Last month I wrote a piece about Kachingle, a micropayment service for news websites that launched last year; although some smaller local papers and several personal blogs have signed up, the service hasn’t really caught on with any major news organization. When I spoke to founder Cynthia Typaldos for my piece, she insisted that “People have to be patient. It’s going to start slow…. Now, obviously, if we got a really big site, that would completely jump-start this. You know, like The Huffington Post or The New York Times or something.”
Well, apparently she wasn’t willing to wait. Because this month, Typaldos started a campaign to “Stop the Paywall,” directed specifically at The New York Times’s blogs. “Did you hear about the looming paywall at the New York Times?,” she wrote in an October 13 press release. “We did. Here at Kachingle, we are committed to keeping the web open and social.” It went on:
And now you can support the New York Times blogs you love directly, with a voluntary contribution of just $5/month. You simply install a Firefox or Chrome browser extension, which puts a small Kachingle bar medallion at the top of each NYTimes blog page. Sign up once and then you are instantly providing financial support to your favorite blog every day you visit. It’s that easy. And with the real-time Leaderboard, it’s fun!
In other words, since the Times didn’t want to put a Kachingle medallion on their homepage, Typaldos did it for them, offering a “browser extension” that would allow her users to donate to the Times blogs through Kachingle. The users would reward their favorite blogs with visits, and in turn, with portions of their $5 per month subscription. From that, Kachingle would collect its usual 15 percent fee (half of which pays for the PayPal transaction), and the remaining 85 percent would go to the Times blogs’ authors. The “Leaderboard” page on the new “KachingleX” site ranks the Times blogs on a scoreboard, showing which ones have the most support from “Kachinglers.”
The only problem? The Times never agreed to the arrangement. This would prove to be a kink in the plan. In the press release, Typaldos writes that “A strong response will show Janet Robinson and the rest of the New York Times executives that paywalls are ‘fundamentally a retrenchment approach…,” seemingly implying that although the Times isn’t quite on board yet, it might actually be willing to “stop the paywall” if Kachingle would just sign up enough users and collect enough money on its behalf. An informational Q & A published on the KachingleX site has this exchange:
Q: Did the New York Times agree to this?
A. Our KachingleX browser extension works independently from the New York Times site. In a word, no. But we hope they will like it!
(The Q & A also explains that the payments will be going directly to the bloggers, rather than to the Times Company, and “How that person chooses to share is up to them.”)
Another, probably more significant, problem? The new KachingleX site is obviously designed to mimic the style, layout, and typeface of nytimes.com and its blogs. That seemed to be, for the Times Company, the final straw. As Typaldos wrote on her site on October 14, the day after KachingleX launched, she got an urgent phone call from the VP of Digital (probably Martin Nisenholtz) and two other executives (“I promised I would not reveal their names so I will call them Mr. Legal and Mr. Paywall,” Typaldos wrote), who informed her that they found the campaign “annoying” and that she had “ruined their day.” Typaldos expressed surprise that the executives were unhappy with her efforts “to save the NYTimes Blogs from obscurity.” She continued:
The VP Digital said he was deeply disappointed that I had not called him first to get their approval, because if I had he would have said “no”. Hmmmm…I used to work at Sun Microsystems and we had a popular mantra — “to ask permission is to seek denial”. Anyway, it never crossed my mind to ask for their approval. Our “Stop the Paywall” campaign is a completely independent effort based solely on our new KachingleX browser extension and the Kachingle.com website.
The Times team then asked her to stop the campaign, and, when she did not, called back a few hours later and told her a cease and desist order was on its way in the mail. Typaldos and her CEO Fred Dewey got a lawyer. “We believe paywalls are the enemy of democracy,” she wrote. “We believe in our mission, and we will not back down.”