Real Change vendors will now be able to cater to cashless customers thanks to the new app from Google

Smartphone payments for Seattle's homeless newspaper vendors

Newspaper vendors in Seattle will be able to accept digital payments through a smartphone application developed by volunteers from Google.

The project has been designed to help homeless people selling Seattle's Real Change newspaper who are struggling in the face of an increasingly cashless society.

Seattle residents will be able to scan a barcode with their phones to receive a $2.99 (£2) digital edition of the paper, which normally costs $2 for the print version.

"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," said Timothy Harris, founding director of Real Change.

The paper, which employs roughly 800 low-paid and homeless vendors in the Puget Sound area each year, was founded in 1994 to help give its employees an income.

Real Change vendors pay 60 cents per copy for the newspapers and in 2014 vendors sold more than 615,000 newspapers, collectively earned more than $1 million, according to the newspaper. The vendors will receive $1.49 from the sale of the digital version.

The two year-long project was the brainchild of a Google worker employee who had volunteered at Real Change and Google has pledged not make money on the app, which is owned by Real Change and can be downloaded free for use on Google's Android and Apple's iOS operating systems.

Customers use the app to scan a QR code on the vendor’s badge and will see the vendor’s name and photo appear on their phone to confirm their identity. The customer then presses pay and receives a link to download the digital edition of the newspaper.

Google spokeswoman Meghan Casserly said the company believes the partnership withReal Change is the first time such a scan-to-pay app will be implemented in North America.

Several efforts have been tried globally with varying degrees of success to help street newspaper vendors accept digital payments. In South Africa, newspaper The Big Issue uses a similar app but does not publish a digital version, Harris said.

Casserly declined to comment on whether the technology behind the app would be used at some point for profit.

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