Real Change launches cashless payment app with Google


Seattle street paper Real Change has partnered with tech giant Google to launch an app that allows customers to pay for their paper digitally and have it delivered straight to their phones.

Vendors have had increasingly difficulties selling the paper, since fewer and fewer people carry cash with them, said Timothy Harris, founding director of Real Change.

“Cashlessness is a challenge our vendors face on a daily basis,” he added. “This app will help our paper survive in the digital age, when fewer people have ready access to cash and more people prefer to read news content on their mobile devices.”

From today, each of Real Change’s homeless and low-income vendors will each get a unique QR code on their vests to allow them to sell digital versions of the award-winning street paper, as well as the usual paper copies.

After downloading the free app to their iOS or Android phone, Seattleites will be able to scan their local vendor’s unique code to buy their digital paper for $2.99 (including a fee from digital content providers).

Vendors will make $1.49 every time someone buys a digital copy of Real Change, whilst they will still get $1.40 from every paper copy they sell. The paper copy will still cost $2.

“We designed this with our vendors and customers in mind,” said Harris. “This app will build on the strong relationships our vendors have with many of their customers, while helping customers benefit from an increasingly seamless buying experience. The paper is just a scan away.”

The project was started two years ago by a Google employee who volunteered at Real Change as part of Google’s annual week of service.

Since then, eight Googlers have volunteered their time to develop the cross-platform app, the first of its kind for the paper.

“Being on the volunteer app development team has been a gratifying experience,” said Jill Woelfer, a Google User Experience Researcher who has been volunteering with Real Change since early 2014.

“The whole team has worked very hard to create a technical solution to provide opportunities
for those who are in need.”

“Street newspapers around the world are looking for a solution to how they can better adapt to the changing media landscape, while still staying true to the signature street paper model,” added Darcy Nothnagle, Public Affairs Manager for Google.

“We hope that this app will be a model many street papers can use, globally.”

Real Change’s app is just one of the pioneering digital adaptations coming from INSP’s members.

Others include Chicago-based StreetWise’s partnership with PayPal and The Big Issue South Africa’s SmartBibs, both of which also allow customers to pay online using their phones.

In Europe, Amsterdam’s Z! magazine and Scandinavian papers =Norge, Situation Sthlm and Faktum are working on pilot projects to provide vendors with card readers, so that customers can pay with
debit or credit cards.

In addition, some papers, including Situation Sthlm and Norway’s =Norge, use payments through text messages.

“Many of INSP’s 114 street papers, in 35 countries, are facing issues based on the continuing march of our cashless society,” said INSP chief executive Maree Aldam.

“Innovative solutions such as Real Change’s app show how dynamic street paper organisations can continue to provide employment to some of the most vulnerable people in society, despite the new challenges they face.”