The idea of paying for online media content by the piece has been floating around for some time now, but the concept hasn't gained much traction.
In China, however, media micropayments might get their moment now that one of the nation's largest online publishers has thrown its hat into the ring.
WeChat, which has 600 million monthly active users in China and abroad, has announced that it will broaden a micropayment system for writers who release posts through "official accounts"—public-facing chat rooms that in some cases double as publishing platforms for writers.
After reading an article, users can opt to "praise" the author, after which they can choose to donate cash to the author using WeChat payments, the app's Paypal-esque mobile wallet. Increments range from 5 yuan to 200 yuan.
WeChat is possibly the only social network in the world, besides Facebook, with the muscle to make this possible. Andrew Schorr, who runs the WeChat-centric startup Grata from Beijing, says that WeChat's near-monopoly on smartphone usage in China makes such a foray feasible.
"Basically every smartphone owner in China is on WeChat, and there are no other alternative payment forms that need to be offered—it's WeChat-only article publishing, WeChat-only payments, and WeChat controls the tip button," says Schorr.
The feature is still in beta-testing and for now remains geared toward hobbyist writers. Payments are donation-based and not mandatory—they're a "Like" button with cash attached. They're also only available for individual accounts attached to personal bank cards, rather than business accounts typically run by registered media companies. But Schorr says it's possible the system could blossom into something impactful for the media industry.