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PayPal Launches Micropayments, Uses Words like “Frictionless,” Pleases Cartoonist

THIS is so close, in almost every respect, to what we were asking for over a decade ago, it’s almost eerie. They’re even using the same language to describe it.

I’ve got a graphic novel to draw, so I’ll stay on the sidelines for a while, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, and I hope you do too.

And yes, if it flies, I’ll be gloating for a reeeally long time.


Discussion (41)¬

  1. Mangaman says:

    OH MAN! Could this mean indy developers will create arcade-esque games online? I sure as hell hope so! If this thing proves to be successful by guinea pigs I’ll sure as hell jump in on this little band wagon, just to help pay those damned bills.

  2. Mark Crilley says:

    Very cool, Scott! I’ve been telling people everywhere I go about your vision of micropayments for years– I really hope this makes it happen.

  3. jdalton says:

    I’ve always said that the hard part of predicting the future (which is what Reinventing Comics was trying to do to a certain extent) isn’t so much coming up with what could happen or what will be invented, but more about getting it all in the right order.

    So the order was wrong. But here we go, we get micropayments after all, even if they’re a decade later than expected.

    That’s my two cents. Plus another five for Paypal.

  4. Mangaman says:

    Hmm, also I realize that if this DOES happen, this could very well create a large friction between those willing to pay for content and those not. Which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Personally I’ve grown to the point where I am now barely on the web consuming that amount of content so it wouldn’t matter, but I can see how this could effect the current generation of “the college websurfer” where college very well means “poor time” for alot of us.

    • Steve Broome says:

      If those people aren’t willing to pay at the price points indicated by micropayments then their support might not be missed much. If the digital delivery method for comics is going to be viable we’ve got to find it out somehow.

  5. NoCashComics says:

    I remember talk of micropayments back in 98 or so, I’ll be interested to see where this goes

  6. Ffree says:

    Now would be a good time for the big comicbook publishers to lower their digital comics to $1.

    This is great news for the independent (poor) comic creator to earn a few cents for the effort. Good for the fans who want to show support.

  7. Albert says:

    Wow. You were way ahead of your time, weren’t you? :O

  8. Fine, but I’m not sure how much this has to do with comics at this point. On balance, I think the audience for webcomics would find micropayments more annoying than ads. For digital downloads – well, it might be useful for floppy sized works, but I expect the field to be dominated by trade sized works, much like prose is dominated by book length novels rather short stories. The prices on those will remain high enough for the current credit card setup, especially for new releases. If the numbers match up, the system may give credit cards a run for their money, but I can’t say I get really excited about that sort of thing. I mean, I understand why Scott would be. I just tend to think about comics first when I come here rather than the mechanisms of money collection. Which may be why I’m broke.

    • Scott says:

      As always, this wouldn’t mean putting everything behind a paywall. But there are A LOT of alternatives that people will soon be able to explore and that could make a difference for cartoonists with even a few thousand readers.

  9. I always tell people “Reinventing” is the best one! No one believes me, but time is gonna tell on this one!

  10. Kat says:

    I’ve heard of a few web-comicers using this sort of thing to both garner some extra money and to give those that can spend a tiny bit some bonus art and stuff. Not a terrible system I’d say…hah, I bet if I set anything like this up my mom would send me money through it (how embarrassing, haha)

  11. Scott, I know you were talking about it in 98 because I WAS THERE at Pro/Con in Oakland, California when you stood toe-to-toe with industry peers. You took slings and arrows for an entire hour. It’s time you get you your full comeuppance. Hah!

    • Scott says:

      Yeah, they were looking at me like I was from another planet!

      Of course, I also remember being dismissive of file-sharing in those days, so I sure as Hell didn’t have all the answers (and still don’t).

  12. Stefan says:

    Hmm, have you ever heard of Flattr?
    I like their idea, and it’s pretty popular among bloggers, at least in Europa.

    http://flattr.com/

  13. scottishwildcat says:

    Sorry, but a 5c minimum transaction really isn’t a ‘micropayment’. The whole concept of micropayments, from which the name derives, is that the value of each transaction is typically less than 1c.

    • Scott says:

      Call these “mini-payments” if you like, but the whole time I’ve been usng the term “micropayments” for the last 15 years, I was never talking about sub-cent transactions, and have never advocated those as a solution to our primary problems.

      Most people find the sub-cent metering proposed early on to be creepy and intrusive. All I really wanted was a decentralized way to drop small change in each others’ pockets.

      Would I like it to at least go down to nickels and dimes? Yes. That’d be great, especially in developing nations once these go global. But this is a marked improvement over what we had before and I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth right now.

  14. Its better, but hardly “micro”.
    Theres been smaller company’s before pulling of a lot lower minimum fee’s. There was one called “iCent” or something but I cant find it now. They had a 2 cent minimum.

    Also, PayPal is a little too dominating for comfort really. Are they regulated as a bank yet?

  15. Rob Berry says:

    This could be the best news new and indie publishers have had in a very long time. Lower end payments essentially allows for monetizing the experience of reading the material separately from the ownership factor of print. That’s a major step in letting new material grow out of the audience taste rather than the board room decision-making.

  16. Gloria says:

    Hmm… Interesting. I confess, a lot of us small-time artists who only sell things on an irregular basis like to cheat the system by having customers send us an individual payment as a “gift” so that we get the full amount for small payments (like for $5 drawings and things like that).
    But for somebody actually running a business with automated payments, this is a really good idea. I may try to utilize it myself someday.

  17. [...] two clicks, without ever having to leave a publisher’s game, news, music, video or media site.” Scott McCloud is quick out of the gate with reaction: “This is so close, in almost every respect, to what [...]

  18. Anise says:

    at $2.99 a pop, I feel like micropayments already exist for electronic books and pdf downloads. Those aren’t failing either, many published professionals are leaving their publishers for independent digital distribution.

    I’d like to see how webcomic people pick it up, considering it’s hard to survive without making funny t-shirts.

  19. [...] Sidenote 2: Discovered the Paypal announcement via Scott McCloud’s blog, the author of Understanding Comics, who has been a long-time micropayments [...]

  20. Pretty Jeff says:

    What’s the difference between Paypal’s micropayment system and the BitPass micropayment system?

    (I’m not being sarcastic. This is a legitimate question.)

  21. Steve Broome says:

    Huge news for me, I will be looking to distribute my comic book as an Android app that people can download directly from my website, and this is the step that will allow me to do it rather than telling people to search for it in the Android Market (long story, but essentialy direct linking to Android Market apps is not good).

  22. [...] here are a couple of links to bear in mind.   First, Paypal has finally gotten on board Scott McCloud’s cause and made it possible to deploy micropayments. Not very micro, mind you; right now, they’re [...]

  23. If nothing else, it will be nice to have a system in place should the economic model work. I certainly can see it not working, or not working yet, but as always, that’s up to the market.

    So many of the nay-sayers about micropayments would assume as part of their arguments that this system would ensure that every Tom, Dick, and Harry creating comics online would be charging a quarter for a 3-panel strip, but the digital market is too responsive to inconvenience or overcharge people like that for long. Given the ability to charge any amount, someone somewhere will happen upon the perfect price point for the perfect amount of content, and everyone will jump on board.

    • Scott says:

      Exactly! No cartoonist wants their audience cut by 99%. Pure greed is a lose-lose proposition and always has been.

      In fact, I don’t think comic strips will ever be gated. Even if micros take off, I’d expect online strips to remain free and continue to sell t-shirts and other merch on the side.

      BUT, add to that various a la carte downloadables in a sidebar and things get interesting.

    • Rob Berry says:

      This is getting really Adam Smith, you know. And I personally I think that’s a good thing.

      But detractors of Smith will tell you that morals and the marketplace have been proven to not be coexistent. Particularly when ego-driven products (art) enters the marketplace.

      If market leaders with a strong following set a price of one dollar for their comics will newcomers “undervalue” their own work to keep it competitive following standard market rules Smith believes in? A Jim Lee comic costs a buck, but you can get a “Jim Notlee” comic with the same page count for seventy-five cents? That’s seems incompatible with how the value system of Indie comics works.

      What I remember of the Indie market in the ’80′s was that lower production (black and white) books by unknown cartoonists we’re competing and selling well at a similar price point as mainstream titles because of rarity and the burgeoning speculator/buyer. But in digital sales (and paypals new program is for “digital products”) there isn’t an object. No scarcity of supply to effect the cost value.

      Scott, you’ve obviously got more first-hand knowledge of that part of the equation. But how we affix value to digital still seems the key question. Will we roundly, freely agree to the price that the reading experience of comics is worth through these “frictionless” payments? Won’t the price of that reading experience still be established by vendors like Marvel and DC who have the largest amount of material to read?

  24. Scott says:

    Going on the assumption that the “marketplace vs morality” topic was sparked by my “pure greed” comment, I should probably point out that I was just saying that pure greed is rarely in a given seller’s enlightened self-interest.

    The reason I think that a sensible price point will be reached is that there’ll be a lot of downward pressure from the great unwashed masses of amateur cartoonists who’ll offer their stuff for cheap, the same way early mini-comics artists sold minis for a quarter a pop.

    The scenario you describe is a bit more likely in a closed market than in the ridiculously open one that may result if pay buttons start proliferating.

    Or something…

    Just off the top of my head really. I gotta get back to work! :-)

    • Rob Berry says:

      Yeah, definitely the point of this I’ll be most interesting in watching as it unfolds, Scott.

      is comics a closed market or a truly open one?

      The major companies hold the big catalogs of products. So much so that comics (in America) have been defined by the genres made popular in those big catalogs. We’re still fighting that preconception every day as cartoonists.

      If micropayments start helping to determine the economic value of the reading experience apart from ownership of the product, isn’t there a likelihood that the big publishers of superhero comics, having all that material at their disposal, will set the price point? Isn’t there also some likelihood that indie creators will follow suit with that price point rather than under-cutting the industry trend setters? That starts sounding dangerously like a closed market system.

      But minis and the select circle of fans is an interesting longer discussion on this point…

      Are you coming to NYC for Book Expo in February? I smell a panel.

      • Scott says:

        “The Big Two” are hardly the only game in town, remember. Manga, graphic novels, comic strips, and even the nascent all-ages genre, all have their own market physics.

        Still, you might be right about the price points for story segments that look, feel, and are the right length for traditional comic books. I just think there’ll be at least two to three other popular formats out there.

        Re: BEA. Wait, February or May?

        Either way, might go if someone brought me out. I like visiting NYC cause I get to do reference-taking for the GN.

        • Rob Berry says:

          Sorry. Yeah, it’s in May this year. Got it confused with another date, but it’s May 26th.

          I’ve been asked to be on some interesting panels there that are still getting mapped out by some of the organizers. Lots of good stuff happening about the overlap for comics in the educational markets. I’ll ask around about how we might manage getting you involved.

          True about the Big Two. But they’re still a really great way to illustrate the point of how trapped we can become through the predispositions of our more common appearance to a larger audience. We’ve spent so long trying to shake off the idea that comics=superheroes. I’d hate to see the micro-payment value of the reading experience of comics get preset by the abundance of the most popular material readily available in large quantities. The price of carrots has little to do cost of making, packaging, shipping and stocking of carrots and much more to do with the cost of other similarly-used vegetables available at that same market. It would suck to come into this new market that micro-payments make possible as a purveyor of brussel sprouts or golden beets. We’d constantly be looking over our shoulder and ascribing our own value against a sack of potatoes.

  25. [...] along? Well, even though Scott McCloud stops short of saying “I told you so.” in this blog post he certainly seems giddy at the possibility of this whole thing working out in the comments below [...]