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June 18, 2019, 11:53 a.m.
Mobile & Apps
LINK: libra.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   June 18, 2019

Facebook is pitching its new cryptocurrency, Libra — which will be officially launched in 2020 — as a way for the world’s unbanked to save, send, and spend money. To some, it’s also a massive power grab by an already immensely powerful company (and a bunch of other powerful companies — Libra’s 27 initial partners include Visa, Mastercard, Uber, Lyft, and Paypal, among others) and a potential privacy nightmare. But what might it mean for payments for news?

Of Libra’s 27 initial partners, only one — Spotify — is a media company, although the list also includes VCs like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures which have invested in media companies. “Facebook hopes its partners, such as Uber and Spotify, will also take Libra as payment for car rides and online subscriptions, as they do with PayPal and Venmo today,” The New York Times noted. Facebook hopes to get up to 100 partners, which will govern Libra as an independent association.

It’s possible that Libra could solve the micropayments-for-news problem that many other small and news-focused companies have tried and thus far failed to successfully tackle. (Let’s count Civil here too.) Blendle, one of the more promising-seeming micropayment companies, acknowledged defeat last week, turning to premium subscriptions instead. “Premium members turn out to be much more active and read or listen to considerably more pieces. On average, they spend 22 minutes a day on Blendle, three times as many as users who pay per item,” the company’s cofounder said.

With Libra, however, news consumers could be just one tiny use case; the business model won’t center around them, but news organizations could benefit anyway. User acquisition won’t be a problem: “Facebook said it intended to offer Libra to almost all of the 2.7 billion customers who are now on its Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp services,” the Times noted. “It also hopes to allow Libra to be used for payments for things like ads on its social network.” It’s not hard to see that extending to per-article payments — in rich countries where publishers’ primary focus will still be on subscription, but also in poor countries where people predominately read news on their phones and where news subscriptions might be out of reach.

First, though, people will need to be able to get the currency — and how they’ll do that isn’t exactly clear.

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