How Penny Per Page Might Work

A Penny Per Page

One possible mechanism for creating an easy, sustainable revenue model for all Web sites has a very simple name: It's called a penny per page.

Here's how it would work. Let's say you go to Google to do a search, or to CNN to read about Afghanistan, or to Amazon to buy a book. Whenever a person looks at any Web page, that viewer will pay a penny. The Web site will receive the penny. It is that simple.

With a penny per page, in five years we would see incredible changes on the Web. Here are four examples:

Example 1: A search engine

Example 1: A search engine gets about 100 million page impressions per day right now. With a penny per page, Google would make $1 million a day, or something like $350 million per year.

Would $350 million per year make a difference to Google? From a business standpoint, it obviously would. But think about it from a development standpoint. Google is arguably the best search engine out there right now, but it is only scratching the surface of what a search engine could be. Imagine what Google could become if the site could afford to spend $200 million per year on new software development. In five years, Google's capabilities (or those of a competitor) would be breathtaking.

Without a penny per page, Google will still improve, but at a dramatically slower pace. There needs to be money to support the development of new features, and right now the money is not there in any significant way. So it's a trade-off: "Free" is probably one of the most beloved words in the English language; but by not paying Google when we use it, we're effectively denying ourselves the increased benefits that our payments would bring about.

[See Objection #3 toward the bottom of this page for additional information on Google.]

Example 2: Any content Web site

Example 2: Any content Web site

Imagine what a penny per page would do to:

  • CNN (or any other "news" site)
  • The New York Times (or any other site associated with a newspaper or TV network)
  • ESPN (or any other sports property)
  • Britannica (or any other "reference" site)
  • Salon (or any other magazine site)
  • The Motley Fool (or any other financial site)
  • NASA (or any other government site providing tons of content)

The list is endless. All of these sites would receive significant revenue from a penny per page. They could then produce immense amounts of content at a breathtaking pace and have a financial incentive to keep producing more and more. Millions more content sites would start springing up like weeds, and they would all be hiring people. The effect that Web revenue would have on the economy, and on the types and amount of content posted to the Web, would be significant.

Example 3: Any Expert

Example 3: Any Expert

Imagine a person who has an area of expertise. The person might know anything, from financial analysis to landscape design to car repair -- it doesn't really matter. Right now, the person has two options:

  • the person can write a book, take it to a publisher and publish it. The person will make a royalty of approximately 10% of the book's wholesale price.
  • the person can publish the information on the Web and make nothing.

Neither of these options works very well for the person with the expertise. Writing a book involves a tremendous amount of work, and there is no guarantee that a publisher will accept it. The publisher also takes 90% of the revenue*. Publishing on the Web does not require a publisher, and also allows incremental publishing -- the expert can write and publish a little bit every day. But the expert makes nothing for his/her effort.

With a penny per page, millions of people around the world would be able to publish information AND make money. Conventional publishers would also have a reason to bring existing books over to the Web. The pool of information on the Web will explode.

[* A very common question -- why does the author of a book get only 10%? It is not because publishers are "evil" or "greedy", but instead because of the way book publishing works. To edit, lay out, print (thousands of copies), warehouse, market and distribute a book, the minimum amount a publisher will spend is approximately $100,000. Many books cost much more than that to arrive on the bookstore shelf. That is a very steep cost of entry per title.

Out of every 10 books published, as a general rule, less than half are able to dig themselves out of the $100,000 hole. The publisher eats all of those costs and still pays royalties, in the hope that several books out of every 10 will make a profit. After all of the costs are taken into account, all that's left is about 10% to pay to the authors and still maintain a profitable publishing business.]

Example 4: Anyone with a Good Idea

Example 4: Anyone with a Good Idea

Imagine a person or small business today with a good Web idea that they would like to implement. The person has to devote the time (potentially hundreds of hours) to develop the idea, and then pay a hosting company to host the new Web site. Unfortunately, there is no way to make money from the idea. The lack of revenue means that thousands of good ideas -- ideas that would be very beneficial to Web users -- are not being implemented right now. This is a perfect equation for stagnation. [See this letter from the President of for an interesting discussion of the situation faced by small and intermediate-sized Web sites.]