The Web is an amazing and remarkable phenomenon that has changed the way we think about information, publishing, commerce and computers. Most importantly, the Web has had a huge effect on every individual's ability to distribute information to the world. Prior to the Web, there really was no way for an individual to easily reach a worldwide audience. Today, with the Web, worldwide publishing is simple and instantaneous. Anyone with a computer can publish anything they want, and the entire world can see it a few seconds later. There is tremendous creativity and thousands of new ideas. The possibilities for content and services that the Web can offer seem endless.

While it is extremely easy for any individual or business to publish material on today's Web, one thing is currently missing -- there is no easy way to make money from those Web sites. In 2000 and 2001, this "missing link" caused the death of thousands of Web-based businesses. The Web is becoming somewhat like a desert. There are some survivors -- Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon and so on -- but nothing new is germinating in any significant way. And many surviving Web sites are turning instead to the subscription model.

The proliferation of subscription fees is causing a lot of people to become extremely concerned. See, for example, this recent CNet article entitled "Death of the Free Web". There are two reasons for concern:

  • Subscribing to dozens of content Web sites will be a royal pain in the neck. For example, imagine having to keep track of and pay subscriptions to Google, Yahoo, CNN, etc. A frequent Web user would have to be paying monthly fees to dozens of sites, and would be blocked from all others.
  • High subscription fees will ban many people from key sources of information. The world will divide into "haves" and "have nots" in a way never before imagined.
The only solution to this problem is to figure out a simple way for Web sites to be paid for their content. A business that publishes on the Web must have a way to make money -- otherwise it goes out of business, and its content is lost. The subscription model used for magazines, however, is a bad way to achieve this goal because it is a major headache for users.

There is something else to think about as well -- the current environment leaves much of the promise of the Web untapped. Without business models that work, there is no way for the Web to reach anything near its full potential. Here is one very simple example. Go to any bookstore today and you can find hundreds of thousands of titles available, all of them published on paper. It would be extremely useful to have all of this information available in an electronic form on the Web, but none of these titles are currently on the Web because there is no way to make money from them. We are locked into paper publishing right now because of the lack of a good Web business model.

What if it were possible to change things? What if we created a business model for the Web that worked? In other words, what if we could find an easy general way for Web sites to get paid for their content and services that did not require subscriptions? If we could figure that out, new Web sites would surge from the desert floor. We would have millions of Web sites producing every sort of content and electronic service that you can imagine. There would also be millions of jobs created in an electronic economy that we only see the barest outline of today.

In this article, we will discuss the "penny per page" idea, a simple business model for the Web that would allow Web sites to receive direct payment for their content from everyone that uses the Web.

This idea is being published here so that people in the Web Community can see the current problem, see the effects it is having, and discuss possible solutions. The "penny per page" idea described in this article is one easy solution that might have a positive effect on the Web. However, even if this idea is never adopted, the discussion will be extremely productive because there is a huge change in the Web taking place right now.