How about a VRM approach to paying artists through radio stations?

Maybe there is an upside to the Copyright Royalty Board‘s decision to force all commercial and noncommercial webcasters to pay a per-song/per-listener royalty fee. While many of us are wringing their collective hands (see Internet Radio on Death Row) over the high costs (exceeding the revenue projections even of leading webcasters) this new copyright regime will impose on webcasters, I can see a VRM light that might lead us (stations, artists, users, everybody) through this darkening tunnel.

Let’s create a tool that will tell listeners exactly the costs borne by stations for playing the music they listen to — and for paying a sum in excess of that for listening to those tunes? (The stations could also mark up the royalties on their side first. Works either way.) Stations such as Radio Paradise identify every song and artist they play. They also keep track of how many listeners are tuned in for each of those songs. We could create a simple protocol that would allow a tool on the listening side to store unique identifiers for each song played, on each station listened to. Another tool could look at the data store and either make a payout to the station or escrow the data for use in a variety of other ways, including voluntary payout at the user’s discretion.

In any case, isn’t it time for the usage side to come up solutions to the problems that arise from usage?

5 Comments

  1. You mention creating a tool that will “tell listeners exactly the costs borne by stations for playing the music they listen to”. Should such transparency be a goal of VRM? Is it even plausible to expect that those vendors on the supply side will acquiesce to disclosing detailed cost information? Put another way, in a future VRM world should vendor profit margin be a legitimate factor in the consumer’s decision making process?

  2. That transparency isn’t a goal of VRM, it’s a fact on the supply side in this case. See, the costs we’re talking about here are the fractions of cents that stations are forced to pay, by law, to SoundExchange. Kurt Hanson details the costs here. I provide more background here.

    This brings up another reason I think it’s a great VRM project to improve funding for public broadcasting by better equipping the demand side: the supply side isn’t trading in scarcities. The goods are freely available. Customers can pay whatever they want for them. In fact, I have often heard public radio stations talk about how much programming from NPR or APM costs, to encourage listeners to help pay for them.

    This means we have an interesting (albeit atypical) market situation, where the buyers have enormous control over deciding on the value of the goods they use.

  3. I fail to see how this directly benefits the user? It’s one thing to say the user can control the value of goods but those goods are not providing the user with any tangible measurement of their contribution. Ideas such as this distract everyday readers of VRM from understanding the fundamental problem VRM is trying to address.

    A better example would be to extend independent/local TV shows revenue through shared community monetization methods. The reason being is that the Show and not the Network would ask for money that can be seen used for specific reasons like show enhancement, continuation etc… It doesn’t make sense to support a Radio station unless that radio station had some community monetization strategy similar to KCRW’s subscription model, which is a prime example of VRM already being used. People are loyal to other people, or artist, not organizations, unless those organizations are for a cause or providing the consumer with some incentive for their support.

  4. “In any case, isn’t it time for the usage side to come up solutions to the problems that arise from usage?”

    Bandwidth costs, sure, but I fail to see how paying off SoundExchange is a problem that arises from usage. That micropayments road leads nowhere, especially as the individual listener benefits little from just another radio station playing RIAA songs, as in your Radio Paradise example. It makes sense in the case of compensating the costs arising from original programming (but there’s no royalty payments there), or perhaps it could be valuable with something like a Pandora, as it’s a custom channel, and maybe the user could tally up all the songs they thumbs-upped. Maybe I’m just a skeptic, but I don’t see how users will be willing to subsidize extortionary royalty rates any more than they would be willing to, for instance, rent DRM’d songs of their own choosing at such rates…

    Perhaps an even larger concern would be if users really are paying artists through this scheme … http://techdirt.com/articles/20060921/192446.shtml … which is highly unlikely given the history. It seems to me the real value in VRM is that it has the potential to bypass inefficiencies like SoundExchange and the RIAA in general and let users actually pay these artists.

  5. However, the question remains whether or not juice fasting actually works for permanent weight loss. Here’s where things get sticky.

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