VRM: Searls envisions an ‘IV drip’ of support for media
Some month soon, the Public Radio Player on your smartphone may have the EmanciPay feature that makes it super-easy to donate to channels or programs you like, removing even the minor online “friction” of entering your credit-card number to pledge.
The player may also keep track of the many things you’ve enjoyed free of charge on public radio recently and periodically present you with a list — and offer a clickable donation button for expressing your appreciation.
These could be features of a future iPhone player if Doc Searls and colleagues move ahead with plans to make public radio the first tryout for his much broader idea called Vendor Relationship Management, or VRM.
Searls, a onetime Silicon Valley ad man, long-term Linux Journal blogger and open-source-software believer, is head of Project VRM at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
He wants VRM to help create a new business model for news, music and other digital media products. They desperately need better ways of earning support because they’re free, as in pubradio, or they end up that way because they’re so easy to grab.
Searls is wary that people will imagine VRM threatening present business models, though he wants it to tune-up the connections between buyers and sellers.
VRM is the opposite of Customer Relationship Management, which uses techniques such as the “loyalty cards” with which retailers monitor and manipulate your buying habits and keep you coming back. “Most big businesses still think the best customer is a captive one,” Searls said at Harvard seminar.
Fully developed, VRM would let consumers issue RFPs to vendors specifying the features they want in products; it would let them take their eBay reputation or their online shopping cart with them from one merchant to another.
Figuring out how to facilitate donations for public radio is a simpler idea to grasp, and the VRM crew has ideas.
For instance, the high transaction fees of credit cards are now impeding the growth of casual online micropayments to media companies, but Searls says a VRM app could do “microaccounting” instead. It would sum up multiple pledges into a bigger transaction that would not be swamped by the minimum transaction fees charged on credit cards. With frequent, frictionless giving, he contends, users’ voluntary support to media would keep coming like an IV drip.
Music rights holders might also be impressed to have listeners voluntarily giving one cent per song they hear when the much-struggled-over web royalty arrangements give them 1/100th of a cent per listener.
For now, a key problem is that Apple won't permit iPhone apps that send donations to nonprofits and won't permit free apps to handle payments of any kind, says Jake Shapiro, who oversees development work on the Public Radio Player as executive director of PRX and who aims to incorporate VRM features in a future player.
Pubcasters get only about 1 in 10 audience members to donate, Searls says. Online giving is a hassle that takes an average of 3 minutes — or far longer if the payment system has a glitch. If stations could make donating truly easy, he says, they’d recognize how much money they’ve been leaving on the table.
Contains material added since print publication.
Web page posted July 22, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC
Start or join a conversation on