Seattle-based homeless paper launches mobile payments app

Seattle street vendors selling the city’s Real Change newspaper will be able to accept mobile payments using a Google app developed by volunteers from the tech giant.

As fewer people carry cash on regular basis, and more read news on their mobile, the new app will allow Seattle residents to scan a barcode with their phone to buy a $2.99 digital edition of the paper sold by homeless and otherwise poor men and women.

The app was developed over the last two years, Reuters reported, conceived by an employee who volunteered at Real Change after the newspaper told Google that many potential buyers do not carry cash, and many vendors don’t carry mobile phones.

Google said it would not make money on the app, which is owned by Real Change. It is available for free on Android and iOS.

The tech giant believes this is the first time such a scan-to-pay app has been implemented in such a scenario in North America, spokeswoman Meghan Casserly said, though it has been tried in other markets with varying degrees of success.

The Big Issue uses a similar app in South Africa, but does not publish a digital version.

Casserly did not say whether the technology is likely to be used for profit at a later date.

Real Change vendors will receive $1.49 from the sale of the digital version, and $1.40 from the sale of the paper version, as well as any tips. They pay 60 cents per copy for newspapers they sell in public places such as outside grocery stores and post offices.

Real Change vendors sold more than 615,000 newspapers and collectively earned more than $1 million in 2014. The paper employs around 800 low-income and homeless vendors each year.

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