BitMonet: Pay-per-view for the Internet

There was a time when getting the day's headlines meant opening a single newspaper and reading it front to back. But the Internet changed all that. Now we arrive at individual stories through keyword searches, e-mail alerts, Facebook posts, and aggregate news portals, hopping from one site to the next with an abandon that makes brand allegiance seem downright quaint.

But what's even more quaint than this? The manner in which these news outlets want us to pay for their content. Paying a yearly subscription for an online newspaper that you only sporadically read is like getting off the freeway at the first exit but having to pay a toll for the whole stretch of road. And if we're going to keep referring to the Internet as the information super-highway, it's about time we found a way to let people pay for their travels piecemeal.

This is the logic behind BitMonet, an open-source project released last week by Bitcoin enthusiasts Ankur Nandwani, Bo Li, and Valerie Chao that lets publishers and freelance bloggers charge readers minuscule amounts, in Bitcoin, for access to individual articles or for time-metered browsing. (You can play with a demo here.)

"The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is read news from all around the world," explains Ankhur Nandwani. "And the New York Times is asking me to pay $30. I don't want to pay $30 to read just one article."

Publishing houses most likely chose this payment model to offset the high processing fees that credit cards bundle into their purchases—normally somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the cost of the product—making it infeasible to collect small payments from their customers. 

To bring down the cost, Nandwani and his cohorts designed BitMonet to route payments through BitPay, a Bitcoin payment processor that charges a 0.99 percent transaction fee and gives the merchant the option of receiving payments in Bitcoin or having them automatically converted to dollars and channeled to a bank account by direct deposit. Of course, the whole point of Bitcoin is to eliminate the middleman from this equation, and anyone wishing to use the cryptocurrency can simply publish a Bitcoin address on their website. But BitPay has had provided an attractive entry point for those businesses that want to start accepting Bitcoin without exposing their profits to the considerable volatility of the currency. Furthermore, the project is open-source and anyone with the coding chops is welcome to configure it to work through a different Bitcoin payment processor (the code is available here).

With such low fees, says Nandwani, it finally makes sense to collect pocket change from the people visiting your website. On the BitMonet blog, the founders claim that publishers could set their rates at just pennies per article and still bring in more money than they would make with advertisement schemes that pay based on tallied page views. Alternatively, BitMonet could be used to charge for time-metered subscriptions. The rates and payment options are fully customizable and the group has made the script to be used available free of charge.

Nandwani says that although they are introducing the concept to first appeal to publishers, BitMonet could develop a much broader appeal and could be used to monetize any low-cost virtual good. Their next move will be to write plugins for the biggest publishing platforms to encourage adoption among freelancers and bloggers, who now rely heavily on advertisements for revenue. WordPress is at the top of that list.

Image Credit: Ankur Nandwani

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