Selling content on the Internet, part 1


2007-01-19 update: It looks like Bitpass is going under. While there's no mention of it on their website, I just got email from them saying that "due to circumstances beyond our control, we are discontinuing our operations." If anyone knows of a comparable service or a service with different ideas about enabling small vendors to sell content on the internet, please let me know.

I've been researching ways to buy and sell content over the Internet, especially when you want one fee of a dollar or less to buy access to multiple files. PayPal's fees make such a low price impractical, but I've found an interesting alternative called BitPass.

[BitPass logo]

According to some BitPass marketing literature, "Pricing for your content can be as low as just one cent and you can sell via email, instant messaging or a web site". To buy something, you must first register as a buyer, which includes the selection of a payment option. For most payment options, you need to have a minimum balance of something like $3.00 deposited, but when you select the BitPass PayThru? option, each charge is taken directly from the specified source, such as PayPal. For example, if you spend ten cents on something, you'll see ten cents deducted from your PayPal account, and if you never make another BitPass purchase, you will never have spent more than those ten cents. (For some odd reason, the question mark is part of the name, which leads to odd-looking questions on the generally useful FAQ like "What is BitPass PayThru??" and " How does PayThru? help me?" Having seen how the UK tech news site The Register often headlines Yahoo! stories ([1], [2]), I look forward to the day when they build a headline around this payment option.)

You can learn more about the experience of selling content on BitPass if you're willing to get a hands-on appreciation of the BitPass buyer experience. As an experiment, I've put part 2 of this post on BitPass, where it will cost you ten cents to read it. Or hear it—part of my experiment is to sell an XHTML file and an accompanying MP3 file as a pair, so I just read the entry as a podcast and added a little music to the beginning and end. Whether you follow the link to the XHTML file or the MP3 first, BitPass will ask you to become a customer, and then you'll have access to both for 28 days. There's no DRM on the MP3 file, so you can do whatever you like with it. If you already have at least ten cents in a PayPal account, the whole process is pretty quick and simple.

Wherever this experiment leads, it won't lead to my charging for entries on this weblog. I started on my own domain name to give me a platform to play with the related technology, and this is just this week's experiment. I have unrelated projects that may benefit from using BitPass, so I wanted to try it out and get your opinions on it and on its potential competitors. Any comments?


Bob, I'm just not gonna see the second half of your post, not because I grudge the ten cents, but because the barriers to entry are too high. It wants me to create an account, or remember my Microsoft Passport one, which I think I do but I'm not sure; and then it would be either use Paypal, which I refuse to do because of their bad reputation in certain circles, or deposit $3.00 with BitPass, which I don't much want to bother with either.

Here's a quote from my rotating .sig file:

Micropayment advocates mistakenly believe that efficient allocation of resources is the purpose of markets. Efficiency is a byproduct of market systems, not their goal. The reasons markets work are not because users have embraced efficiency but because markets are the best place to allow users to maximize their preferences, and very often their preferences are not for conservation of cheap resources. --Clay Shirkey

And here's the whole article; it's worth reading.


I completely understand. I almost added something to the entry about another issue with micropayments: if it's too easy to pay, it's too easy to game the system and steal, but if it's too difficult... then it's too difficult.

Jumping through a hoop and a half doesn't seem like much trouble when we're spending $34 on Amazon and we don't want the wrong people charging to our accounts, but jumping through any hoops at all for something worth ten cents is rarely worth the trouble.

I, and I assume others, just happen to have a few dollars ($14? $23?) sitting in a PayPal account, so it's little trouble to spend 10 cents of it. For people who avoid having a PayPal account--and I know there are good reasons to do so--there's no argument that it's too much trouble.