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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 Kwelstr ( 114389 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:41PM (#6354814)
    Stephen King already tried that and it doesn't work. Micropayments are too complicated. It reminds me of shareware... "please register" and stuff.
  • I hate to say it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:42PM (#6354823)
    But, "me too". What about people who can't (teenagers, for example) pay online? Is there something that will allow them to still read their much sought-after content (mailing in a money order to pre-pay, or something along those lines)?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:45PM (#6354850) []

    Users don't actually pay anything, but need to watch some advertiser web-sites. Might be worthwhile for Comic publishers and independent music publishers too.
  • by MisterFancypants ( 615129 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:49PM (#6354879)
    Not quite.

    What Stephen King tried, and what failed, was a donation system -- the book was available for free download to anyone who wanted it, and then you were expected to pay some amount of dollars if you supported the author's choice to make the book chapters available freely.

    With these micropayments you pay first, then access the content. Just like a porn site, but cheaper and with less fake boobs.

  • by jetmarc ( 592741 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:50PM (#6354884)
    I tried to find out how much I (as an overseas customer) actually
    have to pay to get $3 worth of BitPass credits, but even after the
    15th click through their pages and "FAQ" I couldn't find out. Do
    they accomodate for all charges, or do I end up with 15 EUR deducted
    from my VISA card, including charges, currency conversion fees, for
    3 dollars of cyber currency?
  • Lum The Mad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rmarll ( 161697 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @08:51PM (#6354886) Journal
    Used to say donations and banner ad's weren't effective. That is until he put up a paypal donation button...

    Several thousand dollars later, stunned by the fiscal support of his readers, he got a job in the industry and quit writing...

    Doesn't penny arcade use a similar system(or used to). I remember the page having a themometer and measuring donations in thousands.

    So if good content can get by on donations, are micropayments even interesting anymore?
  • by fugu13 ( 597296 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @09:01PM (#6354947)
    Would be somewhat modeled on Apple's iTunes Music Store, with a bit of O'Reilly bookshelf thrown in. People could download an app, for free. It has exclusive access to a large number of online web comics. A person can enter their credit card info in the app (stored in the online store for one click purchasing, like amazon and apple use). They can view a small number of example strips from each comic to get a taste for them, but to view them regularly must subscribe to a script. Subscribing doesn't cost anything, but whenever the person looks at a non-previously viewed strip ina subscription, it adds a small amount, maybe 10 cents, to their bill. To explain my reasoning some: the reason for a standalone app is to make the experience very fast for the user, and continuous, unlike using a web browser. It should feel like a normal app (though a lot of the viewing could be done in a specialized markup language, like the iTMS). It also makes it much easier to do transparent micropayments. The example strips thing is obvious. It would also give the author a way of controlling the first look at their strip, a common problem with online comics (bad first impressions). The subscription thing is to prevent buyers from getting "I really didn't want to look at it" syndrome as easily. If they have to choose a strip as one they regularly want to view, it's a lot different from idly clicking a strip and having to pay 10 cents. It also makes in app organization easier to handle and use (since having an option to view a strip, and having a handy shortcut to it in your sidebar would be synonymous). You know, now that I think about it . . . *starts looking into how much it costs for a one click license*
  • mock 'em back (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @09:03PM (#6354957)

    There's an old PA comic where they mock Scott's love of micropayments here [].

    (from PA's webserver) Warning: Host '' is blocked because of many connection errors. Unblock with 'mysqladmin flush-hosts' in /data/users/penny-arcade/www/php_admin_header.php3 on line 11

    Perhaps Scott can mock them back for having their backend database server automatically block their frontend webserver, which is pretty piss-poor of whoever their admin is...not to mention, crappy error handling(programmer's fault) and insecure PHP configuration options(sysadmin again- detailed PHP errors shouldn't go to the user, only the logs, and yes, PHP has an option for this. For example, I now know that php_admin_header.php3 is probably an include- and includes sometimes do fun/exciting/revealing things when executed standalone.)

  • by jpmkm ( 160526 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2003 @09:09PM (#6354986) Homepage
    Yes, $1 to buy a money order and $.37 to mail it, just for a $.25 comic. I think a better idea would be to use disposable, anonymous credit cards that everyone talked about a couple years ago. Buy a card at kmart, put however much you want on it, and then use that number to pay for stuff online. Kinda like a gift card for the internet.
  • by blissful ignorant ( 208109 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @12:27AM (#6355901)
    In your system, you'd be paying 10 cents a comic. However, as I think the guys at Megatokyo recently talked about, there are different ways of viewing a web comic. At first, you're getting into it, and reading all the back story. If they post 3 strips a week, and you're like, 3 years behind, you're looking at 45 bucks just to catch up. Then you're looking at 10 cents a day every time it updates. In your app, going back to look at old comics would be free, as you already paid for them. So, while I definitely see the up side of your system, I think you'd need some kind of bulk-archive rate to make it viable.
  • by BernieMac ( 686398 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @01:13AM (#6356108)
    Internet content is like walking down Mission Beach in Cali with all the street performers (stay with me...). There's so much going on, good and bad, whose hat do you toss your quarter in? A 'donation' system would work so much better if it's promoted as more of a tip. Having recognizable icons we could click on and select amount to tip. These tips would build up until a 30 day cycle and charged to our card. The tip process could show our current tab each time we click the icon. No for some hypothetics (is that a word?): Out of everyone who watches/reads/plays something online, say 20% will drop a 'tip in the jar' after enjoying it, probably only 3% of those would have opted for the prepay method (leaving 97% passing by without making eye contact, including me). We have to get over the fact that potentially 80% of the people will enjoy it and walk on by without tipping. It needs to be an easy process. I followed the first few episodes of "Starship Irregulars" on until they started the prepay micropayments. If they had an option of 'tipping' I know I would (and have in the past through Amazon) watch a few of their shows and give a little something. I remember giving 'beer money' to Drew over at Fark a long time ago because he asked for it and I enjoy what he's created! There's just something off-putting about prepaying for the unkown. That feeling's amplified when doing it online.
  • When you pay an admission fee at an art gallery - you take away nothing tangible. When you pay to see a theatrical performance - you take away nothing tangible. When you go to the movies - nothing tangible.

    People only bitch about these things when the value for the money is not there. Charge $10 admission and give them a hurried look at two paintings before shoving them out the door and people will complain. Charge $7 for a piece of drek like Battlefield Earth, and people will complain.

    Give me a wallpaper by you and merekat for a dime - I'm a happy camper. Give me a year's worth of megatokyo archive for a quarter - I'm a satisfied customer. Give me a daily Megatokyo of the same length and quality as you've been providing and I'll pay a penny per strip very, very gladly.

    I have to humbly disagree with you, Fred, that it's the readers that make Megatokyo special. Those same readers are at a half dozen other webcomics and not one of those other comics gives me the same satisfaction as one of your strips. YOU are the reason behind the success. YOUR work is the reason behind the success. If you sucked - trust me Fred - me and the other readers would be elsewhere.

    While we, the readers of Megatokyo, appreciate your generosity in providing it free of charge - it is still your work. If you suddenly decided to charge for it, those of us who truly like it would be cueing up to buy it and the only ones to be grumbling would be the leaches who never appreciated your generosity in the first place.
  • by Krellan ( 107440 ) <`krellan' `at' `'> on Thursday July 03, 2003 @04:22AM (#6356726) Homepage Journal
    On the BitPass site, they sell prepaid "cards" that are just account numbers. Unfortunately, they map to credit cards, or PayPal (which maps to credit cards or bank accounts). So, there's no way to simply place money into their system, without using a credit card or a bank account.

    I can walk a block to the local convenience store on the street corner, and have my choice of over a dozen brands of prepaid phone cards! I give the store clerk some cash, and get a prepaid phone card. It is completely anonymous, and nobody has to pay the high fees of credit cards. I don't need to be a certain age, or have a clean credit history, or live in a certain country, to qualify. Anybody can walk in and pay cash for these cards! This is a huge market.

    I have often wished I could buy a prepaid "webcard" in the same way. I would buy a card, and it would have a fixed value that would be depleted as I spend it online. It could also function as a normal prepaid phone card, to be used as a wedge to get into stores that only are willing to sell phone cards.

    When I can walk into a convenience store and see a stack of prepaid BitPass cards for sale, I will know they have a chance to be successful. People that can't get a credit card will be able to still buy things online. This could be huge for the large number of teenagers that play online games and such! I really hope that BitPass can get their cards into stores, so that they can be bought with cash.

  • A mini-review... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2003 @09:52AM (#6357952)
    Bitpass took about 30 seconds to setup (with my already existing paypal account).

    The comic itself (art/storyline) is wonderful.

    The flash file runs a bit slow on my g4 800mhz, using camino. (once downloaded it runs fine through the stand-alone player)

    Scott, if you're reading this...PLEASE remove the litte thumbnail from the center of the canvas. It's really annoying, especially in the "quiet" frames (cityscapes, etc.) where there isn't much scenery.

    Thanks Scott!

  • by renderhead ( 206057 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @09:53AM (#6357961)
    First of all, this isn't a comic strip that he's selling, it's more like a comic book. When all three installments are finished, it will be longer than an average comic book. To read the whole thing will cost you 75 cents. That's a good price for a comic book.

    Second, you seem to have a lot of ideas about what "people" and "most people" want. Perhaps we should give this model a try before we dismiss it, hmm?

    Third, you obviously didn't read the BitPass site very carefully. There are no extra fees for the buyer. A $10 account costs you $10. A $3 account costs you $3. You are correct that it is something like buying "disney dollars." At the moment, there aren't many goods or services you can buy with these payments, but I was willing to invest $3 up front to support a system that I want to succeed. Hopefully, there will soon be many other artists offering their work through this system, and with the size of the payments it will still probably take me a while to spend it all.

    Third, you demand that people sell in bulk instead of messing around with new ways of selling. The fact of the matter is, selling in bulk just doesn't work for most online comics. How many artists do you know that are making their livings by selling subscriptions? Well, there's you, You get the idea. The only thing that comes close to working for most online comics is the type of site that gathers a bunch of comics together for one price. Not to mention that some people don't have "bulk" to sell. They may spend months creating a beautifully written and drawn comic book that they want to sell online. They can charge $1 or more for it, and sell a handful of copies, they can give it away for free and have the whole world see it but go broke and be unable to continue hosting it, or they can charge a small fee for it and get a nice compromise. They can't afford to wait until they've made three more comic books and charge $2 for three months of viewing. It's just not practical. Not everyone is running a store. Some people are just trying to sell their art, and the less they can charge, the better exposure they will get.
  • by jamesmrankinjr ( 536093 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @10:56AM (#6358499) Homepage

    Which is the really sad thing about comics. It was created as a mass market medium to appeal to a large segment of the population. Now it's becoming just a specialty market for nostalgic middle aged men with too much disposable income.

    I wish the industry would adopt the Japanese model of putting out tons of material on just above newsprint paper and try to make comics a mass market phenomenom again. Of course, that would require getting outside the adolescent male power fantasy genre, which would be good for American comics, too.

    Peace be with you,

  • by diabolus_in_america ( 159981 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @11:06AM (#6358605) Journal
    I don't think eCash or iCash (which term is prefered?) can work globally, across the internet on an anonymous or even a somewhat anonymous basis, the way regular currency does. Here's my thinking...

    To be accepted, whole and undisputed, currency needs to be backed by someone or something that we trust. That's why a $5.00 bill is accepted as being worth $5.00 by Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Joe Schmoe. The US Government backs the bill. The reason eCash won't work is because it's not backed by the government, but by corporations. And corportate eCash simply doesn't instill the same sense of trust that government-backed currency does.

    I see no future for concepts such as eCash without the backing of the government.
  • by PatSmarty ( 135304 ) on Thursday July 03, 2003 @11:53AM (#6359070)
    I think the BitPass Approach is not new at all: With PayPal, one can put money into a "online repository" as well and then spend small parts of it at will.

    The only difference that I see is that PayPal has 10 Million members that you can send your money too, while BitPass currently only has three [].

    There is another service that follows a different, more radical approach: Ipaya []. Will be interesting to see what happens with them...

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva