After a year of public trials, the Pico-Pay micropayment system has gone into full service.
The key difference between Pico-Pay and most other systems is that buyers pay for content by viewing advertising material, just as they do when watching free-to-air commercial television, Pico-Pay executives said.
Buyers can choose which adverts they view. Advertisers benefit from minimum-duration stays imposed by the system and they can set their own price for an ad. If it is too low, people might not select that ad; if it is too high, those with no interest in the product or service might be tempted to view it. When buyer has built up sufficient credit, the purchased content is delivered and the appropriate sum transferred between the advertiser's and publisher's accounts.
Con Zymaris, the manager of the service, said "By using the Pico-Pay gateway to cover the cost of premium content from their favourite Web sites, Web consumers are able to acquire and browse in total anonymity, and at no cost to themselves."
Pico-Pay is most appropriate for payments between US$0.10 and $2.00, he said. A 5 percent commission with a minimum of US$0.05 is collected by the company.
Apart from paying for online content, Pico-Pay can be used to implement a 'tip jar', an honour payment scheme, or for donations to charity.
Content publishers in Australia, Sweden and France have signed up for the system. Publishers who were involved in the trial are putting much more material online now the system is live, said Zymaris. Several dozen advertisers took part in the trial, but so far only Cybersource -- Pico-Pay's parent company -- is paying for advertising.
Kerryn Marlow, the Melbourne-based publisher of bodytalkmagazine.com, has just signed up with Pico-Pay and will begin implementing the system this weekend. Her site has been online for three years, and "getting people to pay for content is... pretty hard," she said. Marlow would view a couple of ads to read an online article even if she wouldn't pay 50c for it, and she hopes her readers will think the same way. "My big challenge is to explain it to people who visit the site" so they aren't put off by it.
She has some concern about the lack of control over the adverts Pico-pay will associate with her site once the number of advertisers expands, as some products and services such as weight-loss gimmicks are contrary to the Bodytalk philosophy.
Most content and advertising is IT related at present. Pico-Pay's strategy is to seek critical mass in specific domains such as the audiophile market or the folk music community.
"If we'd done this five years ago, I suspect we would have landed some VC funds... but there isn't the money around to let us push this in a big and fast way," said Zymaris. But he feels that might not be a bad thing, given the number of VC-backed Internet businesses that fell as quickly as they had risen.