Startup tests Facebook and Twitter-based payment system for online content

A European media company is testing a one-click payment system developed by startup Paycento that will enable consumers to pay for digital content, as well as low-priced goods and services, via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Speaking to Reuters, Paycento says the system will work by linking its users’ accounts with their social network profiles, enabling people to pay to read a single article or download a track without having to fill in forms or enter their payment details every time. While the service is not yet being used by any online publishers, one firm is testing a beta version and Paycento CEO Pieter Dubois expects to have signed deals by July at the latest. The move comes as content owners increasingly seek new ways to generate revenues online besides advertising and subscriptions, which many firms worry will deter visitors.

“Those social identity networks also are really identity providers, so we piggyback on that,” says Paycento founder Pieter Dubois. “The payment is really seamless, it’s like a one-click payment on the internet.”

Using social networks to make micropayments could be an attractive option for many content owners, from publishers to record labels, as they seek to monetise content online. As highlighted by Dubois, many internet users are already logged into services such as Facebook when they browse the web, meaning that validating their identity via social networks is relatively simple and time-effective. Facebook in particular already has a payments service that is proving popular within the social network for features such as gaming. This suggests that consumers are already willing to pay for goods via social networks, with Paycento simply trying to expand this system to content owners.

Content owners and merchants are likely to take the proposition seriously, in particular due to the lack of options for micro-payments currently. PayPal offers a small payments service but charges USD0.05 plus 5% per transaction, making it almost impossible for businesses to charge less than USD1 and expect to generate significant revenues. However, it remains questionable if content owners actually need a service such as Paycento between themselves and the social networks. As games firms such as Zynga have proven, it is possible to generate significant revenues via Facebook and, with the social network opening up its platform to anybody from publishers to music-streaming services, there seems no reason why these companies couldn’t make use of social network payments on their own.

The move to offer a payment system via social networks is just the latest aimed at boosting publishers’ online revenues. Last month, Google partnered with a number of publications, including Adweek and the New York Daily News, with a new service that makes readers complete a short survey before they can access particular articles. Dubbed ‘Google Consumer Surveys’, the service functions much like a paywall except that Google, rather than the consumer, has to pay. Both services highlight that publishers are still experimenting with ways to monetise their digital content as consumer reading habits shift online and to mobile.

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