Can Kachingle “Change” the Unpaid Content Paradigm?

by Emily W. Sussman

In today’s depressed economy, status symbols like fancy cars and logo-embellished shirts broadcast foolishness, not prestige. It makes far more sense to spend what (little) we have on things that sustain us physically, professionally and intellectually. Right?

In theory, yes. But in real life, only my landlord and my grocery store have business models in place for collecting my dwindling dollars.

I know I’m not alone in relying on blogs like TechCrunch or EatSleepPublish to keep me up-to-date professionally, or in feeding my intellectual curiosity with the free online version of the New York Times Book Review and its kin. And while I’m grateful for the knowledge-service they provide, that’s all I can do: be (passively) grateful. The sites’ producers don’t even ask me to chip in, let alone provide a sidebar widget that would enable me to compensate them.

Which is where the elephant comes stomping into the room. As in, if I’m not paying for it — and, by extension, nobody else is either — how on earth can these enterprises keep churning out content?

But maybe I should stop overanalyzing and go with the (free) flow. In a Time cover story last week, the venerable Walter Isaacson says what most of us have been thinking for a long time: “if [even the NYT] doesn’t see fit to charge for its content, I’d feel like a fool paying for it.”

Far from lulling us into complacency, however, Isaacson’s article serves as an urgent call to arms. His point is that a free press isn’t — and moreover, shouldn’t be — literally free.

“Those who believe that all content should be free should reflect on who will open bureaus in Baghdad or be able to fly off as freelancers to report in Rwanda under such a system,” Isaacson tells the freeloading masses. He’s got tough love for the news orgs, too: “Charging for content forces discipline on journalists: they must produce things that people actually value.”

Point taken. But how will this paid-content paradigm shift come about? The categorial dissing of micropayments is still fashionable these days, but Steve Outing of Editor and Publisher isn’t throwing the baby out with the bath water. In last Tuesday’s column, Outing extolled the industry-saving potential of the California-based startup Kachingle — a system that sprinkles a user’s chunk of change over various websites in direct proportion to how much that user visits (i.e., values) those sites.

The logistics are user-friendly: someone would purchase, say, a $5 monthly Kachingle account, then go about his daily consumption of online content. Thanks to a combination of algorithms and user agency (that is, if he liked a particular site enough to click its Kachingle medallion-widget), the funds in his account would be distributed to the hard-working providers of his web diet. (See more specifics of Kachingle on Outing’s post.)

Outing pitches Kachingle as a kind of universal subscription to web content. “Just as online users currently pay… a monthly fee for all the music they want from a service like Rhapsody, they’ll also pay a monthly fee for all the news and blog content on the Web.”

I heard co-founder Cynthia Typaldos discuss Kachingle on a conference call last week, and it was hard to argue with her logic: take the “micro and mental transaction costs” out of the micropayment model, and people will be more inclined to pay for the content they value.

But here’s the (potentially) million-dollar proposition: participation in Kachingle is voluntary, and a site’s content would still be free to non-Kachinglers. (Sort of like NPR, as Outing reminds us.) 

Essentially, Kachingle will enable me to thank Jason Preston of EatSleepPublish by taking him out for a (virtual) sandwich, and, while I’m at it, maybe spring for a soda for the NYT Book Review.

But is this too big a leap of faith for the Land of Free?

Well, I can concede that Preston’s got to eat in order to keep up his strength to write his blog, and that Joyce Carol Oates needs a cool drink in the midst of her doggedly prolific literary career. And when I let my dollars follow my rationale, everyone’s happy: my content providers get real-world sustenance while I get the assurance that the sites I depend on will still exist when I wake up for my fix tomorrow. 

But that’s not all I get. If goodwill and reciprocity are today’s recession-era status symbols, then I’m about to flaunt my bling. I can see it now: everyone from my Facebook friends to the visitors to my personal blog doing a double take when they see I have a caring, philanthropic side — as evidenced by the fact that I carry my “Kachingling” wallet with my virtual self.

Not only that, my trail of Kachingles will help substantiate my very identity. When I Kachingle a site like EatSleepPublish, I’m providing irrefutable evidence that yes, I am someone who cares about the future of publishing in a freeloading world. Similarly, a teen who boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of celebrity gossip might want to Kachingle Perez Hilton to show her friends how she gets her scoops. (Don’t panic if you’re a closeted Perez fan: you can change the privacy settings to hide or show which sites you’ve Kachingled.) 

I don’t know about Mr. Isaacson, but I’m not feeling foolish. At the very least, I’ll be off the hook when he sees me nudging — er, Kachingling— his paradigm shift along.

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8 responses to “Can Kachingle “Change” the Unpaid Content Paradigm?

  1. Pingback: Kachingle Corporate Blog » Blog Archive » Kachingle in the news

  2. I think Kachingle is a great thing to experiment with. Nice post. (Although I will say that the name reminds me of a cross between a cash register and a light, flaky Danish pastry). In Outing’s blog, he recently refuted a few of the common criticisms of the idea (http://steveouting.com/) and the best one I thought was: no, this alone may not entirely “save” existing news organizations, but it could be one important revenue stream. This idea does seem much smarter than micropayments for individual stories, and I love your point about how this is something that could have social cachet. Also, I think that this is something that would have to be marketed well – and I think that lack of marketing is something that has long been a problem with the news industry.

  3. brianjosephlewis

    First of all, Perez is terrible. His claim to fame is MSPaint’ing lime green approximations of bodily fluids on the faces of the Olson Twins. wwtdd.com and dlisted.com are far superior if one’s looking for celeb gossip content and fun editorial sensibility.

    Kachingle is great for right now, esp the way it reinforces the similarity in social status shared by beggars and online journalists. For so long, the “payment” demanded by publishers of real information was merely attention to tantalizing offers to spend money in pursuit of sponsors’ offers.

    People followed, culture was made, money returned for consequent rounds of commerce…and, often, society benefited, at least aesthetically and hygienically (I’m thinking of the jewelry and soap heavy advertisements dominating at the start of ad-supported mass-mediated culture).

    The price paid by those readers was a transformation into a consumer. Jingles, graphics and logos were tossed into the hopper along with salient and vital information necessary to function in society.

    Pay-for-read media offers hygiene of another type – a high-culture divorced from the commercial realm. That’s nearly un-American. Problem is that few people would be able to pay for access while operating in a social millieu devoid of stupid-decision triggers (i.e., the fact that last week’s 30 rock made me dream of a McFlurry, even though I know it’s a knock-off of DQ’s Blizzard, which is, in itself, just ice-cream and oreos in a blender…but so good). Silly impulse gratification is, in many ways, the bedrock of post-construction American capitalism.

    So, the question of how to pay the people that keep the info-blood flowing really is one demanding a biological metaphor. It’s going to be some sort of pay and tell model. The question’s really going to come down to how much and how.

    In terms of the latter question, Kachingle is a model that certainly decreases the transaction friction, and, thus, seems an attractive option.

  4. If the journalism business is to save itself from the self-inflicted disasters of the music business, it has to adopt Kachingle or some similar model. Interesting idea.

  5. As a serious food blogger, I am watching with great interest how our big name news providers are experimenting with these various “pay to play” content models.

    The idea that all content on the web should be free is backward thinking. The ability for anyone with a computer and a connection to hop on the web should be free. But content is not free, it never had been. Either we pay for it via a subscription model or advertisers pay for it to reach our eyeballs.

    I don’t think you value in terms of web-content what you don’t pay for. You will read and use content you pay for more, and the person developing the content will have an obligation to make the value equasion work.

    I like the idea of having a content kitty that gets charged or allocated to the places I spend the most time. I don’t mind an annual subscription model, as long as I get to pick the sections I want to pay for. Please, stop making me pay by story. I am too busy to be bothered with that.

    I get asked all the time how I make money blogging about food. I don’t today, but I spend the time that I am not writing, praying for the day when I do make it pay.

  6. As a newspaper worker and a news consumer, I’m intrigued my the idea of micropayments. Like most people, I routinely browse and consume content from a variety of quality online sources: newspapers, magazines, public radio, well-written blogs. In any given week I enjoy a smattering of articles and audio/video programs. I feel guilty about getting all this stuff for free, but for sure, I don’t want to subscribe to/become a member of every publication and NPR station I like.

    I ought to be able to easily pay for what I use. That implies a transparent, secure system of micropayments which aggregates all charges in one account. An account which I can easily track to know how much I’m paying in any given month. Maybe I can impose a monthly limit on what I can spend, and the system warns me when I’m approaching that limit.

    More importantly, I want the individual chunks of content to be realistically priced. What’s a newspaper article worth to me? Five cents for a short one, maybe a dime for a long one. Podcast? Maybe 25cents for an hour program, like “On the Media”. It’s got to be that cheap for me to play.

    It’s pretty clear that mainstream media outlets aren’t going to experiment with micropayments. They are just too frozen in an outdated mindset. So I think smaller quality outlets (like Bloggingheads.tv?) ought to go first with voluntary donations to demonstrate the viability of per-drink paying. Maybe Kachingle should hook up with some reputable content providers who can set an example for others.

  7. I have an online news site that cannot wait to try this product and see if it makes a difference.
    Of the 102,000 some visitors to my small site last year, only a few have opened their wallets or checkbook to keep our content fresh.
    I am currently experimenting with a voluntary system that lets the reader determine the value of the content and pay accordingly (minimum $2 with PayPal).

  8. Pingback: Kachingle Corporate Blog » Blog Archive » Kachingle in the News

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