Friday, July 23, 2010
Travel guides on smartphones and tablets (like iPad) present an nice example of some of the richly flexible kinds of pricing behaviors that become feasible with FairPay, the radically adaptive pricing process. I call this FairPaynomics because of the interesting business and behavioral economics issues it creates. One aspect of FairPaynomics is how FairPay can enable nearly unlimited access to content from varied sources, while giving the providers of that content reasonable compensation for the value they provide. The following example suggests the sophistication that advanced uses of FairPay can provide.
A recent article on travel guides for iPads triggered some thoughts on how app stores and e-book vendors could provide new services for buyers, and expand revenues for guide publishers. It points out how guide pricing is a challenge, and how the market is changing from print to mobile. It also noted some limited moves toward slicing and dicing guide content with PDF chapters.
FairPay puts much of the pricing process in the hands of users, and develops a FairPay reputation to select for those who generally pay at fair levels and can be trusted to use discretion in setting prices based on the value received--after trying the product. (A brief explanation is on the sidebar to the right, and fuller explanations are on the FairPay site.)
The challenge in pricing travel guides is that different readers get very different levels of value, so set prices may be too high for some potential users and too low for others. What if I could have access to many guides, and pay based on the use I made of them? It is impractical for sellers to set prices on such a flexible basis, but relatively easy for me to do so (on an intuitive basis, aided with reference to detailed usage data).
Consider the range of situations for using a guide. On some trips I might spend a week or two in one large city, acting as my own guide, and want to make extensive use of one, two, or more guide books to plan excursions, consult while sightseeing, select hotels and restaurants, etc. On a return trip to the same city some years later, I might not need nearly as much help. On a far-away small-ship cruise, I might stay a few days in two terminus cities, plus have day stops in half a dozen small towns in as many as five or six countries along the way (some with guided tours, some on my own). On that cruise trip I might want limited use of one or two guides for each of the countries visited, even though some small ports might have little or no coverage.
Paying a set price for each guide as usually packaged creates significant dis-economies. For my multi-country cruise, buying even a single set of guides to all cities/countries visited is a poor value proposition (well over $100), so I might not buy any. For the single-city first visit, paying maybe $10-40 for one or two guides is reasonable, even a bargain. I probably end up paying less than I would be willing to pay in both extremes. I might be willing to pay more than the set price of the guides for intensive use, and I would pay something more than zero for light use of many guides. Under conventional pricing, I suffer and the publisher(s) suffer.
So how is FaiPay better? Obviously it would be difficult for a publisher or even a full-service bookseller like Amazon or B&N to set multi-factor prices that worked for such extremes of usage. The beauty of FairPay is that they don't have to -- I would set the price. Knowing the list price of guidebooks, I might feel that I am willing to spend $20-40 per week, if I am using my guide(s) heavily, and less if not. I might go higher if covering a lot of cities, and lower if just in one place, and higher if the places are covered in depth, less for small towns with little or no coverage. If I used multiple guides, I would want to divide my payment based on which I used most and which were most valuable (such as tipping me off to good "finds").
How can this work? I would not mind if the sellers had meters that recorded my usage, but I would be put off by knowing that there are set charges per page or minute of viewing, with a meter going ka-ching. I would be OK with such metrics of usage as suggestive of what I should pay, but not as a ticking meter of set charges. With FairPay, I could have it my way.
Amazon or B&N (or Apple or Sony, or whoever) could administer the store, collect the metered usage data, and let me pay as I see fit. As long as I paid at reasonable levels (considering my usage), they would continue to let me get more guides (for my next trips) on a FairPay basis. If I did not pay well, they would cut me off and it would be back to the old way. For my return trip to the big city, they might offer use of an updated guide, and expect only modest payment, resulting in another win for both me and the sellers.
Good for me, some work for Amazon or whoever, but do-able -- but is it good for the publishers? Overall, they might do much better. I would have only bought one or two guides conventionally, for $10-40, so under my FairPay allocation, I might pay $20-40 to those one or two publishers, and so the second might have a sale he would not have gotten. But I would have used other guides in those places as well, and paid something to those publishers, as well. I also would have used guides at various cities on the cruise trip, and paid for the moderate level of usage that was foregone because I did not want to buy guides I would use only lightly (maybe paying $20-30 for those as well). Also, I would feel much better about being able to use and pay for guides accessed my way, not the way the publisher pre-packages them into "titles"that don't fit me, and so would be willing to pay at higher levels. The publisher and the store would get more from me, and I would be much happier about the fairness of the value exchange.
Such FairPay offers might be structured as packages for specific trips, with pricing set by the user soon after the trip. Frequent travelers would place high value on the flexibility this offers, and be careful to pay at good rates to retain the privilege of doing the same for future trips. Occasional travelers, and those on tight budgets might pay at lower rates, but without Fairpay, they might otherwise not buy guides at all. (To prevent low-paying buyers from hopping from seller to seller, the sellers might share their reputation data, just as they do with their credit rating data.)
The bottom line nearly ideal Internet economics. I get access to all the guides I feel I have use for (exploiting their near-zero marginal cost), and pay based on how I use them (based mostly on my intuitive allocation of value, grounded in the reality of usage data). The publisher can sell to anyone who has use for the product, and get revenue commensurate with that use. Doing that with conventional pricing models would be impractical, and the ka-ching of a ticking usage meter would put a damper on the kind of casual use that, with FairPay, might result in added revenue (after the fact, when the value was known). This may sound utopian, but the Internet enables many utopian capabilities. Think about it. It can work.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
FairPay, a radically new spin on Pay What You Want pricing (PWYW), could transform pricing for apps. It offers a way to let developers break through the "penny gap" to get a fair price, while giving buyers a high degree of freedom to set their own price.
Apps are becoming a huge business, but the vast majority of them are free. (A recent analysis suggests 81% of iPhone app downloads by volume are free, even though other reports indicate that only about 28% are free by title. This effect has been described as the "penny-gap" -- products go like hotcakes when the price is zero, but demand drops hugely when the price increases to just 1 cent. This makes price setting a major dilemma for app developers. (One attempt to solve this software pricing dilemma was "shareware," in which buyers could Pay-If-You-Want, at a suggested price, but that has proven only marginally successful.)
FairPay can provide a way to bridge this penny gap, using a radically new variation on Pay What You Want, one that still limits buyer risk, but strongly encourages fair prices to sellers. As described elsewhere on this blog, and on the Web, this new variation, FairPay (short for Fair Pay What You Want), uses Internet feedback on what buyers pay, in order to develop a reputation for fairness. The seller (or multiple sellers) then use this FairPay reputation feedback to decide whether to extend further offers to a user based on how fairly he pays. Thus FairPay does not just rely on innate buyer fairness, but looks over their shoulder to help give that sense of fairness real teeth.
(This process also applies to other digital content, as explained elsewhere. The case of e-Books is especially similar to this example of apps. That should be fairly apparent, but I expect to do a blog post more specific to e-books in the near future.)
This process works best with an ongoing buyer-seller relationship, so in the context of an app store, FairPay would be best implemented by the store operator (Apple or Google, or whoever). That way the FairPay reputation feedback is collected across all purchases by that buyer. This enables a dynamically adaptive cycle of offers, prices, feedback, and further offers that rewards those who pay fairly, and cuts off those who do not. I suggest that app store operators should try this (and I would be happy to assist in such an effort).
Such a FairPay pricing process for an app store can be quite simple.
- The store offers to let buyers try a small number of FairPay-eligible apps on a FairPay basis, with the understanding that the buyer can try the apps for a time, see if they like them, and then set whatever price they consider fair (post-sale PWYW).
- The full FairPay process would be explained in detail up front, so buyers understand that future offers will depend on what reputation they develop for paying fairly. Their alternative will be to pay pre-set prices for future app purchases. A suggested price for each app might be provided for guidance.
- The buyer tries the apps, then sets prices, and can indicate why they paid what they did. For example a buyer might explain that they were disappointed in a product, if that is why they decided to pay little or nothing for it. (Of course they can also say the love it, and elect to pay especially well.)
- The store then assesses the prices paid, and the reasons, and decides whether to offer that buyer more items on the same FairPay basis. Criteria might include consideration of app-specific suggested prices set by the developer, and the prices set by other FairPay buyers.
- Obviously those who pay well will get a continuing stream of further FairPay offers (as long as they continue to pay reasonably well). Those who pay well for some, and explain why not for others, might also get a few further offers (effectively on a probationary basis), until it is determined by the store that they either do or do not pay fairly in general.
- Those judged by the store to generally not pay at an acceptable level can be cut off from further FairPay offers, and restricted to conventional, set-price prepaid sales (at least for some time, possibly extending a second chance to try FairPay sometime in the future).
- The cycle continues, based on these evolving FairPay reputations. The longer this process runs, the more meaningful the FairPay fairness reputations of the buyers, and the better able the store and developers are to manage revenue and risk, by controlling what offers are made to which buyers.
Presumably the store would implement and manage this process as a platform service, enabling developers to opt in to offer their apps on FairPay terms, typically in combination with the alternative of conventional pre-set prices. Developers might set suggested target prices and other evaluation parameters, and could change those parameters or opt-out, depending on results.
The result is that FairPay can be a win-win solution for both the developers/stores and for the consumers:
- Buyers will feel more respected and empowered by the added trust and flexibility.
- Some will pay less than the standard going rate, but some will pay more.
- Many who might not make a conventional paid purchase (because of the penny gap) might be willing to pay something reasonable for a FairPay purchase, once they can see that they have gotten a useful app -- the penny gap is smoothed over, and the developer and store get more revenue.
- Developers need not feel they must make their apps free in order to attract buyers (since FairPay gives a try-before-you-set-the-price option).
- The store can (with inputs from the developers) individually and dynamically tune the details of the offers and the process to encourage good payment levels, and to send free-riders back into the hard "pay wall" of the conventional pre-set price.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
FairPay, my radically new spin on Pay What You Want pricing (PWYW), may be especially timely for the music business and the video game business. It offers a way to encourage fair levels of pricing while giving buyers a high degree of freedom to set their own price.
The music business has been turned upside down by the challenges of Internet distribution and related piracy, to the point that the prominent band Radiohead offered its 2007 album for download on a PWYW basis. While a reported 60% downloaders did not pay at all, enough did (paying an average of $8.05 in the US and $4.64 elsewhere), to make that experiment modestly successful, and led to other similar offers by other groups. Downloadable games have also been offered on a PWYW basis, with similar modest success.
As described elsewhere on this blog, and on the Web, my new variation, FairPay (short for Fair Pay What You Want), uses Internet feedback on what buyers pay, in order to develop a reputation for fairness, that gives a strong incentive to pay fairly. A key part of this method is that the seller (or multiple sellers) use this FairPay reputation feedback to decide whether to extend further offers to a user based on how fairly he pays. FairPay does not just rely on innate buyer fairness, but looks over their shoulder to help give that sense of fairness powerful weight.
This creates a dynamically adaptive cycle of offers, prices, feedback, and further offers that rewards those who pay fairly and cuts off those who do not. The method works best for an ongoing series of offers and sales. That may not be very effective for a single music group or game developer who can make only infrequent offers of new products, but can be very effective for a music label or game distributor who has an ongoing library of products to offer for sale.
I suggest that labels and distributors seeking better revenue models should try this, and offer to assist in such an effort. I also suggest that individual artists or game developers who prefer not to work with a conventional label or distributer might seek to band together to create a shared distribution co-operative to achieve the modest critical mass of products needed to enable an effective FairPay feedback process.
The FairPay process for such a business can be quite simple.
- A distributor of music or games offers to let buyers try a few items on an enhanced PWYW basis, with the understanding that the buyer can try the item for a time, see if they like it, and then set whatever price they consider fair (post-sale PWYW).
- The full FairPay process would be explained in detail up front, so buyers understand that future offers will depend on what reputation they develop for paying fairly.
- The buyer tries the items, then sets prices, and can indicate why they paid what they did. For example a buyer might explain that they were disappointed in a product if that is why they decided to pay little or nothing for it. (Of course they can also say the love it, and/or love the band/developer, and want to pay especially well.)
- The seller then assesses the price paid, and the reasons, and decides whether to offer that buyer more items on the same basis.
- Obviously those who pay well will get a continuing stream of further offers (as long as they continue to pay reasonably well). Those who pay well for some, and explain why not for others, might also get a few further offers, effectively on a probationary basis, until it is determined by the seller that they either do or do not pay fairly.
- Those judged by the seller to generally not pay at an acceptable level can be cut off from further FairPay offers, and restricted to conventional, set-price prepaid sales (at least for some time, possibly extending another chance sometime in the future).
- The cycle continues, based on these FairPay reputations.
- Unlike most conventional PWYW offers that are restricted to short-lived special promotions, FairPay can be a long term proposition.
This method might be especially attractive in situations where it is known that the artists or game developers get the dominant share of the revenue. Buyers will be especially motivated to pay at reasonable levels if they know that their payments are going to the artist or developer, rewarding them for a good product, and providing the compensation they need to enable them to continue to produce future products. This can work for studios as well, especially if they position themselves as being very supportive of their artists (or even owned by them, like the old United Artists).
Of course FairPay is also applicable to large recording studios and music and game distributors as well. For example, iTunes or Amazon could easily make similar offers across their entire inventory of downloadable music, or across some subset. They might experiment with some selection of songs or albums. Perhaps they might start with less popular and familiar items that might especially benefit from the try-before-you-set-the-price features of FairPay, to increase sales (and revenue) even if the average unit prices are reduced. Similarly, subscription services like Rhapsody and Pandora could apply FairPay to their subscription offers (much like newspapers or video services, as described in other recent posts).
In summary, FairPay can be a win-win solution for both the artists/developers/distributors, and the consumers:
- Buyers will feel more respected and empowered by the added trust and flexibility.
- Some will pay less than the standard going rate, but some will pay more.
- Many who might not make a conventional purchase might be willing to pay something reasonable for a FairPay service -- added revenue to the seller.
- Sellers can individually and dynamically tune the details of the offers and the process to encourage good payment levels, and to send free-riders back into the hard pay wall of the conventional sale price.