As someone developing a new online ad platform for newspapers and magazines (NowSpots), I read a lot of news about the news industry. Waking up and reading the latest industry headlines on MediaGazer is always a highlight of my morning... unless there's a story about Kachingle.
Then I get irked. This happened recently, prompting me to express my feelings in comic book form:
Now, I've never met the Kachingle people. I'm sure they're fine people, really.
But at a time when newspaper CEOs are publicly dissecting the trials and tribulations of failed hyper-local pioneer TBD.com, advertising companies are rolling out new, bigger ad formats, Facebook -- a company that didn't even exist 10 years ago -- now serves 22% of the online display ad impressions, and Apple has suddenly become a power player in the publishing world, there's just more interesting stuff to write about.
Why waste time on Kachingle?
For those unfamiliar with Kachingle, here's how it works. The web service, which started in 2009, provides micropayment tip jars for 188 online publishers. Kachingle users pay $5 each month and then, by clicking on Kachingle "medallions" on sites that run them, they can donate bits of their monthly contribution to those sites. Kachingle takes 15 percent off the top for providing the service, recruiting the sites, and powering profile pages that show where users chose to share their Kachingle funds.
Kachingle has an interesting idea. The problem is, its system doesn't take into account how people actually read the news in 2011 -- or ever. I've never once in my entire life read an article and thought, "where can I make a donation to this writer?" People don't use the Internet that way.
You can't build a company around behavior that you wish existed. You have to build it around behavior that already exists or that will exist in the near future. Simply put, tip jars make sense for coffee shops and baristas, not for online publishers and journalists.
Even bad coverage is good for startups
Ironically, the recent Atlantic piece by John Hendel, which inspired the rage comic above (and if you don't know what a rage comic is, click this link and prepare to be weirded out), was actually the first truly skeptical piece about them that I've seen. He points out in clear language that they have a bad brand, they've built their business around a consumer activity that doesn't actually exist, and their site looks terrible two years after launch.
This post only goes to show that -- with the connected, viral nature of today's media ecosphere -- even skeptical coverage is a big win for a struggling project. Based on the silly skirmish they got into with the New York Times last year, I think the Kachingle team understands this pretty well. Remember the Internet's golden rule: Don't feed the trolls.
A modest proposal
So, my dear media industry press, I have a simple request. Please stop writing about Kachingle and please stop asking if it's a product or business model that's going to save journalism.
Yes, there's a time and place for micropayments. It's on the iPhone and Facebook.
Yes, there are new business models and products that will help media companies make more money and fund more journalism. ProPublica's non-profit model has had great success and -- say what you want about Groupon's valuation -- but the Groupon daily deals model has proven attractive to a wide variety of news organizations.
But there's no one company or product out there that's going to "save journalism." Not Apple and Facebook, not ProPublica and Groupon, and certainly not Kachingle.
(Editor's Note: Sister site MediaShift also ran a profile on Kachingle last year, but we'd better not tell Brad Flora about it...)