There’s been much talk in the mediasphere over the past couple of weeks about paying for it. We’ve had the usual we-are-valuable-so-give-us-money plea from some journalists who, apparently, are just discovering that media is in trouble. We’ve had some magazine writers jumping into the newspaper conversation from the pages of their suddenly skinnier magazines.

And we’ve had an awful lot of thoughtful talk from a lot of folks that goes well beyond the usual pay-us vs. it-has-to-be-free folks. I’ve added some links at the bottom of this post to some of that very good discussion.

A lot of the conversation has settled, of late, on the concept of micropayments. I’m among those who think micropayments — small bits of change that recognize value and, if the value is there, add up to bigger pieces of change — may be the most elegant way to solve the problem of paying for value.

But I see three big hurdles that have to be overcome before that’s possible.

The first is that micropayments, at least the way they are currently being discussed, are too much based on an old way of consuming media: a local paper or two that I read, maybe a national title, maybe a couple of specialty publications. Paying a couple of pennies (or tenth of pennies) for every page I read makes sense when that’s the model.

But, of course, that’s no longer the model. The media I consume varies from day to day (sometimes from hour to hour) and covers the full gamut of local, regional, national and international. Those are not often the same as they were yesterday and I don’t even have a single source bookmarked for when big news breaks: I pick and choose as I go.

And, believe me, I am not going to set up separate micropayment accounts with literally hundreds and hundreds of publications. I’m even unlikely to set up an account with a “select” group of media publications. How can I, when my media reading list is so fluid?

The second issue is one that we are not likely to hear media companies talk much about, but it is as vital to the conversation as anything. It’s that it is no longer just media that delivers value to me. Valuable information comes from a myriad of sources — including bloggers, folks on Twitter and YouTube — beyond the media. Sometimes, in fact, it’s what is added by the blogging, tweeting and videoing commenters that adds the real value to what is reported by the media.

(None of this is to denigrate the work of journalists and their publishers. It’s just the facts, ma’am.)

And third: the fact that I visit a web page does not mean that it has value to me. The value is only established after I’ve read/see what’s there. How often will I be willing to pay (even if it’s being measured in tenths of pennies) for the right to look at a page without knowing the potential value of what I’ll find there?

So this is where my belief that micropayments offer at least a partial solution to the who-will-pay-for-the-news question runs up against cold reality. If you accept my idea of the three stumbling blocks, we need to devise a system that (1) allows for single registration for everything, (2) opens up the pot to everyone creating media with potential value, and (3) puts the user in control of establishing the value.

Some related posts you might find interesting:

If you’ve found others, please drop a link into the comments.

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