime you to death will end up in the same graveyard as the sites that try to advertise you to death. Don't you already mentally blacklist websites doused in crazy blinking Flash ads or shoshkeles []? Most of us will just add the nickel-and-diming sites to the same pile. And advertising will always make more sense than micropayments for large, brand-oriented sites like

    Second, the BitPass model isn't going to spring any sudden credit card surprises on anyone. It's essentially the prepaid phonecard model applied to online content. You buy a BitPass card for as little as $3, spend it in nickels, dimes and quarters on your favorite webcomic, band or online beggar, and you're done. Buy another card if you want, or don't. It's pretty simple.

    Third, I've often heard people saying things like "I think an entire cent is too much" for online content and "it better be DAMN well WORTH it!"

    Let's get some perspective. Name anything that provides more than 15 seconds worth of enjoyment for a dime. Give it a shot. Even a quarter. What can you buy for a quarter? Anything? You probably couldn't get a hobo to kick you in the nuts for a quarter. Whining about the epic, tragic loss of a dime? That's comical. Griping that even an entire cent is too much to support the artists you like? That's insulting.

    Scott's comic is a good example of the value of micropayments. It's worth a quarter; it's not worth $7. There are all kinds of creators out there who are excited about micropayments because they know subscription or donation-based models don't work for them. There are worthwhile websites that aren't ad friendly that are creaking under the strain of overwhelming bandwidth bills. Micropayments enable them to survive and flourish.

    Tycho's quote that "if you have enough readers who care about your work to go through all that rigamaroll, you could succeed with any business model" just isn't true. If you have 10,000 readers who are willing to spend 25 cents a month on you, then the only way you're going to get that money is through micropayments. Period. With micropayments, you're a creative indie superstar making a living; without them, you're just another schlub barely keeping his website afloat.

    If BitPass succeeds -- and with the engine of webcomics behind them, I think they actually might -- it will change the web. Not in the drastic, market-mad campfire story ways, but in the amount of enjoyment and information we'll be able to squeeze out of the web. There will be more websites worth going to, more musicians being rewarded, more webcomics worth reading, more webloggers not just blogging but reporting.

    I'd say that's worth a quarter.
  • by issue ( 123328 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @01:22AM (#6356141)
    I am not surprised that King's approach failed. Who would pay for a book that you have to read on screen or print out on your own expenses? The medium seems to accommodate Scott's comics much better. (But you won't be able to judge that for yourself until you insert 25c :P)
    Shareware is alive and healthy; it's still around after decades and some people still make their living off it exclusively.
  • Why pay when there are free comics?
    Because content isn't interchangable. Little 12 year old Billy's Dragonball Z wannabe comic is not the same as Scott McCloud's 'Right Number'. Billy's drek being free doesn't make it more worthwhile than Scott's which is a quarter.

    Comic creators can just ask for donations or sell merchandise or adspace - Megatokyo does.
    So comics are just a vehicle for pushing merchandise? What if the type of story you're telling doesn't lend itself well to easily marketed chareacters or advertising tie-ins - like Keeping Two [] or Nowhere Girl []? Should the artists adjust their tales so that can accomodate the merchandising? Maybe add some cute, wise-cracking animal sidekicks the way Disney does?

    If I was getting something I could keep I might do it. But I don't pay for non-tangible items.

    So you've never paid to go to a concert or the theatre. You've never paid admission at a gallery or exhibit. You don't go to the movies. You have no cable tv.

    So long as prices are reasonable, I'm willing to pay for an experience. In this case it's the experience of reading a comic. And a quarter for a full-size comic is definitely worth it.

    I don't want to pay for something that I don't know will be good

    So don't pay. No one's forcing you to.
    Unless the person had previous work as proof of their competency or offer some sort of a preview (as subscription site ModernTales [] does), then they won't be getting money from me unless I see some damn good reviews. If artists are smart, they'd offer the past several strips free and just charge for the archives - until their name is enough of a draw that they can justify charging cash upfront (as is the case with McCloud's comic).

    Yar - pirates
    If someone wants to rip off the artist - the artist can't really stop 'em. But as McCloud mentioned in his comic on the subject, it requires someone to use their resources and time. If the artists are charging a reasonable rate - I'm willing to assume that most people would ante up the quarter as opposed to hunting for a pirated copy or sharing a pirated copy themselves.

  • Didn't work? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wmspringer ( 569211 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @02:35AM (#6356372) Homepage Journal
    As I recall, he made quite a bit of money and he didn't even have to finish the book. Seemed as if it worked well enough..
  • I disagree completely.

    They give most of the power to whoever runs the micropayment system.

    No, we just need open standards, unencumbered by patents, that anyone can implement, for the client side, the providers side and the "banking" side. I agree that if there were a single or even a few corporations controlling the market, it would be a Bad Thing[tm], but it doesn't need to be. But that's also the reason why BitPass won't take off, it is not going to happen anything before there are open standards.

    Try the subscription model. It works beautifully,

    What? Look around you? Do you see the subscription model working beautifully? If *AA could be making money on subscriptions, do you really think they wouldn't go for it, and we wouldn't be in the deep shit we are now. Look, the subscription model requires that you at least to a great extent control the copies of the stuff you're selling, you cannot allow your subscribers to pass it on. That's the core problem of everything that is bad about payments for immaterial goods now.

    I subscribed to Salon for a year, but I stopped, because for my subscription I not only got some very interesting and enlightening material, I also got quite a lot that was not well written at all. I didn't want to pay for that. If I could have paid by micropayments, Salon would have gotten a lot of money from me. Salon is constantly on the brink of going broke. Subscriptions does not work! (on this scale)

    I'd much prefer a huge one-time payment so that I didn't have to worry as much about it.

    I'm sure you would. But I wouldn't, and the problems you mention can be solved if just somebody bright enough sits down and think about it. Subscriptions have their place, I'm sure. Probably, many publications can successfully use subscriptions, and I have nothing against that (as long as they stay away from DRM).

    But you're saying that I should never been given the choice of paying with micropayments, that's just incredibly closed minded.

  • by Yort ( 555166 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @07:55AM (#6357215)
    While not a true micropayment, this concept is already working for some online web-comic providers. I've subscribed to my favorite, Sluggy Freelance [] for $10 a year. I also forked over $10/yr for a subscription to My Comics Page [] solely for the ability to read back articles of Bloom County.

    Other sites have also been experimenting with this sort of thing, like User Friendly's [] membership program.

    So I don't think it's a huge step to get to micropayments - the only real advantage micropayments have over the current methods is that you can try content earlier for lower risk (ie, $.25 vs. $10).

    And of course people have mentioned Apple's success with single song downloading. I think people are ready/willing to pay for what they get online, the price just needs to be right.

  • by Trurl ( 3494 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @11:02AM (#6358572)
    I can go down to 7-11 and pay cash for a prepaid phone card. The card has a many-digit number on the back, and when I want to make a call I gotta type in that number. This is a bit of a pain, but the entire system works without me having to give up a CC number or even my name.

    This is how I want web micropayments to work. I wanna go to 7-11 for beer, and a weekend of webcomics. Nicely anonymous.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351