CBC: Canadian newspaper tries radical experiment with iTunes-style micropayments

Despite its name, regular readers of the Winnipeg Free Press can no longer see articles for free.

Paywalls are nothing new in the world of online newspapers, but this summer, the "Freep," as it is affectionately known, introduced a method of charging for online "print" media that everyone thought was dead: micropayments.

After a free trial period of one month, anyone interested in reading the Free Press has two choices. As with other papers, readers can buy a subscription at the standard rates.

Or, they can do something regular daily newspaper readers have never been able to do before. They can pay a one-time fee for the individual article they want to read.

"There are all these readers out there who want to read what we have," says Free Press publisher Bob Cox.

"You go to Amazon, you buy one at a time. You go to the Apple iTunes store, you buy one at a time. This is the method people use online for purchasing things."

Buying stories by the piece

When Cox attends international media conferences, he faces crowds of interested questioners. How does the system work? And is it paying off?

Part of the reason for all that interest is that micropayments were once supposed to be the brilliant system for paying for online print media content that just never took off, says George Goodall from the London, Ont.-based research group Info-Tech.

"In certain ways, micropayments are alive and well," says Goodall. "Just not in the way we thought they were going to be."

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