Calvin Young and his partner Noah Ready-Campbell (pictured at left) left Google (NSDQ: GOOG) two months ago to start Minno, a company dedicated to reviving the idea of micropayments as a way to monetize content on the web. This weekend, the two men hatched a plan to grab some much-needed attention for Minno, using the New York Times’ new paywall as the target. How did it work out for them?
Young says it took all of about an hour for The New York Times to threaten him with a lawsuit. An NYT spokeswoman confirmed that a company lawyer did ask for the site to be taken down, but said there was no threat of litigation.
Young said that he and Ready-Campbell came up with the idea for “NYT For A Nickel” just over the past day or two. It’s a website that let anyone type in a New York Times (NYSE: NYT) URL and read the full article without any kind of paywall restrictions. In a brief chat with me, Young explained that “NYT For a Nickel” was based on two kinds of hacking-using a Twitter URL as a referral, and removing the code that creates the paywall in the first place (as programmer-types quickly noted, this is very easy to do.) Young said that in the 68 minutes the site was live, it served 677 URLs to customers, and thus made $33.85.
Of course, the site let anyone register and offered them $2 of credit without handing over a credit-card number, so many of those hundreds checking out the site were probably folks just checking it out, or toying with their own hacking ideas. In any case, Young said he has already sent the NYT a check for $33.85 to show he had no nefarious intentions in setting up the site.
Their hope was to “get on the radar of some of these big-time content publishers,” said Young, adding: “We want to prove micropayments can work.”
He certainly got on someone’s radar. Young said he was actually threatened with a lawsuit, while a New York Times spokeswoman said the the company merely requested that the website be taken down because it was misusing the newspaper’s trademark. Last year, the NYT sued Kachingle for trademark infringement back in October, for enticing users to get around the company’s paywall. Kachingle, like Minno, wants to be a micropayments processor, and was hoping to become the provider of choice for the NYT.
Hacking the Times’ scheme to get people paying for content seems like odd marketing for a startup that hopes to get people paying for content. Young acknowledges that it’s a somewhat subversive PR campaign. “We were also thinking of doing the WSJ just for kicks, but we’ve decided not to,” he says, adding: “We got lawyered.”