Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Frank Field on control freaks
"Geoff Edgers reports in today's Boston Globe [PDF] that market economics even seem to effect the record industry.
The most remarkable part of this article is the response of the RIAA to the fact that record stores are reducing their CD prices to get customers into the store. A Globe chart (not given online) shows that the average suggested retail price of CDs was $21.50 in 1983 (the introduction of the CD), dropping rather steadily to $12.50 in 1990 and trending slowly back up to $14.02 in 2000 (sourced from the RIAA). The fact that local stores are discovering that they need to offer product at $9.99 to get people into stores, however, leads the RIAA to this position:
But Hilary Rosen, chief executive officer of the RIAA, said that it's unfair to expect record companies to cut costs. She says people who steal music by downloading soundfiles or burning discs illegally are responsible for sales drops.
'In the age of $150 sneakers, $12 movie prices and $40 video games, I'm just unsympathetic,' Rosen says. 'At any price in the $10 to $18 range, CDs are a great value.'
But, there's another feature of her position that screams for consideration - 'it's unfair to expect record companies to cut costs.' Really!?! Every other industry looks upon cost-cutting as the standard - a day to day practice. There are plenty of industries where cost saving - continuous improvement - is the centerpiece of operations. Yet the RIAA, confronted with technological challenges that have been commonplace since the invention of the player piano, refuses to acknowledge that cost might have something to do with their declining performance in the face of these challenges. Rather than exploring new business models, it's all about modifying law and regulations within the industry, and calling for dramatic changes in industries outside of their traditional purview - computer technology.
And worse, they've managed to convince a large fraction of the population that their position is reasonable. For anyone who's read Courtney Does the Math, and looks at [PDF] the implications of her numbers has to ask about the costs of promotion - and wonder, for example, why killing webcasting seems to be the objective of the RIAA.
As far as I can see, it comes down to a simple fact - the record companies are control freaks, pure and simple. Somehow, they have managed (along with the movie industry) to convince us that their monopoly control should be perfect, unassailable by advancing technology and guaranteed by the state. And worse, our government representatives see that their role is to employ the instruments of public policy to maintain their control.
It's time for a change. And it's up to us to bring it about." [FurdLog]
Panasonic Unveils Flat-Panel Speakers
"Matsushita Electronic Industrial and its subsidiary Matsushita Electronic Components will start shipping samples of transparent flat-panel speakers for mobile phones and PDAs next month, they announced Monday.
The products, the Acoustic Panel and the Acoustic Touch-Panel, use Sound Window technology jointly developed by Matsushita, better known for its Panasonic brand name, and its subsidiary.
Sound Window consists of a transparent panel mounted in front of a device's display and a separate driver to vibrate the air between the panel and the display to create sound.
The panels are thin and flexible, so they do not affect the sound quality when they are touched. Because the panel is placed over the LCD, the mobile device does not require speaker holes....
The Acoustic Panel is aimed mainly at mobile phones and compact music players, and the Acoustic Touch-Panel, which has a touch-screen panel function, at PDAs and car navigation systems.
The Osaka companies plan to start mass production in March next year, when they expect to manufacture 1 million Acoustic Panel units and 500,000 Acoustic Touch-Panel units a month." [PC World]
So now the touchscreen on the OQO mini-computer could also be a speaker, and you could truly access The Heavenly Jukebox from anywhere with embedded Wi-Fi in chips in cell phones. PDAs and smartphones could let you listen to an audio ebook in your car or in bed.
Now if it just doubled as a microphone for processing voice commands....
Factiva CEO: News Will Cost in Two Years
"Consumers will be coughing up for all online media content by 2004, according to Factiva CEO Clare Hart, who sees a two-year turnaround for ISPs to get with the paid-for-content program....
According to Hart, consumers do not want to pay for online content because they have been trained not to, whereas business users are used to putting their hands in their pockets for particular information.
'I think that the media has trained the online consumer that there is no value in what they publish,' Hart said. 'In two years we will see a turnaround in the consumer market. Itís going to take some time for publishers to build the infrastructure to bill consumers. In the meantime, consumers are going to learn that they have to pay, business users on the other hand have know this for a long time.' Analyst group AMR Interactive said media companies are almost as unanimous in their insistence that paid content is the only way forward as Internet users are in their unwillingness to come up with the cash." [ZDNet, via The Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk]
If Hart is right about this to any degree, then it's going to cause an even bigger rift between publishers/aggregators and libraries. Expect libraries to continue being the hot cyber-battleground as everyone works through the digital rights management & fee-based model versus fair use & information in the "commons" debate.
News Aggregation Meets iTunes3
"Oh, and one more thing: I assume you've seen the new iTunes. I want to steal the new features for my news aggregator. I'd been thinking of these things long before the new version came out, but of course these are not unique ideas. And how well they seem to work in iTunes now (for me at least) seems to be a good thing to point at and say 'that's what I mean'.
So... I want a count of how many times I 'play' a channel (ie. visit a link or story from the RSS feed.) I want to rate my channels. I want to make 'playlists' (ie. categories), and 'smart playlists' (ie. active, persistent searches). I'd also like to synch my subscriptions and things with my website and.. hmm, well, no one's made an iPod analogue for news aggregation/reading yet. ...or have they?" [0xDECAFBAD]
I haven't seen iTunes because I don't have a Mac, but I still feel qualified to add a "me, too" post.
What the Major Labels Don't Want to Hear: 2,000,000 Celtic MP3s Downloaded Free
"The two millionth MP3 was downloaded from Austin's Brobdingnagian Bards' MP3.com website on Thursday, July 25th. This landmark achievement makes them one of the Top 15 bands out of over 200,000 one the world's largest free music portal. It also shows that the Celtic musical tradition of The Chieftains, Clannad, Enya, The Corrs, and countless traditional and not-so-traditional bands is no passing fad. It is the wave of the future.
While record labels are struggling to stay afloat while fighting the growing number of illegal downloads, the Brobdingnagian Bards adopted a more innovative method by giving away over two million downloads advertising 'Download One Free Celtic CD' from their website. While this may seem outlandish considering sluggish record sales, The Bards see it as a means to an end.
'I love giving away music,' begins Marc Gunn of the Brobdingnagian Bards. 'Not only is it rewarding to hear the response of 1000s of people every month, it also sells CDs. Sure we only sell maybe sixty CDs a month online, but that's a hell of a lot more than most bands! If we didn't would we still sell as many? Maybe, but at least were building a solid fan base in the process.' " [MP3.com]
Guess what else The Bards Crier is doing? In addition to giving away free MP3s, Marc Gunn is also putting together a free ebook about how to sell CDs effectively online.
John Robb: "CNet. Western Digital's new hard-drive arrives at 200 Gbs. This is great:
>>>Drive makers will surely need the new interface, as developments push areal densities to 100GB per platter. Such density could allow desktop drives to reach 400GB of storage by the end of next year.<<<
It's too bad that overly generous copyright laws prevent this capacity from being utilized. If copyright was at the Lessig threshold of 5 years, all manner of scenarios are possible. A personal copy of the Library of Congress. Archives of major newspapers, magazines, etc. Societal memory at your fingertips. Amazing. What value is that to our civilization?
To not fill this capacity and unleash the creativity it could spawn would be tantamount to Caeser's burning of the great Library of Alexandria. In his quest for power and control, he accidently destroyed one of the founts of knowledge in the ancient world. Aren't we experiencing a similar power grab by corporate copyright holders for the same motives?" [John Robb's Radio Weblog]