The one business model that is suppose to solve the money problem for web comics is micropayments. The idea is an artist offers their work in soft form at a fraction of the cost in hard form. For instance Jon Rosenberg offers two comics for $0.25 through BitPass when the paper form costs $4. This method as applied to web comics comes from Scott McCloud. Twice now Scott has shown reasonable success using this method therefore convincing Jon of Goats to give it the once over.
The problem is it failed. We’re not talking it barely scraped enough money, we’re talking it plowed into the side of a mountain on freakishly clear day. How did that happen? To make sure we all know just how bad Jon reports that during the 8 days of BitPass Merchandising was down to 30% normal. That’s like being on the radio telling the pilot there’s a mountain 5 minutes before the crash.
So what when wrong? The common opinion I hear centers around not leaving BitPass up long enough. It’s like telling someone who has been shot that they are not going to bleed to death but let’s not block it and see what happens. To be fair that is a perfectly viable issue. Jon has been notorious for saying that BitPass would not work as a business model and that may influenced his readers into not purchasing the two comics for sale. There is also the issue that BitPass is still new and given enough time a transition will occur once every becomes comfortable. Here is where Jon tells everyone the problem materializes. Two families simply can not live off an experiment and the trend in 8 days was showing bad times ahead.
There are quite a few people out there complaining and just as many people cheering for seeing McCloud idealism evaporate. Here’s where I’m going to split hairs. Micropayments is a great idea for a business model, except the current method is flawed. There has to be some incentive for coming back to spend more money or the price of the product has to be so cheap that it really doesn’t matter. By offering whole comics at $0.25 Jon was cutting off his merchandising market. Why pay $3 when I can pay a quarter? Instead Jon should have left the paper comic alone and gone straight for the archives.
Offer today’s strip for free but force readers to pay $0.005 to read any one strip in the archive for the day. Get it? It’s a micropayment. Which reader out there wouldn’t pay 3.5 cents to catch up on the past week’s strips that you missed? Especially for such a fantastic strip like Goats. There’s no annoying monthly bill from a subscription and you could read the entire archive for around $15. For those of you who don’t believe this will work how do you think half the ads out there work? The advertiser pays you a penny for every visit your site sends them.
Micropayments are not the solution but neither is simply selling ad space. One of these days we’ll all realize that there is no one solution to making money on the internet, otherwise everyone would already be living off of it.