So. Microcasting. Taste tribes. What's next?
I know a lot of people who give away their material free, in the hope that the people who like it will buy it as a data object, like a CD. This can work very well, of course -- if you've got a CD burner, if you have a record deal, if you have a publisher, whatever. Selling bits -- an mp3, a PDF, a Flash file, a GIF sequence -- is something different.
There's a crucial hesitation point in using a credit card on the web. It's not one-click, it's real money, suggests a significant purchase and can be a real pain in the arse to set up, even with middlemen like CCBill. This is why Nicholas Negroponte spent the 90s banging on about micropayments, and why Scott McCloud took up his banner. Spending small amounts of money in a quick manner invites a far smaller hesitation point. PayPal was one step in this direction -- a quick, simple Internet bank. A pig to set up if you're not in America, but it's doable, and still probably easier than becoming a credit-card vendor. eBay did a huge amount to popularise PayPal. LiveJournal, always very aware of its massively under-30 demographic, made its paid system PayPal friendly very quickly.
Magnatune is a record label using PayPal. You can stream the music on their site. Like it? Buy the album as mp3 downloads with PayPal. This system does beg the obvious -- that people will download it and put it on KaZaA, or zip it up and Bit Torrent it. But you know what? These are bands and acts that no-one's ever heard of before. You're not going to find them on a P2P service any way other than accidentally, because you're not going to be looking for them, because you don't know their bloody names.. Hell, even if you decide you like the stuff and aren't going to pay, not enough people will have them in their P2P folder for you to lay your hands on them quickly (if at all). It's a calculated risk on Magnatune's part, and I think it's probably a sound call.
PayPal leads to BitPass, which could be the way of the future. BitPass lets you buy a token with a one-step PayPal system, and that token lets you issue micropayment fractions of its total value. Again, with a quick prodecure. Make with the clicky and you've given Patrick Farley twenty-five cents to read the latest chapter of his crazed Biblicanime spin on Revelations, APOCAMON.
Twenty-five cents. In Britain, that's all of thirteen pence right now.
If Patrick Farley had a well-managed internet community behind him right now, you'd all know his name. Because that, I (currently) feel, is very much the next step. Because none of these things will go anywhere without word-of-mouth, or whatever the internet version is called. Word of clicky, I dunno. This comes back to Josh's taste tribes. Not fan groups -- simply the net's ability to allow people with shared aesthetics to cross networks. This is the use for friend-of-a-friend networks that Tribe.net fell on -- the ability for people to find intersecting tastes in other users and create an unlimited amount of small message boards to serve and connect them.
The currency of the net is conversation. It's what the die-hard bloggers live for -- counting their Trackbacks, scanning their stats and checking their incoming links on Technorati. In the commercial arts, conversation is money. If no-one's talking about it, no-one bought it. And if no-one's talking about it, no-one's going to buy it. But if people are talking about it, more people are going to buy it. It's the simplest thing in the world. The hard part is getting it to happen.
When BitPass first came out, a lot of people were aggressively negative about it. Some people were blindly positive about it. I didn't see many people making the only important point -- perfect or not, it WORKS. It works and it can conceivably help the creative population on the internet. It works and I can pay for art with it, very easily, in small denominations. And I want to be able to pay for art because it means people can make more art.