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No one pays for content

Have you heard of micropayments? This idea that people would pay teeny-tiny bits of money for each individual piece of newspaper they consume? (0.05$/article, for example.) Michael Kinsley, the founder of Slate.com, weighs in today in an nytimes.com op-ed, with kind of an interesting point:

Micropayments are systems that make it easy to pay small amounts of money. (Your subway card is an example.) You could pay a nickel to read an article, or a dime for a whole day’s newspaper.

Well, maybe. But it would be a first. Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc. The Times is more svelte and more expensive. It might even have a viable business model if it could sell the paper with nothing written on it. A more promising idea is the opposite: give away the content without the paper. In theory, a reader who stops paying for the physical paper but continues to read the content online is doing the publisher a favor.

He goes on to point out that the real reason newspapers aren’t profitable online is (duh) competition. Newspapers aren’t used to competing with anything, so of course they’re getting absolutely killed.

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