Newspapers: Bitcents Launches Micropayments, 'Sun-Times' Sale Gets OK

Bitcents, a San Francisco start-up, has launched what it claims is the first micropayment system for online news organizations, offering a lifeline to embattled newspaper and magazine publishers, catering especially to companies specializing in trade and local news.

The Bitcents micropayment system has the advantage of allowing publishers to monetize online readers without resorting to subscription "pay walls," which prevent them from leveraging the Web's capacity for content discovery via search and user-sharing.

At the same time, Bitcents allows publishers flexibility in the amount it charges for each content-viewing session, adjusting the price according to how "premium" the content is, the subject matter, how long it's been posted, etc.

Consumers are shown the price per item, and agree to pay by joining the publisher's subscription-style network, which appears as a proprietary e-commerce service customized for each publisher. Publishers can join together to form groups of allied micropayment-enabled content platforms, encouraging users to stay within the Bitcents network.

Although Bitcents may be the first online micropayment system for news publishers, there are a handful of services that charge users small amounts to accumulate substantial revenues for online platforms. Facebook has a service called Spare Change, which skims off the change from online transactions to give them currency to spend on Facebook, while Twitter uses Twitpay. Outside these two services, there are other micropayment-style systems called Bee-Tokens and Tipjoy.

Separately, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that a bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of the ailing newspaper to a group of local businessmen, led by Chicago banker James Tyree.

The sale of the Sun-Times Media Group, which includes the Sun-Times and its sister papers, weeklies and suburban papers, is said to be in the $25 million range -- $5 million dollars in cash and about $20 million dollars in liabilities.

The Sun-Times said the sale to the group led by Tyree, a native Chicagoan, is expected to close by the end of October.

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