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Pay for News, Then Brag About It

Kachingle, a smart combo of micropayments and social networking, has launched.

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Problem solved. Crisis averted. Revenue has finally begun to flow to Internet news sites directly from the heretofore freeloading public. Those of us who feared this day would never come can drink a glass of warm milk and get some sleep.

The scale of the profits might astonish you. To the four-year-old Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, $54.95. To the veteran Center for Investigative Reporting, $20.86. To the Boulder Daily Camera, $22.45. And to the hottest site of them all, Carta.info(described to me as a German version of Politico), $117.16.

These early returns don't establish Kachingle, launched publicly just a month ago, as the wave of the future. They do show that the Silicon Valley-based start-up can function the way Cynthia Typaldos hoped it would. Typaldos's premise is that most people will pay for the things they value that don't grow on trees, but only—this is the catch—if the method of payment is fair and easy. "Since we launched it in beta in November there hasn't been a single site failure, which is really unbelievable," she says. "The product is incredibly solid. You really have to get it right when you're dealing with money."

Kachingle is more than fair and easy. As I wrote 13 months ago after Typaldos explained her project to me, "Kachingle is the first idea I've seen that's psychologically astute." We lead our lives these days as if they were ad campaigns and we were the product, and Kachingle was designed to contribute to our self-promotion. Whenever we come upon a site that shows us off to good advantage, we get to tell the world that we were there.

Kachinglers (of which I'm now one) agree to pay a flat fee of $5 a month that will be distributed among the Kachingling Web sites we favor. To support one of these sites we click on its Kachingle medallion, and from then on, every time we go to that site it keeps score. At the end of the month our $5 will be divvied up in proportion to our visits to the Kachingle sites where we've signed on. Decided you no longer like the site? Turn it off. That's it. No paywalls, no tedious registration at multiple sites, no buyer's remorse over paying for access to a site that turns out not to have what you wanted. You sign up once, put your credit card number on file (via PayPal), and get to surfing.

Kachingling sites announce who Kachingles there, so when we're deciding whether to support a site, we can check out who already does. Likewise we can publicly flaunt our own loyalties. The social media component of Kachingle hasn't been built up yet, but tools for Twitter and Facebook are promised shortly, and crucial to Typaldos's plan.

"You're saying, 'This is me,'" Typaldos explained to me last year. "Let's say the Chicago Reader has a medallion, and the New York Times blogs have medallions. And NPR. These happen to be the sites you really love. You contribute because you want them to be around and you want them to be part of your persona."

As I write this, Typaldos claims "several hundred" Kachinglers and 111 sites in seven countries. They include several in Germany, a cluster she attributes to someone from Carta.info writing about Kachingle in Der Spiegel early last year. There's enough European activity to justify an office in Paris.

"We wasted a lot of time talking to the big papers," Typaldos tells me. "They all called us, saying 'We're really interested,' and in the end they did nothing. If I had to do it again I wouldn't, though how do I resist the siren song of the New York Times? But they're not innovating."

Joe Eyre, her marketing director, is on the line with us. Here he speaks up, saying the vice presidents for interactive development at the big papers are open-minded, but "the guys in the executive suites are still old guys in gray suits used to producing news and just shoving it out. It'll take a little time for the guys in the upper offices to move on and for fresher thinking to allow for a more open model."

"In time I'll have them—the ones that are left," says Typaldos. "Because this is the model!"

Although she's struck out with the dailies—the Daily Camera is the exception—"a bunch of investigative reporting sites were interested from the beginning. The model just resonates with them." It stands to reason that sites like the Pulitzer Center, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Center for Public Integrity would be ready to try a new tool—innovators created them as alternatives to old-fashioned journalism models. Their problem, says Typaldos, is that "they're not experienced in marketing themselves."

And they must, she thinks—for their own sake and certainly for hers. If Kachingle's numbers next April are to represent a significant leap from today's, the sites present at the creation need to make something viral happen.

It does no one any good if the Daily Camera simply displays its medallion, calls no attention to it, and every month or so collects another $22.45. "If you're the news site for Boulder," Typaldos says, "the social signal you have to send is that people who matter are reading the site. Mayors, religious leaders—you have to go out to those people and say, 'For us to survive, we have to show you're signing up as a Kachingler.' That sends the signal to everyone who comes to the site that this is what people in Boulder do—they Kachingle,"

Typaldos wants the Reader to Kachingle, of course, so she asks about our relationship with the mayor of Chicago. Leading our roster of prestigious Kachinglers with the name of Mayor Daley, she says, would send the public a powerful message.

She has less trouble than I do imagining that happening.

"I don't know what you write about the mayor—I assume it's reasonable," Typaldos says.

Every word. And yet—

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