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Mobile Microcontent

January 15th, 2009 · 20 Comments

One of the ideas I have been thinking about is paid microcontent subscriptions delivered to the mobile — via SMS or mail. The key word is “paid” — will people pay, or will it have to be free forever? The mobile is different — see the success of Blackberry and push mail, and also mobile operator-promoted VAS services. The question is: is it possible to build a direct-to-consumer model for content subscriptions, a sort-of iTunes for microcontent. Here are some starting thoughts from me.Pushed content has a charm of its own on the mobile. It just comes to us. Because of the immediacy and 24×7 availability, we welcome it – as long as it not spam. Consider email, for example. It is available on PCs, but people are willing to spend a lot of money to get it pushed to them on the mobile. Pushed content eliminates latency and can also fill free/empty moments.

Microcontent too has its own charm. Look at how taken up people are with Twitter. We have also seen the same reaction with our MyToday free SMS services – the snippets of news and various kinds of tips are so useful and timely. A Daily Delight.

Payment by subscribers is what makes the mobile so unique. Mobile users are willing to pay for content and services. The same music that is perceived as free becomes paid in the form of its micro ringtone version. Operators too have benefited from paid SMS subscription services – it is again the combination of push and microcontent delivered on the mobile that elicits the money. What do you think? Will people play? If so, for what type of content?

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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kpowerinfinity // Jan 15, 2009 at 10:09 am

    I think people have been willing to pay for mobile content. However, the challenge will be to build a third-party payment collection network that can be used to collect payments from the subscribers for micro-services. The operators ride on payments for voice services to collect payments for the others well. However, it would be interesting to see if subscribers are willing to pay to a third party.

  • 2 Sanjay Mehta // Jan 15, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    On the face of it, looks challenging:
    1. One is just too used to “free”.
    2. What might appear to be neat bits of information that I enjoy (MyToday / Twitter) as long as its free, may not be missed, if those became paid services.
    3. If one quality service providers, say MyToday decided that it was time to stop the free business, now we have enough traction from subscribers, and we get them to pay us something.. that is just the cue that the next sucker in business wants, to occupy the free space. Before he learns in a few months or years, after draining out his cash, that free is not working. And by the time, everyone drains out their cash, will be a long while 🙁
    4. It’s hard to get seriously meaningful data that I would pay for, in the constraints of that micro message.

    Having said that, if one was to pay, what would be the relatively lower hanging fruit that people could pay for:
    1. Very specialized content. I know this company that pushes medical updates to doctors on their phones and PDAs, in the US. Certainly a paid subscription. Works wonderfully well.
    2. In the Indian context, at least when markets are better off, there is the ‘stock market updates’ (well, ‘tips’ if you will!) are also something that people can pay for.

    – Sanjay

  • 3 Siddharth Chawla // Jan 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm


    I feel that a user would be ready to purchase information which they could consume on urgency basis.

    I feel LBS based services for cell phone can fall into this category. If LBS information is made available in a very easy to use format there could be market for such information.

    At the same time the problem is Google is on a mission to give away all sorts of information free. Even stock market updates which Sanjay Mehta points out above is free at google finance (including Indian stocks). People used to pay for this information few years ago but it is now available with update frequency as good as paid services.

    The problem I see is that when one is trying to develop a market for paid content if they are niche player google might care less. But if the service gains traction google has all the incentive to make it free.

    You pointed out Blackberry but the customers here are mostly corporate. And if one sees that as a market then pushing corporate data is definitely money earning application.

    Twitter is still a niche play and free.

    Music, videos serve the entertainment purpose which then opens up avenues for games on cell phones which can definitely be money earner.

    Just my 2 cents.


  • 4 Vimal Vora // Jan 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    I can imagine paying for some form of SMS alert that was combined with location based services. For example, I bet some people would be willing to pay for an alert if they found out they were near some celebrity.

  • 5 Siddharth Chawla // Jan 15, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Rajesh,

    Reading my comment I feel my thinking is restricted by the available frameworks.

    When I first heard of cell phones with camera in year 2000, I was not sure who will use it. But it has become a huge selling point for device makers.

    When I first heard of ringtones I found the idea silly. But it clicked very well with younger generation who are using mobile for time filler activity.

    I think if one can launch data services as described by you at low break even cost which allows early experimentation, it would be better to try it out in market.

    Again just my 2 cents.


  • 6 Sundar // Jan 16, 2009 at 8:27 pm


    I would like to pay for mobile microcontent services in the following contexts:
    a) Getting prices and special deals from sellers for any item worth over Rs 500, I intent to buy now.
    b) Urgent and accurate real time information like train / flight status
    c) News nuggets which smartly understands my preference (I am ok with minimum manual selection) and gives me frequent update (hourly) and help in avoiding information overload.
    d) Audio Books / Short stories in English and regional languages.

  • 7 Vishal Singh // Jan 16, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I will pay max 50 rupees monthly rental for all services till they become free 😉


  • 8 Vijay Shekhar Sharma // Jan 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

    As Internet becomes more pervasively used on mobile devices, we have to see more internet-like business models.

    And, Internet has yet not grown beyond free.
    Isn’t it ?

  • 9 Arjun Ram // Jan 26, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Micro content in isolation doesn’t make sense. Micropayment in conjunction with micro content makes absolute sense. If someone had told you 2 years ago that you will be spending 5 to 15K Rs on your software for the phone people would not have taken that person seriously but if you look at what Apple has done with the iPhone thats exactly what it is.

    I have spent close 75$ without the promise of updates on my apps.

    Now if I had to pay 25-50p per content request than it would make sense. For instance to get an auto in bangalore for the meter, people would easily pay 5-10Rs per transaction. Multiple that by 50 (2 times a day to work and 6 personal trips) you have 250-500Rs a month! Now we are talking money!

    The other model to look at is to finance the GPRS for the phone: We will pay 400Rs per month for your GPRS & you get to subscribe to content you would want!

    Either ways it is time to explore content & micropayments.

    Just dont end up asking the VCs for money to fund the project 😉

  • 10 Blog Past: Mobile Microcontent // Apr 4, 2010 at 5:00 am

    […] (May 09) – Push-based Customer Communications (Apr 09) – TRAI MVAS Paper Comments (Jan 09) – Mobile Microcontent (Jan 09) – 2009 India Mobility Trends (Dec 08) – Growing Mobile Data and VAS in India (Dec 08) – […]

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