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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Why do we choose the products we
choose, when there are so many alternatives?
I watched the ITIF Forum: “Info-Communism:” A Progressive Path Forward
or a Political and Intellectual Dead End? On ustream ustream today ITIF and Jonathan Zuck, the president of ACT, raised this
very fundamental question.
Although the discussion that followed
by the panel was interesting, I am not sure that the panelists ever really
answered Jonathan’s question.
It seems like an important one. Certainly it is relevant for anyone who hopes
to make a living off of their photos, poems, or code. It is in fact a critical question for
everyone who enjoys the products of these creative entrepreneurs.
On today’s panel, the discussion centered on intellectual and
political movements that seek to level the playing field by opening up access to
art to all, without fee, the creations of the few who toil to innovate. By name alone, these movements–“free culture,”
“openness movement,” and “extreme Net Neutrality”–sound inviting. Who would be opposed to a level playing
field? Why would anyone want to pay more
to enjoy what they could have for free?
There are lots of examples of how
we share more in real time today than was ever possible before. We trade quotes and pictures and lyrics with
people we have never met before from all corners of the globe. Sites like Flickr flickr show the amateur photographer in all of us what it
means to aspire to great beauty. This is
all wonderful to be sure. Free – looks
like it works fine. But, there is a rub.
Certainly these same folks that
enjoy such art would likely think they are paying the artist a compliment if
they share this shot with others. They probably
don’t spend much time pondering the fair use exception carved out by the
Supreme Court in its 1984 decision in Sony Corporation of America v.
Universal City Studios, Inc. 464 U.S. 417 (1984) when they use the pictures they downloaded as their
wall photo. But what of the
photographer who hopes to make a living off of the sale of his or her
There are, to be sure, some areas
of grey in the current understanding of what fair use means in the digital
economy. Everyone understands what it
means to give someone credit for work well done and talents well used – and
even this simple courtesy is often overlooked.
At one level there may be a
qualitative difference between similar things:
one may have more artistry; be more elegant; or, more clearly capture the
essence of efficiency. Should the
author, poet or developer who labored and honed his or her skills to create
this artistry not be rewarded for the hours of training?
The real debate, however, probably has less to do with defining
boundaries in the currently foggy areas of fair use, or imposing norms of
civility and kindness, and more to do with human nature of striving for
excellence and wanting to be rewarded for the effort. How do you encourage investment and
Jonathan’s question highlighted that people tend to gravitate
towards the work of professionals. In
other words, people seem to like that work best. Viewers gravitate to the music, movies and
art of professionals so it behooves us to allow those professionals who simply
work harder and for longer on their craft to enjoy the fruits of that
Jonathan raised the example of the “Hope” poster. His point was that while there is a lot of
debate over fair use surrounding that poster, he finds himself asking why when
there were over 100,000 photos of Obama that could have been used for free up
on Flickr, why did that person choose a professional image? Jonathan suggested, and rightly so, that the
user of this shot sought to profit from HIS art, shouldn’t the inspiration for
that art profit as well?
What happens to the art when the artist can’t make a living from
his or her work? After all Free is great – until it isn’t.
This is a follow-up to my post last week about IP rights and the "for me, but not for thee" attitude we often see when assertion of rights makes an appearance in pop culture. Last time it was a contestant on "Project Runway" having to change course after being informed that some pre-printed t-shirts she'd planned to use were trademarked. I'll try to refrain from making this an annoying multi-part series, but here's another example of IP irony:
Celebrity gossip website TMZ.com is poking fun at singer-songwriter-musician Taylor Swift for joining on to a BMI copyright infringement lawsuit that apparently goes after bars that haven't paid proper licensing fees for the music played in the establishment and during karoke. Someone like Taylor Swift couldn't possibly need the couple of bucks a month that would come in from such fees, TMZ intones.
("Material") are protected by copyrights, patents, trade secrets or
other proprietary rights ("Copyrights") …TMZ.com respects the intellectual property rights of
others and asks users of this Site to do the same."
The debate over the continued relevancy of the “Long Tail” theory reignited yesterday following a press release by eMusic that claimed its internal numbers prove the theory. Mike Masnick over at TechDirt, an erstwhile defender of the Long Tail, jumped on the news as more proof the theory lives on. Mike argued that:
There have been a series of criticisms to Chris Anderson's concept of "The Long Tail" lately. While most don't hold up under scrutiny, a few have made some good points that don't actually go against the long tail concept, but may adjust some of how people understand it…
…eMusic has some good features (they could be better, honestly) to help people find new and obscure music — and that helps spread interest to new acts. So, once again, it appears that the long tail is still very much alive, but it does still depend on the filters being used.
I’ll admit it. I’m a long tail kinda guy. I love obscure music and film, and have been a fan of Chris Anderson’s writings on this subject. Therefore, I want to be with Mike on this, but I just don’t see it. There continues to be promise in Long Tail for businesses, but I think we can Tag and Bag Anderson’s initial hypothesis.
First, Chris Anderson coined the term “Long Tail” in a Wired Article entitled “The Long Tail” with a long subtitle which read “Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.” That is what the Long Tail theory was about…the concept that “The Future of Business is Selling Less of More”.
The eMusic data does nothing to really bolster the concept that the Long Tail is the future of business. eMusic is a prototypical Long Tail company. It is a niche player, with a catalogue full of niche music, that markets itself toward niche consumers. The fact that the people who are members buy a lot of obscure stuff is a self fulfilling prophecy. The real question is whether the business itself is sustainable, something nobody knows because the CEO refuses to say whether the company is profitable.
Today, even the High Priest himself, has admitted that his theory is not quite right. Despite the hype, the technological revolutions that have made Long Tail-based businesses feasible did not transform the rules of networks that Barbarasi so effectively summarized in Linked.
In a November blog post, Anderson offered a sorta mea culpa on this point, following a McKinsey study and contrary data from Google.
I'll end by conceding a point: It's hard to make money in the Tail. As Schmidt notes, it's also hard to make money if you don't have a Tail (to satisfy minority taste, which improves the consumer experience), but the revenues are disproportionately in the Head. Perhaps that will never change, but what will change is our definition of Head. Once that was choice counted in tens or hundreds of items. Now, especially in Google's world, it's counted in tens or hundreds of thousands. Powerlaws may indeed create bigger fish, but the Long Tail is all about the bigger pond.
To translate, he admitted that his grand theory on the Long Tail the future of business and media has been debunked, but the Long Tail can and will be an important part of the media landscape in the future.
Now, that’s a theory I’m still buying and one that the eMusic data supports. Perhaps that is what Mike meant by "adjust some of how people understand it."