Making a buck from Content gets easier

From "free" mode to payment for content in real time, it's been a long journey.

Last week when I signed up with a new online forum, a community that supports anything open-source, I was struck by the number of startups that were hawking payment systems for content. From micropayment processes to digital wallets to payment in cryptocurrencies, these new companies are focused on ensuring that content providers, especially freelancers, get their due in monetary terms for their labor of love.

Just a few years ago, it was rare to find a startup working on a content payment solution. For painters, writers, vloggers, journalists and all those who make up the content providers’ community, this is good news. It was a long time coming.

I also came across another interesting fact. Did you know that there’s an HTTP 402 error? It crops up when your online subscription to a service has expired, but for now, it is designated a “nonstandard client error status response code that is reserved for future use.”

Not seen HTTP 402 ever? That only underlines how 99% (approx.) of online content is free and does not come with a paywall. When the father of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee set up the Web, along with errors like 404, 403, he had also introduced HTTP 402. Clearly, Mr Berners-Lee and his team envisaged that those surfing online would be required to pay for content. Unfortunately, as we now know, things went the other way. Almost all content is available free. That explains why you have never seen a 402 error during your online sojourn. (BTW, you are still reading a free version of this newsletter.)

From HTTP 402 in the late 90s to the concerted efforts by the online community in 2018-19 to ensure content providers get paid; it’s been a two decades long journey.

Never have so many owed so few so much for so long (with due apology to the late Mr Winston Churchill).

But, like I realized, the tide is turning. I am a child of the old-world banking generation of cheques and passbooks, whose teen years were spent in the credit/debit card era. I remember when the e-payment system PayPal came online, I was spell-bound. Naturally, it took me a while to wrap my head around payment APIs like Stripe. For content providers like me, it has cut down the submission-to-payment realization time to a few hours, from the previous month or so.

Today, things on this front have even got micro. Micropayment systems, for example, enable freelancers to charge extremely low sums of money; anything between US $10 to 50 cents for their works. What’s more, not only are there many content micropayment systems already in the market, but, with a few lines of code, one can even implement a decentralized system, one that maybe attached to your Ethereum wallet, to start accepting virtual currency for your content. Ethereum, by way of a quick explanation courtesy Wikipedia, is an open source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform and operating system featuring smart contract functionality.

So there you are. Content providers are suddenly spoiled for choice. From never ever getting paid to a stage where they have multiple choices.

We are fast approaching a stage where publishers, website owners, freelancers, etc, will be able to break the shackles of advertising and go in for a subscription-based revenue model.

Let me add a word of caution. Some of these payment systems are less than perfect, some are still in beta mode, some come with restrictions. But a start has been made. It is now possible not only for the “biggie” newspaper publishers but for a freelancer even to charge a fee and get paid through any of these digital payment platforms…. sometimes in real time. Geography is no longer a barrier.

Where do you find ‘em? Here are a few keywords you can use to search online: micropayments, cryptocurrencies, digital payment solutions, web monetization, inter-ledger. (You may contact me for further information on this.)

Before signing off, as part of the content community, I say that for too long have readers gotten away with free content. It’s time to pay up if you want to continue getting quality stuff. A content provider does have to live, right?


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Image by Thomas Jh. Baumann from Pixabay