‘Instant Pop’: Give the Kids What they Want

Grabbed from The Guardian

Ten years after piracy first began to ravage the music industry, Britain’s two biggest record labels will finally try to play their part in stopping it, by making new singles available for sale on the day they first hit the airwaves.

Now this, is a good thing.

The further I’ve read into the technicalities of retailing digital media the more sympathetic I’ve become to the difficulties of digital retail. This softening of my opinion has primarily come via reading a healthy dose of intellectual property law and the various EULAs attached to services like iTunes, Steam and Amazon’s digital arm, those things none of us read but sign our souls away to, quite literally in some cases. I’ll post something regarding my adventures in EULAland in the near future; for now we’ll stick to the recent ‘Instant Pop’ announcement.

As much as I have softened in some regards, there are still areas where I’m fairly critical regarding industry practice. Digital retail at first seems to be about manufacturing scarcity in an inherently bountiful product, something that is profoundly difficult. However rather than apply old scarcity economics to digital media, the successful retailers have realised that it is not the product that gains them the custom, but the service surrounding it. The latest pop hit is the latest pop hit, whether you buy it from Amazon, iTunes or pull it down off of some P2P network. What differs is the process surrounding that acquisition. P2P is a pretty good service if you ignore the legality issue; contrary to industry opinion the files are of high quality, speeds are solid and if you are competent enough to operate some P2P client you’ll probably be street wise enough to not get a trojan of some sort.

With a service like iTunes however, because of their nice walled little empire they have something that P2P doesn’t; that nice little button, default on all iPods and iPhones that says ‘iTunes Store’. As long as you’ve got connectivity you can hit that button, search for a track and purchase within about 30 seconds. Then it’s there ready for you to own it at the moment you decided you wanted to own it. Put this hand in hand with radio and you’ve got a brilliant system; song comes on the radio, listener hears it, likes it, wants it. Listener goes to device in pocket and a few taps later they have it. The price is higher than P2P, but P2P couldn’t give it to them right then and there. The customer paid to have the song NOW.

iTunes WiFi Store Logo

People are walking around with miniature record shops in their pocket all day, at any moment they have the potential to purchase a small something that takes their fancy or even go on a media bender when looking to kill some time. Having a gap between radio promotion and single release, to deny the individual the option to purchase it at that moment when they are primed to be consumer, to tell them to wait and buy it in a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours, is a strategy that will lose you that customer. They’ve had the marketing plugged straight into them, they’ve got the shop out of their pocket and are ready to go, but due to a perception that you can still maintain media scarcity, there’s no single in the shop and the customer will look elsewhere because they know they can get it somehow, it’ll just take a bit more work.

This instant pop strategy is a good one, it plays to new behaviours of consumption and takes advantage of the fact that a grand majority of people are hooked up to media retail wherever and whenever. It won’t be a panacea for piracy, there’s more factors in people’s decisions to pirate than simply speed and convenience, sometimes p2p offer a service or a product that the legit spaces don’t. However for those people who previously would have taken the costlier but quicker option if only they had one, this move will bring them back in to the shop.

Guardian Article: Universal and Sony Music plan ‘instant pop’ to beat piracy

Props to @tegularius00 for sending me the article.

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Resistance is Futile: The Xmas No.1 and the Culture Industry

It’s Christmas time again… why I have to point this out to you I don’t know, it just seems the standard thing to say December 1st onwards. With Christmas comes the Christmas number 1 in the UK, which every year generates more political banter than any actual political event. This year of course the assumption is that Mr. Simon Cowell will be selling the country his next piece of forgettable cultural commodity and it’s probably quite a good assumption. If we go back through the last five years we will see a general trend emerging in the Xmas no.1 spot…

2005 – Shayne Ward – ‘That’s My Goal’

2006 – Leona Lewis – ‘A Moment Like This’

2007 – Leon Jackson – ‘When You Believe’

2008 – Alexandra Burke – ‘Hallelujah’

2009 – Joe McElderry – The Climb (Probably)

All the Christmas number ones of the last five years have been products of the X-Factor TV show, a brand that has become so out of control I recently saw X-Factor popcorn and X-Factor chocolate, to eat whilst watching the X-Factor I presume.

None of these songs have been written by the performers. Shayne Ward’s song ‘That’s My Goal’ was written by Jorgen Elofsson. Elofsson was also the same man that wrote the song ‘A Moment Like This’ for Kelly Clarkson’s debut single after winning the first American Idol; the same song Leona Lewis covered for her X-Factor xmas number 1 in 2006. Leon Jackson’s xmas topper was “When You Believe’ written by Stephen Schwartz for Dreamwork’s Prince of Egypt movie 9 years previously.

Then for many it got personal with the Alexandra Burke cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. As many of you will know this brought about a variety of resistance movements, one to get the original Cohen version to the top spot, another to get Jeff Buckley’s cover, which is widely respected as being ‘authentic’. Obviously the X-Factor endorsed version took first position but ironically the Buckley cover took second place, leaving Cohen’s original at 36th.

This year we have another resistance movement in a bid to place ‘Killing in the Name’ by well known group Rage Against the Machine above the X-Factor product of Joe McElderry’s rendition of ‘The Climb’. ‘The Climb’ was originally written by a country music duo for Miley Cyrus in her role as Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is Disney’s odd reality bending celeb-commodity that took the fictional pop star out of the TV-show and made her an actual pop star before then marketing her simply as Miley Cyrus. The song itself was written for Hannah Montana: The Movie, another branch of the Montana franchise.

Now ‘The Climb’ comes to us in the X-Factor packaging and the resistance movement that has sprouted up is equally interesting. Whereas the ‘Hallelujah’ movement could be described as a bid to supplant an inauthentic cover with a more authentic rendition, the RATM v McElderry saga appears to be more about the X-Factor coup of the xmas no. 1 itself. RATM are well known for their anti-corporate sentiments and highly politicised music and this appears to be less about the music, and more about the increasingly corporatised processes of musical production.

So what can the xmas no.1 tell us? Well if we take a critical perspective, one put forward by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, we see two processes going on here. We have the culture industry at work, a system of self referential self-perpetuating culture that is produced purely for profit. All but one of the songs on that list were written purely as commodity, either as an X-Factor product, as an American Idol product or as a film soundtrack. Back in the 1940’s when Adorno and Horkheimer became concerned that culture itself had become commodity that was used to make people subjects to the processes of capitalism, they didn’t have X-Factor, they were in fact rather prescient. In our current time period of hyper-mass-media where we are saturated with culture produced purely to make money, many people have come to similar conclusions without decades of sociological study behind them. They may not have the same language to express it, but a recognition of the inauthenticity of the culture produced by the culture industry is fairly widespread.

The resistance that is attempting to supplant the major label’s dominance of the musical landscape, even if its just at one landmark moment, can be seen as an expression of this dissatisfaction with culture’s authenticity. However it has been recognised in a lot of critical work that is concerned with the processes of capitalism, that any resistance to capitalism is always eventually subsumed into it. A great example of this is the Che Guevara T-shirt. His image has been reproduced so many times onto so many different commodities that his actual message has been lost from those commodities and he is now simply a pop art icon. There may be a relative few that wear their t-shirt with full support of the ideology Guevara represented, but there are many more who don’t.

I am sad to say that this expression of resistance is no different. Regardless of any attempt to subvert the UK charts for just a moment the major labels will win out. McElderry is now signed to Simon Cowell’s music label, SyCo, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. ‘Killing in the Name’ is on RATM’s self-titled album which was released under the music label, Epic. Guess who Epic are a subsidiary of…

News Won’t Learn from Music’s Mistakes

The news industry has been kicking up a bit of a stink that is reminiscent of the music industry in its digital infancy. They’re noticing a decline in advertising revenues and are pointing the finger at the internet for stealing away their advertising contracts. Similarly those news outlets that have an online presence are pointing the finger at Google and similar news aggregator services for making their content available outside of their originating sites meaning advertising never gets seen. On the other side of the argument the aggregators and index services argue that a large proportion of the news site traffic is because of their aggregators and indexing. It all sounds very similar to the music industry rallying against P2P for stealing their profits and streaming services for profiting off their content. The consumption patterns have changed, companies outside the circle that traditionally dealt with a media start filling the gaps, and then the old companies call for courts to protect them for being too slow.
Interestingly what is also comparable is the statistical debate; with music it was always the stats war between ‘P2P causes drops in profits’ and ‘P2P has no impact/improves profits’. With news, as the major companies claim that the internet has stolen all their revenue, stats start cropping up that in fact it may be many factors. You could argue that music sales declined due to multiple factors such as reduction in releases and the move from sales as albums to sales as tracks. With advertising revenue Robert Picard argues that it is not necessarily the internet, but the rise in other forms of physical advertising.
Over the last few weeks there have been calls from the news industries to implement essentially a DRM program across the net (ACAP) to control aggregators. News Corp have also implied that paywalls will soon be going up around their major properties. With the music industry’s recent admittance that their reaction to Napster could have been better it seems that just as one industry starts to come around, the other begins the whole process over again.

The news industry has been kicking up a bit of a stink that is reminiscent of the music industry in its digital infancy. They’re noticing a decline in advertising revenues and are pointing the finger at the internet for stealing away their advertising contracts. Similarly those news outlets that have an online presence are pointing the finger at Google and similar news aggregator services for making their content available outside of their originating sites meaning advertising never gets seen. On the other side of the argument the aggregators and index services argue that a large proportion of the news site traffic is because of their aggregators and indexing. It all sounds very similar to the music industry rallying against P2P for stealing their profits and streaming services for profiting off their content. The consumption patterns have changed, companies outside the circle that traditionally dealt with a media start filling the gaps, and then the old companies call for courts to protect them for being too slow.

Interestingly what is also comparable is the statistical debate; with music it was always the stats war between ‘P2P causes drops in profits’ and ‘P2P has no impact/improves profits’. With news, whilst the major companies claim that the internet has stolen all their revenue, stats start cropping up that in fact it may be many factors. With music you could argue that sales declined due to multiple factors such as reduction in releases and the move from sales as albums to sales as tracks. With advertising revenue Robert Picard argues that it is not necessarily the internet, but the rise in other forms of physical advertising.

Over the last few weeks there have been calls from the news industries to implement essentially a DRM program across the net (ACAP) to control aggregators. News Corp have also implied that paywalls will soon be going up around their major properties. With the music industry’s recent admittance that their reaction to Napster could have been better it seems that just as one industry starts to come around, the other begins the whole process over again.

Reference

AP to Aggregators: We Will Sue You | Wired

European publishers want a law to control online news access – Ars Technica

News Corp will charge for newspaper websites, says Rupert Murdoch | Media | guardian.co.uk

British music boss: we should have embraced Napster – Ars Technica

The Media Business: THE POOR CONNECTION BETWEEN INTERNET ADVERTISING AND NEWSPAPER WOES