Toward a VRM system for paying artists

In The RIAA is Right, Robert Scoble offers a tongue-in-cheek take on the RIAA’s insane idea that ripping one’s own CDs is illegal.* Among other things he says,

  5. This behavior will make sure people buy (or steal) music directly from bands. See how Radiohead did it. By doing that the price for music will go down thanks to fewer intermediaries. RIAA is just helping us get rid of them, which is good for everyone who loves music. See, they are on our side! I’m looking for a site that lets us do Vendor Relationship Management with bands. Doc Searls taught me about VRM. What is that? When we can get the company to do what WE want. Radiohead put the power of setting the price in OUR hands. Brilliant.

Robert is right about all but one thing. Because VRM is about independence as well as engagement, it can’t come from “a site”. Or from anybody other than ourselves. It’s something that lives on the buyer’s side, allowing him or her to relate independently with many suppliers, on terms that are mutually agreeable.

I unpack some of this in a comment under Robert’s post.

A few months ago I also proposed a VRM system that would extend the RadioHead model to any artist.

* According to this post, that’s not really what the RIAA is doing, but they’re “still kinda being jerks about it”.


  1. HeavyLight’s avatar

    Shouldn’t you be talking to David Byrne?
    Influential, experienced musicians aren’t normally this eloquent!
    And boy, does he have connections…

    I’m sold on your VRM concept and can’t wait to see concrete stuff.

    (Oh, and your last link is to a dead page on Robert’s site rather than your Linux Journal article.)

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, HeavyLight, both for the David Byrne piece, which deserves both close reading as well as respect for the man’s position in The Business, and for catching the bad link. Just fixed it.

  3. Cedric’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    Robert’s reaction is interesting: “where can I find a site that proposes…” It seems really hard to get out of the usual model of offer pushed by the provider and not drown by the customer. If the customer was not so lazy (and I’m one) VRM would exist for a long time.

    (I saw you at leWeb3 and read your RSS since. Can you put me in contact with the best VRM experts in France?)

  4. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Doc, why is facebook a success and XFN not? facebook is a social network site, and XFN is a social network system, and yet the site wins out over the system. Makes me wonder if VRM might not need a site to make it win.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Facebook may be successful, but it’s still a silo. In their day cc:Mail and MCI mail were successful too, but those were also silos.

    Email did not succeed as a universal system until protocols that worked on both sides for everybody became established. Significantly, no one big company took the lead in making email happen.

    VRM is about individidual independence, autonomy and ability to engage with vendors — and other organizations — on mutually useful and agreeable terms that have practical advantages for both sides.

    Might be a pipe dream, but I think we can make it work.

    By the way, I’m not saying sites won’t be involved. But I don’t expect VRM to succeed as a site.

    For that matter, I don’t see any of today’s “successful” companies, including Facebook and Google, as infrastructural in the deepest sense, much less permanent. Both are vulnerable in many ways (by their dependencies on advertising, for one thing); and neither holds a guarantee of long-term success.

  6. Tom Smith’s avatar

    VRM, DRM and the RIAA will not succeed. If there’s one thing that appears to be holding true with the advent of the internet it is that information wants to be free. Be it text, music or video.

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