A Bitcoin model for publishers

We have seen the internet completely turn publishing on its head in the last two decades.

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A Bitcoin model for publishers

We have seen the internet completely turn publishing on its head in the last two decades.

This has been particularly acute with newspaper, but books and magazines have also struggled to keep up with the web’s 24-7 churn of free information.

This kind of competition has made it tough for publishers. Today, content is less valuable, and advertising is more invasive.

Jonathan Stacke at The Genesis Block puts forth his idea for Bitcoin-based micropayments to revitalize publishing.

He argues the biggest change from the reader perspective is that there is no longer much of a focus on the publisher — we aren’t picking up a copy of the local newspaper in the morning and digesting the previous day’s news. Instead, we instantly gravitate on an article-by-article basis, irrespective of the publisher, to the information that is catchiest and easiest to find. See also: Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post.

This has frayed the old relationship between publisher and reader, the former being no longer able to deliver advertisers to a set of eager and trusting eyes. And across the board, revenue has fallen for publishers.

Stacke argues that incentives for publishers are now out of alignment. With ad revenue often based on page views or click-through, the impetus is to shock or tease with content, not provide useful information. Much of what we see that passes for news on the internet today comes from industrial-scale content farms of freelancers churning out low-quality work at break-neck speeds. That’s just how ad revenue works these days.

Then there is branded content, which is much like the old advertorial idea in magazines in newspapers whereby and advertiser creates content that mimics the look and style of the publisher’s own work. It’s either a sneaky way to slide in an advertising message or an effective way to target readers at the places their eyes would be going anyway, depending on whom you ask. In the long run, though, this disrupts reader confidence and makes people doubt the objectivity of each piece of content.

In light of this, Stacke argues most publications are missing two things: Brand equity (read: trust) and a better way to monetize content than invasive advertising or a big pay wall (pay walls only work for the Wall Street Journals of the world).

Bitcoin, he argues, could solve both of these problems with micropayments. If a reader could kick in just a few cents to access a good piece of journalism, that would restore a normal incentive structure and serve to re-establish brand equity among publishers. Plus, with Bitcoin’s ease and speed of transactions, finding a way around the micro-pay wall would not be worth the effort for most readers.

Two startups are already working in this space.

The first is BitWall, which can be integrated into a site with just a few lines of HTML. If an article or piece of content has BitWall’s code, the user will receive a JavaScript-based prompt with options for how to continue. Payment can be in the form of Bitcoin, or a simple tweet to share the content. After 1,000 transactions, BitWall will take a cut of 20% from publishers.

BitMonet is trying to go the free route (save for the 0.99% charge its payment processor, BitPay, charges) but will work much in the same way as BitWall. The biggest difference here is intention: BitMonet wants to facilitate Bitcoin adoption at this point and is trying to keep the barrier for entry in this space as low as it can.

Adoption is the key, though, because Bitcoin micropayments cannot catch on until a large number of Bitcoin users emerge.

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