Posts Tagged ‘Free’

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Murdoch: get off my land!

November 10, 2009
Rupert Murdoch

Picture courtesy of Michael Albov http://www.flickr.com/people/44653897@N00

So that’s how it’s going to be, then.  Rupert Murdoch today hinted that his decision to charge for online content will be enabled by building walls and closing access by legal action.  Not very new media.

The decision to charge for content on News Corporation’s media sites around the world (which include The Times and The Sun in the UK, Wall Street Journal via Dow Jones and The Australian) seemed like the first step in a sensible direction for online media.

Coming just a week after he admitted his online payment plans are behind schedule, Murdoch’s interview on Sky News Australia reveals he is prepared to take a very heavy-handed approach to ensuring he creates a watertight system for monetising his online media assets.

Is this worth it?  While there is rock-solid logic to the argument for charging for media content when there is a cost associated with its creation and distribution, it’s not clear that issuing threats to sue the BBC will genuinely help the media industry move towards a sensible settlement with its customers.

What’s holding back online media is a lack of micropayment standards to allow them to make money from their work.  The focus should be on the establishment of a standard that allows users to pay for what they use, without onerous barriers to entry (so a mix of prepay and post-billed options would make sense).

Even if this is merely the opening parry in what could turn out to be a prolonged negotiation through lawyers and the media, its disappointing that News Corporation’s reputation with anyone other than shareholders seems to have passed the old dog by on this occasion.

I’m not suggesting Murdoch should be operating on behalf of anyone other than his own shareholders… but could you imagine Google looking after its own interests in such a blunt and one-dimensional way?

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The Moir-Gately debate: impact of free comment

October 17, 2009

I have just read about 200 articles, blog posts, tweets and comments about Jan Moir’s sickening article in the Daily Mail on Stephen Gately’s death.

For the record, I didn’t feel much at all about Gately’s death – apart from the tragic fact that someone my age died unexpectedly. So I was surprised, last weekend, when it dominated the BBC News all day Sunday.

It was still dominating on Monday, which surprised me further. But I figured it was merely a case of an establishment figure (you know, friends with Louis Walsh and Elton John – establishment) passing away.

Moir’s article doesn’t deserve comment. It’s just stupid, and I’m sure she knows that. Her logic doesn’t follow at all, but it doesn’t matter because she’s written something to provoke a response, which is her job. Fair enough, no matter how much I think the article itself is horrendous.

But what has interested me (and why I got sucked in and spent an hour reading literally hundreds of posts and comments) is the response.

I started off reading Damian Thompson’s post on the Daily Telegraph blog.  It’s a fairly balanced piece, and makes an interesting comment about the freedom of speech among those living in the ‘social media world’.  His contention is that these ‘liberals’ believe offense is fine if you are ‘liberal’, but should be closed down otherwise.  Freedom of speech, in other words, should not be gifted to people like Moir.

This is a stupid thing to say because what Moir said was not wrong because of her particular viewpoint, it was wrong because she used a false argument to establish a falsehood as a fact.  There is a case for penalising that sort of ‘comment’.  Journalists have a responsibility not to go down that road – the freedom of the press in this country rests on that responsibility.  Her editor should have been the one to throw the book at her.

That Moir’s ‘fact’ was hateful and deeply prejudiced only makes the matter worth doing something about.  Hence the hundreds of complaints.  I would hope that only a small number of these complainants are actually saying ‘nobody has the right to say something I don’t agree with’.

But don’t say ‘gay people are X’ (X could mean sordid, or licentious, or depraved, or evil, or whatever Moir wants it to be) and assert that people who are X (Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney, for example) will die in a bad way.  It is not a logical argument that deserves to be aired and debated.  It is a small-minded error.

So what of Thompson’s point about ‘liberals’ and their attitude to free speech?  The reason I’ve added inverted commas to the word ‘liberal’ is because I want to make a point about Thompson’s use.  I understand the distinction between his use of the word, and it’s real meaning, which is to say something along the lines of ‘broad-minded’.  But it’s a bastardisation, and something popularised by right-wing commentators in America, such as Rush Limbaugh.

The irony is that the comments after Thompson’s post – and hundreds of other comments, posts and tweets I’ve read – are full of precisely the same illiberal (that’s how the word should be used) view that Thompson is rightly criticising.  There are always going to be some people who argue against free speech – it’s nothing to do with being ‘liberal’ or not.

But this brings me circuitously to my main point.  What really interested me was the extremity of many of the views I have read, whether extremely against Moir’s article, or extremely in defence of it.  These extreme views would not have had an airing at any point in our history, but today social media gives them oxygen.

There are religious fanatics and small-minded anti-gays, deeply ‘progressive’ blockheads and anti-capitalists, all happily (or more likely, angrily) making their case on the issue of the day.  And the issue isn’t about poor Stephen Gately at all, it’s about socially important issues – what we are entitled to say in public, how we should live our lives, how concerned we are about the direction of travel of our society.

It is the fact that these views are being expressed for free that makes them poignant.  If your livelihood doesn’t rest on what you say, you can say what you really think.  It makes for a noisy debate, and one that contains some outrageous views.  But it is impossible to argue that – if you read hundreds of those views – it is not balanced.  It just takes a while to find the centre ground.

And so I can say, I have found the centre ground, and here it is: the great British public are sad to see Stephen Gately die, they prefer to judge people based on their character rather than their lifestyle, and they think Jan Moir got this one very, very wrong.

Good for the British people.

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Spotify or Soundcloud: future of music payment

July 16, 2009

Tonight, I was at a great event organised by Chinwag called “Music – who Pays the Piper?”, that examined future revenue generation in the music industry.  It was refreshing that the panel members were unanimous on one thing – music can’t be free.  Or, in other words, artists should be paid for creating something valuable.

But what was most inspiring was the range of ideas put forward about how music creation might be rewarded.  This is a very rough summary of some of the ideas put forward by the panel – Dave Haynes, UK Manager at Soundcloud; Dom Hodge, Associate Director at Frukt Music; Helienne Lidvall, journalist and blogger at The Guardian and a songwriter; Jon Mitchell, Sales Director at Spotify and Richard Jacobs, Head of Radio at MediaCom.

Dave Haynes: the age of the CD is over.  A premium will be put on originality – remixes and music created collaboratively will become more valuable – in fact, music can already be developed entirely in the cloud, enabling collaborative creation of the music itself.  This collaborative creation is where value can be added to the music – what happens then is not important – ad-funding, fan-payments or brand sponsorship – Dave does not really care!

Dom Hodge: one of the most important recent changes to the music industry has been the new emphasis on access, rather than ownership (e.g. the streaming model used by Spotify).  A solution to the stifling of innovation in the music industry would be for the major labels to acquire equity stakes in successful start-ups, rather than to shut them down – an intriguing idea. Fans will pay for music.

Helienne (pronounced as Korean): the obvious revenue generator is touring – but not everyone can make money this way.  The industry rule of thumb is that the break-even point is when you can fill the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (capacity 2,000). Other ways of making money don’t necessarily work: Helienne has received millions of plays on YouTube but been paid only about £30 royalties.  From online sales, record labels make about ten times as much as song-writers.  She argued against flat-rate fees for music.  Brand advertisers will end up funding music.

Jon: Spotify has reached 2m users within five months, but it is still a long way from making money.  The entire room was asked “who has not used Spotify?” – nobody put their hand up to that.  But when asked who pays for Spotify Premium, only one person in the room raised their hand – me.  Jon said artists must be compensated, and alluded to innovations and growth in the ad-funded Spotify service.  He also mentioned that – in the very long term – individuals should have access to Spotify too.  Ads will eventually pay for music.

Richard: brand relationships in the music industry are becoming more important and this is going to continue.  Media buyers such as MediaCom are hearing from countless new music streaming sites every week attempting to pick up ad revenue – but the vast majority are not worth looking at.  Fragmentation is nobody’s friend, and Richard advocated a collaborative approach to media selling among streaming services.  He emphasised that the biggest consideration is the connection between brands and the music site – and in that sense, media buyers are increasingly becoming the financial gatekeepers of the music industry – if the song doesn’t fit the brand perfectly, then it is Richard’s job to pull out of the deal.  He felt an ad- and sponsorship-funded music industry was inevitable.

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Gladwell vs. Anderson – my kind of fight

July 1, 2009

I like Malcolm Gladwell, but never more than this week, after reading his critique of Chris Anderson’s new book Free: the future of a radical price.  These two journalistic heavyweights have had a public debate that I will try and sum up in two lines:

Anderson: there is one iron law of the information economy – in the end, all information will be free

Gladwell: if there is a law of the internet age, it is that there are no iron laws – and the notion that everything can be free is wrong

In a book review in The New Yorker, Gladwell eloquently and satisfyingly pulls apart Anderson’s arguments.  So far, Anderson seems unable to fight back.  His response, posted this week at wired.com, is weak.

Reading Gladwell’s article and Anderson’s response is worth doing, if only to see how one-sided this argument is.  But I wanted to draw out a slightly different conclusion from Anderson’s argument – and one that perhaps hints at the solution to the problems caused by the free web.

I can’t read Free, as I am not a book reviewer [and it’s not published until next week].  However, back in 2007, Anderson wrote a precursor to his book – an article in The World in 2008 (published by The Economist), entitled “Freeconomics: there really is such a thing as a free lunch” [subscription required].

I was pretty inspired, as I liked Anderson’s general theorising in his 2006 book The Long Tail and figured, here’s a guy not afraid to look at things in a new way.  But the difficulty was, as I read, it became clear his article was full of non-sequiturs.  Here’s one:

“The cost of storing or transmitting a kilobyte of data really is now too cheap to meter” therefore the transmission of data is/will be free

Contrary to Anderson’s conclusion, it struck me that the anomaly here is not the falling cost of data transmission, but our present inability to measure tiny quantities of value, or cash.  You could call it the problem of quantum finance.  To follow a quantum physics parallel, the idea is that every cash payment really consists of tiny financial quanta.  That is not so weird, as that is how money works – we call them cents, or pence – but the problem is that we need smaller units.  We need financial quanta.

Today, we only have the means to measure financial quanta when they stack up into great amounts (like dollars or pounds).  But if we can develop a system for measuring financial quanta practically, that is when the economy of information will begin to function properly.