A Public Market for Public Music

On the one hand, it's a bummer that the new per-song/per-listener royalty rates threaten to put Internet radio out of business. On the other hand, I don't mind paying Radio Paradise $.0019 (that's under 2/10ths of one cent) to hear Joseph Arthur singing "In the Sun" or to pay the same to RadioKAOS for Jo Jo Gunne singing "Run Run Run". (To name two songs I like that are being played right now.) I can afford that. I also like the idea of paying artists and their friends for their work — but not on coercive terms over which I have no control.

Right now there are only two ways of doing that. One is the advertising based commercial radio model. The other is the donation-based public radio model. The first doesn't involve me at all. The second only barely involves me, and then only as a "member" of a station.

So I have a proposal. Let's turn this thing around. Take it from the point of view of a listener who wouldn't mind using the radio station as an intermediary for paying artists on a voluntary basis. Give radio's consumers an easy way to become customers — with tools that let them pay on a voluntary, a la carte basis for stuff that's available for free but is worth more than that. Let's create a new and truly open market for music that's led by listeners rather than followed by them. Let's solve common problems in ways that work for everybody because they're conceived as common opportunities.

We can do that by taking the "willing seller/willing buyer" concept out of the abstact and making it concrete. That concept was laid out in 17 U.S.C. 112(e)(4), which says "The Copyright Royalty Judges shall establish rates that most clearly represent the fees that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller." Apparently nobody involved in any of these lawmaking and regulatory proceedings has imagined a marketplace where listeners can be customers, equipped not only to express demand but to pay for the goods.

This a challenge I'd like to see VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) developers take up. I'd like to make it ambitious too. Let's take it beyond streaming alone. Let's make VRM tools that let us pay voluntarily (without coercion) for all sources and all forms of programming — including radio programs, streams, downloaded files and contents of files. (The latter would apply to multiple songs found in programs such as Tony Steidler-Dennison's Roadhouse Podcasts.)

It's significant that the Copyright Royalty Board decided to make commercial and noncommercial stations pay the same royalty rates, ending "carve-outs" for CPB-funded stations (which enjoyed special treatment under a now-obsolete agreement with SoundExchange — the RIAA's collection agency). Also that the decision ended special treatment for small webcasters. Now everybody offering valuable free goods is in the same situation, and therefore on the same team. Dark cloud, silver lining.

I'm wondering about a project name and description. Right now I like Project Pay4Play, or p4p. With p4p tools, I should be able to say "I'll pay for that" when I hear a song or a program I like. I want to be able to do this with any podcast or stream that I hear on my browser, my mobile phone, my PDA, my iPod, my iTunes — even my car radio.

As it turns out, p4p already has a meaning that's so close to what we're talking about here that I'd like to hijack it for its own good: "pay for performance". As Wikipedia currently puts it,

P4P is an abbreviation of the term "Pay for Performance". The concept was invented at Overture (now Yahoo! Search Marketing) and later adopted by their competitors, most famously Google's AdWords. Under the model advertisers bid on the rights to present a search result for a specific search terms in an open auction. When someone enters a search term that has been bid on, the results from the auction on that search term are presented, ranked from highest bid to lowest. It is also referred to as Pay per click advertising.

Not coincidentally, copyright law pointedly insists that music on Internet radio — web streams — are "performances". It's these performances that they want to be paid up to $.0019 for, on a per-listener basis. The problem with the old p4p (described above) is that it's an advertising system. This isn't. We're talking here about putting economic control in the hands of the listeners, by making them actual customers. Again, on a voluntary basis. They pay what they want for what they value.

We can make this voluntary because the goods in question are freely available. That means they are non-coercive. No DRM required. No distrust or control freakage on the supply side. No scarcity games. No silos. No inventory systems with SKUs or barcodes or security guys checking packages at the door. Just free goods, on display for everybody to see and use. Plus something new: the ability, on the user's side, to actually pay for usage, at the user's own discretion.

Lately at gatherings I've asked a series of questions that go like this:

  1. How many of you listen to public radio?
  2. How many of you pay for public radio?
  3. How many of you would pay if paying were easy?

The answer to 1 is usually around 90%. The answer to 2 is usually around 10%. The answer to 3 usually goes back up to 90% again.

Clearly this form of free stuff has value. The key to monetizing that value is by making it easy.

That can't be done with systems that are different for every station, every site, every tune, every whatever. We need a system that works, first and foremost, for the user. We need tools of independence and engagement that allow us, individually, to pay for stuff that's free-as-in-beer.

In some cases we're willing to pay — and perhaps to pay more — if we sense or know we are actually relating to (and not just paying) the artists, producers and distributors of these goods. For this we need the means to scaffold real relationships built on mutual respect and mutual interests and not just on coercion or guilt or any of the conventional methods employed by suppliers.

We are at square one here. We do not have tools of independence and engagement. Not for P4P. Not for paying radio stations or streamers or podcasters or developers of code bases.

But how hard will it be to put these tools together? Ten years ago I would have said it was impossible. But back then the LAMP stack was still new. Now it's well over 145,000 letters long, and that's just counting the open source projects on SourceForge. There are countless open standards, countless new and better ways to mash up all kinds of stuff, thanks to Web services, open APIs and Lego-like approaches to putting code and practices together in useful ways.

On the supply side every webcast already carries identifying data about itself, its programs and about the musical selections it plays. So does every satellite channel on XM and Sirius (which currently have business models based on subscriptions and advertising, but there is no reason they should be limited to that). And surprise: so do lots of FM stations. Thanks to a standard called RDS, for Radio Data System, stations can carry a variety of identifying data types. This means RDS can be used to provide necessary data as digital output to p4p tools.

On the demand side, there are already ideas from real programmers who make useful tools. For example, here's David Sifry of Technorati:

I posed a thought experiment: What if we made it really easy to pay for things that we liked on public radio and TV? How about using a shortcode from your mobile phone to 'vote' on your favorite shows while they're playing? Think 'American Idol' style, and you'll immediately see how interesting and lucrative this could be. First off, you're getting your listeners and viewers more active, and what they do has an immediate effect. But what also happens is that the people formerly known as the audience are then in control - they don't get signed up on a list, they don't have to give their name, address, and credit card number . So here was the thought experiment: What if you made a policy that you'd never collect or sell personal information about your donors? And what if you made it really really easy for people to become donors, like using that mobile code to vote for the story they just heard? What if you really put the listener in charge?

And that's just one idea -- one I consider important because we can't limit our solutions just to browsers. We need p4p to work on devices that aren't computers. Among those I'd put cell phones at the top of the list.

At Beyond Broadcast, one of the sixteen working groups was Public Radio and Open Source, which pushed forward on open source efforts around PubForge.org. There a venue already exists where efforts can be joined and code can be gathered. The IMA 2007 blog has a post titled PBCore for publishing, sharing, and preservation that loops together RSS, XML, metadata, the Open Archives Institute and PBCore, the Public Broadcasting Metadirectory Dictionary. The purpose of PubForge is to "ally the already common interests of public broadcasting and the open source developer community".

Leading up to Beyond Broadcast I spent two days at NPR in Washington followed by a week at Public Media 2007 in Boston, where I gave the closing talk. In the course of all this I was involved in VRM conversations with folks from NPR, KQED, WXPN, WGBH, PRX, Public Interactive, WNYC, Vermont Public Television, ThoughtCast, Jazkarta, IT Conversations, KPBS, WBUR, radeo, Public Radio Capital, KUSP, WUNC, Wisconsin Public Radio, North Country Public Radio, the Radio Foundation and WAMU -- to name just a few among many. Everyone I spoke to was intrigued by the VRM concept. Nobody said it wouldn't work. But then, we don't have anything yet. Just a big empty market space, ready to be filled.

We've been talking about how "the customer is king" and "the customer is always right" for many decades. Lately in the tech world we've been talking about "user in charge". Yet those things are not broadly true — not as long as the payoff for entrapment exceeds the payoff for liberation.

We have to build tools for liberation. Developing easy ways to pay for free goods would be a fun place to start.

We'll be meeting to talk about VRM, and to get development moving, at a number of upcoming conferences. If you're interested, check your calendars to see if you can make some. Here they are:

Meanwhile, if you'd like to help, check out what's happening at projectvrm.org, pubforge.org or any of the other open source development efforts (such as those by members of the Identity Gang) that are moving in the same complementary direction.

Markets are going public. Private silo'd markets are going to be subordinated to public open ones. Customers will lead the way. All we need is to give them the means.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Terry Winkle's picture

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Terry Winkle's picture

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mike's picture

great article grreg nice one thanks for it


Crackerjack's picture

Be Nice Delta. One person's Spam is another persons opinion, and its spelled "thread," not Tread.

This tread

delta's picture

Well, I just have 2 words for whoever is responsible for this tread:
wipe-out the-spam.

Its too much

SmartAsATack's picture

I recently hooked up with Yahoo for downloading music and they charge 1.00 per song. That would be fine for the newer songs, but the older ones you can pay for the entire CD for 5.00 instead of paying 12 of Yahoo. It's insane.

J.L. Graham
Core Creative Group


Sony's picture

Great ! , nice code

drm free

dog tags's picture

good thing Amazon will start selling DRM free music.

c'mon doc...

G.Ruiz's picture

the first few blogs were great full of theories but its still the HOW? that needs to be answered. public broadcasts over the radio generate income through commercial placements and preomotional blocktimimng (i used to work as station traffic). why can't your public radio work as such...launchcast has ads from companies before and in between sets of songs. They also promote and survey and rate songs for the rscroding companies...why not take hints from these? all would like to help...just show a marketing plan that all needs to be able for money to be generated...

Pay for download music

yaodownload's picture

$.99 price is a little high. But if we need more high quality music to be created, we should pay for it. People won't do anything forever that cannot earn money. The music download for ipod can be converted to mp3 files, if it is not protected.

I don't mind paying

directory submission's picture

I don't mind paying for the music, if it were easy to pay and not expensive.

pay for the music? of course!

oferty pracy poznań's picture

A lot of my friends don't pay for music. They use eMule, Kazaa etc.
I agree with you. If it were easy and not expensive, why do not pay?

also how should especially

felsefe's picture

also how should especially small stations ever be able to afford that?

also how should especially small stations ever be able to afford

webkatalog's picture

This is how the business goes. If you want to play with the big one, you have to spend some money. They have to find a middle way for the costs and I think it will work fine.

It is easier said than done.

Anonymous's picture

It is easier said than done. You think they are just looking at profits? A lot goes into the whole setup.

I agree to a point...

Blog Directory's picture

While I agree that ITunes prices are too high, I think expecting downloads for 10 to 15 cents is a bit too low. The right answer is somewhere in between. I think it's crazy to charge the same amount (or close to it) for a digital downloadable version of a CD as for the physical version. The download version first of all is a lower quality. Secondly... there's no cost in producing it once it's been created... there's no shipping costs... no creation costs. This should be taken into consideration. It seems to me that with downloads artists should get a big % of the costs... I am very curious to see what Radiohead does... they are currently unsigned.

1. How many of you listen to

Link exchange's picture

1. How many of you listen to public radio?
2. How many of you pay for public radio?
3. How many of you would pay if paying were easy?

any answers ?

Anyone who is familiar with

Filla's picture

Anyone who is familiar with public radio should appreciate the dead-on satire. It's just quirky and funny.


iPod Lover's picture

I never listen to the radio anyway. I just listen to my iPod. I don't really get the radio.. Why would I want to listen to what someone else wants to listen to? I'm way too picky for that. I hate 99% of music really. Most of it is just boring. I'm one of those music snobs I guess.

All that being said I know I'm missing the point of this article a bit... The RIAA is a monster that must be put out of OUR misery.

Ipod, XM Radio, live streaming radio online.

havaianas flip flops's picture

I would say that paying for commercial free music like XM radio is definately better then free public radio. Then comes ipod music whcih you already love the music but memorize the play backs and constantly need to change playlists or songs. Then comes steaming internet radio.

Most people have not even tried streaming commercial free radio yet, but its well worth the effort to find your favourite types of music..

I haven't listened to a hour of public radio for over 3 years...


Indie Girl's picture

As long as Last.FM is still around, I'm alright with whatever else happens!

I like the idea of P4P

Chris's picture

I have been thinking along these lines for awhile also. I think the payments need to be reasonable as I am more than willing to pay for a song from AllofMP3.com for 10-15 cents, but not really excited to buy a .99 cent DRM locked iTunes song. I in turn would also be willing to make a payment (donation) to my favorite TV shows (whether I can download them or not to make sure they stay on the air). I really like the discussion going on here and see it as the future of where we are going (some just get it sooner than others).

Good ideas

Music Reviews / News's picture

I'm digging on this article and your ideas. These are the sorts of things the music industry has to think about instead of trying to strong arm their customers. Instead of trying to hold back technology.

Holidng Back Technology?

Credit Cards's picture

Trying to hold back technology? Maybe. But I guess the music industry is trying to protect itself. Nevertheless, theres the need to move forward.

trying to hold back technology.

Günstige Kredite's picture

The technology of the next few years will change these things in a way we can’t see in the moment. The way that this will go is to fast to put it into one term. As a customer I like it to get the thinks fast and cheap but if the quality is good and easy to handle, than I would pay for it.

Paying for music...

RV's picture

I miss the good 'ole days of Napster back in the early 2000's!

Those were the good old

Cell Phone Reviews's picture

Those were the good old days...back when downloading music on the net was young and innocent.

Point #3 from Doc is solid

Anonymous's picture

I think that Doc makes a great point when saying that 90% of individuals "would pay if paying were easy?" The sad reality is that the music industry has locked down the system so much with DRM that is MUCH easier to just download free music. In many cases it truly is easier to download a ripped song that it is to find a legitimate means to purchase the song at a moments notice. The only solid attempt at simplifying the music purchase process was iTunes and most would agree that has been mildly successful :)


msn ifadeleri's picture

In many cases it truly is easier to download a ripped song that it is to find a legitimate means to purchase the song at a moments notice. The only solid attempt at simplifying the music purchase process was iTunes and most would agree that has been mildly successful as a summary

Music Online

Greece Hotels's picture

I think that the P2P sharing programs are really damaging the more legit programs for online music. I don't mind paying a reasonable amount for a song if its one I want to have, but others who may not wish to pay can easily find the track on the various P2P and file sharing programs on the web. Until programs such as this are somehow regulated ( which I doubt will happen ) - the idea of paying to download music online is one that I don't think will prove too successful.

Do you know Bittorrent.com

Anonymous's picture

Do you know Bittorrent.com has been legalised? You now have to pay to download movies or songs there. That definitely is a constructive step, though I have my own doubts if piracy will ever stop.

Online Legit Music

Strategy Games's picture

I find the whole fuzzy world of music royalties etc too much too. I recently sold off my music download website. Even CDWow has been fined millions for getting cheap CD's abroad. It can be a web in which you can easily be entangled.

The radios should ask for

Anonymous's picture

The radios should ask for subscription rates or use advertising programs.
It is a normal state of facts...paid subscription or advertising

Why must it be different?

Travel Insurance's picture

There are no problems with listening to music on fm radio, why should there be any issue with listening to music delivered over a different media? Radio stations online should use advertising to offset costs, same as regular radio stations.

I agree

thewalker's picture

Yes, I agree your opinion.

Internet Music

Music Instruction's picture

I don't see why music in the internet should be treated any different than the past methods.

You pretty much get two choices.
1) You pay by listening to commercials
2) You pay by subscription (like Satellite or cable)

These two payment models can easily be done by internet. This might be a little more difficult with public radio. But these stations have survived with this difference for years, the method of funding is just a little different.


Seo's picture

interesting read.

fair deal

Marc's picture

1$ per track seems to be a fair deal, but you´re right with the two payment models... for every project you have to choose the method which fits. Cheers, Marc

Yes its easy to use and to

Andrisza's picture

Yes its easy to use and to implementation. Unfortunately still main problem is greed for money of big music companies.

Is it greed masked by the

Anonymous's picture

Is it greed masked by the concern for artists receiving their due compensation. In the middle of all of this is the artist and I am wondering if they are the ones who suffer the most. On one end you have the people who say internet radio should be free..which means artists get no compensation for their work. The other side is proponents saying it is big music who is using their own greed to suck any possible profit from any possible source.

Internet music payments

Sebie's picture

I share your opinion. Every user has two options as you mention. They are easy to be made via Web. 1$ per track sounds like good deal to me.

pay for perfomance

Loop's picture

how do you think that could be ever managed and controlled? even more spy activities by our governments? thanks a lot, I'd rather sing the songs myself.
also how should especially small stations ever be able to afford that?



Anonymous's picture

As for spy activities of the government, that will never stop. One has to live somehow inspite of it.

I love being able to buy

Delta's picture

I love being able to buy individual songs I have heard on the radio (Radio 2's playlist with all the info is brilliant). Buy the music, transfer to iPod, create new playlist and burn said music to CD which will play on anything (have tested standalone CD player, computer (both platforms), DVD player which supports audio playback.


TF2's picture

People won't pay for music selected by someone else. They were spoiled by Napster - they want to play their own songs, on demand, anywhere and with any device they want. I don't think most would pay for anything less because it would seem like a step backwards.

thanks a lot

Skit's picture

how do you think that could be ever managed and controlled? even more spy activities by our governments? thanks a lot, I'd rather sing the songs myself.
also how should especially small stations ever be able to afford that?


now that's a good idea

Poemas's picture

That could be a good idea actually Skit, you download other people sing the songs lol They would sue anyway though...

Been arguing this for years...

Crosbie Fitch's picture

I've been arguing for the validity of a free market for music and other art for years.

First with the Digital Art Auction, then a simpler version called QuidMusic, and finally the completely generic, free-to-use, zero-commission ContingencyMarket - a web service for everyone to use in creating their own sites.

Great site

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for very interesting article. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It?s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else?s point of view? makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Greetings.