A start-up company wants to replace spam with targeted marketing e-mails — and it'll pay you to read them.
Reading a single e-mail would earn a user 25 cents — with an annual windfall of up to $400, though the price would vary depending on a recipient's earnings and his attractiveness to advertisers.
The service, called Boxbe, already works with a range of Web-based e-mail services, including Yahoo! and Gmail.
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As well as paying customers to read their messages, it provides an e-mail filtering service.
Unlike traditional e-mail-based marketing, which is often an unwanted result of e-mail address falling into the wrong hands, users would sign up for Boxbe and offer personal information which would allow marketers to further customize messages.
An e-mail user earning $50,000 a year could expect to bring in around $100 a year, while someone with a salary of $200,000 could expect to get $400 — just for opening his or her inbox, the company said.
Users could also set a minimum fee that they would want to be paid for reading single e-mails, based on the topic of the e-mails and their relevance to them.
"If you were Bill Gates, you could probably set your price at $40 per e-mail, and people would probably be willing to pay," said Thede Loder, founder and chief executive of Boxbe.
If the topic was of limited relevance to a user, he might raise the price to be sent an e-mail about it, whereas messages on topics he was interested in they might accept for a lower fee, Loder said.
American companies spend $40 billion on direct marketing by regular mail each year, Loder said, of which $20 billion alone goes to stamps.
"The marketers like our service because they think of it as money that would otherwise be going to the post office now going to their customers," he said.
The information provided by users would be anonymous, offering marketers only a profile of the user, and fake e-mail accounts designed simply to gather cash would be weeded out by close monitoring of how recipients responded to messages.
Boxbe was one of a number of companies giving presentations at the Web 2.0 Summit, the world's largest Internet conference, in San Francisco this week.