The Block and Access Protocol wants readers to pay with tokens

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Would you like to give crypto to read an article? At a time when more and more news sites are implementing paywalls, influential crypto firm The Block is betting that readers will do just that.

As Axios reports, readers of The Block will soon be able to put away their credit card and access the site instead by handing in something called “Access Tokens.” The idea is that as long as you park a certain number of tokens (“staking” in crypto parlance), you have what amounts to a subscription.

The project is run by a company called Access Protocol that aspires to make its tokens the new kingdom coin for the media world. If all goes well, readers will buy access tokens and then use them to view all kinds of web content. This process promises to involve less friction than credit cards and, as a sweetener, offers rewards for publishers and readers in the form of – you guessed it – more access tokens.

It’s a bold plan, but will it work? Skeptics have already responded to The Block news by comparing it to Civil, a five-year-old token-for-item project that raised $5 million and made lofty promises about transforming media — to die with. a groan.

Civil can provide a cautionary tale, but it’s hard to see The Block suffering the same fate. A big reason is that everyone at The Block understands crypto deeply. At Civil, where I spoke with employees at the time, none of the journalists involved could explain how the project was supposed to work. Meanwhile, Civil’s business model appeared to be based on selling a bucket of tokens in an initial coin offering (ICO) and figuring out the details later. This plan foundered when the Securities and Exchange Commission made it clear that ICOs were illegal in 2018.

The Block, on the other hand, has already built a very successful business around its information and research products, and is not turning to token payments in hopes of a pie-in-the-sky bargain. They are well placed to achieve this.

That said, it’s far from clear if the access token model has a chance to gain traction outside of The Block’s niche crypto nerd audience. While credit cards create their own friction, most people will still find it much easier to pull out a Visa instead of getting Bitcoin or Ethereum in order to exchange it for more tokens and then stake those access tokens on different sites.

This complexity likely explains why mainstream publishers have yet to join The Block in its audacious experiment – another obstacle to bringing the project to fruition. If tokens are to replace credit cards when it comes to paying for media, readers will want to be able to spend them on sites like the Los Angeles Time Where The Economistand not just a handful of crypto sites.

Then there is the regulatory risk. In the current climate, a token of any type can be considered a security, and there’s a good chance The Block will hear from the SEC and its chairman of cryptocurrency hatred, Gary Gensler.

None of this can be taken away from The Block’s courageous experience. The company is correct that the current paywall and subscription model is deeply flawed – readers are forced into annoying rigmarole just to read articles and then subjected to ransom-like procedures to unsubscribe.

Blockchain promises a superior experience. As long as it sticks.

Jeff John Roberts
[email protected]
@jeffjohnroberts

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