The Postal Theory of News

I bought stamps yesterday and as I left Safeway I had an epiphany which has long since passed. The following is an attempt to recapture it.

Stamps are a funny requirement. It is not a tax – but if you want to send anything through the mail it is just as guaranteed as death that you’ll have to pay for it.

And while the fees are small, they can add up. A book of 20 stamps is close to $10 now.What is also unique about purchasing 20 stamps is that they represent credits. I can use those stamps however I want. To mail bills, postcards, or store them away as prized possessions. There is a decision made for each stamp. There is transparency in how I use them privately (it is my choice) and publicly if I use them.

In a Sunday Digi-Dream I brainstormed about how taxes could be revolutionized online.

That thought process went like this.

  • The government (local, state, federal) still determines how much money is needed for specific programs (roads, education, bailout)
  • Individuals still figure out how much money they owe in taxes every year.
  • The individual decides where they want their taxes paid. Which programs do they want to support?

The fun part is that the individual decides where the money should go. If they are passionate about education – they can donate all their money towards the education fund. If that fund is already filled with the money it needs, the individual must give the money towards another government need. This encourages people to file their taxes early (so you feel as though your money went towards something you believe) and might make the feeling of paying your taxes suck less.

Note: The shift in mindset. My taxes almost become a “donation.” While it wouldn’t really be a choice (taxes are guaranteed like death), it would be a choice about which government program my money goes to support. There is a sense of transparency, civic engagement and more.

Recently a bunch of newspaper execs met in a dark room to talk about micropayments.

I’m actually happy that something in the micropayment space might happen. I’d much rather a major company try it and fail then for the larger industry continue to debate about it back and forth for months. Somebody has to suck it up and try something.

But here is my advice: Add transparency and control for the user of where the money goes!!! People aren’t used to paying for the news. Charging somebody a small fee for access to an article they are going to read once is bound to disappoint somebody. Those people won’t become regular consumers.

In truth this notion of transparency and control over a donation is the real revolution of Spot.Us and why people continue to find it fascinating. Because we let the user decide and know exactly where their money is going.

It is the difference between donating to the Red Cross and donating on, the difference between giving to a sludge fund for educators or giving on

Giving to journalism isn’t new. NPR has been around for some time. But when you donate to NPR you are throwing money over a fence and hoping your money lands on good journalism. It is a donation of guilt or hope, but there is no sense of control or power on the part of the contributor.

Donating on Spot.Us is a choice that engages. It defacto brings the user into the editorial process and encourages them to be engaged throughout. They aren’t donating to a finished product – they are donating to a process that invites them in.

NPR could try something like Spot.Us tomorrow and blow me out of the water. So could any of these newspaper companies that are thinking about micropayments.