BuyReply wants you to pay through email (and may help print media along the way)

By Richard Nieva , written on December 28, 2012

From The News Desk

The demise of print may already seem like a foregone conclusion, but old media brands might be getting a bit of help from an unlikely place. BuyReply, a small digital payment startup from Australia, is inadvertently giving print publications something intriguing to mull over: a possible new revenue stream. Earlier today, Erin Griffith wrote about inventive commerce models for old media brands. This could be one way they go about it.

As grandiose as it would be to heal the ailing print industry, the prospect of reviving print is just a byproduct for the company. It’s a stop on the way to its main goal – making online and offline retail simpler. The idea is to make things as elementary as possible: Not everyone knows how to use each individual payment app like Isis or even PayPal, but most everyone has basic phone messaging skills. The company, which will close a large seed round in a few weeks, lets users complete a transaction by simple email, Tweet, QR code, or (soon to come) text.

Here's how it works: A retailer runs an ad with an email address and a “short code” – essentially an easy to remember word that serves as a kind of inventory code for a specific product. You email the short code, like “dress” or “bike,” and it sends a link to a site where you put in your payment info and shipping address. After you enter it once, it’s on file for all future transactions. Merchants can buy an email address from the company and plaster it on all their ads – billboards, TV, magazines.

Same idea with Tweets and QR codes, though the company seems to focus on QR codes to a lesser extent. The company made the American Idol mockup (pictured here) to demonstrate the Tweet operation. No deals have been made with that show, though Brad Lindenberg, BuyReply’s chief executive, says the company is in talks with The Voice, another singing competition.


So how does the lofty task of saving a dying industry fit in? Merchants can print their short codes on magazine pages, in the same way they do QR codes. But unlike the business model around QR codes, which doesn’t really take into account where an ad appears, BuyReply hopes to strike up a relationship with the magazine publishers. For example, an ad for shoes in Esquire might have an email and short code on it. BuyReply keeps data from each point of sale purchase, including the exact ad and what page it appeared on in a magazine. Hearst, Esquire’s publisher, would get a percentage of sales made directly from that ad, says Lindenberg. The company already has a deal with the magazine Marie Claire in Australia, and Lindenberg says he is in the process of talking through deals with Hearst and Time Inc.

For fashion magazines especially, it’s a way to wring out money in a way that’s still in line with their editorial aura. “They’ve never had a way to share financially in the demand they’ve been creating,” he says. “This is how they monetize their audience.” Of course, it’s always dangerous when editorial and advertising operations get too muddled, but this seems harmless as long as the short codes stay off of actual editorial content. Lindenberg claims he’s been met with enthusiasm from the world’s largest publishers.

BuyReply isn’t the first to try out this email- or text-to-pay model. BuyReply has been at it since September while another company, Seattle-based Seconds, has been offering text-to-pay since 2011. That company hasn’t gained very much traction, and Lindenberg says it’s because his competitor’s operation is too small. He points to a robust shipping mechanism and analytics as things that set his company apart. Ditto, Chirpify has also been selling through Twitter for longer than BuyReply. Lindenberg claims his service is simpler, allowing customers to buy from merchants simply by re-Tweeting a seller’s Tweet.

The company won’t likely be a deus ex machina for print media. The intake of revenue is probably going to be small for a long time, especially while people decide whether or not they want to adopt. The model seems similar to the cut a company gets from iTunes when they push a user to download a song. It’s a supplemental revenue stream that seems more like the prick of static electricity that comes from walking around in a carpeted room, rather than the jolt from a defibrillator that the industry needs. But it’s a low risk proposition for publishers, and it definitely would not hurt to try it out. In a post full of mixed medical metaphors, here's one more: It likely won’t stop the bleeding for good. But it could be a decent tourniquet.

[Image courtesy natloans]