Publishers revisit micropayments to build revenue

Micropayments, once heralded as a potential lucrative revenue stream for independent publishers before falling out of favour, are starting to make a comeback.

In the past several months, a number of micropayment-focused startups, including Scroll and Invisibly have been courting larger publishers, many of whom have been receptive according to Digiday.

Scroll, not yet launched, allows readers to sample sites roughly as Spotify does for music, Scroll CEO Tony Haile told Poynter last week. Stories will originate directly from each respective site, with the service costing $5 month. Scroll investors include The New York Times, News Corp and Axel Springer.

Invisibly promises “four-figure CPMs” and a way to generate money off readers who won’t subscribe. Invisibly emphasises choice, so that if a publisher wants to offer access beyond its set number of free stories a month, it can offer payment per article, day passes, or week passes.

NiemanLab reports that, from what it’s been told, “hundreds” of titles, including newspapers, magazines, and other media, have signed up to test Invisibly. Details remain sketchy at present, but early testers include Hearst Newspapers, The Atlantic, and Warner Brothers.

Blendle is also an exciting micropayment prospect. The Dutch platform backed by Axel Springer and the New York Times allows publishers to sell individual articles for small amounts of money. Blendle, somewhat frustratingly, remains in beta having already had to adjust its business model once.

The mere mention of micropayments is likely to receive withering looks from many publishers – early revenue projections between the years 2013-2016 were quickly cast aside as either the technology faltered or the app-based models failed to gain traction with audiences. Revenues at the time could best be described as ‘poor’ or at worst ‘almost non-existent’.

However, at a time of profound disruption, it’s no surprise that many publishers are willing to test out micropayments once again. With paywall revenues gaining traction, many publishers feel that they can’t lose by expanding revenue options and giving consumers more choice over how they pay.

What’s Next?

For small to medium sized independent publishers, it’s worth waiting to see how the next slew of startup providers fare in the short term. The very latest rounds of testing are well advanced, financially well-resourced and backed by a number of heavyweight publisher partners.

For these reasons alone, it might be advisable to let these larger publishers iron out the glitches in both the micropayment technology and business processes before jumping in with both feet.

It’s also highly probable that there will be a shakeout in the sector, with the best micropayments systems quickly rising to the surface. We will provide updates as and when we hear.

Further reading:

Subscription Insider: Startup Scroll to offer ad-free news for $5 a month

NiemanLab: Can startup Invisibly be the new revenue stream publishers dream of?

Financial Times: Blendle mixes subscription option with pay-per-story news

Digiday: Like the changing of the seasons, publishers (again) turn to micropayments London’s City A.M. employs micropayments in the fight against ad blocking


Jeremy is the editor of What’s New in Publishing, and has 30 years experience in marketing, advertising and publishing.