July 17, 2003

Today's Idea: Wishlist Raffles

I was just looking at my Amazon Wish List. It's three pages long, full of wonderful books I'd love to buy and read. The total value of all the 61-some-odd books in my wish list comes to around $967.00.

I sure wish I could go buy out the whole list in one swell foop. However, my book-buying annual budget is but a mere fraction of that amount, so my Wish List continues to grow faster than I can deplete items from the list. Nor do I know anyone willing to suddenly just up and buy me everything on my wish list. :-)

So, what to do. Well, how about a Wish List Raffle? Well, here's the good news:

Imagine: WishListRaffle.com... The way it would work is, you pay $1 to buy a "ticket" (and you could buy as many as you wanted) that enters you into the raffle. The raffle "pot" would be capped out at a certain amount, a cap of say $500 or $1000.

As soon as the pot hit its cap, a random "ticket" would be selected, and that ticket holder would be deemed the winner. The winner would then win not the cash in the pot, but the contents of their Amazon wish list, or at least up to the cap's worth of items on the list, including shipping and handling. WishListRaffle would be the "person" identified as buying all the items on the winner's wish list. (It'd be nice if Amazon provided a direct API to WishListRaffle.com, so that WishListRaffle.com knew the exact value -- including shipping and handling -- of the whole wish list. Otherwise, WishListRaffle.com would have to "scrape" the Amazon site and, well, thinking about going that route gets ugly quickly.)

As soon as someone won the raffle, a new raffle would start all over again.

If the winner's wish list had less than the cap amount, say the winner's wish list had $193 of value in it, then only the first 193 tickets would be applied to that particular raffle, and the remaining tickets and the dollars behind them would be allocated towards a new raffle, generated automatically on the fly. So if you buy a ticket, and don't win in round 1, you might still win in round 2, or, theoretically round 3 to n (the number of carryover rounds determined by the combined values of all the winner's wish lists).

You'd want to place a restriction on winners --- if you win, you're disqualified from participating and your Amazon Wish List is disqualified from being selected in any future raffles for a certain number of days or weeks or months, whatever makes sense. The idea would be to let lots of people have a chance to win, and build in safeguards against abuse and fraud (I know, a tall order, but still doable, no?).

Seems to me a WishListRaffle service like I've described would be a win-win-win for everyone involved: Amazon, the raffle participants, and WishListRaffle, the raffle operator:

  • Amazon wins because it generates more attention on its wish list, and more active participation --- people who currently use Amazon's Wish Lists would probably add more stuff to their lists, and people who don't use the lists would probably be more inclined to start using them.

  • The raffle participants themselves have a good chance to win the contents of their wish list.

  • WishListRaffle wins in that they generate substantial revenue and, one assumes, a "small processing fee" that provides for a reasonable profit.

Heck, maybe good social causes win too --- perhaps a portion of each ticket price also went to good causes and charities.

I figure a WishListRaffle service would take off rather quickly, given its viral nature. Let's look for a moment at how many possible raffles there might be in a given day:

Say the idea catches on quickly, and after a month, there's 100,000 tickets in play at any one time. If each raffle "pot" has a cap of $1000, then you're talking about at least 100 raffles fully subcribed at any given time (but in reality, many more than 100, since the average person's wish list would have a value far less than $1000 --- at least for a while :-). Theoretically there'd be several raffles closing per hour, perhaps even many per hour, every day, every week, every month of the year. (Theoretically, if this took off fast, a given raffle's cap might be reached in seconds, meaning there'd winners every few seconds, 24/7/365! Thousands and thousands of people would "win" their Wish Lists!)

As this scaled, the volume of wish list buyouts at Amazon would become rather astonishing if you think about it. It would probably add hundreds of millions of dollars to Amazon's annual revenue. The hypothetical WishListRaffles, Inc., would potentially stand to gain tens of millions in annual revenues. Not bad for an eBay-like business that simply sits back, collects fees, and sends money to Amazon.

I've used Amazon throughout simply as an example. The same thing could be applied to Barnes and Noble and every other online ecommerce site that offers wish lists. And one could extend the model further to include raffles for gift certificates or outright cash or big-ticket items like cars, vacations, homes, etc. Why, there could even be a "Win It Now" option added to eBay itself, a la its existing "Buy It Now", and you could "take a chance" on winning an auction by putting $1 down on the item.

And now the bad news: all of this would apparently be illegal in every state in the U.S. Why? Because there are strict laws about who can run a raffle and what can be raffled and when and how and how often and where.

I suppose a WishListRaffle.com service would be considered gambling. I suppose a WishListRaffle.com service would be considered a "game of chance." I have my doubts about whether the laws on the books are there to protect the public from itself (fears that the addictive nature of gambling would cause a ripple effect in such large numbers as to actually harm the economy... and in the end, harm tax revenue collection), or there for moral reasons (playing games of chance is a Bad Thing), or because of the potential for fraud (there's tons of fraud going on at eBay and Paypal right now, yet they have still managed to create a $36 billion corporation).

Bottom line, I sure would love to win all the items in my Wish List. I'd love to hear from anyone with ideas on how the concept of WishListRaffle.com could work in such a way that a) it's legal; b) it's fraud-proof; c) sufficient controls are built in to prevent overuse or overparticipation by easily-addicted people (yet, think about it --- once again, eBay thrives on the addiction of "winning" auctions... witness the whole phenomenon of sniping and how people spend hours on eBay trying to "win" as many items as they can ... things they don't need, but just want to win for the sake of winning). Posted by brian at July 17, 2003 05:14 PM


You'd probably appreciate http://www.crystalflame.net/wishlist-rss-generator.txt and http://www.crystalflame.net/wishlist.rss -- both seem to serve at least part of the need you describe (minus shipping costs.

If you set up a non-profit foundation for the purpose of educating geeks, you can accept donations for the purpose of purchasing books from people's Wishlists. You couldn't do this just for yourself without getting inspected, but I'd be happy to find the wishlists of a hundred bloggers and parse out the books they're interested in reading. That'd be for education, run by a non-profit, and totally acceptable by US laws. As for choosing who gets what, you're allowed to choose however you want.

Incidentally, the money donated to the foundation would be tax-deductible :)

Posted by: Richard Soderberg at July 19, 2003 06:02 PM

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