SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 26 — The idea of micropayments — charging Web
users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was
essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In
December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s
interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people
still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea.
Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because “users hate
But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many
people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they
were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes
is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small
Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some
stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.