Kachingle fires a blog salvo at NYTimes.com’s metered paywall

By Steve Outing

This is an interesting case of what I guess would be termed “guerrilla marketing.” Kachingle, an online user-donation network that aims to financially support many websites and blogs, has begun a campaign to “STOP THE PAYWALL” at NYTimes.com.

First, some quick background:

  • NYTimes.com has announced that it will put up a “metered paywall” on the site in early 2011. That means that site visitors after viewing an as yet unspecified number of stories in a month will be asked to pay to subscribe to the site or otherwise pay to access more Times content. It is likely that web users referred via links on Google, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. will not be counted against the monthly free allotment. (In other words, it’s a porous paywall, unlike the “hard” paywall that’s on Rupert Murdoch The Times (UK) website; that paywall allows no free content, and only paying customers can see beyond the headlines.)

Kachingle’s founders don’t believe in paywalls for general news websites, and they think that they have a better idea: Get readers of news across many sites and blogs to band together, pay $5 a month to Kachingle, then have Kachingle distribute that money based on individual users’ tracked visits to sites and blogs that they like (and that display Kachingle “medallions”).

The Kachingle guerrilla marketing campaign has specifically targeted the 50-plus blogs published on NYTimes.com, by allowing Kachingle’s paying member (I’m one) to “Kachingle” or support any of those blogs — without NYTimes.com’s cooperation. (I regularly read some of the NYT blogs and have Kachingled the ones I like. So, when I visit those blogs from now on, some of my $5 a month will start going to NYTimes.com bloggers — that is, if they choose to sign up to collect it.)

Since the Times doesn’t appear to want to do business with Kachingle or support its donation scheme, Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos and CEO Fred Dewey had their staff create browser plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome that allow a Kachingle member to support the NYTimes.com blogs. With the plug-in installed, when you visit one of the blogs, a thin Kachingle medallion banner appears above the page, pushing down the rest of the NYTimes.com page. That’s how you can “Kachingle” a specific NYTimes.com blogger. … NYTimes.com visitors who do not install the Kachingle browser plug-in will not see the medallions.

There’s also an automatically updating “Leader Board” that shows which NYT blogs are getting the most Kachinglers (i.e., financial supporters). As I write this, Paul Krugman’s blog is leading the Bits Blog and David Pogue’s Posts blog. The numbers aren’t much, but the campaign was launched only last night, and paying Kachingle members and some journalists and bloggers were notified today.

We’ll have to wait and see what the reaction is from NYTimes.com executives. As I see it, they can ignore this innovative but perhaps annoying (to NYT) ploy by a small Internet donation start-up, and it will either catch on with web users who think it’s a good idea, or die quickly. Or the Times execs can make a stink and try to force Kachingle to halt the campaign.

My experience with big media companies is that they often can’t help themselves from the latter approach: Call in the lawyers and send out the cease-and-desist orders! That would not be wise, since it will turn Kachingle’s guerrilla marketing ploy into a David-vs.-Goliath saga that could get lots of attention in the blogosphere and on Twitter.

Hey, what better way for a small business struggling to catch on with the public than to get a boost by being threatened or sued by New York Times lawyers! And it will raise more questions about the NYTimes.com paywall strategy.

I should learn more later, so we’ll see where this goes. In any event, it looks like fun.

(Disclaimer: I have written about Kachingle in the past as a former columnist, and in this blog; I’ve also done a small amount of consulting for the company.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!