Well, some things can be a bit underwhelming once you get down to it. Oculus Rift is the name of an interactive virtual reality that has been making a lot of waves lately. Generally speaking it is impressive, but the practical application has always seemed murky to me. I don't know how they intend to deploy it across enough users who will find it compelling to make it pay for itself. The experience is incredible based on user experiences:
So obviously this would be very interesting, and the educational potential is astounding, but so far most of the game development seems to be fluff. Or a cool, but somewhat pointless movie like this one. This reminds me of sixth sense, which is full of game changing potential but doesn't seem to be ready for prime time yet. Just think how long it took for ereaders to gain a foothold. They had been around for years as had ebooks. What Amazon figured out was that the ecosystem was more important than the software and device- in essense, the user experience is really what determines the success of tech, not the obvious value or application of the tech itself. A good lesson for librarians to think about.
I am not a fan of Cory Doctorow. I find much of his thought contradictory and overly simplistic. With that said I did like this argument against DRM. In particular, I agree with his assessment that DRM has effectively created a "right to make up your own copyright" law. While I think the rest of his argument has the bombastic, incoherence often found in the "copyleft" the core of his argument seems sound to me. (On a side note, the potential alliance between copyLeft and copyRight that has been brewing for a few years is a fun way to waste a few hours).
Copyright was designed as a sort of checks and balances between artists and consumers of art. Maybe that is not the best schema, but it is the one we have had for hundreds of years. Typically, copyright law has landed somewhere in that spectrum, but the unintended consequences of DRM, the DCMA, and subsequent judgments has been to create a hard skew on the spectrum not towards artists, but towards copyright holders: publishers, studios, corporations, and those few artists who choose to keep their copyright.
Much of Doctorow's supporting evidence is not very good evidence, as it is mainly cherry picking and oversimplification, but the core problem he is addressing is very real. The balance of powers between copyright holders and consumers has been disrupted, as the limitations of copyright can be circumvented by copyright holders.
There has been a great deal of debate about whether or not certain aspects of technology are in fact an art. Video games has been one of the most contentious areas of debates. If cinema gets treated as art, then why can't a game? Or so the argument goes. On the other hand critics like Roger Ebert have made some strong arguments that video games can never be art.
It does seen undeniable that certain aspects of technology, even coding has an "art" to it. And it is undeniable that many of the creations of technology are in fact art. The irony to me is that cinema has absorbed so much- and is dependent on- the tech field. The artistic achievements of movies like the Lord of the Rings or Avatar are not possible without technology as a tool. But then we should never confuse the tools with the creation. Brushes and paints in and of themselves are not the art, it is what the inspired human mind does with them that becomes art.
Given this type of framework it seems evident to me that at some point even video games will produce some games we can call "art". Google of course is less ambiguous about it than I am as is the Barbican in London:
Shatzkin has a great data dump up on his site right now exploring the future of bookstores. His strengths are that he does not get caught up in short term signs of growth or failure, but keeps his focus squarely on the big picture and the larger questions that remain unanswered.
The post is also about libraries, as so many of the challenges and solutions bookstores are seeking are familiar to anyone in the library profession. In particular, the shift away from a "book warehouse" to a place to go for ambiance and other retail goods. Shatzkin's observation that a slow down in ebook sales has little value for brick and mortar stores if there is no change in the growing market of online purchasing is a prescient one. I would add that this does not touch on the generational differences as well. For example, while I am a technologist and was one of the first librarians in the world to circulate ereaders, I have gone back to print because I like them better. It is hard to say if younger generations will feel the same, because they are growing up in a different ecosystem where the myriad number of positive influences I had with books growing up create that emotional attachment. Early studies indicate a high adoption rate in younger readers. I just unpacked all my books (Yay!), and it felt wonderful. My 4 year old son also loved seeing the books come out of the boxes, but the rest of the kids in the neighborhood look at them like they are foreign objects.
I highly recommend reading the post in its entirety, as there are so many relevant analogues to our profession. Shatzkin's description of the willful blindness of of bookstore advocates reminds me so much of our own profession's unwillingness to consider negative outcomes. His description of shrinking shelf space reminds me of our own discussion to reduce print collections to open up space for other activities. It is a fascinating read with lots to chew on.
There are some obvious advantages we have over bookstores. First, we have a different funding stream, and our resources are not directly incurred by our patrons. But that is also a disadvantage as any big changes or adaptions can be subject to intense scrutiny. Our lack of profit motive also endears us to our patrons. But regardless, the fate of bookstores and libraries are probably closely related.
Wired published an article early last week making the argument that piracy is not hurting profits. The argument and article represent almost all of the problems currently facing such analysis:
1. It is too shallow
2. It is not economically or financially rigorous
3. It lacks any long-term analysis or understanding
For the record, while this is something I argue ad naseum, I do not think I have the requisite knowledge base and scholarly ability to deal with the above problems either. In fact, very few people do. The tech crowd suffers from severe methodological and analytical issues when considering the issue, while the traditionalists are simply over- emoting and running scared.
The article has the simple facade of being the "voice of reason" against a chorus of irrationality. The simple argument is that the top torrented movie, The Hobbit, was also wildly successful at the box office. Ergo, piracy is not bad. It is a reductionist argument that does not take into account any serious variables or other contextual issues. Rather it is more "lies, damned lies, and statistics". While Hollywood profits may be higher overall, they may be less when adjusted for costs. Production is not getting any cheaper. Peter Jackson's movies are among the most expensive, which was probably part of the reasoning behind the studio's choice to turn the Hobbit into a 3 part epic, as it would allow them to recover more money than otherwise. Regardless, the Hobbit was wildly expensive to produce, so the net profit on the film may not be as high as many would assume.
Neither is there any analysis of the broader state of the industry. Blockbusters may be doing fine, but how much money is the industry making on the margins? More critically, how much is it spending and losing on those margins? Expensive CG films like the Hobbit increase pressure to risk more money on other expensive CG projects and those risks don't always pan out, e.g. John Carter. Indeed, there is evidence that the risk involved has gone up, but so has the reward.
From my perspective, the industry seems to be doing quite well, but then so was the American Bison. They didn't make it out of the 19th century so well, due to similar chaotic and unpredictable variables that were introduced to their ecosystem. The point is that we need careful, sober minded thinking on these subjects, but as far as I can tell academia is struggling to provide it. The London School of Economics paper on the issue was woefully inadequate in my view. I am still digesting it, but it ties into the problem I describe above; it is difficult to find the right combination of tech knowledge, industry savvy, and scholarly ability in any one group of people. Because of this, I am afraid that the 21st Century will have similarly unanticipated negative outcomes as the 19th Century did.
Somewhere in all this chaos, libraries are trying to carve out a place for themselves. Easy enough, right?
Since I have been presenting one side of the copyright argument lately, I thought I would mention this positive example of one band, Iron Maiden turning piracy into profits. It fits almost all of the arguments presented by the open content/file sharing advocates:
1. Revenue can be found in new markets/areas
2. Piracy actually enhances profit
3. Artists need to be creative and adapt in the digital economy
It is a very compelling argument, but has all the same problems I have always struggled with. First, this is an apples to oranges comparison, as Iron Maiden became famous, and more importantly, commercially successful in the old economy. I first noticed this flaw in thinking a few years back when considering the case of Nine Inch Nails. Yes, Reznor was doing amazing things and figuring out ways to make a profit, but my academic training had taught me to look at things as rigorously as possible, and I began recognizing the same trend in all of the examples and "proof" that file sharing is good or at the least neutral: almost all of the examples made their name in the old market before launching into the new one. For example, J.K Rowling knew she would sell lots of ebooks before launching Pottermore- not so the intrepid start-up who lacks the same name recognition. Almost all of the examples make the same analytical mistake and it is a huge one.
The mistake is this. The fundamental problem of being successful on the internet is being discovered by enough fans to make a profit. This is the fundamental problem in any market whether digital or traditional. ALL of the examples given for the "new" market were discovered in the old, which invalidates the argument. Instead, we should be focusing on artists like PSY, Lana Del Ray, or the self published authors on Amazon and Smashwords. The examples do exist, it is just a bit murkier understanding what their success indicates. How do we interpret it and understand it's implications for the market, copyright law, etc?
With the type of rich vs poor mythology at play in our culture it would be easy to see this as just another example of the rich getting richer and the poor getting less. But that kind of a conclusion does not follow the evidence yet. PSY and others can and do make it in the new economy. The problem is that "studies" like the one referenced in the article from the London School of Economics are actually quite poor. We just don't know what will happen and how. The ecosystem is in a state of chaos. We don't know if what evolves at the other end will be "better" than what was. But if a bunch of aging metal heads can make lemonade out of it, at least we can hope.
Don't click here unless you like 80s metal. ;-)
Well, I don't like posting on Spotify again, but they just announced the irrelevance of the library music collection. They are now free to shuffle playlists on mobile. If you havent already done so, cancel your freegal subscriptions. They are utterly worthless.
Yes, there will be some lag between now and when mobile broadband becomes ubiquitous, as lower socioeconomic patrons adopt more slowly, but it will happen- sooner rather than later. The only thing that can slow the death of our music collections is the death of the free online streaming music model, which could happen, but not soon enough to save our music collection.
A variation of the video below is looping on the link above. I love that they communicate the news with a multimedia announcement rather than text:
Spotify launched a new info site designed to communicate to artists. Primarily the site is about Spotify and its attempts to contribute to the music industry. As such it is couched in some fairly insider language and terms, but if you follow my site or any other people who write about the music industry it is very accessible. It is fascination because Spotify's basic argument is that they are attempting to rectify the problem in declining revenues for artists. It is a bit more open and straightforward than Pandora, but still a bit sketchy on the actual numbers. To be perfectly fair to Spotify and Pandora this is not entirely all their fault as different labels and producers have different contracts with their artists. it is a lot like the book industry where a mainstream best selling artist gets a "good" contract at 20% of profits, but a entry level author would be lucky to get 10%.
The most interesting factoid is that Spotify has paid out over a billion dollars in revenue to date, about half of which was paid in 2013. This indicates a rapid growth chart, but the question is whether or not this model will work long term? In many ways I think it reflects the old "radio play" model. Big acts with bigger name recognition get most of that money and the talented artists with less recognition are making pennies. This becomes obvious if you read down towards the bottom of their page explaining the payment structure where Spotify explains their average per stream payout as between ".006 and .0084" cents per stream. That is right, the artist makes almost nothing for a single play- in theory.
Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. There are a lot of variables and historical context usually missing in these arguments. it also depends on your perspective and goal for the Arts in general.
What is good is that Spotify is directly engaging with the core question head on. This is probably due to the fact that many artists are already beginning to replicate the Netflix effect and pull their content out of Spotify. I will write more on this in a later post, but for now have fun browsing:
I have been teaching a course on social media and web 2.0 for library science students, and have designed the class to push students beyond adoption and use to thinking about big picture issues. Specifically, web 2.0 design and philosophy directly contradict our professional ethics regarding patron privacy. Services like Bibliocommons are still far behind Amazon and other industry leaders of content provision and data mining, and libraries continue to move far too slowly on the privacy debate.
I framed the argument from an Information Ecology perspective, because I personally don't have an answer to the question. I am more concerned with the stress on the information ecosystem and many of the negative feedbacks that tech has created. To understand some of this perspective click through the slideshow below:
Then think about this paragraph from a recent MIT Technology Review article:
In case after case, Simitis argued, we stood to lose. Instead of getting more context for decisions, we would get less; instead of seeing the logic driving our bureaucratic systems and making that logic more accurate and less Kafkaesque, we would get more confusion because decision making was becoming automated and no one knew how exactly the algorithms worked. We would perceive a murkier picture of what makes our social institutions work; despite the promise of greater personalization and empowerment, the interactive systems would provide only an illusion of more participation. As a result, “interactive systems … suggest individual activity where in fact no more than stereotyped reactions occur.”
Tech is pushing our boundaries and straining our society more than many of the more messianic thinkers had previously thought. Libraries are not alone in our problems with balancing privacy and user expectations.
For the past few years my thinking has been slowly evolving concerning the emergent business models for artists in the Digital Age. Like many in the tech community, I assumed that tech would have an answer, presumably in the arena of advertising. I believed the argument many had been making about giving away your creations and monetizing it some other way. It was, and is, an attractive argument. After all, Google made it billions from allowing users free access to its search engine and selling ad revenue.
But a growing body of evidence from the music industry, the most mature digital market, suggests that this arrangement has yet to work well. Of course "well" is a subjective term. As well as what we might ask? The twentieth century business model for starters. Selling the actual "art" it self during the twentieth century produced and explosion of wealth, and as a by product, artistic creations. Granted, the twentieth century is an anomaly in the history of the Arts, but it was a good anomaly- lots of art, good, bad, and ugly, was created. Personally I would prefer to see that situation perpetuated in the twenty first century.
Which is what I mean by working "well". The problem is that the most mature digital ecosystem has been hammered by digitization. This article on the music industry puts it into great perspective. They lost half their revenues. Recently, the industry posted a modest profit, but it is too early to say if that is a blip in the downward spiral or not.
This more recent article fits neatly with the growing impression that the music industry is in a "death spiral". I especially like its simple and straightforward approach. The butchered Thom Yorke quote is just gravy.
But why do we care, and why am I writing about this? Because this is the only thing keep Hollywood and the publishing industry from making the migration to digital formats. And that is a situation libraries cannot afford. It also demonstrates the gaping hole in the industry that is waiting to be filled. In my opinion there is ample room in that vacuum for libraries to stake out a critical piece of landscape