The Gazeta:
21st-Century Online Media Is Only Now Catching Up with a 16th-Century Innovation

The origins of newspapers in the West can be traced back to a low-value coin, known in the Venetian dialect as a gazeta, and a revolutionary government publishing enterprise during the late Italian Renaissance. As unlikely as it seems, the Venetians nearly 500 years ago had a more advanced content delivery and revenue system than we have today in the 21st-century on the internet. (Glyder fixes that problem … but read on!)

The Problem:
How to Finance the Cost of Producing and Distributing Information?

In 1556, the recently elected doge of Venice (the “duke,” or highest public official), Lorenzo Priuli, authorized the distribution of notizia scritte (“written notices,” also called avvisi, or “announcements”), which provided public notice regarding decisions made by various government departments and courts. Such a thing had never been done before, and the distribution of information in this way proved highly useful and popular. However, these public notices needed to be hand-written and hand-copied by government scribes, which was expensive. It was therefore important to find a means to pay for this service without also losing the audience that wanted it. (Sound familiar?)

The Solution: 16th Century Micropayments

The solution was simplicity itself: individual notizie scritte (i.e., individual news articles) were sold to the public at a price of one gazeta each, a coin of small value like a penny or a nickel. These gazeta coins were typically embossed with an image of a winged lion that has been the symbol of Venice since the 12th century. Purchasing “una gazeta de la novità” (a penny’s-worth of news) in this way proved very successful, and notizie scritte soon became so associated with the small coin used to pay for them that the news sheets themselves came to be called “gazetas.” The name of the coin and the name for these first “newspaper” articles became one and the same.

The concept of publishing and selling copies of public notices for a small price was revolutionary — it enabled the rapid delivery of a wide range of information to a diverse and broadly distributed populace throughout the Republic of Venice. This idea soon spread throughout Europe, and was expanded to include additional content bundled together much like a modern newspaper. In 1631, France began publishing its first national newspaper, La Gazette, taking its name from the Venetian gazeta. The English adopted the French word, and launched their first newspaper, the Oxford Gazette, in 1665. Today, in modern Italian the word for newspaper is gazzetta, and all over the world there are newspapers called “The Gazette.”

The publishing and distribution of information or media — especially news — and the mechanism for paying for that content have been intimately linked from the very beginning. It is only in the last decade or so that the linkage between access and revenue was broken in our development of internet content.

What the 16th Century Can Teach the 21st: Be FASTR!

There are several important features of 16th-century Venetian system that are instructive for the distribution and funding of 21st-century content online. In particular, the Venetian system enabled FASTR Payment and Access: Fast, A la carte, Simple, Transportable, and Respectful of consumers’ privacy and security. (Interestingly, virtually all of these consumer values are ignored or violated on modern-day paywall websites.)

Fast: Venetians would simply pay one gazeta, and take the individual news article they wanted. The entire transaction took all of two seconds! They did not have to go through a complex sign-up or sign-in process at every office or site where they obtained information.

A la Carte: Consumers could purchase just the individual, a-la-carte news articles they wanted — no more, no less. As a consequence, the price per article was extremely affordable for virtually everyone. No doubt, if Venetians were required to buy a years’ worth of public notices in advance (i.e., a subscription), most would never have bought a single one.

Simple: Venetians were not required to “create an account,” or provide banking information or anything resembling a credit card number. They were not required to create and memorize usernames and passwords. One could hardly devise a simpler process: just drop one gazeta in the box and take the notizie scritte you want.

Transportable: The same payment mechanism (the gazeta) used to obtain public notices at one government office worked in exactly the same way at all offices (or “sites,” to analogize to the internet). One did not need to obtain and maintain site-specific apps or accounts, or site-specific payment and access arrangements. In modern terms, the payment mechanism was transportable, fluid, and frictionless across domains.

Respect: Consumers’ privacy and identity were never an issue, since consumers never needed to “log in,” identify or authenticate themselves, or provide bank account numbers, financial information, or anything resembling a credit card number. Consumers’ identities and assets were never at risk.

You simply paid one gazeta, and received one news article — instantly.

There Is Something Wrong with This Picture … Until Now

How is it that in the 21st century, with all of our high-tech internet wizardry, a modern-day consumer cannot replicate online the speed and ease of accessing paid content that Venetians enjoyed almost 500 years ago? Today, more than ever before, consumers seek fast, easy, affordable access to small portions of content from many, many sources.

Despite this obvious and overwhelming preference by consumers, almost no online media sites enable consumers to purchase a-la-carte content on the fly in this way. Most media sites expect the consumer to set up individual accounts at every site they visit, reveal lots of personal identification and financial information, and purchase full-blown annual subscriptions or memberships … which are the last things the consumer is actually looking for.

Now, Glyder enables online consumers to access and pay for paywall content as quickly and easily as accessing free content. Consumers get the benefit of instant access for mere pennies (mere gazetas!), without the hassle of setting up individual accounts or the security risk of broadcasting their personal identity and financial information at every website they visit. And, Glyder enables content providers to generate much better revenue to actually pay for the content and services they provide. It’s truly a win-win for consumers and media.

We’d like to think that Glyder is highly innovative, but honestly, we’re just now catching up to the 16th century. It’s about time!