Sun-Times to test Bitcoin paywall that’s really just an optional donation box

chicago-sun-times01 Feb 2014 / Poynter – It’s being called the first test of a Bitcoin “paywall” by a major U.S. newspaper, but readers of the Chicago Sun-Times won’t actually be forced to pay anything during the 24-hour experiment Saturday, publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk told me this week.

(Full disclosure: I used to work at the Sun-Times.)

The Wall Street Journal and NBC News are among the news outlets that have reported on the test, powered by San Francisco startup BitWall, which will prompt visitors to donate between 1 cent and $25 to the nonprofit Taproot Foundation to gain access to the site. The other way for readers to “pay”: tweet about the organization.

But, as mentioned at the bottom of a story by Chicago media reporter Robert Feder, it’s not really a hard paywall as those stories and a press release suggest. Or even a soft one. It’s just an easily bypassable donation can.

“You will be able to access our content if you don’t have Bitcoin or you don’t have a Twitter account,” Kirk said by phone when I asked if he worried the two relatively high-tech methods of paying for content would alienate some readers. BitWall CEO Nic Meliones told me readers would be able to click an “X” button at the top right of the paywall window or a “skip” button at the bottom to opt out.

The Sun-Times is an interesting place for a case study on whether cybercurrencies will enable micropayments previously unfeasible due to prohibitively high transaction fees imposed by credit card companies. It’s a metro daily historically reliant on single-copy sales for the majority of its circulation — about 60 percent as late as 2008 — so maybe readers used to spending pocket change on the newspaper every day might prefer small, pay-as-you-go costs online, too, rather than subscription fees….. Read more

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