Peppercoin Aiming for More Efficient Micropayments

The basic flaw with small monetary transactions, whether internet related or not, is that the processing charge levied by banks and credit card companies eats a big chunk of the value of your original sale.

The road to creating an efficient micropayment system is littered with the corpses of those who didn’t make it – ecash, digicash – weathered corpses stripped clean from their deaths in the late 90s.

Yet, deep down inside, we know that micropayments must work. Like the first farmer who experienced frustration when he tried to pay for some wood with a cow, only to be told “Sorry mate, I can’t change that – have you got anything smaller?”, we know there must be a way of making transactions more efficient.

Peppercoin, backed by the R in RSA, Ronald Rivest, have brought the micropayment system up to the 21st century, and have launched version 2.0 of their service. Peppercorn 2.0 is aimed at online retailers who shift low-priced digital content and physical goods, or offer subscriptions and pay-per-use services – so it won’t just be ringtones then.

The company has concentrated on making the experience as transparent as possible for the user, as customers can use their credit card to pay a merchant without having to register or create an account. Neither do they have to pre-deposit any money to get started – I can think of at least two micropayment systems from about 1997 that owe me at least US$3.

Merchants and vendors don’t even have to be web-based – one of the key applications of Peppercoin is in coin-op games. The new version of Golden Tee Golf (coming to a pub near you) will feature the Peppercoin system to provide cashless purchases. If I’m hearing you say big deal, then consider that punters spent US$350 million (€288 million) playing this one game last year alone. Peppercoin are well aware that when you allow people to use their credit card at point of sale, they will usually spend more.

The new service works by aggregating low-priced transactions across many consumers, merchants and payment providers, reducing the average processing fee for each individual sale. Customers pay by entering their credit card details online, or by swiping their card through a reader on the device they are paying to access.

Customer service is cleverly automated to keep costs down, with integrated bills and automated pre-dispute resolution dealing with most cases before expensive people have to get involved.

How efficient is the payment system? Peppercoins fees work out at about 10% of a US$1 transaction, which the company claims is 70% less than the usual card not present processing fee.


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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?