Tuesday, December 2, 2014

So Last Century! - It's Time to End the Tyranny of Set Prices

We think we know what a price is, but new kinds of markets require new kinds of prices. A price has a function, and that function has changed.

We recognize that electronic markets and digital products have created a new age, but we seem to not recognize that these markets and products need a radically new approach to pricing. FairPay is a new concept of what a price is for these new markets.

Expanding on ideas on the Harvard Business Review Blog, Marco Bertini and I have co-authored an article, "A Novel Architecture to Monetize Digital Goods," that has been submitted to a leading management journal for publication.

Conventional thinking about prices is blinded by a mind-set that we all grew up with and take for granted -- but that is actually a historical oddity. As we observe in the article:
Throughout most of the history of commerce, price was the outcome of a negotiation between individual sellers and buyers. Different buyers achieved different prices depending on their current situation, needs, and bargaining power. In other words, prices were very personal.
Starting in the 1850s, however, the shift to mass retail shoved this tradition aside. Shoppers no longer bought from individuals, but from organizations interested in standardization and scale. Indeed, the price tag gained popularity in the early 1860s with the arrival of the department store—John Wanamaker, the trailblazing American merchant and religious leader, opined that if everyone is equal before God, then everyone should also be equal before price. The company dictated terms, with prices set to maximize profit or some other objective and offered to the market on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
Now that commerce is shifting back to personalization, it is interesting that one of its central ingredients, price, lags behind. Businesspeople appreciate that prices should be fitted to people’s personal valuations as they once were, but there is no real agreement on how this comes about.
Our suggestion seeks to undo the tyranny of fixed prices while retaining the efficiency inherent to institutionalized commerce...
Specifics of how and why to do that are explained in the article (preliminary version online at SSRN). Additional background is in other posts on this blog.

To be clear, our answer is not to try to somehow go backward to automate traditional negotiation. Instead we need to go forward with new ways to build relationships based on human values in a world of electronic markets and digital experiences. What we need is a totally new concept of what a price is, how it is arrived at, and why.

Article abstract:    
The shift of commerce to the digital domain has forced many organizations to rethink their attitude to value creation, at times backtracking to the very question of what “value” actually means. Electronic commerce facilitates and thrives on social interaction, yet the way companies convert digital anything into cash they can bank seems to be stuck in time, obeying rules and practices that may have worked for physical goods but make far less sense today. We believe that earning revenue in the digital age needs a fresh approach. This short article seeks to lay the foundations for such an approach and proposes FairPay as one viable alternative.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Better than Groupon! -- A FairPay Coupon/Trials Service

Trial coupons (like from Groupon) can be a very effective way to attract new customers, but as generally done, this process tends to attract bargain-hunters who may not be the ones a business really wants to attract. FairPay promises to enable a better way to attract your real target market.

The idea for FairPay (Fair Pay What You Want) came from thinking about the problems with digital offers and how to solve them, but it also has significant potential for use with real products and services, especially for experience goods, where the true value is only apparent after having the experience.* I suggest a Groupon-like service that similarly offers "coupons" for trial offers, such as for restaurants, service establishments, and the like, but based on FairPay pricing. Think "Groupon What You Want" or "PriceMeNot."

FairPay is based on taking the risk of low payment on some product offers, in order to seek to build a profitable relationship with a prospect. The prospect is told that they can set their price as they think fair (possibly within limits), but that such offers will continue in the future only if the seller(s) agree the buyer's price is fair (based on individualized criteria). Unlike conventional coupon offers, which offers a pre-set discount, FairPay lets the buyer set their own discount, higher or lower, after they try the product or service. If the esperience was good, the discount is smaller, but if it was bad, the discount can be higher (possibly even 100%).

This is attractive to those seeking fair value, by eliminating their risk of buyer's remorse. It makes trying new places nearly risk free (at least as to cost), and offers a fair discount for taking the risk of a bad experience, but can be selective enough to exclude those who just want a bargain and will never be good customers.

In the case of a coupon aggregator (like Groupon), the aggregator would collect feedback from the buyer on why they set the price they did, and from the seller on whether the price seems fair, given those reasons and given other data about the buyer's values, demographics, and ability to pay. The aggregator can explain that they will develop a reputation for the buyer, and use that to target other offers (or not). Thus the buyer has a strong incentive to be reasonably fair.

For example, for the case of a restaurant (which has significant marginal costs), the offers may be framed so that the buyer is told they can pay any price they want, but if not at least a target percentage (maybe 50%, maybe more), must explain why they think it is fair (with a few multiple choice questions that are easily scored automatically). They might also be told that a suggested fair price should be between 25% and 75% of the normal billed price. This reflects the objective of providing a discount for the risk of a disappointing meal, but with the idea that even a disappointing meal is usually worth something (say 25% of full price), and a very good meal deserves a good price, even as a trial (say 75% of full price). The buyer might be free to pay zero, but only in truly rare cases (such as for buyers that usually pay well) would that not be taken as a black mark on their reputation score that might exclude them from most or all future offers. This pricing might be set directly with the aggregator right after the meal (such as in a mobile app), who would then settle with the restaurant privately. Other kinds of service establishments could use a similar process.

By doing this over a series of offers, the aggregator can characterize each buyer with a FairPay reputation, maintain that in a database (along with rich, transaction-level detail on what they pay well for and what they do not -- and why), and use that reputation data to target additional offers. Merchants most eager to attract customers will make offers to a wide range of prospects (with correspondingly high risk), while other, more successful or selective merchants might limit offers to those who have already gained a reputation for paying fairly (thus taking relatively low risk, and from more valuable customers). The aggregator can also limit the number of offers that a particular merchant makes to untested buyers with unknown fairness reputation, to limit the risk even for marginal merchants.

The benefit to buyers is that those who are willing to pay fairly when they get value can be given trial offers for quality establishments that they may be likely to revisit.  It can be made clear that buyers who price at above the suggested value can generally expect to become eligible for more attractive offers, and those who price below that value will generally get less valuable offers. Some will price for quality and style, and some will price for the biggest discounts they can get (if they do not squeeze too hard). Offer flow will vary accordingly.

The benefit to merchants is that they can target the prospects most likely to appreciate what they offer, in a way that calibrates their risk. Some will seek new customers at relatively high risk, while others we be selective, and take little risk.

The benefit to the aggregator is not only a more effective coupon business, and a new broader range of consumers participating, but a valuable new database of very fine-grained data on buyer value perceptions and willingness to pay.  Much like a credit rating database, this FairPay reputation database can become a very valuable asset in itself. (And the aggregator can maintain the privacy of the customer data by not revealing the data to the merchants, but just using it internally to manage the offer process based on merchant-specified criteria, much as many ad-targeting services do.)

*As a well-tested reference point in the non-digital world, consider the experience of many restaurants, theaters, hotels, and other businesses who have tried pay-what-you-want offers.  These do not include any of the reputation tracking controls that FairPay applies to limit free-riding, but even with that limitation, PWYW has proven effective in many such situations.  See, for example, references cited in my Resource Guide to Pricing , such as the one that studied the restaurant Kish. For a more widespread example, check out Panera Cares.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Making Customers Want to Pay You -- Research on How FairPay Changes the Game

Wouldn't it be nice if buyers volunteered to pay businesses a fair price for what they are offered? Seems like a silly idea! But recent business experiences and research suggest we may just be stuck in the mind-set of the last century.

"Modern" mass-market commerce is a race to the bottom that assumes and appeals to the worst in people. Sellers set prices as high as they think they can to maximize total profit -- so buyers' only option is to take it, or bargain-hunt. What we have here is what behavioral economists call an exchange relationship norm. Exchange norms are zero-sum, quid-pro-quo. As described in other posts, FairPay seeks to find a better way.

Insight into how and why a very different model can work emerges from a growing body of research and real business success with Pay What You Want (PWYW) pricing (which has proven to be not quite as as foolish as it might first seem.)  FairPay builds well beyond this -- it promises to be significantly more effective than conventional PWYW -- and sustainably profitable for large-scale business -- by applying feedback and tracking in ongoing buyer-seller relationships, not just one-time sales. (Some background on PWYW.)

How to understand the power of FairPay was made a bit clearer to me in a very interesting research paper by Santana and Morwitz, "We’re In This Together: How Sellers, Social Values, and Relationship Norms Influence Consumer Payments in Pay-What-You-Want Contexts." That paper suggests an interesting two dimensional behavior model, which I interpret as follows.

The two dimensions of behavior are:
  • Social Value Orientation (SVO), essentially pro-social versus pro-self, as individual traits. 
  • Economic/Exchange Relationship Norms versus Communal Relationship Norms, as situational variables in a relationship. 
These are more fully explained in some excerpts from the paper below, but the bottom line is to clarify the motivation for the two dimensional strategy that FairPay seeks to apply to getting buyers to willingly pay a fair price:
  1. Segment customers based on their Social Value Orientation traits -- are they receptive to and driven by social values, or not? Tactics for managing the FairPay process will be a bit different for high, medium, and low SVO trait segments.
  2. Nudge all customers toward Communal Relationship Norms, in ways tuned to each segment -- to seek to bring out their Social Value Orientation to the fullest extent possible.  
Based on this, the FairPay process diagram can be understood to work for each segment, but with rather different control parameters applied to each. In all cases the objective is to foster a situation that favors Communal Relationship Norms, and that draws out whatever level of Social Value Orientation can be elicited.
  • The sweet spot is targeting high Social Value Orientation (pro-social) customers, and moving them toward Communal Relationship Norms. They are the ones who will respond best to the pricing privilege that the seller grants to the buyer in FairPay -- to price in a way that considers fairness to the seller -- and who will be least inclined to abuse that privilege.  Managing that for these buyers will be mostly carrot, and not much stick. 
  • The secondary focus is on moving medium-to-low Social Value Orientation (more pro-self) customers toward Communal Relationship Norms. They will need more nudging to emphasize the carrot (why the seller is deserving of communal norms), while keeping the stick in sight (why it is in their best interest to price fairly). Those who do not respond with at least minimum levels of fairness (uncooperatively pro-self) can be treated as a third segment -- to be excluded from FairPay (at least until they seem ready to behave more sociably), and be left to buy on the conventional set-price terms that routinely work for pure Exchange Relationships.
Businesses can seek to maximize profits with a mix of FairPay and conventional set-pricing by doing the following:
  • Position themselves as deserving of Communal Relationship Norms. This can cover the whole spectrum of corporate citizenship, customer relations, quality, style, artistry, craftsmanship, service, and support. (A number of posts expand on this.) 
  • Sustain that positioning throughout their customer relationships. This is deeply embedded in the FairPay processes.
  • Seek to market to high SVO (pro-social) customers as the preferred market segment. This is the segment that will be most willing to pay you generously for your product or service (if you position yourself as deserving, and ask in the right way).
  • Manage the segmentation throughout the business processes to appeal in the right way to the right people. FairPay provides an architecture that supports this. In contrast, freemium has been very popular because of its crude segmentation between those who pay and those who don't, but has been found to be limited in managing to optimize and up-sell that.
A further insight from this study is to reinforce that the nudging of buyers in the adaptive control process of FairPay is best done with a gentle hand. Communal Relationship Norms are a delicate thing. There is an inherent quid-pro-quo in FairPay -- in the future, those who do not pay well will get fewer and less generous offers than those who do pay well. But this should be managed with enough flexibility and forgiveness of minor lapses to not poison the effort to nudge toward Communal Relationship Norms.

This research helps to clarify the behavioral principles that underlie FairPay, and reinforce expectations that it can work very effectively over a wide range of customers and product types. It provides a perspective to better understand my other posts on the motivations, mechanics, and benefits of FairPay.

Some detail on these behaviors from the paper:
  • Social Value Orientation, as individual traits (p. 9-10): 
"People who are motivated to maximize their own gain irrespective of others’ gain are labeled as individualistic. Those who are motivated to maximize the relative difference between their own gain and that of others are said to be competitive. Those who seek to maximize joint gains for self and others are labeled as cooperative, and those who are motivated to maximize gains for others are said to be altruistic....SVO research tends to focus on cooperative, individualistic, and competitive orientations or the more general distinction between pro-social (i.e., cooperative and altruistic) and pro-self (i.e., individualistic and competitive) orientations...We argue that pro-socials will be more likely to take the seller’s welfare into consideration than pro-selves. However, we expect this payment behavior to vary according to the salience of relationship norms between the buyer and the seller when the pricing decision is made..."
  • Economic/exchange relationship norms versus communal relationship norms, as situational variables in a relationship (p.10-12):
"Consumers can form relationships with brands that mimic social relationships with other people...As such, these brand relationships are guided by norms in the same way as individual relationships...Perhaps the most common distinction among relationship norms is the exchange / communal norm distinction...Exchange norms are typically based on economic factors, while communal norms are based more on social factors. In general, exchange relationships are guided by norms of quid-pro-quo, where partners provide benefits either in response to benefits given or with the expectation of getting similar benefits returned in the near future. Conversely, communal relationships are governed more by norms of conferring benefits to the partner...Keeping track of inputs and outputs, comparable benefits, and repayment behavior are all hallmarks of exchange relationships; while helping others, keeping track of others’ needs, and responding to others’ emotional needs are all hallmarks of communal relationships. Business partners and acquaintances are typically guided by exchange norms, whereas friends and family are typically guided by communal norms."
"...These findings demonstrate that relationship norms affect consumer behavior, and although commercial relationships are typically governed by exchange norms, that buyer-seller communal norms are possible. We extend these findings to the PWYW context by suggesting that relationship norms can affect how much individuals pay in such settings. Specifically, when an exchange norm is salient versus a communal norm, consumers will be less likely to consider social factors in generating their purchase price, resulting in lower payments and a lower likelihood of overpayment."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Interview: FairPay -- Making Pay-What-You-Want Profitable and Sustainable for the Mainstream

Tom Morkes, author of "The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing," interviewed me about FairPay, as a bonus for readers of his excellent how-to guide.  FairPay draws on the increasingly popular PWYW pricing model and makes it "ready for prime time." FairPay builds on key aspects of PWYW in a way that can be highly profitable for mainstream businesses, not just a fringe strategy for Long Tail content or special promotions. The audio of the interview was recently make available for download separately, as well. Both are available from Tom (on a PWYW basis, of course!) at the links here:
Tom's e-book and related bonuses offer a rich and useful guide to using PWYW, and are full of insights and experience on best practices for making it work.  PWYW draws on subtleties in human behavior -- it can be very powerful, but there is nuance to framing such offers, and making it profitable on a sustained basis is often difficult.

My interview focuses on FairPay, and how it builds on the core benefits of PWYW, and goes far beyond conventional approaches, to make it more sustainable and profitable, and scalable to large businesses.  Most uses of basic PWYW are for limited promotions. FairPay adapts it to be more predictable and workable for ongoing use -- whether on small scale, or for seller who aggregate items or offer ongoing subscriptions, even to the scale of Amazon or the iTunes Store.

Using Tom's PWYW Checklist as a nice starting point, I clarify how FaiPay adds a process that builds an ongoing relationship based on dialogs about value. Tom lists 11 steps to making a PWYW offer work.  I group Tom's list as follows, and add one more:

#1-4 are prerequisites to using these methods, both PWYW and FairPay:

1.  Identify a Competitive Marketplace
2.  Identify and Target a Demographic with Fair-Minded Customers
3.  Determine a Product with Low Marginal Cost
4.  Create a Product that can be Sold Credibly at a Wide Range of Prices
...And #5-11 enhance the process of using these methods, also relevant to PWYW and FairPay:
5.  Establish a Strong Relationship with Your Customer
6.  Clarify the Offer
7.  Show the Customer You’re Human*
8.  Appeal to Idealism
9.  Anchor the Price
10. Steer the Customer to the Right Choice
11. Remind Your Audience to Contribute

...To which, FairPay adds a new 12th step, to make it an ongoing, adaptive, individualized process:

12. Repeat offers contingent on fairness -- build continuing relationship and dialog

Doing that involves a number of component steps, as described in the interview and elsewhere on this blog.  (An earlier post provides some diagrams that may be helpful while listening.)  The interview also expands on the rationale for how FairPay applies to various business contexts, and the behavioral economics that show how it can be effective.

I hope you will enjoy this material, and will want to use FairPay to take your business to the next level.  Comments are welcome, and I offer free consulting to those with a serious interest in considering FairPay.

[*Added note:  Even large corporations can emphasize their human values and the people behind them.]

Friday, June 6, 2014

Times Premier? -- What is it really worth? ...FairPay can tell

The recently introduced Times Premier premium subscription service provides a nice case study of the problems with conventional pricing models for digital content, and how the more adaptive model of FairPay promises to do much better.

"For those with a curiosity that matches our own," the Times' pitch reads, but what I am most curious about is whether and how I would value it. ...And whether the value to me would be consistent, or highly variable and hard to predict.

The Times' metered paywall has been working better than many feared, but is obviously leaving money on the table from loyal, engaged readers who can and would pay more for Times' journalism and extras.

Premier attempts to capture that value, but, like the old "Godfather"-inspired joke, they have made me an offer I cannot understand.
  • It offers me a combination of new features, some in specific quantities.
  • I don't know what these are, have never seen many of them, have no idea if I will like them. And, even if I do like some of them, how many will I want in any given 4-week cycle?
  • Some sound interesting, and some not at all
  • Even after I have tried them, I expect my desire and opportunity to enjoy them will vary and might decrease over time
  • I may want more than the included number of some features, while having no interest in others
I can afford the extra $10 per 4 weeks cost,* but have no confidence I will value the service.
  • Maybe I might try it and, if not too disappointed, just continue to pay the $10 without much thought (as the Times might hope) -- but profiting from my inattention leaves me feeling exploited.
  • Alternatively I might try it for a while, then cancel -- even if I would be willing to pay something for the occasional feature -- leaving both me and the Times losers.
  • In any case, I feel little temptation to even bother -- again leaving both me and the Times losers.
The core problem is a rigid, one-size-fits-all pricing scheme for a time- and quantity-varying experience good that is offered to diverse buyers with different and time-varying needs.

I had previously suggested to the Times that FairPay offers a new adaptive strategy that is far more promising. As explained further elsewhere in this blog, this is how it might work:
  • The Times identifies me as a current digital and print subscriber, and offers to let me try Premier on a FairPay basis, as a "patron" of their quality journalism.
  • They "bill" me in arrears on a pay what you want basis, telling me for the past 4 weeks how much of each Premier feature I used, and advising me of a suggested price based on that usage and my history. The suggested price may reflect volume discounts and a maximum for "unlimited" use, and may have adjustements for students, disadvantaged, or affluent patrons.
  • They try to nudge me to pay well by reminding me of their quality journalism, telling me that others are paying much as they suggest, and offering added incentives.
  • I decide whether I think it is fair to pay as suggested, higher, or lower, and check off possible reasons for that. 
  • The Times weighs the reasons, considers my history, demographics, and usage, and decides how fair my price seems -- on an individualized basis.
  • After a period of probation, the Times decides whether to continue as is, bump me up to more privileged offers, or drop me from FairPay pricing and require that I pay the standard $10 per cycle if I want to continue Premier.
  • This dynamic adapation continues indefinitely, as the product and the relationship change and evolve.
This has a number of benefits to both me and the Times:
  • It builds a true patronship relationship where I feel empowered, participate in real dialog about what I do or do not value, and build on my experience with the Times and my reputation for fairness.
  • It encourages me to recognize the value of what I get from the Times, and to reward them accordingly.
  • It lets me try Premier at no risk, but (optionally for the Times) with the understanding I am expected to pay, even for the first 4 weeks, if I find value in it.
  • Each cycle, I can pay as suggested based on my usage -- or more or less -- as I wish. 
  • If I have an occasional heavy usage cycle, I can apply whatever "volume discount" I like to avoid an unduly high charge, as long as I don't abuse that privilege.
  • If I thought the features were especially good that cycle, I can pay a bit more, and increase my fairness rating to show my "patronship" -- and earn more priviliges.
  • If I thought the features less good that cycle, I can pay less, and only harm my reputation and privilges if I make a habit of devaluing the product.
Some of the key benefits to The Times
  • They can get far more people to try Premier, and retain far more, for wider market reach and greater profit. Many may pay less than the standard $10, but some may pay more, generally in line with the value they receive.  The net profit can be higher, with a lower average price, but from more patrons.
  • Since Premier is a new offering, they would not risk cannibalizing existing revenues.  Even after it is new, an added FairPay option could extend its reach down-market, and add more premium revenue up-market.
  • They can build a deeper relationship with their patroms, based on this deeper empowerment, dialog, and experience. 
  • That can shift the relationship with the Times from quid-pro-quo business exchange norms to cooperative, communal norms, and fosters social values of fairness and reciprocity, both of which increase willingness to pay.
  • They can learn far more about what their patrons value and why.
  • They can justify different prices to patrons with different value propositions and abilities to pay.
  • They can start with fairly simple decision rules and liberal continuation criteria, and gradually add more nuance and discrimination as they and their patrons gain experience with the process.
Trying a radically new approach like FairPay has risks, and takes some effort, but I suggest that a FairPay version of Times Premier offers far more profit potential and far better relationships with the Times' patrons than the conventional version. Time will tell.

*My print insert offer says $10, but the Web page says $11.25. The print insert offers a free 4 week trial, but the Web page asks for $0.99.  Seller pricing manipulations that are hardly endearing to patrons!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Beyond Freemium -- Free? Paid? Freemium?... Finding Whatever Works

Pricing for digital offerings continues to be a fundamental challenge, and the debates over free, paid and freemium rage on.

"Making 'Freemium' Work" by Vineet Kumar in Harvard Business Review (5/14), nicely sheds light on companies' real world experience with freemium, highlights the challenges of making it work, and suggests how companies can tune it to get good results.

Here, I expand on my online comment on that article that refers to the HBR Blog post I did with Marco Bertini, introducing FairPay to HBR readers. Excerpting most of my comment on Kumar's article:
...a new strategy beyond freemium that addresses the same business needs, and exploits the attraction of "free," in a way that promises to be more powerful and flexible. We motivate this as moving the exchange between seller and buyer from the transactional to the relational, based on three pillars of relationship: empowerment, dialog, and experience/reputation. The six questions raised here are important to this new strategy as well. 
Freemium has offered a good start to dealing with new economics of digital offerings, but this new strategy, called FairPay, takes the driving objective of freemium - exploiting "free" to move toward a profitable relationship over time - and makes that the driver of a variable boundary between free and paid tiers. FairPay moves the strategic question of what to exchange at what price from a pre-set seller decision to an emergent, dynamic process that balances the interests of the seller and different individual buyers. That provides more nuance and flexibility than freemium's gross segmentation into just two (or a very few) set tiers (free or paid). 
We suggest the more individually adaptive techniques of FairPay can be applied to get better market reach and profit, and to build deeper and more profitable long-term relationships. The six questions identified in this article remain important: FairPay provides a systematic method for (1) adapting (and softening) the boundary between free and paid, focusing on (2) customer understanding and (3) conversion rates, (4) evolving over adoption life-cycles, (5) encouraging referral incentives and communications, and (6) guiding ongoing innovation. With both freemium and FairPay, we see an opportunity to move beyond the debate over free vs. fee, to focus on empowering and communicating with customers and finding ways to reward those who opt to pay.
How FairPay does this is more fully explained elsewhere in this blog and related Web site (see sidebar), but here are some comments specific to Kumar's six questions.
  1. What should be free?  With freemium, this is a very visible static parameter that is hard to guess right, and hard to change. With FairPay, the boundary is soft and dynamically individualized. The buyer sets it for each transaction, always getting a price he considers fair, but the seller controls future offers, thus providing a balancing force to drive the buyer to price in a way that both sides consider fair, over the course of a series of transactions that build toward a profitable relationship.  The seller need not shoot in the dark to set a rigid boundary that is inevitably too high or too low for many buyers. Instead of upwards of 95% of customers paying nothing, a majority can be driven to pay some workable amount -- and some to pay very well. (But the buyer is always free to pay nothing, at any time he feels that the product is not satisfactory.)
  2. Do customers fully understand the premium offer?  FairPay is built around a structured dialog about offers and value received, and lets customers in good standing try both regular and premium offers whenever they want, and then determine the value they see in it. The seller highlights the value, based on their individual usage patterns, and if a buyer does not value it enough to satisfy the seller, that buyer's trial of a premium service can end (but it can be extended long emough and often enough to be a proper test -- at any stage of the relationship). The basic process is structured, but lightweight, informal, dynamic, and intuitive.
  3. What is your target conversion rate?  Freemium centers on a single all-or-nothing boundary between free and paid that make it costly to guess wrong, and either miss much of the market or leave money on the table (by undercharging good customers). (See my "Long Tail of Prices" post for more on this.) With FairPay, "free" users are permitted to pay 0% of suggested price, while paying users can pay 10%, 80%, 120%, 200% or whatever -- the conversion process is one of nudging customers up the pricing curve, and getting them to try (and pay for) more valuable features. This multivariate dynamic optimization process is more complex, but even simple heurisics can offer far more nuance and flexibility than the hard boundary of freemium.  (Adding additional premium tiers to freemium can add a bit more nuance there, but still in a static way that is not easily changed.)
  4. Are you prepared for the conversion life cycle?  As Kumar observes, early adopters are less price-sensitive than others, and are often people for whom the value proposition is unusually compelling.  Freemium has no way to adapt to such variations over time, except to move the boundary for everyone. The core process of FairPay is driven by ongoing dynamic adaptation to different price-sensitivities and value perceptions, so identifying and dealing with such individual behavior is baked in to the process. 
  5. Are users becoming evangelists? Free users can have value as evangelists (as Kumar notes) and also as a target for advertising (a key revenue source for many services), and viral marketing can be very important. FairPay can accommodate whatever value factors the seller and buyer choose to consider: Free users can claim credit for evangelism and receiving and acting on ads, and viral offers can draw on the same process to offer FairPay "trials" that suggest pricing with a trial discount that encourages those new users who do see value to start paying something immediately or very soon (while still letting those who try it but do not acknowledge any value pay nothing).
  6. Are you committed to ongoing innovation? Freemium is very focused on customer acquisition, but FairPay is designed to do its adaptive work throughout the life cycle, as usage and understanding of the product matures and changes over time.  Because it is based on an adaptive value discovery engine that always sets prices in accord with current perceived value, it works throughout product and customer life-cycles, and continually drives the seller to make more desirable offers, based on detailed, real-world customer preference data. FairPay offers the potential to not only serve as a pricing engine, but also to serve as an engine for partly automating product innovation, as well. Detailed value perception data can be used to drive offer bundling and product development. So, once you get FairPayworking adaptively to set near optimal individualized prices, why would you drop it for a less adaptive alternative? If things are stable it works near optimally, and if things are changing, it is a nealry ideal tool to identify and adapt to the changes.
Kumar's article provides a nice framework for understanding both freemium and FairPay. Pricing is the heart of commerce, and is never simple. Debates over free versus paid tend to oversimplify and overgeneralize.  One post specific to the free vs. paid debate is "Free AND Paid! -- To Each His Own Price." Other commentary on why and how I think FairPay will provide an architecture for better pricing that subsumes both free and paid are throughout this blog and the FairPay Web site

Monday, January 6, 2014

"E-Books Are Reading You" -- How That Enables a New and Far Better Economics

"As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You." While some view this as creepy, it offers powerful benefits that are yet to fully emerge. Wouldn't it be good to pay for books depending on how you read them?

This recent NYTimes article by David Streitfeld highlights the instrumentation behind e-books and other digital media, and how distributors, publishers, and authors can use it to better understand their markets. People are talking about how Big Data enables "The Quantified Self" -- think of this aspect as "Quantified Media."

With the FairPay pricing model, this gains far greater potential -- and clear benefit to the reader. How much you have to pay for a book can depend on how you read it -- how much, how long, how deeply, how repetitively. That data is indicative of the value you receive from the book. Why should what you pay to read it not depend on how you read it?

Start a chapter or two and quit, and pay nothing -- just like a Kindle free sample. Skim the whole book in 15 minutes and pay little or nothing -- much like Amazon's "Look Inside." Read a novel all the way through and pay a normal price. Read it three times and pay a bit extra. Study a how-to book, highlight sections, and go back regularly over many months, and pay accordingly (but with a volume discount). Use six travel guides on four countries during a one-week cruise and pay the equivalent of buying one travel guide (a detailed example is in this older post).

Already, individual reader usage data is affecting pricing between distributors and publishers (as Streitfeld notes for book subscription offerings):
On Oyster, once a person reads more than 10 percent of the book, it is officially considered “read.” Oyster then has to pay the publisher a standard wholesale fee. With Scribd, it is more complicated. If the reader reads more than 10 percent but less than 50 percent, it counts for a tenth of a sale. Above 50 percent, it is a full sale. 
Offering a subscription service "introduces a sort of interesting business opportunity to collaborate with publishers rather than be at odds with them.”        
Distributors collaborating with publishers instead of being at odds with them? What a thought! Of course that can lead to win-win pricing models.

With FairPay, a similar win-win collaboration involves the reader as well. FairPay lets readers pay whatever they think is fair for books, based on how they read them. If the distributor agrees that is fair (including consideration of any explanations offered) their subscription or buying privileges are continued (but in any case the buyer's price is final for the current transaction). This removes the barrier of price from reading a book.  It invites anyone with an interest to try a book, and only pay to the extent that they feel they got value from it. It allows those on limited budgets to apply discounts, and business readers to be expected to pay more, having derived greater value. It also strenghtens the bond between the reader and author, where readers feel an obligation to pay to authors who give them a valuable reading experience (especially if they know a fair share goes to the author). It also strengthens the bond between the reader and a publisher/distributor who gives them the kind of e-books they value, and supports authors they value.

Such ideas of variable pricing are unfamiliar in most consumer markets, and take some getting used to, as the Times article (and some thoughtful comments) make clear. However, we can look to the proven success of "performance-based pricing," which has seen growing acceptance in B2B markets.  As outlined in a Harvard Business School article by Benson Shapiro, current performance-based pricing strategies offers win-win benefits and reduced risk, but are primarily suited to high-value B2B situations, in which complex joint pricing analysis can be done for each customer situation. FairPay takes similar performance-based "dialogs about value" and streamlines them for a consumer e-commerce setting, with a high degree of individualized automation that can work on a much more intuitive and fuzzy level.  This offers a way out of the digital pricing dilemma that has brought book publishing and other content industries (music, journalism, etc.) to the brink of disaster.  (See many related posts on this blog.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

HBR Blog Post on FairPay: "When Selling Digital Content, Let the Customer Set the Price"

If you read the HBR Blog post that I co-authored with Marco Bertini (11/18/13), the sections below will suggest some links for more information on FairPay.

If you have not read that Harvard Business Review Blog post, it offers a summary of some of the ideas behind FairPay, and how they fit into a flexible architecture for better pricing that moves the exchange between seller and buyer from the transactional to the relational. We hope you will comment on that HBR post, and let us know what you think.

Marco and I are collaborating on a longer article that explores the principles of this architecture more fully [preliminary version]. Marco is Assistant Professor of Marketing at London Business School, a prolific author in HBR and other leading business and academic journals, and has been working for some time on many of the strategies that FairPay builds on. (More background on Marco and his work.) My background is as a practitioner in online media and e-commerce, and the technologies that drive that.  Our collaboration has been very rewarding, and we are very pleased that this HBR Blog post will bring these ideas to more people.

To dig deeper on FairPay:

--Details on the FairPay Web site.

--Video and slide introduction.

--Process overview and diagrams.

--Blog Posts:  This FairPayZone blog explores FairPay at various levels and in various business use cases. The following posts may be especially helpful to HBR readers:
Strategy and behavioral economics methods
Journalism and similar content businesses

Posts address other businesses, including music, video, books, games, and software apps, as well as related experience with pay what you want pricing.  (Try the search box.)

I offer free consultation to those interested in evaluating and applying FairPay, and am happy to address questions. Please contact me at fairpay [at] teleshuttle [dot] com.

Some additional helpful posts:

*The fuller article co-authored with Marco Bertini has been submitted to a leading management review, and a working version is online.
[Comments have been disabled after continuing nonsense spammings -- if you would like to comment, please email a request for approval, and it will be re-enabled for you -  fairpay [at] teleshuttle [dot] com]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pierre Omidyar: Adventures in New Business Models for Journalism ...and FairPay

As a follow up to my post on Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post, I turn to another exciting entry into journalism by a top-tier e-commerce innovator with very deep pockets, and how the new FairPay business model can work for that adventure as well.

Pierre Omidyar, billionaire founder of eBay, also considered buying The Washington Post, but revealed in his blog that he decided instead to actively participate in developing an entirely new media platform intended to support and empower independent journalists. 

Such a platform is especially well suited to the use of the FairPay architecture, with its ability to engage readers to partner with journalists, by serving as patrons for work that they value.  My earlier post on Bezos and The Post outlines the fundamentals of how FairPay addresses this business challenge.  This post builds on that.

***Second in a series on tech billionaires (Bezos and Omidyar) reinventing the business model for journalism, not as their personal charity, but by creating a new kind of reader/patron empowered by e-commerce technologies.***

In tune with Bezos, Omidyar points to the primacy of customer relationships in e-commerce  (in his interview by David Carr):
Technologists understand our users and break down how user engagement increases from somebody that maybe just tries your product once and then goes away, to a different kind of person that progressively gets more and more engaged and then becomes just totally locked into your product. That’s something people in Silicon Valley spend a ton of time analyzing, working on and thinking about.
FairPay integrates this kind of engagement directly into the value exchange process (as described in my Bezos post). Here I highlight additional aspects of Omidyar's focus on "elevating and supporting" individual journalists, and how FairPay supports that.

Omidyar says (to Jay Rosen) he wants to run his venture as "a company, not a charity." That means generating a revenue stream (presumably from readers, not advertisers). Rosen describes this as "the personal franchise model." The ability to engage readers to serve as patrons is essential to that. 

FairPay naturally integrates the reader's evaluation of a journalist's value directly into the pricing process.  It engages the reader in ongoing "dialogs about value" on how the reader values the work of each journalist over the course of their relationship.  Readers intuitively recognize many dimensions of value, and the dialog can easily be structured to elicit pricing that factors in this judgment with regard to such dimensions as quality, style, investigation, reader value, and social value .

With FairPay, an Omidyar media platform can get direct feedback from each reader on the perceived value of each article, the body of work by that journalist, and the media service as a whole. 
  • This can be directly linked to compensation for each journalist, thus increasing engagement and the quality of the relationship on both sides. 
  • Readers will know that a significant portion of their payments go to the journalists, and that their feedback bears directly on how journalists are paid (and what investigations are funded).  
  • Conversely, journalists will be motivated to create a body of work that readers recognize as valuable by voting for them with their wallets. 
This gets to the issue of "Creating Shared Value," as described in the influential 2011 HBR article by Porter and Kramer, which suggests the need to "reinvent capitalism" with broader ideas about value creation that will "unleash a wave of innovation and growth." They propose that "creating shared value represents a broader conception of Adam Smith's invisible hand." Another of my earlier posts  shows how FairPay operationalizes that idea to reflect judgments of shared social value directly into pricing dialogs, creating that broader conception of the invisible hand.

FairPay is uniquely focused on creating the multidimensional dialogs on value that are needed to turn readers into patrons of important journalism. It not only supports the journalistic effort, but guides it to the tasks that the reader/patrons consider important. 
  • It builds a deep relationship with readers that can feed directly into the key editorial processes that determine which journalists to support, in what investigations, and how they are paid. 
  • It builds a value discovery engine into the heart of the media platform, to drive it toward work that is good and important, and to get readers engaged as patrons who pay for that, both for themselves and for the common good.
And given a model in which (as Rosen reports) "all proceeds...will be reinvested in journalism," readers can be strongly motivated to be generous patrons. Omidyar is quoted as saying he started eBay on the premise that "people are basically good." Modern behavioral economics demonstrates that his faith is well founded. FairPay offers a way to apply that virtue to support a wide range of valued services, including support of quality journalism.  In doing that, it leads to the answer to Jeff Bezos's central question: "Why should I pay you" (see previous post).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Why should I pay you?" - Bezos' Washington Post - Mapping a New Business Model for Journalism

Jeff Bezos' central question about The Washington Post, is stated in his recent interview: "Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free?”

I suggest a process that can generate the answer.

***First in a series on tech billionaires (Bezos and Omidyar) reinventing the business model for journalism, not as their personal charity, but by creating a new kind of reader/patron empowered by e-commerce technologies.***

In his letter to Post employees, Bezos said "There is no map" -- but I suggest this process provides a map -- it may be crude and in need of some correction, like early maps of "The New World" but, like them, it is good enough to start a journey in the right direction, even if that journey may take some unexpected turns.

As Bezos encapsulated it in his interview:
The Post is famous for its investigative journalism. It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it. . . . Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, "Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for 'free' from another site?"
"Why should I pay you?" is the central dilemma of Internet content, and exactly the question the FairPay process is designed to answer. There is no one simple answer, but I suggest the general shape of the answer is this:
  • We ask you to pay only what you think fair for the value we provide you -- isn't that fair? The quality journalism we provide is expensive to produce, and if people like you who value it do not pay a fair price, how can we continue to provide it?
  • We will treat you as an individual patron -- we will listen carefully to what you want, and you will get our best efforts to produce and deliver it to you.
There is no one simple answer -- but FairPay offers a reasonably simple process for seeking the answer in all its complexity, by fully applying the one-to-one power of the Internet:
  • The answer is an individual one.  It will vary from person to person, from day to day.
  • Finding that answer requires an ongoing, individualized process.
  • It also requires individualized pricing, a concept that is challenging as well.
This is a problem that was made difficult by the Internet, as Bezos observes, but it is also a problem that can now be solved using methods enabled by the Internet. 

So "Why should I pay?" -- The essence of this FairPay process is to undertake deep, computer-assisted dialogs with the reader on just that question
  • The answer must be individualized to pin down what value The Post actually delivers to me.
  • It must structure a dialog to learn what I think The Post is worth to me -- and to help frame my evaluation to fully appreciate the value I receive.
  • It must close the loop to drive toward a fair exchange between me and The Post over time.
  • The first cycles of this dialog may give poor results, but with good feedback and direction, this can drive an emergent process that delivers value, sets prices for that value, and converges toward a fair value exchange.
Bezos emphasizes that there is a need for experimentation and patience -- FairPay offers a structured process for ongoing experimentation that can be expected to move toward convergence, and to provide data to shed light on any rough spots so the process can be altered to work even better. Think of it as an adaptive value discovery engine:


FairPay centers on the idea of customers as patrons who have only to be motivated.  It provides a mechanism for them to be patrons of journalism.  (It works similarly for patrons of books, music, video, apps, and other digital offerings.)

The essence of FairPay is in the workings of this engine:
  • to view transactions not as ends in themselves, but as steps in a process that builds a relationship based on fair value exchange
  • to let you learn and adapt, to provide what your patrons value
  • to let the patrons learn pay according to the value they perceive, and to be fair about that
  • to guide these dynamics, to motivate both the patrons to pay a fair price, and your efforts to seek to delight them
FairPay draws on three main enablers:
  • Modern behavioral economics that shows that people are not heartless profit maximizers, but can be motivated by a sense of fairness and related aspects of reciprocity, altruism, and self-image to pay more than they have to (share their "value surplus"), when given a good reason.  Supporting the quality journalism of The Post, for my own benefit, for the common good, and out of fairness, is just such a reason -- if given in terms that are specifically relevant to me and responsive to my concerns. Think of me as a patron, and make me want to be a patron.
  • Computer-assisted dialog, and the growing ease of use and power of such dialogs to inform the process of understanding what I value, and to help me to recognize what value I have received. Engage me as a patron and show that you understand what I care about.
  • Predictive analytics that can help The Post to shape both the service it offers me and the dialog it has with me in a way that gives me what I really care about, and makes me want to pay a fair price for it. I will be a patron if I feel what I patronize is worthwhile and respects my desires.
How much should I pay? FairPay treats that as a matter for dialog.  Only I can determine what I value, and what price I think fair for it.  FairPay lets me pay what I think fair. ...But it does not stop there.

Why should I pay fairly? FairPay enables The Post to suggest what I should pay, track what I do pay, understand why I think my price is fair, and tell me whether they agree it is fair. All of this is specific to what I read, how often, how much, for how long; whether I read it for business or pleasure; how affluent I am; and many other details. The Post can measure and report that to me, consider what I say about the value I perceive, and factor that into their suggested price. They can tell me they think I am being unfair, and limit what they offer me, or they can tell me that I am being generous and enrich what they offer me. If The Post plays this game well (mostly carrot, a little bit of stick), they can give me what I value, and motivate me to pay a fair price for it.

These enablers and this value discovery engine inform a new invisible hand, one that can entice readers to happily pay a fair price for the content they consume. It gives the reader the power to set a price they are comfortable with, but gives the publisher the power to nudge that to a level the publisher is also comfortable with over time (or to cut back on what is offered).

That new dynamic balances my goals and The Post's. The Post can gamble on my fairness for a time, to see if am willing to be a patron. (Doing so costs them almost nothing.) If not, it can leave me to deal with a conventional paywall subscription, or to fend for myself. If I am willing to be a patron, The Post can serve me at whatever level I justify that I pay fairly for.

I suggest this fits perfectly with the guidelines Bezos outlined in his letter to Post employees:
"We will need to invent..."
...this map is both an invention and a framework for continuing invention
   "...which means we will need to experiment"
...FairPay is a method for experimentation in the form of structured dialog with readers, for dynamically learning what they value, at what price, and for guiding the Post's adaptation to provide it.
    "Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about .... and working backwards from there"  
...that is the touchstone of FairPay, turning the invisible hand to drive just that, in a new kind of emergent pricing process.  
(More details are provided in the sidebar, other posts on this blog, and on the FairPay Web site.)

***First in a series on tech billionaires (Bezos and Omidyar) reinventing the business model for journalism, not as their personal charity, but by creating a new kind of reader/patron empowered by e-commerce technologies.***

Thursday, May 30, 2013

BitTorrent's "Gated" Torrent Bundles -- Just add FairPay Gating

BitTorrent has introduced "Torrent Bundles" a new "relationship based"content superdistribution bundle.  This is a move very much aligned with the relationship-oriented monetization strategies of FairPay. Both exploit free and gated offers, and both go beyond freemium by doing it in a way that is relies deeply on partnerships with artists and other creators/producers of content.  Torrent Bundles and FairPay are both great ideas, and the combination promises to be even better.

  • Torrent Bundles provide a viral superdistribution technology designed to work with various forms of gating, in a way designed to build a relationship.  
  • FairPay offers a totally new kind of gating that is based on reputation for fair payment over the course of a relationship, one that can fit very nicely into such bundles and increase their effectiveness in a way that dynamically seeks payment levels that work for both the buyer and the seller.

BitTorrent Bundles are described on their blog as providing a viral download that combines a portion of free content with a portion of "gated" content that can be unlocked.  More background on the business model and planned features is in the Wired interview with marketing head Matt Mason:
The BitTorrent Bundle is described ... as an evolution of the torrent file concept. The user downloads the Bundle, which contains not only free content — in the case of the first Bundle, the Dada Life remix of the Kaskade track “Dynasty,” as well as the trailer for Kaskade’s Freaks of Nature tour documentary — but also a gateway to premium content, as well.
How you open that gate is determined by the creator of the content. For this launch Bundle, it’s simply by sharing your email, but alternatives include pay gates, pay-what-you-want gates, or even links to outside sites like Netflix or iTunes. BitTorrent Bundles, in other words, gives musicians, moviemakers and artists of all kinds more control over how their work gets shared and sold.
 As noted by Mason, Torrent Bundles have Pay What You Want offers in mind.  FairPay is short for "Fair Pay What You Want."  FairPay takes the concept of buyer participation in pricing and building relationships to embed relationship-feedback-based gating directly into the pricing process.  This is described more fully in the sidebar and elsewhere in this blog and the FairPay Web site.

Briefly, the idea is that FaiPay tracks how buyers set price, asks them why they set a high or low price, and uses that information to develop a Fairness Reputation.  It then extends the social contract with buyers, by offering some content only to those who establish a reputation for fairness.  This gating based on Fairness Reputation can apply to premium content, or can apply to all content after an initial period of relationship building.  The result is that the natural human drives to be fair, to reciprocity, to altruism, to confirm to social norms, etc. are reinforced by the incentive of continuing and better offers.  This gives buyers a strong incentive to not try to free ride, and enables sellers to learn what the buyers value and how to deliver it.

Mason's book, "The Pirate's Dilemma," talks about reinventing capitalism, and how enlightened businesses can compete with pirates and gain internal efficiency while bringing greater value to society.  FairPay provides a highly automated adaptive engine designed to do just that in a systematic way.  FairPay solves the price-setting dilemma. (It also changes the game regarding piracy "When buyers set prices, no man will be a pirate.")

I am seeking to reach out to BitTorrent to suggest that it would make eminent sense for them to create a FairPay pricing option within their bundles, and would be happy to assist in that.    Any reader who can assist in making a connection to them (or others with compatible ideas) is invited to do so.  (I can be reached at fairpay [at] teleshuttle [dot] com.)

This is the first I have written here about the use of FairPay in a viral superdistribution context, but that is one of the ways FairPay was designed to work.  Anyone can redistribute bundles that contain FairPay offers, and the recipients can begin to establish their own FairPay relationships (and reputations) to get the added content (if not already in a FairPay relationship).  Of course criteria for pricing of content received virally would be expected to be relatively lenient, to encourage risk-free sampling, so that both senders and recipients feel well treated.)

FairPay is designed to coexist with, and even mimic, other pricing models.  It can operate along a spectrum of free, free for feedback information (including just an email, as in the Ultra Torrent Bundle), conventional non-gated Pay What You Want, and reputation-gated Fair Pay What You Want.  It offers the free plus paid mix of freemium, but in a way that provides a flexible boundary between free and paid, customized to each buyer.

Also relevant to BitTorrent, by creating a platform that supports FairPay, a byproduct is building a FairPay Reputation Database. This can be used to enable any producer of content on that platform to make offers to new buyers based on the reputation they have gained with other sellers, and thus make better offers to those having a reputation for being reasonably fair. (This can be done is ways that do not compromise privacy.) As owner of this database, BitTorrent would build a valuable asset (one that works much like a credit rating database).

BitTorrent Bundles seems to be pointing the way to a more enlightened and efficient model of content distribution. As people begin to see the merits of these ideas, the value of the FairPay pricing strategy will be increasingly clear.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Paywall 2.0 ...and Paywall 3.0 -- Focus on the Customer!

Recent presentations by Zuora, the champion of The Subscription Economy, and its president Tien Tzuo, describe "Paywall 2.0," as "why focusing on customers is the only way to win" in a blog at The Guardian, "The Reinvention of Media" on Slideshare, and "The Future of Publishing" in a longer white paper.  There is also a 20 minute video.

This as an excellent foundation for what I see as the next step, FairPay, which I am suggesting as Paywall 3.0.  Zuora is right about Paywall 2.0, and FairPay builds on that to deepen -- and center on -- the customer relationship. 

[Update:  But I should be clear from the start that The first rule of Paywall 3.0 is that There is no Paywall -- as will be seen below, there is a FairPay Zone in which readers may pay or not ("fair pay what you want"), and publishers decide case by case, and month by month, on what basis to maintain the relationship with each reader. This goes way beyond "soft" and "porous" and brings in aspects of a membership model.  (added in response to feedback 3/29/13)]

As noted by Zuora (in The Guardian version),
...as the demise of Variety shows, paywalls are not enough. That's because it's never been just about the paywall – it's about publishers viewing readers not as anonymous demographic statistics to sell to advertisers, but as customers who are willing to pay for something of value. In this changing customer-centric world, media and publishing companies need to adopt a more data-driven approach to understanding customers, design bundles and pricing plans that meet their needs, and strengthen their relationships with customers to ensure a they'll keep coming back for more. Let's call it Paywall 2.0...
Now starts the hard road to recovery. And that recovery will come from a truly customer-centric approach. It is about building customer relationships, finding ways to build loyalty, having a range of offerings from free to paid-for that make sense...
Paywall 1.0 was a good start, but isn't enough. Publishers need to move towards the second iteration...
I firmly believe we live in a world where success is not about how many products you ship. It's about how strong your customer relationships are, and how well you are monetising those relationships. 
As described in this blog and related Web site, FairPay reinvents the architecture of digital commerce to focus completely on the customer relationship.  It does this by shifting from a short-term transaction view of pricing to a long-term relationship view, and empowering the customer to engage in meaningful "dialogs about value."  It is this FairPay dialog that generates the price, with deep participation by the customer.  FairPay works as an adaptive value discovery engine that sets the price -- and how the product is offered to the customer -- to match what the individual customer wants and values.

Zuora rightly focuses on the many challenging aspects of subscription operations and how to build a business around ongoing subscriptions.  FairPay is fully consistent with that. In fact Zuora has expressed an interest in adding FairPay into their offering, as an alternative approach to pricing that their clients can apply as an option.

Paywall 3.0

FairPay can be viewed simply as just another pricing model that Zuora's subscription services can offer (one based on pricing and payments in arrears, with a decision process for renewals based on user pricing behavior).  That is fine, but consider how FairPay points to deeper strategic opportunities.

I suggest the historical perspective is:
  • We shifted about a century ago from negotiated (participatory) prices to seller-imposed prices that enabled efficient mass marketing, but distanced the seller from the consumer.  The costs of that have been lack of knowledge of the customer and lack of loyalty from the customer that have been hard to compensate for (such as with remedial market research and loyalty programs).  
  • Now the new phenomena of digital products and networks have disrupted commerce again, with movements to free, "freemium," and even "pay what you want" and "name your own price."  Businesses have found it challenging to adjust to this, and no current models really do the job well (most obviously in information and content industries).  The Subscription Economy can help (as for Netflix and Pandora), but getting consumers to pay for information and services that obviously have near-zero marginal cost remains very problematic (and relationships are critical, as Tien had previously observed with regard to Netflix's serious pricing missteps).
From that broader perspective, FairPay is a radically new architecture for deep two-way relationships between consumers and businesses - dialogs about value, as actually realized by each buyer in their specific, day-to-day contexts.  This is done by applying a structured balance of powers in an ongoing relationship (such as by subscription), in which:
  • the consumer sets an individualized price they think fair, after use, and 
  • the business continues to permit FairPay transactions/renewals as long as they agree that consumer is "fair" about the price (in their individual context). 
  • this continues in an ongoing and adaptive process.  (Unfair buyers are downgraded to lesser offers or conventional fixed-price--providing an incentive to be fair.)
The overall impact is that:
  • FairPay participatory processes can bring in far more customers (over a wide range of price points), increase profits (by capturing more latent value), and empower win-win relationships based on fair value exchange. Think of a privilege that is earned and maintained - a zone of pricing freedom, a "FairPay Zone."  
  • Much like custom negotiation (but with important differences), this participatory process can also be far more economically efficient than set prices, by including flexible consideration of all relevant dimensions of value, usage, context, ability to pay, etc.

As noted above, Zuora has expressed an interest in adding FairPay into their offering, as an alternative approach to pricing that their clients can apply as an option.  Building a FairPay offering to customers on a strong infrastructure base like Zuora's makes a great deal of sense.

We are looking for companies interested in trying this new step forward.  (Please contact us if you have an interest:  fairpay [at] teleshuttle.com)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Value2Me -- The Heart of a New E-Commerce

In the quest to introduce a new way to think about commerce and transform our economy, I am considering a new name that might better capture the heart of the strategy that I have been calling "FairPay." That new name is "Value2Me" -- suggestive of the core pricing issue facing the consumer:
    What is the value to me? (and why?)
Does anything else really matter?

The Value2Me process builds on the Value2Me in each transaction -- as the basis for a dialog about value between the buyer and the seller -- in the context of an ongoing relationship.  That dialog, as it unfolds in a series of transactions, serves as a price discovery process that seeks economic efficiency, in a relationship that is beneficial to both the buyer and the seller:

1. The buyer side driver:
  • What is the Value2Me (as experienced, after trial)?
  • Why should the seller accept that as fair compensation from me?
2. The seller side counterbalance (which the buyer must also consider):
  • Agreeing to treat each transaction as a trial offer, in which any Value2Me price I (the buyer) choose to set is final.
  • Deciding based on my Value2Me price--and the reasons I give for it--whether I am being fair enough that the seller should continue making such offers to me going forward.
This balance -- of buyer-set Value2Me versus seller-controlled judgment of the buyer's fairness as the condition for continuing the relationship -- provides the central dynamic for a new invisible hand. All else is implementation details.

Renaming FairPay? This new model has been widely discussed under the name FairPay (derived from Fair Pay What You Want), but it seems Value2Me may more positively capture the focus on value as it is uniquely perceived by each consumer.  This post seeks to test re-casting the concept in those terms, and to request your opinion on that.  "Value" is the core of all economic value exchange -- we all want value.  "Value2Me" focuses that on the individualized, personalized nature of value perception.

Value2Me for B2C! 

I submit that value to me is the essential criterion for economic exchange, and that the Value2Me process dialog is the best sustainable basis for a new economics.  Value2Me is the best possible sustainable price -- free or other lower prices are nice for consumers, but not sustainable. Seller-set prices almost never reflect Value2Me -- they are usually either too high or too low for most buyers.

The digital economy helps make Value2Me feasible because it enables infinite replication of products/services at almost no cost ("value"), and facilitates mass-customization ("2me").
  • Sellers can afford to continue to make Valeu2Me trial offers to a buyer as long as the buyer does not exploit them unfairly. Any revenue above marginal cost is profit. The only limit needed is to nudge each buyer to pay a price that fairly reflects their personal Value2Me, for that transaction, even if other buyers have a higher or lower Value2Me. 
  • The dialogs are designed to elicit that Value2Me, and to make it clear that it may differ from the value to other buyers due to different contexts:  different usage levels, features, needs, benefits, and ability to pay. 
  • This can be done by presenting usage reports, so buyers appreciate what they received (to focus them on experiential utility)
  • Suggested prices based on that experience can also be provided, so buyers have some guidance of seller expectations (an "anchor" in behavioral economic terms).
  • Cost data can also be provided (as it depends on usage), so buyers can factor in a fair profit level.
  • The "Why" of the buyer's Value2Me response would be relative to the usage, the costs, and the corresponding seller-suggested price.
  • Buyers who stretch the limits of fairness in setting Value2Me can be warned that if they are not more reasonable in the future, they will lose the privilege of paying based on Value2Me, and will have to buy at a conventional fixed price.
Value2Me enables totally adaptive and dynamic pricing in a way that enables a new kind of buyer-sanctioned "price discrimination" -- it is not imposed on the buyer, but actually set by the buyer.  This reaches new levels of economic efficiency by allowing sellers to reach every potential customer who values the product above its marginal cost of production (see The Long Tail of Prices).  Yes, many will pay less than under fixed pricing, but some will pay more, and large numbers who would not have paid at all can now buy and pay enough to expand the total profit. Fixed prices may provide a higher average price, but for a much lower volume. (Free and freemium have similar problems and more.)

Making this work as well as possible will take sophisticated automation to track buyer Value2Me, and "choice architectures" that apply behavioral economics to nudge buyers to fully recognize that value--with consideration to the costs of providing it (and to a fair profit). That is outlined elsewhere in this blog and the FairPay Web site. But the core idea is simple, and the process can be made simple and intuitive.

The term "Value2Me" also helps in emphasizing how this new perspective on commerce not only makes pricing and marketing more efficient, but can empower more effective product design and development. It focuses sellers on measuring perceived value, and on seeking to deliver maximum value to each of their customers on a customized basis. It facilitates a more adaptive and dynamic product development process that seeks to offer each customer the features and services that he needs to maximize his Value2Me.

In the past commerce relied on fixed prices that had to dance around the question of Value2Me -- now it can zero in on it. Value2Me for B2C!
All of this is consistent with previous discussions using the term FairPay. It is just a subtle shift of emphasis -- a use of words that may have a more positive appeal to consumers, and a more direct suggestion of the basis in value as perceived by each buyer.

Comments are invited! And please take our survey on the new name.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beyond the Ad Model - A New Economics for Media

(This was published earlier today as a contributed post on Media Magazine's Future of Media blog)
Facebook lost half its market cap because of doubts about the viability of ads as the world goes mobile. Advertising has its place, where it is non-intrusive, and when it provides valued information relevant to my current context. But that is unlikely to fully pay for the services consumers want. Similar problems are at crisis level in newspapers, video, and music.

It is time to rethink payment for media in the digital age. Most users of Facebook, or any media service, would be willing to pay a fee -- if it were commensurate with the value they actually perceive, and their ability to pay. Charging for Facebook seems impractical only because we have not figured out how to create a payment model that works for a wide range of consumers.

Instead, we look to advertising, or to selling data about consumers, both of which are largely opposed to the interests of the consumer. But consumers are coming to realize that "if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." I suggest that by rethinking how we pay for services, we can find a much better solution.

Freemium offers a hint of the answer-- give away some product to get users to see the value and agree to pay for a service they find useful. But this still fails to match widely varying usage patterns, value perceptions, and abilities to pay.

How can a vendor understand the right price for each user, at each point in time? This seems intractable until we consider letting the user tell us -- the user knows.

The concern is that the user will not be fair, and will understate what he is willing to pay--or will fail to appreciate the cost of service. But we are in an era of relationship commerce – now we can build personalized relationships on mass scale. The solution is to build relationships with customers based on dialogs about value -- so that we can maintain relationships with those that set values fairly, nudge them to recognize the value, and cut off relationships with those who are unfair. The same technologies that enable ad targeting, individualized merchandizing, and automated customer service can enable this too. I have been talking to companies of all sizes about just such an approach -- I call it “FairPay” (short for “fair pay what you want”).

Advertising and data sales can still have a significant place in adding economic value, but can be limited to not detract from the core value proposition between the consumer and the business. The same FairPay process can let users individually determine what level of advertising and data usage they will tolerate, in return for reduced payments.

All it takes is some willingness to empower your customers, and some experimentation. Is that any more than we should expect in this new age?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Free AND Paid! -- To Each His Own Price

The current hot debate in the blogosphere on free versus paid really points to the failure of our current models.  Dalton Caldwell's "Announcing an audacious Proposal," is an eloquent cry for services that serve their users, not advertisers.  Fred Wilson has countered with "In Defense of Free," which champions the value of a mass audience that seems only reachable by free and freemium.  And often neither paid nor free works very well -- just look at the newspapers on the ropes and the musicians eking out a living selling teeshirts instead of songs.

Yet we are in a new age, and new thinking can provide a way to have it both ways, and to do even better at it.  It is time for the invisible hand to meet the cloud.  Free is just another price.  Why why can't we build services that dynamically customize both the service and the price?  We need a new approach to pricing that looks beyond the scarcity of pre-digital times, and that exploits the new abundance, applying the dynamic intelligence of the cloud that can enable a single service be both:
  • free for those who want free (and are willing to "pay" with ads or content submission), and/or 
  • paid for those who place value on getting what they want.

The FairPay pricing strategy that I have been developing is an attempt to rethink how we set prices to do just that.  FairPay provides a new process for setting prices individually and dynamically.  It does this through a "dialog about value" between users and service providers (services, platforms, creators, authors, artists, editors, producers, etc.).  It applies an automated price discovery engine to manage that dialog and nudge it toward fairness.

Because it is dynamic and individualized, FairPay services can transcend all pricing options to find the one that works for a each user.  
  • Those who want an ad-free service can work out pricing that buys out the ads.
  • Those who create user generated content can obtain pricing that factors in the value they contributed (and maybe even make money at it).
  • Those who want if free can get an ad-supported package
  • Those who want to save just a bit can get a light ad + paid blend
  • Those who want to try a no-ad version can try it, with no obligation to pay more than they find it worth--after they try it, and know the value.
  • Those who do not play nicely can have their privileges withdrawn, and be offered just fixed price or ads.

FairPay combines an architectural framework that can include all of these models, with a dialog process that allows both buyers and sellers to reach a fair equilibrium, based on the actual perceived value, considering any and all factors.  Free and paid can coexist in the same service.  Caldwell is concerned that prices should be based on use, and that "the definition of use is very complicated." Smart dialogs about value can simplify that to the degree desired, and yet reflect any variable that each buyer and seller agree is important. (And most of that can be automated by sellers--and eventually by consumers as well).

The core idea is to view pricing not in terms of single transactions, but as a joint decision process that develops over the life of the relationship.  Sellers can lose revenue on some of the abundant product, as long as they converge on a fair price over time (in money, ads, or services), for each customer.  Customers who do not play nicely lose the privilege and must pay what and how the seller demands. 

This relationship view can turn the invisible hand to find the optimum value exchange, now that the cloud can provide abundance and manage the dialog about value.  All we need to do is let go of our old ideas about pricing, transactions, and scarcity, and develop a new and far more flexible process.  We need not force all users into one model.  One-size-fits-all pricing is wrong most of the time, for most of the users.  Lets' find an architecture that seeks the right size for each user!

Details of how this can be done are elsewhere in this blog and related Web site.  It is yet to be refined in practice, but isn't this the kind of economy that is best for society?  One that maximizes production, rewards producers fairly, and makes the abundance they create available to everyone on a fair basis?  Isn't this just the kind of smart economics the network economy was supposed to enable?