How VRM can help CRM get past DRM
DRM is a solution to a problem that only appears on the supply side of the market for easily copied entertainment goods. In the absence of a real relationship with customers, the entertainment industry characterize the problem of file copying as "piracy", treats every customer as a pirate, and solves the problem by crippling the goods they sell and limiting each customer's freedom of use.
Thus DRM excludes even the possibility of a relationship with the customer, beyond that of jailer to prisoner -- because DRM's "solution" is to sell damaged goods to chained customers inside jails the supplier maintains.
The jailer-to-prisoner relationship isn't a stretch for CRM, which too often has a customer containment objective in any case -- though usually with softer walls and longer chains: memberships, discounts, incompatibilities with competitors and so on. So the CRM mentality doesn't have a hard time rationalizing DRM, because it's just a harsher form of the same old thing.
VRM can obviate DRM by offering means to genuine relationships between suppliers and customers.
For example, let's take an Apple iTumnes customer named Joe.
Right now the "relationship" between Joe and Apple is one by which Apple cripples the goods it sells to Joe, and then cripples Joe's freedoms to do what he wants with those goods. In the former case, the tunes Joe buys are not plain old MP3 or AAC files, but AAC files with extra junk that limits their ability to be copied or used by a computer other than Joe's, or the iPod that copies from Joe's iTunes library. If Joe wants to create an MP3 CD to play in the car he's renting, or if he wants to put his iTunes collection on an external storage device to play through his home audio system, suddenly the iTunes he bought won't copy or play. Those activities are beyond the reach of Joe's DRM chain. He's being "managed".
But what if Joe had a way of authorizing his own devices -- even temporarily, as would be the case with the rental car? What if Joe had his own record of relationships and agreements that would be a cross-vendor and cross-organizational version of his Apple "keychain", enabled to do much more than merely unlocking things? What if Joe had his own VRM system that could engage Apple or any company in ways that are good for those companies, and beyond just controlling what Joe can do (with music or anything else)? How about if Joe produced and maintained an accessible (with permission) record of every recording he owns -- including old vinyl albums and singles? How about if Joe had a mechanism, under his own control, that allowed him to buy any tune (or podcast, or TV show) he encountered, from any vendor he liked -- on the spot, with no sales friction? How about equipping all customers with buying mechanisms that are under their control, and built to make purchasing goods (or rights for use) as quick and easy as possible? (We have to do better than PayPal, because the friction is still way too high and it doesn't work in the larger off-web world of cell phones, which are ideal VRM instuments.)
Obviously, there are lots of possibilities here, and that's the point. We need a customer-side angle on solving the problem of providing value on the one hand and limiting abuse on the other. Leaving all this up to the supply side has given us high-friction value-limiting systems that are all a bunch of silos, each of which takes enormous effort (mostly duplicated by each silo) to maintain. Having tools of engagement and independence on the demand side will make markets far more efficient, and likely to grow much faster, for everybody involved.
Another way of looking at it: We need social systems that are supported technically. For example, it might be easy to steal produce from a grocery store or to tale money from tip jar at a coffee shop; but most customers don't do that. Why? Yes, it's illegal, but so is "stealing" music by copying it without authorization. The other reason people don't steal in physical places is that the market itself has clear structures some physical, some social that are supported by technology. When we're in a grocery store or a coffee shop, we are playing a role as a customer that comprises a kind of relationship with the vendor. The physical and technical structure of a store shapes what we do there and how we do it, together. We are still lacking that structure in cyberspace in the market's commons as well as in stores.
We need to create technologies that support practices, which in turn support social conventions, which in turn support markets that grow around everybody's participation. VRM is a means toward all those ends. By starting with the customer, it doesn't turn the old power pyramids upside down, or bottom-up. It turns the role of the customer inside out. It gives customers power to engage. Power to provide values other than cash.
In respect to VRM and DRM, we need Vendor Relationship Management to also include Vendor Rights Management. In any relationship there are clearly perceived rights that each party extends to another: things that are okay and not-okay. This is where our friends in the legal communities might like to step forward and offer some constructive help as well.
By the way, we are having a VRM Meeting for developers on January 25 in Redwood City, the day before the Mobile Identity Workshop in San Francisco (still need to get the wiki for that set up... stay tuned). Sign up here.