Boxbe: Get a Cut of Your Email Spam

Boxbe, an email service that charges marketers to email its users, launched this week. The idea is you use your Boxbe address (mine is [email protected]) to sign up for throwaway services and lists. If someone uses the address to email you, they are given the option of paying a fee (mine is set at 10 cents, of which I receive 75 percent) or completing a test to prove you’re a human (a captcha). So basically, the fee will only come into play for mass marketing emails.

Self-funded Boxbe, which is based in San Francisco, stems from founder Thede Loder’s graduate research on the economics of communication and particularly email spam. The company hopes it can aggregate a large enough body of users to prompt advertisers to register to automate fee payment through its system. Critical mass will be even more of an issue than usual for this startup. Loder admits advertisers would want 100,000 to 200,000 users of the service in order to conduct a worthwhile trial.

Once it gets going, Boxbe will try to get users to will volunteer their profile information so it can be fed into an anonymized email alias to be distributed to marketers. Why would you do that? Well, maybe you’re interested in highly targeted marketing emails…or maybe you’re interested in making money off them.

Charging for email is a contentious issue, but Boxbe claims it’s above the fray by putting power in the hands of the user. (If you don’t want so many emails, simply raise your price, says Loder.) This does bear much similarity to bubbly opt-in advertising schemes that seem to be making a comeback (we wrote about AGLOCO, the second coming of AllAdvantage, last week), but at least there’s some actual utility to having a throwaway email address. Of course, it’s not so hard to get a free email account from, say, Hotmail. Others in the challenge-response email space include Mailblocks (acquired by AOL) and Spam Arrest. But if you want to make money from being spammed, Boxbe may be worth a shot.