Well, here’s a way to do two great things at once. It doesn’t seem to be fully developed or kink-free yet, but it’s an intriguing idea … and it can’t hurt to try it: www.charitymall.com.

The idea is to link you with whatever online store you’d go to anyway, but to get there through the Charity Mall. Why? Because many of these online merchants currently pay commissions to Web sites that funnel customers to them. And the Charity Mall proposes to pass 100% of those commissions on to the charities of your choice.

One such destination, which pays as much as 15% to its associate Web sites, is Amazon.com.

Readers of this column certainly know I am a fan of that company – I recommend it all the time (and also barnesandnoble.com, which is equally good). But readers also know I think the stock has probably been wildly overvalued, or else, at least, way ahead of itself. So I’ve been short.

I send them business but hope the stock will fall to more reasonable levels.

So, as I say, here’s a way to do two great things at once. Access amazon.com not directly but through www.charitymall.com, and you will (a) cost AMZN yet another 15% of its already thin margin, upping its loss-per-transaction even higher, and (b) shunt a little cash off to a good cause.

The caveats here are several:

  • In the first place, from the look of it, the Charity Mall is just getting started. Who knows whether it will manage to get its act together? I’m told there are some other similar sites (I haven’t seen any), but they take a piece of the action. The Charity Mall proposes not to take a dime, earning its keep, instead, from advertising. So it’s possible that, with best of intentions (or at least I sure hope they have best of intentions), somehow the deal won’t work out as planned. Still, you lose nothing by getting to your various online merchants through the Charity Mall, unless you had some other way of getting, or directing, the donation of these commissions.
  • Also, though 100% of its sales commissions goes to charity, as I write this, the list of Charity Mall charities is very small, and you seem only able to direct your gift to “the general fund,” which spreads the largesse (which I have a feeling may be something like $42 thus far) over all of them. Indeed, they have links to far more online merchants than charities right now. (But that’s OK: It’s actually kind of helpful to see the array of possibilities.)

(A much more impressive, albeit still young, site is www.charityweb.net. It has charities signed on ranging from the Salvation Army of Southern California to the Young Entomologists’ Society, Inc. of Lansing, Michigan, – “We provide young people, parents and educators with a combination of programs, publications, and educational materials that enrich their insect and spider studies through dynamic, innovative, and enjoyable learning experiences.” And from India Partners (Christians empowering self-help projects in India) to Sacramento’s Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary. In addition, this site offers to do a lot of useful things for your local charity, so check it out. But only 50% of the loot from Charity Web goes to charity.)

Anyway, if you thought it was tough for AMZN to make money selling you books at 30% off … by activating the associates rebate, you force them to try to make money selling them at, effectively, 45% off. Helloooooooooooo, stock drop!

And if you believe that charity begins at home, you could set up your own Web site (easy!), join Amazon’s associates program (free!), and get those 15% rebates for yourself.

Or do what I do: Find your way to Amazon through my Web site, andrewtobias.com (still in its fledgling stage, and so far designed mainly to give folks an easy way to find this Web site).

I placed the AMAZON logo prominently on my site, because the more books you buy from them, the more money I think I will make – two ways.

Say 1,000 of you felt like buying a $20 book this week and chose to buy it from Amazon – but reached Amazon by clicking its logo on my site. That would be $3,000 out of Amazon’s bottom line and into mine. And with the stock selling at 1,000 times hoped-for earnings, that $3,000 hit would chop $3 million off the market cap. If 50,000 of you bought a $20 book each week for a year, that would be $7.8 million extra for me and (using the same fanciful calculation) a $7.8 billion hit to AMZN’s market cap (bringing the stock down past zero, at recent prices, and my small short position well into the black).

All of this is just playful, I hasten to add. If you’re going to direct your online commissions to anyone, it should be charity, not me. And I have grudging affection and respect for Amazon. The company gives all indications of being much too smart to be gamed past the point it wants to be – when the time comes to stop buying market share and start earning profits, my guess is that Amazon has as good a chance as any to flip that switch successfully.

But for now – heck. Fifteen percent is 15%. “Use it or lose it,” as a friend of mine used to say.



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