Micropayments: Still Doomed

by on February 14, 2009 · 13 comments

Micropayments are an idea that simply won’t die. Every few years, there’s a resurgence of interest in the idea. Critics predict they won’t work. The critics are then proved right, as companies founded to promote micropayments inevitably go belly-up.

The latest iteration comes courtsey of Time magazine, which recently saw fit to run a cover story about how micropayments will save newspapers. And Shirky once again steps up to the plate to explain why micropayments won’t work any better in 2009 than they did in 1996, 2000, or 2003. (I wrote up Shirky’s arguments here and here) But for my money, the best response to the Isaccson piece is at the Abstract Factory blog:

Why did Time’s editors choose to run this article, rather than, for example, an article by Shirky or Odlyzko or any number of people who would write something more clueful? I hypothesize two reasons. First, Time’s editors themselves do not have a clue, and also do not have any problem publishing articles on a subject they have no clue about. Second, look at the author blurb at the bottom of the article (emphasis mine):

Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME, is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and author, most recently, of Einstein: His Life and Universe..

When you’re a member of the club, your buddies will publish any old crap you write; better you than some stupid professor nobody knows. We’ve seen this before.

I mentioned irony earlier. Isaacson has filigreed the irony with extraordinary precision. His article is inferior to material produced for free online by people who draw their paychecks from other sources (Shirky and Odlyzko are both professors who also work(ed) in the private technology sector). Furthermore, it is inferior as a direct consequence of structural weaknesses of traditional magazines. Despite its inferior quality, it presumes its own superior status by ignoring or dismissing contributions to the discussion which occurred outside of traditional “journalistic” media. Finally, taking that superiority as a given, it argues, poorly, that people ought to pay money for products like itself, because (quoting Bill Gates) nobody can “afford to do professional work for nothing.”

In short, Isaacson’s article not only fails to make its case, it actively undermines its own case while doing so.

Quite so. There’s more good stuff where that came from.

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