The visuals and mood of this are just great. Enjoy:
The Verge has an exclusive copy of a contract between Sony Music and Spotify. If true, this is the first time we have seen any details about one of the most critical components of the digital economy. While speculation has run rampant about the nature and terms of service, no one can actually verify any rumors without hard data. I have only had time to scroll through this, and have not seen any commentary from Rosenblatt, Lowery, or any of the usual suspects, so it is hard to do more than link out to the article. For the record, Lowery has a long history of hyperbole and silence on anything that doesn't fit his narrative, and given that this does not entirely fit his narrative, I would not be surprised if he doesn't comment on it. Rosenblatt is a sober minded and fair thinker, so I will update a link to his comments if he makes them.
The only comment I will make so far is to disregard much of the interpretation in the Verge article, as it is rife with the usual poor macroeconomics and contract comprehension. In particular, the following comments:
"Given the myriad ways Sony Music came out as the winner, it’s worth asking who really should shoulder the blame for the lackluster streaming payments that artists like Swift have been complaining about — the labels or the streaming service?"
The Verge, like just about every other voice in the tech world, has a knee jerk defense of anything tech, hence the author's instinct to blame Sony, rather than realize the terms of the contract for what it was: a start-up with no clout trying to negotiate with an established giant in the field. Of course, the terms of the contract are going to favor Sony - Netflix had to so the same thing, which is why Netflix (and Spotify following the Netflix model) have worked so hard to develop alternatives to the big studios (labels). The fact that labels take advantage of artists is hardly breaking news, and does nothing to mitigate Spotify and the streaming services. To date, there is little evidence that Spotify and any other streaming has any long term, tangible solutions to the troubles facing artists.
Which means that there is still a lot of space for libraries to step in with a better, more sustainable alternative.
The answer is always: it depends. It depends on how libraries adapt and grow, and how overblown much of the discussion about libraries being outdated or outmoded is. I get tired of hearing about this kind of stuff. What I like to see are tangible ideas. This Steve Denning article from Forbes really hit me hard- primarily because it reflects my own thinking about the profession, so read it with a grain of salt, as it does an excellent job of summarizing my own thoughts about the subject.
Particularly, the comment about how our management structure is opposed to contemporary structures for agile organizations, and how simply computerizing services is not enough. I also smiled at his comments about apps, as I have been so frustrated with the waste of money to build "library apps". (I will have much more to say about this-hopefully- in the next 12 months, as I am looking at building a completely different kind of app).
On an even larger level, I loved his solution about meeting needs that users haven't even thought of? This is exactly why we built and developed the 970West collection and brand. I think it is pointless to compete with Google, Amazon, et al. Instead I have been doing exactly what Denning suggest: looking for unmet needs in the Information Ecosystem. By building a collection of nontraditional, local resources with broad appeal and interest we are (hopefully) developing and meeting a new need our users can't find elsewhere. As you thumb through the collection, please keep in mind that this is only the first iteration. As we move forward we intend to add far more value to the information you experience.
1. Educational and nonprofit downloadable option: anyone with a Mesa County library card will be able to click a EULA and download the images for their educational and/or nonprofit needs. This option will come in 2016.
2. Enriched multimedia: the local flies from local fisherman are unique enough, but we will be developing short videos or other multimedia explaining the conditions for use and development of each particular fly. This creates immediate value for fishermen all over the world.
3. All of the content developed by the library is available to our patrons for their own use and remixing. So a high schooler or college student doing a project on WWII can have access to our back catalog of materials and re-edit that to fit their needs.
We are holding about 500 images in reserve and will be releasing more content each month to keep patrons coming back to the site to see what's new. The collection will also grow to include far more materials and information that cannot be found elsewhere, but still has significant interest and value not just to our community but to people interested in similar subjects.
I have been arguing for some time that ebooks are completing the process of commodification that pulp fiction began almost a hundred years ago. This article from Joanna Cabot, while completely anecdotal, perfectly illustrates the human behavior driving this acceptance and transition.
For me this has always been a counterintuitive conclusion as my own consumption interests are highly specialized and set, which is exactly the opposite of what Joanna (and by extrapolation, most consumers) are experiencing. I have seen some good peer-reviewed studies confirming this behavior and have lots of personal experience talking to friends and watching my wife consume media. In almost every instance consumer behavior is exactly the opposite of my own fixed and specialized interest. When Warner Brothers backed out of Netflix consumers simply shifted to other shows, movies, etc. This is exactly what Joanna means when she states she "cares less about consuming media that isn't there." What surprises me is that this is holding true even for books, which typically require a bit more time from the consumer to "taste". By this I mean that you can watch 5 minutes of a 30-90 minute show and judge your interest in it a lot more accurately than reading 5 minutes of a 300 page book. But Joanna indicates that this is exactly what is happening for her.
On this regard public and academic libraries have radically different patrons. Academic libraries have patrons with very specific needs and interests. On the surface public libraries may seem similar, but if what Joanna describes is true this means that breaking out of (or enhancing) the bestseller model that currently dominates public libraries may not be as difficult as I had imagined.
In many ways I think it failed at Douglas County Public Libraries where we put a lot of nonbestseller ebooks into the collection and saw very low circulation. As Kindle Unlimited is demonstrating, this is primarily a problem of marketing and delivery. Libraries have siloed, click-intensive interfaces that make it incredibly difficult for users to get to the nonbestseller in the first place. If we remove those barriers and bring the content to our users in a more intuitive, user friendly interface it is possible that we can get them listening, viewing and reading local and regional material. We just have to leave our current architecture and delivery model.
Update: Some hard data was just published that confirms this effect. Since the Big 5 Publishers won their battle with Amazon to set their own prices (I doubt if anyone is surprised that those prices are higher than they were when Amazon set prices), sales for Big 5 ebooks have fallen. And indie/self published sales are going up. It is a really long report but worth a full read. Here is one of the best graphs (the trend is glaring):
While librarians are familiar with Calvin Mooer's law about information seeking behavior, the bigger and more significant Moore's Law turned 50 recently and the tech world celebrated in a number of ways. An intro:
What is fascinating is how tech leaders and thinkers recognize information as the fundamental currency of this technical revolution. The tech is simply a tool, but the information sharing it creates (think printing press) will revolutionize human societies in ways we still cannot predict. This article is a bit cumbersome, but worth a full read as Moore thinks we are nearing atomic scale and speed of light limits for transistors, which means we may finally see a slow down in computational growth. Davidow and Mead's comments (in the article) would fit in nicely at a library conference.
Techies and open content folks have long argued for a new business model. high profile giveaways and the like generate lots of interest and some work, but are they sustainable?
I was one of those arguing for a new model that leaves the old "pay for content" behind, but in the past few years I have been taking a closer look at the data and tried to consciously ignore all the static and starry eyed discussion. What I have seen is not encouraging. Stories like this one about the highly successful "Humble ebook Bundle" make a big splash and seem to suggest that the new model is working, but they are devoid of real analysis. They are also methodologically unsound, as there is not real attempt to extrapolate and compare the success stories to the general industry. More recent stories about writer's struggles with Amazon, famous photographers "quitting" could be utilized to make the exact opposite argument.
What is truly interesting is that while many artists are still making large amounts of money, evidence from the music industry suggests that the monies are concentrated in the hands of those at the top. The rich getting richer, the middle class evaporating, and the poor expanding.
From "The Shazam Effect" (link above):
The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. The advent of do-it-yourself artists in the digital age may have grown music’s long tail, but its fat head keeps getting fatter.
My discussions and research into fine arts and photography suggest that a similar situation may be evolving. Writing is a wild card; because of the low cost entry point in terms of technical skill and personal time, more people are able to write and sell, resulting in more "self published success". While I have not been able to find any solid numbers, I am guessing that the self published authors who are successful are not greater as a percentage of the total number of people writing. I have not done the research for the movie industry yet, which has the exact opposite problem of writing. Box office movies are extremely expensive, so much so, that the cost may be offsetting the record profits we see. This question is significant enough to me, that I have actually assigned this research problem to my Information Ecology students this semester in Mass Communications.
At Mesa County Libraries we are consciously addressing this challenge and attempting to develop alternative business models that should monetize artists works up front and scale across the state. For example, we have recently purchased about 250 images of local wildlife and geographic points of interest. We only pay $5/image and each photographer has agreed to allow us to configure the images for legal download for educational and nonprofit use only. Students and nonprofit institutions can actually find and access vetted professional quality images legally through us (or will when we get the tech sorted out). It seems like a rip off to these photographers at first blush, but when you consider that 500px and Flickr pay nothing up the deal gets better. It gets even better if many libraries across the state buy the same images for their patrons. Even though we are the lead library in a 30 library consortium all using the same interface, the legal arrangement between us and the photographer allows only paying libraries to turn the content on. The photographers agreed to a sliding scale where smaller libraries pay less and larger libraries pay more. There are about 120 libraries across the state many of which would and should find the content valuable, meaning that every photographer who sells us 100 images stands to reasonable make up to 50k over the course of the next few years- far more money than any of them are making currently.
I am currently writing a Comprehensive Plan for our district that I will post here once finished that goes into greater detail about this plan.
It's early January which means that every tech site is saturated in CES news, but what I find most noteworthy is that lack of noteworthiness at CES. It is almost like the Apple conference last fall where Apple announced that they were- wait for it- copying Samsung and everyone else with bigger phones and a smartwatch!
If you follow copyright you may have noticed some more interesting news on the lawsuit against Georgia State University by three large publishers and the Copyright Clearing Center. While the plaintiffs won a reversal of a lower court decision, they lost their larger goal of severely restricting Fair Use and affecting a monumental change in Fair Use law. Kevin Smith has a good summary here. While it is no surprise that publishers want greater restrictions than ever, it is also difficult not to at least recognize some of their fears as recent news about the falling profits for indie authors in subscription services like Amazon's merit such fears.
Authors and publishers are trying to avoid the now monotonous and entirely predictable articles like this one from Nashville. The music economy seems to be mirroring the broader US economy as its middle class is evaporating. The fundamental problem for all artists in any medium is compensation for work rendered. Now most artists I know do not expect state subsidies or a free handout, but they would hope that we the general public, or more specifically, the library community, would recognize the struggles of monetizing artistic creations and the residual benefits that come from a thriving arts ecosystem. I say "ecosystem" rather than economy, because my goal is to consider the social and educational components of the arts as much as the economic. I want to have a broader understanding and build a better ecosytem. The problem that I have not been able to solve is fairly simple: How do you define an healthy information ecosystem? Our frame of reference, the 20th century is really an outlier, rather than the norm. Prior to the 20th century there was not much of an entertainment industry. A few authors, painters, and poets, made a living off their art, but it was not until the 20th century that the industry/economy became the juggernaut it is.
So it is hard for me to quantify and even identify the variables in the equation. I can assume that most of us would like to keep the vibrancy and accessibility to art, books, music, and movies the 20th century created. One significant component of defining a healthy ecosystem revolves around the issue of compensation for art and the capacity of that ecosystem to create self sustaining artists. Many in the tech world point to the Susan Boyle's and PSYs of the world as evidence that the system is working fine and will fix itself. But others, typically within the arts community point to articles like the one above from Nashville as evidence that the greater ecosystem is suffering. I personally don't have an answer, but I can say that my work as a librarian is to solve this ecological problem so that I can continue connecting patrons to artists. Think about these issues as you enjoy the fascinating remix album artwork below that imagines classic heavy metal albums as jazz artwork.
You may have seen the "shocking" report out of the UK that indicates a drastic loss in author revenue over the past 8 years. Unfortunately, the actual research is not available, and all that has been released is a brief, 12 page summary. The Digital Reader has a good criticism of the report here, so I won't go into too many details about how unhelpful the report is.
What I will say is that while the report may be junk research, the overall claim is not surprising. As I have continually argued, digitization tends towards commodification, and commodities are not valued as highly. The music industry was savaged in the first 10 years of digitization, and while bestselling authors and headlining music acts are doing well, others in those industries are struggling to stay alive. The New York Times has dropped in value (stock value have crept close to "penny stock" level), magazines and journals are closing, and writers of very type are struggling to find a market.
For libraries, this means that we are dealing with a skittish market of content providers. Beset on all sides, writers are looking for friends and allies. Unfortunately, libraries have often taken these content creators for granted, but now is a good time to begin working on new relations and alliances. it is encouraging to know that many authors see us as an ally already, but we should be actively looking for new opportunities like direct purchasing from author's as ways of helping them adapt and position ourselves for long-term survival.
In addition to the veterans histories below, we have been working on a project to catalog local images taken by regional photographers of geographic points of interest and wildlife. We currently have 4 photographers committed to the program and are working on the workflow and technical infrastructure to host and deliver the content. I have a mock up below:
We have scoped the project fairly easily using existing collection development strategies. I was pleased to hear my collection management manager articulate that this is actually a fairly easy process, in spite of the unique nature of the project. The goal is add new content and manage an evolution in our services away from format specific services to format agnostic services that center on the user's immediate interest. The goal is to gather all relevant information into one search and deliver. Images are powerful emotional hooks, and we anticipate seeing a higher use of our traditional content as our patrons see engaging images like this and decide to check out the book on local Colorado wildlife as well.
For librarians it is also critical to understand how important the economic model is for the photographers and artist we are working with. I am paying for quality images like the ones above rather than asking for free ones, because I want to deliver quality, and in order to get that you have to pay. I am also hoping that this evolves into a new economy that is fairer and more considerate of the work involved in creating quality images. We are paying next to nothing for the images, but the photographer will gain more from us as more libraries in our consortium also pay. This is remarkably different than current markets where artists put their material out on their website or 500px and wait. Instead they get a little income and an active environment that connects them to local interests. The above mock-up hyperlinks out to their website and is already evolving a bit more to highlight the photographer. Here is a link to another artist we are working with.
We are also working with the professors from our local university to develop a sort of peer review mechanism where subject matter experts will preview batches of records for accuracy prior to loading them into our catalog.