Startup BitWall landed a big break today: a partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times. BitWall’s product is a paywall that bloggers and bigger publishers can use in front of their stories or websites. The paywall allows readers to choose between three choices to get access: paying a small amount by bitcoin, tweeting a link to a story, or watching an ad.
When I wrote about BitWall’s launch a few months ago, I predicted its timely demise. What publisher would willingly throw up a wall that would piss off readers, unless they had the brand name recognition of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal?
Few readers would have bitcoin wallets, and they’d bound to be annoyed investing time tweeting the story or watching the ad. It might only take seconds, but seconds matter when people are used to moving about the Internet freely. And it only takes one second to click away from a website.
Furthermore, the tweet option seemed exploitative. Why would you tweet a story before reading it? What if it sucked? Then you’ve put your personal brand and sharing power on the line.
Well it turns out at least one big publisher out there disagreed with me. The 169-year-old Chicago Sun-Times contacted BitWall after hearing about the company. On February 1st the venerable old newspaper is testing the product out, for 24 hours.
Since this is just a trial run, the Chicago Sun-Times isn’t keeping any of the gains — traffic or money — itself. When readers go to the Chicago Sun-Times website, they won’t be able to access anything without either donating bitcoin to the Taproot Foundation or tweeting about said non-profit.
It may only last a day, but it’s a huge endorsement for an experimental startup that’s made up of only three people. Frankly, the fact that a behemoth of a news organization felt comfortable putting its reputation on the line and trying this out, even for just a day, is shocking.
It certainly proves there’s a taste for Bitcoin and social media as alternative forms of currency. I explored a similar bartering system recently in a story about a bootstrapped startup — Nomad. Nomad occasionally accepts alternative goods and services as payment. The company has received everything from web design consultations to a Warthog skull from Africa in exchange for its ChargeCards.
It appears that media is open to a similar bartering system for its content. If netizens don’t want to pay cash, perhaps social currency is a more acceptable form of payment for web access. Afterall, BitWall didn’t market to the Chicago Sun-Times — the newspaper reached out to BitWall.
“We’re doing something that is striking a core and getting us noticed,” BitWall co-founder Nic Meliones says. “It’s a huge testament to the changing world of publishing where there is this absolute desire to be on the cutting edge and be innovative.”