Mike Gaynor thinks he's found a great way to make money on the Internet, and the Chicago entrepreneur wants to cut you in on the deal.
On July 4, Gaynor started up RedPaper.com, a site that allows regular Joes and Janes to publish their writing online - everything from political commentary to breaking news stories to muffin recipes.
Here's how the deal works: You post your poetry, commentary or muffin recipe on the site and decide how much to charge for access to it (about 10 to 25 cents seems to be the norm so far). Every time someone pays to read the story, you get 94.75 percent of money, and RedPaper keeps the rest. The site features a running tote board that shows how long an article has been online, how much it costs, how many people have paid for it and how they rated it. Contributors who generate positive ratings get stars next to their names.
In the last few weeks, a Colorado man has earned a ratings star and a couple hundred bucks by charging folks from 25 cents to $2 a pop for access to various legal documents filed in the Kobe Bryant case, Gaynor says. A woman who uses the name Twinkie has made more than $100 from the vivid dating stories she has posted on RedPaper, usually for 50-cent access, Gaynor says. Readers have given Twinkie three stars, indicating more than 100 positive ratings for her work.
"There's a ton of content out there, and there's more than enough room for everybody," including sites that charge for original content, Gaynor says. "We want to have a place where you can get news you can't get anywhere else. Maybe the next Enron whistleblower doesn't want to give that story away to the [Associated Press] for free."
Whether a site like RedPaper will fly is open to debate, since most people seem happy to peruse the plethora of free content on the Web. Still, restricted access to Web sites is more common these days: The sites for a dozen magazines owned by AOL Time Warner, for example, now only admit AOL users and subscribers to the publications, and most newspapers now charge for access to their archives.
The financial dealings aren't cumbersome: Users bank at least $3 in an account on the site, and funds are deducted every time they purchase an article to read.
"One of the things I've thought would have the least uptake on the site is commentary," but that's selling well, Gaynor says. Some self-appointed columnists have been posting several times a week, he added, and site traffic is growing: a recent Wired.com article about RedPaper got the site more than 150,000 hits in one day.
"People enjoy the concept of being heard - and not only heard. Every time someone buys your story, you get an e-mail," he adds.
Will this RedPaper.com experiment actually work? The site isn't close to making a profit yet, but Gaynor isn't worried. He is backed by venture capital from Silicon Valley's Adobe Systems, among others, and the construction-related businesses that he owns means that he's not depending on the site to be solvent any time soon.