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Coming Soon: Universal Pay Scheme

Amid the continuing fiscal meltdown for print media, a group has come up with a pay scheme that would make paying for reading a little less painless - at least a lot less cumbersome than the absurd mirco-payment method.

Though no one has yet signed on, the idea is quickly gaining currency. In essence, a reader can go to a central site and make a payment, which allows him access to numerous affiliated publications.

(Why didn't I think of this first?)

There's much heft, at least in terms of name recognition, behind the venture at Journalism Online LLC. Among the principals include Court TV founder Steven Brill, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery Jr., who has headed communications companies like Tele-Communications Inc., Global Crossing and the YES Network, and now runs InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in media.

Brill, who said the system will be up and running by the fall, thinks the fee should be around $15 per month for the readers. He said the venture streamlines the paying process and facilitates easy access:

"The most important thing is it's simple to use. Much of the barrier to charging online is the transaction friction, as opposed to the actual cost. With this system, you'd have a single password, give your credit card number just once."

Beyond getting money from the readers, the venture is mulling over charging search engines and news aggregators for royalty. This, without a doubt, will be met with some pushback, especially from dominant Internet entities such as Google.

A pay scheme seems inevitable in the near future as newspapers continue to flounder with sharply decreasing ad revenues. In 2008, newspapers reported a 16.6 decline in ad revenue, coinciding with the recession that began in late 2007. This year, ad revenues are down by as much as 30% in the first quarter, as a few papers have folded with a number of others also teetering on the brink of extinction.