‘Filtering and reading email costs us time and attention.’
‘Filtering and reading email costs us time and attention.’

‘I charge people $20 to email me’

SHOULD people pay for the privilege of emailing you?

Daniel Egan, director of behavioural finance and investing at New York-based online adviser Betterment, says he asks people to donate $20 if they want to cold-email him.

Writing for the BBC, Mr Egan said he got the idea from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who has a policy of responding to any email for $100.

"In the world of venture capital, where connections can make a huge difference, $100 is an incredibly cheap entry ticket," he said. "Intrigued, I dug into the idea and was convinced that it's something we should all do."

On his personal website he has a link to a page hosted by Earn, a site where people can earn bitcoin by completing tasks such as replying to emails or reviewing apps. It also has a section where users can connect with entrepreneurs and CEOs by donating to charity.

"At my end, I receive the message and decide if it's interesting or not," he said.

"If not, I can reject it (cryptocurrency messages usually get this response). Either way, the person has a clear response in a fairly quick turnaround time. In two years I've opened five excellent connections this way."

Mr Egan said it was not about the money but rather "all the messages I stopped seeing". Sending email is free, but "filtering and reading it costs us time and attention" and "useless email crowds out the good ones".

"Imagine if someone trying to get your attention paid you based on how valuable your attention was to you," he said.

"What if, for example, we got paid $1 for every marketing email advertisers sent us? You couldn't make a living looking at ads, but the cost to the sender of showing a poorly targeted advertisement would be much higher."

The same applies to "anyone seeking your attention", including salespeople, recruiters and people "just looking to catch up", who would be forced to "think carefully about whether it is worth $10 to ensure you read their email".

He argues we could set different rates based on who's sending the email.

"People with less demand on their 'attention cost' set the cost lower, thus ensuring a personalised balance of inbounds to attention," he said. "We could set the price for family, friends and organisations we love to zero, while setting a hefty price for spam mail."

He admits he has a "reactionary cringe" when he explains the policy to people, noting some might think it is "selfish, arrogant or rude". But he says all the people who get in touch through earn are "happy to do so".

"The benefits to this change are noticeable quickly," Mr Egan said. "I look forward to reading email, because almost all of it is worthwhile.

"I spend much less time reading and ignoring generic requests. And it makes me commit to a higher quality response because I know the sender has valued my time too."



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