Events The internet the world

Digital Citizens – Social media and the music industry who are mildly embracing it

So the topic of the evening was meant to be Social media and the music industry but that’s not quite what we got.

The panel at Digital Citizens: Ben Shepherd – Sound Alliance; Sam Buckingham – singer / songwriter; Gareth Stuckey – Director, Gigpiglet; Dan Rosen – ARIA Chief Executive Officer; Neil Ackland – Sound Alliance; moderated by@acatinatree. The event was held at FBI Social.

Everyone talked about the revenue/rights quandary but there was no real talk of how they were strategising for the digital age. Except for Sam Buckingham, a singer songwriter who has leveraged social media to connect to her fan base, build a loyal following and even crowd sourced $11,000 via the Pozible platform to fund her first album.

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There was talk at the outset of how well ARIA did “engaging” fans this year on Twitter. So what? The ARIA awards are on television. It’s got a pretty good head start because its being broadcast.

Somehow it just seemed that the panel, with exception of aforementioned indie songstress, was hanging on to the old way of doing business. They reinforced the status quo again and again – acts still need the music business, there’s no such thing really as independent artists. Um, yes there is and the hecklers* in the crowd started listing acts: The Jezebels, John Butler Trio, amongst others.

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The topic of discovery and curated listening was raised by the moderator. The consensus was that serendipitous discover wasn’t all that it is cracked up to be and listeners need those cool music types to tell what they need to hear. OK so Genius, and other recommendation engines don’t work and won’t improve? So tag classification systems on Soundcloud or Hypemachine are useless? I know I’m a relatively savvy user but I also have faith that users, given a good service and a good UI, will explore features made available to them if they find them useful.

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The panel, I think it was Ben Shepherd from Sound Alliance segmented the music audience into two types: loyalists and casual listeners. It was implied that casual listeners will never pay and will be satisfied with free streaming music services and illegal downloads. I think these guys just hang out with the cool kids. There is a whole mainstream audience out there – sure they might listen to Susan Boyle sometimes – but they are happy to pay for music. Case in point, the entire Apple iTunes platform proves that if you create an ecosystem that makes purchasing seamless for the user they will indeed pay. What royalties artists derive from this is another matter entirely and nothing to do with social media and the music industry.

Repeatedly the panel kept talking about the web as a channel but not about social media as a platform. But it was worse than that. The web channel they spoke of looked entirely like a broadcast option only delivered via their specific platforms or partnerships. Convenient.

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An audience member pointed out that the three revenue streams of artists (synchronisation as in licensing from film and advertising, touring and merchandising sales) have changed only marginally and that the album, except for the top 10% of artists, has always been a loss leader. He asked Dan Rosen of ARIA where they fit in the new model of rental versus ownership (audio below). The response was that ARIA will support any legal way of purchasing music where rights/money flow back to the artist.

This led to the question of whether ARIA are exploring a streaming music chart? Sweden has one and apparently artists generate more revenue from streaming music services than they do from iTunes. OK this is interesting stuff but its platform, not social media. I also was left with no impression that ARIA are actively lobbying and negotiating with the likes of Spotify, soon to enter the Australian market. They most probably are, it just sounded so reactive on the night.

Ironically it was Ben Shepherd from Sound Alliance who was skeptical of whether Spotify will provide artists with the royalty cheques they deserve. We had learnt earlier on the night that radio only pays 1% royalties for the music they pay. This is clearly a disgrace, particularly when you consider the size of businesses like Austereo. He projected the Spotify IPO could raise a billion dollars the  Australian advertising revenues of Spotify in the millions* but he lamented that they would likely pay only minimal royalties. Why did I preface this as ironic? Because Sound Alliance themselves don’t necessarily pay their music writers for their content.

Sam Buckingham finished the night with a point that was at least on topic. Social media is about making fans and keeping them. And of course so much more.

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Full disclaimer: Some of those said hecklers are my friends and are themselves either music fans or music industry boffins.

Thanks to Jo Sabin for subbing this post.

* Thanks to Ben Shepherd who clarified what he said in regards to the potential Spotify IPO, correcting me in his comment below.


Sign up to the Company Customer Pact by Get Satisfaction

Having worked for a company behind open source software, I know how important community conduct is, on forums and other channels. In fact it was something that Geoff, as FarCry product evangelist had to (and I’m sure still does) moderate closely. This interaction between products and users is vital in fostering closer relationships between companies and customers, feature improvements and product innovation.

So it is great to see Get Satisfaction create a campaign around this. Get Satisfaction is a service that allows customers to send feedback, bugs and feature requests to companies. They have created a campaign called the Company Customer Pact. An accord, or code of conduct if you will. As interactions between companies and customers get closer through social media it will become more and more important that people are on the same page. Check it out, and get on board.





Events The internet the world

Sydney Institute: Political Abuse and the Web 15 March 2011

Tom Switzer addresses the audience at the Sydney Institute

While I found myself agreeing in small parts to the speakers at last week’s Sydney Institute, I could not agree with the pessimistic views on politics on the web. The Sydney Institute is a forum for discussion on politics and current affairs. Despite it’s decidedly conservative leanings efforts are usually made to present a somewhat balanced debate when a panel format is employed. Except in the case of last week’s selection of speakers.

, a freelance editor and writer mourned her loss of editorial clout because now anyone can publish. from The Spectator was rallying against the vitriolic comments on the blogosphere. Bernard Keane from Crikey was left to defend “the internet” which he did by unnerving the older audience with an argument that seemed to award credit for democracy but debits for insularity and fragmentation of debate once held by mainstream media.

All of the arguments made on the night have been made elsewhere with far more nuance. I have pointed to George Megalogenis’ assessment of the effects of the internet on politics by quoting relevant parts of his last Quarterly essay previously on this blog. In short the internet is quickening the news cycle, resulting in declining standards from an overworked journalistic corps. I have also pointed to discussion and essays on blogger’s snark, a topic of much discussion on the night. While one cannot argue that the internet is an idealist think space of well thought out arguments it is distorting to only point to those parts that are particularly nasty.

The discussion, or lack thereof was particularly unfocused with no one willing to define the terms clearly. There was no distinction in Tom Switzer’s assessment between amateur bloggers, blog commenters, writers and Wikileaks. The only thing they have in common is that they are distributed on the internet, and that was enough to attract Switzer’s ire. The definition of politics spanned the broad spectrum of the Marieke Hardy profile of Christopher Pyne on ABC’s The Drum to Wikileaks disclosing of Afghan nationals in leaked reports. One is commentary/satire, the other political activism (or journalism?). It was clear Tom Switzer disapproved of both with no debate from the other speakers about the merit of either.

Switzer conceded that blogger’s are changing the news landscape by creating greater scrutiny and accountability and even breaking news themselves. But his closing note was that “the voices of the sensationalists are louder than ever”. While I sat there, I couldn’t agree more.

Shelley Gare’s criticism of political debate online was confused in her own reflections on writing (one needs time away from the PC to process thoughts), and the diminishing role of the editor in the current media environment.  In her experience and opinion comments dwarfed articles, achieving nothing and contributing less. She decried the entire Q&A twitter stream, particular the contributions of well known journo @laurieoakes and @lesliecannold (Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher) and described the content and Twitter integration on Q&A as “facile and frivolous”. She wondered why anyone, let alone people of any repute would display such “random narcissism”.

Gare cited the site Larvatus Prodeo (and its comment policy) as a sole example of civility online amongst the “hate speak”. I think it was remiss that no one pointed to vibrant online communities that self moderate debate in the comments section as can be found on New Matilda. New Matilda was recently saved by crowd sourced funding. I was one such donator, and no doubt everyone involved in the effort values the publication’s independence, humour and provocative nature. If only the NM publisher’s were invited on the panel.

Lastly was Bernard Keane from Crikey describing that no one in the “ghettos of agreement” and “echo chambers” online, need come across divergent opinion. Interestingly he said that he has found his articles cut and paste onto football forums for debate. Surely this can only be a good thing as engagement with issues increases. Keane did speak well to the increased accountability that governments will face from audiences more informed of specialist issues.

I think that the more thoughtful political discussions will be had on specialist sites that attract loyal communities. The Q&A twitter stream is a mixed bag of thoughtful comments and heckling. Mainstream news sites struggle to balance focussed comment discussion with engagement when hate speech is only a field submission away. Any mainstream  site suffers quality  in the comments section. One need look no further afield than YouTube.

On the night I saw it fit to comment on the work of Open Australia—an initiative that opens political debate and awareness at a local and national level. Hopefully I did my bit to promote web virtue in a room of web cynics.

The internet the world

Publishing in the age of the internet

I always have an eye out for articles that comment on the effects of the internet age on the world. I was pointed to this thoughtful video of Canadian author Margaret Atwood speaking at an O’Reilly conference on the future of books in the e-age. She gives a historical perspective on the publishing industry as well as some interesting examples of self publishing.

Atwood asks:

  • are books dying?
  • if all books go on the internet will all books be free?

But she really makes the point that the author as a “primary resource” must be sustained. Which is worrying, because apparently authors make less out of e-book sales than they do out of paper books. Atwood then highlights the United Artists response to the film industry (an artist collective) as a potential response for willing self-organising authors against a publishing industry that is seemingly doing less and less to support those it represents, while requiring more of them.

Watch the whole video if you are into the topic, otherwise my highlights are:

  • at 13 minutes great anecdotes on self publishing by Margaret Atwood
  • at 18 minutes a case study on making a book free (phone app, MP3s, free download) as a means to finally get noticed by publisher and have a paperback produced as a result
  • at 27:22 audience question on whether self publishing will result in a lower quality of literary output
The internet the world

Two takes on the internet and politics

The use of Facebook, Twitter  and Youtube in the uprising of ordinary citizens in Egypt is a fascinating example of the role the internet is playing to rally sentiment and organise individuals into a powerful force for political change. But examples of the internet inhibiting change are evident within the context of the Australian media landscape and political reform agenda, argues George Megalogenis.

First, to Egypt:

Within five days of his death, an anonymous human rights activist created a Facebook page — We Are All Khaled Said— that posted cellphone photos from the morgue of his battered and bloodied face, the video of the corrupt police officers and other YouTube videos contrasting his corpse with pictures of his bright and smiling face from happier days. By mid-June, 130,000 people joined the page to get and share updates about the case.

It became and remains the biggest dissident Facebook page in Egypt, even as protests continue to sweep the country, with more than 473,000 users, and it has helped spread the word about the demonstrations in Egypt, which were ignited after a revolt in neighboring Tunisia toppled the government there.
Jennifer Preston, “Anger and a Facebook Page That Gave It Voice”, New York Times

Of course, Egypt’s is not the first example of the internet facilitating political change. Clay Shirky, in a 2009 TED address described the impact of the social internet in comparison to traditional media.

“The internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation  at the same time … as all media gets digitized the internet becomes the mode of carriage for all other media … media is increasingly less just a source of information and increasingly more a site for coordination because groups that see or hear or watch or listen can now gather around and talk to each other as well”

I encourage you to watch the whole TED video.  Recent events in Egypt, past events in China and elsewhere certainly exemplify the power of the internet in politics. The impact isn’t only to be found in countries where dissenting voices and media are usually supressed. The Obama campaign was the poster child of social media advocacy. But what of the Australian political landscape?

In Issue 40 of the Quarterly Essay George Megalogenis (of the Australian and Meganomics blog fame) makes some interesting observations on the effect of the internet on the rhythms of traditional media publishing and consumption. The essay itself is about the end of the Australian political reform agenda but Megalogenis also has a critical discussion on the role the internet has played in quickening the news cycle and shortening our attention spans. He attributes the decline in standards of traditional media to “the information revolution” and while he acknowledges that the internet has improved journalism he presents the current situation as one where considered policy debate that contributes to political reform is not being had because the previously drawn out news cycle has now been compressed.  It is a nuanced argument but in short the following points are made:

  • Technology has lowered the barrier to entry of lobby groups and other opposing voices. What can seem like a mass movement, may not translate into real votes.
  • The internet (where short form opinionated writing prevails) has made print news more aggressive and encouraged TV news to continously broadcast in order to compete with the internet’s speed and currency.
  • The decline of traditional news revenues has meant staff cuts to the number of journalists while more is expected to be produced by those that remain. Many make up the content shortfall with commentary at the expense of investigative news.
  • Political leaders, with the omnipresence of the medium, must now be everywhere at once. This lessens the occasion when they do speak, and any announcement they may make towards long term reform gets lost in their own noise.

In short, Megalogenis argues that complex writing and complex debate cannot be had when the electorate, the politicians and the media all have A-D-D.

“The past decade has diminished the influence of both leader and reporter. No one media group is dominant because the market is fragmented, but the media as an insitution is more powerful than it should be because the never-ending news cycle has imposed a level of distraction on government that hobbles its ability to raise issues with the electorate. There is no tolerance for a long argument anymore because the public has been taught that every new day carries the promise of a blizzard of unique content”
— George Megalogenis, “Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the end of the reform era”, Quarterly essay, 2010

The internet no doubt enables individuals to rally collectively into a powerful force, or as Clay Shirky puts it, allow groups to converse. What happens when groups are having different conversations is a little less clear.

The internet the world

How will publishing respond to e-books?

Stephen Page is the head of publishing house Faber and Faber. He was interviewed by Monica Attard on Radio National for Sunday Profile last week. This post summarises the interview.

The central question was how will publishing respond to e-books? Will it like newspapers loose market share? Will it struggle to find its feet in a new digital distribution mechanism like music? Page thinks that publishing, will learn from the experiences of the movie and music industries. He did not see e-books threatening publishing in the same way that the internet has threatened newspapers. Newspapers are a medium that deliver information quickly, which is something that the internet as a medium does better. But the physical book, Page argues, has an inherent advantage. A book has an aesthetic quality that cannot be compared to the experience of an e-book. People “furnish their house with them”, but people cannot fetishise an e-book. People do fetishise Apple products though. Page referred to the iPad as “a machine trying to do many things” but not a device suitable for the experience of reading a long narrative. The Kindle however, with its e-ink technology solves the problem of eye strain caused by luminous screens. Its devices like the Kindle that are more likely to grow the small channel of the e-book and offer another route to readers.

And what of the cost; presumably e-books should be much cheaper? At this point have a think about what you would be prepared to pay for an e-book version of a $15 paperback. What is the cost of a book? It is so much easier to think about the cost of a tangible product. Perhaps because we can touch it we assume the cost is in the printing, the production of the object, the transportation, the distribution to retailers. Page pointed out though that the costs of printing are a minor component in the costs of a book. A publisher has to make the investment in copyright which has its value and worth for the author. A publisher’s expertise (and costs) are in finding writers, in editors, in marketing and publicising works. At this point, Monica Attard noted that the e-book is more likely to threaten the independent book seller than the publishers themselves. It was interesting to hear Page speak of price point management; the market cycle of a book from hard cover launch to wider paper back release. While piracy is an obvious threat, a threat is also posed if retailers (Apple, Amazon) engage in a price war, so we can safely assume that publishers will place conditions on retailers and monitor pricing activity.

While the experience of a book may be hard to compete with, the digital channel can offer an amplified experience: rich content, author interviews and access to similar works. Page describes a business model where readers can be lead from one book to another; where readers can not only read but listen and download other content. Print on demand is also on the cards, and Page described a scenario of giving someone the ability to select their own anthology of poems and have that created into a book as a gift. This presents a vision of a publisher more akin to Apple’s iTunes music store.

Its great to hear a traditional business, embracing the advantages of a digital medium. I just wish Monica Attard had asked one more question of Stephen Page, and that is his thoughts on Google’s Internet Archive.

Related Links:

Google Lets You Custom-Print Millions of Public Domain Books
The Fight over the Google of All Libraries: A FAQ