August 13, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 33

Director's Corner

Accepting good solutions for now

By Timothy Harris / Executive Director

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The Real Change cashless app has been a long time coming, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll be testing beta versions within a month, and the apps will be available for download from Google Play and the App Store for iOS by November.

The impact of the digital age is not something Real Change can afford to ignore. One problem is that more and more people seldom carry cash. While vendors are making more money in less time since last year’s price increase to $2, circulation is still down by about 25 percent. We’re hoping the app will help with that.

Another issue is that lots of people prefer to read their news digitally. We’re making this easier by rebuilding our website to be mobile friendly and creating a digital version of Real Change that will conform to your tablet or mobile device. You will soon be able to access a paperless Real Change to read at your convenience.

As Real Change shifts to become more digital friendly, we’ve taken care to maintain the reader-vendor relationship at the heart of our model. What makes Real Change so powerful is the thousands upon thousands of conversations that take place on the streets. That won’t change. You’ll only be able to get the digital version of the paper by purchasing it from a vendor.

The process will work like this: Download the Real Change app from Google or Apple to install on your Android or iPhone. When you see a vendor and want to buy a paper, you launch the app and scan the unique QR code on that vendor’s badge. The purchase will credit the vendor’s account and be available the next morning. You will get a receipt and a link to download the digital Real Change. Payment will charge to your Google or Apple account, just as it does when you buy music.

The Real Change app will be fast, secure and convenient, and it’s part of a plan to take Real Change into the 21st century.

Purchasing the paper through the app will cost $3 instead of $2. This is because both Google and Apple have a 30 percent fee on the purchase price. This means that tipping through the app is impractical and won’t be an option. Our assumption is that customers who mostly buy electronically will tip in cash when they have it.

Additionally, the payment method mandates that customers receive a digital-only product in exchange, so a paper copy will not be available for purchase through the app. We’re betting that those who buy Real Change with their phones will probably prefer the digital version anyway.

While these issues make the new app less than ideal, we don’t want a the notion of a perfect version to stand in the way of one that is good, so we want to move ahead with cashless payment.

There is an alternative that avoids these issues. This is Square, which plugs into a vendor’s smartphone and allows you to purchase the newspaper with your credit card at no extra charge to you.

While only five or so vendors have adopted this technology thus far, we are encouraging others to do so. The problem here is that most vendors do not own smartphones. Those who do will be able to use both technologies, and the app will make cashless payment an option for all of them.

Over time, these options will evolve and improve, and new possibilities will emerge as the technology matures. Meanwhile, we’re hearing from vendors and readers alike that people want this technology now. We’re working hard to make it happen.

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Arthi | submitted on 08/14/2014, 2:58am


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