Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FINAL: Hip Hop To Say No To "Ho"?

You would have to be living under a rock to think that the sexual appeal of women is not everywhere. It is. It's on TV, it's on the radio, it's in magazines, it's on Conquest ads on billboards around the USC campus.

Women are regularly portrayed badly in all aspects of popular culture, but rap lyrics stand to be one of the major problems, especially pertinent in the last couple of weeks. An article from Time Magazine posted on Proquest points out t
hat we also live in a culture in which racially and sexually edgy material is often--legitimately--considered brilliant comment, even art. Last year's most critically praised comedy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, even won Sacha Baron Cohen a Golden Globe, when he played a Kazakh journalist who calls Alan Keyes a "genuine chocolate face" and asks a gun-shop owner to suggest a good piece for killing a Jew.

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Don Imus said on his radio show. "Man, they got tattoos ... That's some nappy-headed hos there." The "joke" was taken badly by every community, raising memories of beauty bias (against darker skin and kinkier hair) that dates back to slavery. Times have changed, when older generations used to care more about race, and nowadays people are either friends or not, but don't see color as much. But then they care more about things like this, judging from the existence of this x-rated CD from 1974 that must have been acceptable, judging by him still having his job until this year. Back in the day, Imus called a Washington Post writer a "boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jewboy."

"Those impressive young women on the Rutgers basketball team took the first step to parlay the outrage over the racist and sexist attack on them into a movement
against the degradation of women. All women," wrote Brenda Payton in her article, One misogynist down. She recalls a two year period of the mid 1970's when women were not objectified in advertising, "Because businesses were afraid of women's libbers and boycotts of their products, they didn't exploit women in advertising." Oh, how the tables have turned. Now radio stations seem afraid to boycott the degrading rap lyrics because they are afraid of losing listeners because of it.

Then again, not all of them!

Program Director of Power 105 in New York Helen Little told the NY Daily News,
"what we're doing is holding labels and artists accountable for what they say and how they say it. " They want their listeners to know that they have thought about everything they're playing. What a fantastic idea, except for the fact that when radio is already in decline, how smart is it to take a chance on not playing something the masses want? In time we will see if principle pays off over popularity, but I do give Power 105 a pat on the back for being the EMI of radio and being the first to take a stand. Maybe everyone will follow suit, then they will all lose the few listeners they have at the moment.

Or maybe these little events will barely have an impact? In 2004 Spelman College canceled Nelly's appearance because of the song "Tip Drill" with the controversial
credit card scene. It seemed like a big deal at the time, but then in 2007 you can find hundreds of videos on YouTube of women simply shaking their butts to the song, for minutes on end.

Russell Simmons made a public statement "We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words 'bitch' and 'ho' and the racially offensive word 'nigger,'" Simmons said via the statement. "These three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as 'extreme curse words.'"

Simmons and the Hip-hop Summit Action Network also called for the formation of a Coalition on Broadcast Standards that would consist of leading executives from music, radio, and television. It would be a nice addition, but would it catch on?

Snoop Dogg defended himself and his fellow rappers on MTV.com, saying "we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel." Snoop defends the position that because they are not talking about successful collegiate athletes in their songs, that it makes it better. Some hip-hop fans will see it that way, but others won't.

A New Jersey Senator, Shirley Turner, was quoted in a US Federal News Service Release on Proquest, saying "As an African-American parent, grandparent, educator and state Senator, I think we should now send word to those in the rap music industry who continue to degrade women that, "It's over for you too,'" Senator Turner said.

The Rutgers women stood strong at a
press conference defending themselves. "I'm a woman, and I'm someone's child," said Kia Vaughn. "I achieve a lot. And unless they've given this name, a 'ho,' a new definition, then that is not what I am."

With women of all backgrounds and careers taking stands, radio stations beginning to refuse to play certain rap songs, colleges and venues canceling group appearances, the formation of a Hip-hop Summit Action Network with goals to clean up hip-hop culture, and more overall respect and conscientiousness about the degradation of women in pop culture, the future is brighter than ever.

Will it all happen?

I believe that the Imus incident opened a can of worms that will probably blow over and be less of a focus in the future and that rap lyrics will not see much change, but that women will begin to take stands and not be as okay with it as they are right now. And that is what matters.

Perhaps Winston Churchill was right on when he came up with the quote, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

WiFi iPod, Coming Soon We All Hope

It's going to happen. It is. Sooner or later. So get used to the idea, maybe even start loving the idea, maybe start wanting one, because it will be soon.

MP3 players makers are rushing to add new features into their products because of the competition from mobile phones. The analysts predict music-enabled mobiles will outnumber standalone MP3 devices by five to one come 2012.

Universal Scientific Industrial (USI) has been named as a supplier for the WiFi technology, while Foxconn is expected to produce the finished units.

Adding WiFi to an iPod could allow communicating with iTunes without the need for a USB cable to transfer music to the device and perhaps streaming audio and video content. Of course, these rumors are often completely wrong too, but it would make sense for Apple to try to improve upon Zune's wireless support.

Apple should be able to release the product by the third quarter of this year just in time for the holiday season in the United States.

Market analysts believe that Apple would have to improve upon the battery capacity of the iPod if they are indeed going to launch a Wi-Fi version. Zune users are mostly disappointed with the backup provided by their players when used in Wi-Fi enabled mode. Though adding WiFi might just turn the iPod into too similar of a relative of the iPhone...which is a phone at the same time but with less storage space, whereas the WiFi iPod would be more space but no phone. These choices would be nice because they could appeal to different audiences.

Add WiFi, lengthen battery life, and work out all the kinks, and I could see it being a success....for everyone who doesn't already have an iPhone that they love by that time.

Too Easy to Pretend

Who would have thought that anyone could dupe a huge company like YouTube into believing they were the head of ABC threatening to sue over copyrights if they didn't pull videos immediately?

Especially a 15 year old? When you were 15, were you even thinking about stuff like that?

True this did happen in Australia, but I believe it can be a lesson for everyone in the world, especially at a time like this when copyright issues are so pertinent and important.

A 15 year old from Perth tricked YouTube into thinking he was the head of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. YouTube then took down the videos and started sending out notices to people who had uploaded videos, threatening them if they were to do it anymore.

It ended fine, everyone involved agreed that 15 year olds do dumb things, and he apologized, but really. What if a 15 year old from the US decides to start sending out RIAA notices, just for fun? Or if you get a fake letter from American Express wondering why your $10K bill hasn't yet been paid? Or identity theft that cannot be repaired?

Practical jokes are one thing, but things like this that could affect hundreds if not thousands of people?
Let's hope this doesn't become a fad, especially considering the boy hasn't yet been punished at all, and they just seem relieved that ABC doesn't actually want to prosecute.

It seems as though it would be pretty worthwhile
to have a system where you make some attempt to verify the authenticity of a claim of ownership when a takedown is issued.

An Attempt to Combat Payola

A 2 year payola case finally settled between the FCC and Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting Corp...for a cool $12.5 million. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called the settlement, "A breakthrough and a milestone" in the war on payola".

But the result that comes from it, The FCC's longstanding regulations don't actually prohibit the pay-for-play system, they merely require its disclosure at the time of broadcast. Said Adelstein, "These rules are based on the basic principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who is seeking to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about the content."

Wait, what? How will that work? Will DJs introduce each song with the artist, song name, and the sponsor of the song?

The settlement includes voluntary payments by the broadcasters; agreements to establish staff positions charged with overseeing compliance with the settlement; and the establishment of a database that tracks all money and other contributions from labels.

Under a separate agreement, the broadcasters have also volunteered to collectively air 4,200 hours per year of music by local and independent musicians.

So basically, they could get through their commitment with only 90 minutes a day...anyone have the feeling that might be from 4-5am AND still have some sort of payola going on, with competition like that? Actually the segments must take place between 6am and midnight, but I can still see them picking 11:30pm so as to not give up any prime time playing time.

It will be interesting to see what happens considering $12 million combined for the top four companies is basically nothing. Taking 3 bones from a dog named Clear Channel is nothing when they have a whole kitchen full of dog food.

Payola has always been around and it always will be in some form or another. They are planning to regulate compliance but without invading privacy I just can't see that fully working.

Have people stopped downloading music just because there is a possibility of getting in trouble? No. So will payola stop just because Clear Channel got fined $3.5 million? No, probably not.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Google Does It All!

I realize this isn't new but I just discovered it. As if they didn't already control so many aspects of the internet, they have taken an interesting approach to music trends.

In fact, they are using the website
www.google.com/trends/music to do so. Users of Google Talk have the option of connecting their iTunes, Winamp, Windows Media Player, or Yahoo Music Engine.

The way it works is that when you're using Google Talk, usually you have a status message, that shows whether you are available or busy and then also the message you have typed in. If you opt to "share your music status" instead, it will show to other users the artist and song you are listening to at the time, and when you turn your music off it will show your original status message.

When you go to Google's music trends website, you are able to view the top 20 songs for that day, for each of the genres listed in the drop down menu, for 10 different countries at that. These include punk, gospel, soundtrack, hard rock, and everything in between. The results are updated nightly to stay up to date, and you can see whether songs have gone up or down on the list in the past 24 hours. Each of the songs links to a Google search of the song or the artist, respectively

It's kind of amazing that Google is finding success in so many aspects of the internet. What will they think of next?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Music Sales Drop 50% in 12 Years?

Media research operation Enders Analysis has just predicted that global music sales will be $23 billion in 2009. Now, that number doesn't look so bad...until you look back at the $45 billion in sales for 1997. The CD was king then, and the digital download business did not exist.

The report blames the industry's ills on the continuing effects of digital technology, which allows consumers to store large quantities of music on computers, and to cherry-pick tracks, rather than buying albums. Rising broadband penetration has also made legal and illegal music downloading easier.

Industry experts says that CD sales have already declined 20% in the first seven weeks of the year, so the forecast of a steeper drop seem plausible.

I can only imagine what effects these actual numbers will have on the industry. The amount of jobs that will be lost, the number of artists who will have problems getting signed because the company just cannot afford to take risks, as well as artists who will not get their contracts renewed because they cannot afford it.

A good thing this will bring though is perhaps the quality of the music. They will need to deliver the best possible music because that is what they will need if they have any hope of staying alive. Because really, if a lot of the music isn't selling already but some definitely is, they will need to focus on the music that "definitely is".

Will they just come to terms with the fact that singles are the new thing, because our generation loves to pick and choose as they please, forming mix CD after mix CD. And when I say mix CD I mean an iPod playlist.

Come on, music industry! I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Because Everyone Loves to Hear Funny RIAA Stories...

Our dear beloved RIAA loves to subpoena people, and it's funny to laugh at them when they do things like subpoena a 65 year old grandmother.

So how about this week, when during the case of UMG v. Lindor where the case is against the mother, the RIAA has recently demanded to search the desktop computer of her son, who lives 4 miles away from her. He is being brought into the case simply because he has been defending his mother in court.

Wouldn't it be weird if that was the way the law worked? If you simply had to say, "I don't think that she did anything wrong," and they could seize YOUR computer, without any evidence or anything besides the fact that they assume since you're defending it you must be doing it also.

If the police called everyone a murderer and then went into houses to search for knives, the whole world would be up in arms. So what makes the RIAA think that it would be okay for them to call him an infringer.

In addition, the RIAA went so far as to call the son's employer about it. Hmmm, maybe I could see justification if it was the accused mother whose employer was getting a phone call, but the son? What will that accomplish, asking if he is a bad employee? Asking if he ever talks about all of the music he downloads, while he's at work socializing? Seems to me all that would do is give the employer a bad outlook on his employee and accomplish nothing.

You have a multi-billion dollar cartel suing unemployed people, disabled people, housewives, single mothers, home healthcare aids, and basically all kinds of people who have no resources whatsoever to withstand these litigations. And due to the adversary system of justice, the RIAA will be successful in rewriting copyright law, if the world at large, and the technological community in particular, don't fight back and help these people fighting these fights.

I have mixed feelings about the RIAA, because like the radio industry, I think they need to take a serious look at what they're doing right now.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Way to go, EMI!

Tomorrow EMI will announce during a press conference with Apple what we've all been waiting for.

I just realized while typing this that most often my blog entries have been focused on Apple or at least mentioned them. So, a quick side note, Apple is doing what needs to be done right now. Change. They keep instigating where DRM is concerned, changing iTunes, creating an icon out of earbuds, and more, in a time that change is the thing the music industry needs most.

Back to EMI, just a couple of the artists whose music will become DRM free tomorrow are The Rolling Stones and Norah Jones, Coldplay, The Gorillaz, and Janet Jackson.

The Beatles are the one group whose music is still in negotiations, which could prove to be a problem if other labels don't follow the lead of EMI and then stipulations are in place such as, these few artists' songs come with the freedom to use as you please, but these don't, but this is under EMI and still doesn't. It may not be a problem for long though, as many people were expecting the announcement tomorrow to in fact be about the Beatles music being on iTunes DRM free. So hopefully all of those expectations have reasoning behind them that will end in successful resolutions for us.

"EMI, which has historically been one of the more experimentation-friendly major labels, realized that that's the future," said Aram Sinnreich, a senior analyst with Radar Research.

EMI and Apple aren't putting out any official releases until tomorrow, but everyone can excitedly look forward to hearing and reading about it, as well as watching to see what comes of it.

EMI has had money problems for quite some time and keeps toying with being bought by Warner Music, but has rejected all of their bids so far.

This just may be what it takes to keep them in the game, let's watch iTunes sales.

Because really, how convenient would it to be able to spend 99 cents on a song but be able to easily import it into a program and make your own ringtone, or put it on your non-iPod MP3 player? That's the question, whether the convenience is great enough to bring sales to a level where it's proven a great idea to drop DRM.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Can Apple Save The Album?

Apple is going to try to save the album, but will they be able to?

Will they be able to single-handedly raise album sales when in this day and age people simply aren't buying albums anymore?

Probably not, but what they're doing is a small step for them, that will bring some results in the short term.

They've finally decided that if you have purchased a single off iTunes, and then wish to purchase the whole album (within 180 days), they will credit you 99 cents for each song off the album you had already bought. So for instance, if you had 3 songs already, you'd only be paying $7.02 rather than 9.99. This offer is also retrospective to songs that have been bought in the last 90 days. The "Complete My Album" part of iTunes will remind you of the deadline so if you decide to take advantage of it, you don't have to do the math on when 180 days is up.

As someone who likes to save money, this immediately strikes me as a good thing...until I then also think about how I'd much rather listen to a playlist I've put together than buy and listen to a whole album.

The New York Times puts it well when they title an article "The Album, A Commodity in Disfavor". “I think the album is going to die,” said Aram Sinnreich, managing partner at Radar Research, a media consulting firm based in Los Angeles. “Consumers are listening to play lists,” or mixes of single songs from an assortment of different artists.

Much like my previous blog article mentioned though how album sales in particular genres such as latin music are not declining at nearly the same rate as pop music, rap, R&B, and much of country, where success is related to radio airplay of singles and their popularity. Fans of jazz, classical, opera and certain rock will demand album-length listening experiences for many years to come.

So for those not-as-popular genres, Apple's idea is fantastic. For everyone who likes mainstream music, I don't think it will make much of a difference.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not All Record Stores Hurting..

Sure, record sales are declining across the board for all physical record stores, but there are some that aren't declining as fast as others.

Those would be Latin record stores.

Jose Jimenez from Mexico is one who frequents them. "You listen to the music and start to believe you're back in your country," he said, adding that the lyrics speak about what is going on in Mexico these days and he can relate as well as keep in touch with his home country.

For many Latin Americans like Jimenez, the source for their music -- a cultural bridge between their lives in the U.S. and their homelands -- is the neighborhood Latin record shop. These stores have proliferated in New York's immigrant neighborhoods in recent years and have survived even as the retail music industry that caters to English speakers faces grim prospects.

Digital downloads, piracy, big-box stores and a lack of support for emerging artists on radio are transforming how music is bought and sold, industry experts say. But so far, Latin record shops seem to be holding their own against many of the negative trends -- at least for now. Only time will tell exactly what will happen, and the predictions are not currently in favor of any record store, including Latin ones.

"Latin Americans still have not gotten into the habit of downloading music," said Enrique Reyes, founder of one of the largest Latin music distributors in the country, Miami-based Reyes Musica. The industry isn't complaining about that!

A lack of high-speed Internet connections, unique collections of music and movies unavailable online and a preference for hard copies have kept many Latinos going back to their neighborhood record shops, according to distributors and music retail experts.

Many of the independent Latin record shops also cater to specific nationalities. In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, for instance, it's easy to find retailers focusing on Ecuadorian music. Jackson Heights is where many get the latest in "grupera" music from Mexico.

Clark Bensen, the founder and CEO of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail -- which tracks retail sales for independent shops -- said that while his organization didn't specifically focus on Latin music sales, it does appear that consumers of the genre are more CD-friendly. "Latin consumers haven't shifted their listening behaviors as quickly as consumers of other music genres have," Bensen said. Of the 32.6 million albums digitally downloaded in 2006, only 293,000 of those were in the Latin American genre, according to recent numbers from Nielsen SoundScan. Alternative music, in contrast, accounted for 9.6 million of those digital downloads.

Some distributors and experts, though, think the future of independent Latin record shops is bleak. "In general, the sales in what you are calling mom-and-pop are going down," said Leila Cobo, the editor in chief of Billboard Latino. But she said there may be pockets of health among smaller record shops in different cities.

"Not everybody has a credit card, and not everybody has access to high-speed Internet," she said, adding that the future of music sales belongs to digital downloads. "It's a very small percentage of Latin sales," she said. "But I see this as the big growing area." Still, she said if people are looking for a song popular back home, their best bet would be to go to a neighborhood record shop.

Obviously this is a unique advantage of the Latin record industry, but it will be interesting to see just how long they can keep in business.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

More RIAA notices?

The first time around, in 2005, people were sued, people paid, mistakes were made (an 83 year old grandmother being sued for allegedly downloading rap music). The RIAA scared everyone, but ended up shooting themselves in the foot when everyone developed these feelings of hate and the want to download just to spite them.

Last week a list was posted of the 25 universities that most often violate the no-free-downloading policy.

It's not that anyone doubts 14,000 people broke the law, especially now that they're using new software that makes tracking so much easier.

Did USC make the list? Nope. Did they get 20 letters anyway? Yes.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of the major record companies, last week sent 400 pre-litigation settlement letters to 13 different universities. Each letter informs the school of a forthcoming copyright infringement lawsuit against one of its students or personnel. The RIAA will request that universities forward those letters to the appropriate network user. Under this new approach, a student (or other network user) can settle the record company claims against him or her at a discounted rate before a lawsuit is ever filed.

The initial wave of this new initiative launched today will include letters in the following quantities sent to Arizona State University (23 pre-settlement litigation letters), Marshall University (20), North Carolina State University (37), North Dakota State University (20), Northern Illinois University (28), Ohio University (50), Syracuse University (37), University of Massachusetts – Amherst (37), University of Nebraska – Lincoln (36), University of South Florida (31), University of Southern California (20), University of Tennessee – Knoxville (28), and University of Texas – Austin (33). The RIAA, on behalf of the major record companies, will pursue hundreds of similar enforcement actions against university network users each month.

Is this the right way to go about things? Might it be easier and more effective to warn greater numbers of people, as opposed to actually going in for the kill on a tiny, tiny percentage of people? Or even better, quit focusing on something that can't be stopped and put the money and energy into making themselves look better.

They still think they're doing the right thing, even though record sales haven't exactly skyrocketed since they started doing this.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Record Industry, FIGURE IT OUT!

It's really not that difficult, but they aren't getting it. Yes, everyone used to be all about buying CDs because the internet wasn't anywhere where it is today. They used to want and need a physical copy in hand, but earth to the record industry: look around.

Look at what's being marketed and catching on these days. On demand, internet, TV shows like American Idol where the public gets to vote. Right now the public loves concerts and YouTube, not Tower Records.

They say piracy is a HUGE deal, but that's only a small problem. By fighting piracy they are just making the problem worse, the problem that they're failing to recognize that we've all changed and that they need to change if they expect this relationship to work.

Let's compare music with water. Sales of bottled water continue to grow, up 60 percent from 2001 to about $11 billion in revenue last year. Sure, water is essential to life. But you can live without bottled water. You could turn on the tap or stand at a drinking fountain. Sles of bottled water continue to grow because marketing has created a need and filled it the way consumers want.

Those are many things music companies haven't been doing well. The Internet has made distribution easy and yet they fail to accept that fact. Music companies can lower their distribution and manufacturing costs to next to nothing, worry less about order fulfillment or marketing programs for retail-store placement, and focus more on releasing music that people like and keeping the artists happy.

Jobs said the DRM systems are hampering sales because maintaining the systems requires a great deal of investment in technological know-how. His proposal to get rid of DRM is a gutsy one, considering his company has figured out the way to work the current DRM system to its advantage. These new digital retailers that might pop up to sell DRM-free music would be Apple's competitors.

We all realize that the sooner the music business gets healthy as a business, the better, and that we're not trying to be enemies. Figure it out!

Monday, February 26, 2007

MySpace Better Than Record Deal?

Tomorrow could be a slightly frightening day for record companies. It marks the unveiling of the first single of Tila Nguyen, who goes by Tila Tequila, on iTunes. That wouldn't be such a big deal if she were just a small signed artist who came along everyday.

It is such a big deal because she has used ONLY her MySpace page to get her fame and fortune. Her MySpace page where she has almost 1.7 million friends, which has led to newspaper articles and a Time magazine article simply about that. She has now decided to break into the music industry, and her single "I Love U" was produced by Lil Jon.

Tuesday the following question may be answered, is it better to have 1.7 million friends on MySpace or to have a record deal?

Ms. Tequila, a onetime model for Playboy.com, born in Singapore, where her family moved after the Vietnam War, rejected offers from record companies and is hoping that her MySpace fame can help her break into the business on her own.

“I’m very nervous because this has never been done before,” Ms. Tequila said. Thanks to online communities like MySpace, aspiring artists can “speak to people so much,” she said. “It’s not just advertising and music; it’s your fans really getting to know you.”

If she does succeed in selling her single without going through the record companies, her efforts may have long-term implications for the industry. But according to Eric Garland, the chief executive of BigChampagne, an online market research firm, it may be too soon to mourn for the record companies.

It may be too soon to mourn for them, but it certainly will be a big day on Tuesday if all 1.7 million friends decide to pay 99 cents to download her song, which comes with a free full length music video. When a preview of the video showed up on YouTube on February 16th it was the most watched video of the day.

I'm excited to see how big a connection is possible between social networking and music sales. There are a lot of people out there who would love to support her simply because she refuses to sign a deal, a lot who would probably support her because they think she's hot, and then the huge percentage of people who will just download her song illegally and wait until the music video is on YouTube. Because one has to wonder if people who are using MySpace as their source of finding new music are going to be likely to purchase it on iTunes, when they could continue finding free streaming music on MySpace all day long, or even just playing the free videos off Tila's MySpace page, some of which have her dancing and singing anyway.

Everyone saw this coming soon, but did they think it would be tomorrow?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making CD Sales Worse...

As if there weren't enough CDs being sold around the world already, online retailers had to go and sell CDs for around half price. Legit CDs too, that just happen to cost less for them to buy than they would here, so they can sell them for relatively cheap and still make money. Where are they based, you wonder? Hong Kong, of course.

One website under the watchful eye this week is CD-Wow, which is owned by Music Trading Online. CD Wow, which has five million UK customers, sources its product directly from official record company suppliers around the world. The CDs - from artists including Robbie Williams, Radiohead, Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Oasis - are genuine, but their sale in Britain breaches copyright laws.

The United Kingdom is particularly upset because
copyright law prevents music being imported from outside Europe without the consent of the copyright owner. Not to mention CDs cost around 6-7 pounds each on the website when they would be over 10 if purchased in the UK at a store.

The decision by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) to challenge CD Wow, a music retailer, over the practice would set a precedent that could affect other websites that use similar tactics. The BPI accuses the internet company of importing the goods without the permission of the owner of the intellectual property rights. It says that there have been 39 cases where copyright law has been breached.

The CD-Wow business has at all material times been a very substantial concern. As at 2002 it was supplying some 10,000 units per day to the UK market. It is currently the second biggest player in the online music buying market in the UK.

Having 5 million customers goes to show that they're doing something right, and if business is booming and it's possible to still make money off selling CDs at that price, maybe the industry in the United States could learn a thing or two.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Satellite Radio Monopoly!

Yesterday XM and Sirius Satellite Radio announced that they have agreed to an all-stock merger of equals with a combined enterprise value of approximately $13 billion, which includes net debt of approximately $1.6 billion.

Together they would create a company that earned combined 2006 revenues of approximately $1.5 billion and approximately 14 million combined subscribers. Mel Karmazin, currently CEO of SIRIUS, will become CEO of the combined company and Gary Parsons, currently Chairman of XM, will become Chairman of the combined company.

The companies said yesterday that their $13 billion merger — code-named Project Big Sky by XM — would give consumers a broader range of programming, while eliminating overlapping stations that focus on genres of music. At the same time, they said, they could cut duplicated costs in sales and marketing.

The companies cited several reasons for the merger, including synergies for content programming. They also hope to improve on products such as real-time traffic and rear-seat video and introduce new ones such as advanced data services including enhanced traffic, weather and infotainment offerings.

The companies’ services are, for the moment, not compatible. If the merger were approved, officials said yesterday, they would provide subscribers with technology that would allow them access to both services. Each sells subscriptions for $12.95 a month.

There will be some complications they'll have to work out though, which will be interesting to watch. For one, XM has prided itself on being advertising-free while Sirius sells ads on its talk radio fare. The cost of the combined service is yet to be determined, as is the name, and the fact that the companies are based in different parts of the country at the moment.

The big question of the moment is whether or not the merger will be approved. The transaction is subject to approval by both companies' shareholders, the satisfaction of customary closing conditions and regulatory review and approvals, including antitrust agencies and the FCC. The issue is that the FCC has already hinted that it might not approve a merger of the two satellite giants.

Optimistically, pending regulatory approval, the companies expect the transaction to be completed by the end of 2007.

Will this save satellite radio? Probably not, but at least they won't have any competition besides AM/FM radio, iPods, and Internet radio.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are We Losing Our Interest in Music?

Music itself has never been more valued by the business world, with marketers desperate to exploit its commercial worth. Mobile-phone manufacturers are scrambling to be able to offer users the chance to watch the best music videos on the move, and the promises of the new iPhone take it a step further offering the optional widescreen view as well.

Big companies are pouring sponsorship money into live music venues and festivals in the hope that the feelgood factor of a favorite band will help to enhance perception of their brand. Advertisers have come to recognize the benefits of a recognizable soundtrack. Yet the unstoppable advance of digital downloading means that the financial model on which the music industry has been built is crumbling. Hopes that legal downloads would compensate for the fall in sales of CDs were hit by a slowing up in growth last year, which is yet another red flag that one would assume the record industry would care about.

Revolution is not too strong a word to describe the changes introduced by MySpace. There's no better example of this than Enter Shikari, a St. Albans band who have been so successful in building support online that they have been able to shun all approaches from the record industry. In November, with a fan base estimated at 40,000, they sold out the Astoria, one of London's best-known venues. By releasing singles on their own, as downloads, they are able to take a far higher share than if they had signed a contract. That said, the vast majority of bands marketing themselves on MySpace are not making any kind of living. Hence the emergence of other websites, such as sellaband.com and slicethepie.com, dedicated to helping unsigned bands to make money.

Just as the industry is itself in turmoil, so the artists are having to rethink how they operate. That means a greater focus on live performance and gathering revenue from merchandising. One example being Ozzfest, which is being held free this summer, being referred to as "Freefest".

"We're reaching the same point we did years ago when kids no longer wanted to pay for overpriced CDs," said Sharon Osbourne in a statement. "As a result, they found alternative ways of getting music. That's what's happening with summer touring in this country: It's out-pricing itself." The corporate sponsors are taking care of the costs, but at the same time none of the bands playing Ozzfest are going to be paid, even though they had in previous years. It'll be interesting to see who agrees to play when they are basically going to have to pay to be there, and then they'll need to rely on just merchandise sales and perhaps exposure.

Diversity is seen as the key to survival. Companies like Sony BMG are convinced that branching out into areas such as television, advertising and sponsorship will create new opportunities and potential earnings for its artists. But then again things like American Idol that feed winners straight into the arms of Sony for a record deal that is arguably not as good as one they could have gotten on their own after being the first runner up.

MySpace, Ozzfest, music on TV, DRM, and new technology are all going to affect our interest in music over the next year, and we can all hope the industry plays their cards in our favor...wait, who are we kidding? They'll have to.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

YouTube Faces Competition On Its Soapbox.

Microsoft has been working on new programs since 2005 to compete with Google and Yahoo, and it was only a matter of time before YouTube had a competitor. The time is now!

Being released only in a beta form to select testers until now, today Microsoft allowed anyone to try out the site by going to this website. In the same way YouTube does, it allows users to upload videos in almost any format, and tag or categorize them to allow for easy searching.

Their unique draw is that you can search for videos at the same time that you are watching one, something that you can't currently do on YouTube. With the YouTube loving generation wanting what they want when they want you, one can imagine this could be a popular feature, cutting down on the time spent finding the next great video. It also appears to have a more personal feel in comparison to Google and Yahoo, and is definitely more user friendly as it suggests videos constantly instead of requiring a search.
Also, you can easily post videos on your website or blog using the standard permalinks and embed codes they have listed on their website, which you can either post or send to friends. Another interesting tidbit of information has come to light, that Soapbox will display videos in various formats dependent on your browser. For Internet Explorer it will use Microsoft's .wmv format, for other platforms it will use Adobe's Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash).

The issue of copyright will be interesting to watch, because Microsoft may be able to cut deals that YouTube wasn't able to, or perhaps vice versa. The success of Soapbox overall will depend on whether or not the YouTube trend is going to continue or not. If so, there's no reason why they couldn't both have thousands or millions of fans. Jumping into the ring when YouTube, Google video, Yahoo video, and Myspace video are already competing seems like it would tough to come from behind without any real innovation, but then again when has Microsoft ever completely failed at something? They will just find a way to integrate it into everything they already own.

In a day of being live, the most viewed videos have only been viewed a few thousand times, which causes me to wonder how much of a success it will be, but at first use Soapbox loads quickly and seems rather user friendly.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

iPhone? iDontThinkSo.

The Apple iPhone does look amazing, and judging from the comments on the NY Times blog which seem to be representative of the country, its unveiling is much anticipated and going to be a hit. Maybe even the 1% of the world market hit that Steve Jobs is aiming for.

Or maybe not. It all depends on whether the special features of a $499/$599 phone are worth it to everyone. It's true that the iPhone can access the internet, but if already travel everywhere with a laptop, is it worth doing everything on your phone, using teeny tiny buttons? Or the opposite problem, are you someone who requires more than just the standard email program and Safari? Adobe Acrobat? Good luck with that.

Where the corporate world is concerned, the device isn't secure enough, nor is it designed to run with corporate systems. There are already recommendations out to IT departments to start creating policies which won't allow the iPhone to access corporate networks.

Replacement for an iPod then, you ask? I don't think so. Maybe for those who are representative of the 'average 300 songs on their iPod,' but for all of the people who have thousands of songs, 4GB of storage space won't hack it, and 8GB might not either.

2G data coverage, when 3G exists? The speed is comparable to dialup or just slightly faster, which is fine for extremely limited web browsing and email, but anything extensive? Try again. Other smart phones include common features that the iPhone failed to include.

The battery has the same problem as iPod batteries...that they can't be removed or replaced, without a hefty fee that is. Who is able to give their phone up for a week or two these days, to send it back to Apple to get the battery replaced? Nobody I know.

Do you love having your most frequently dialed people on speed dial? Good luck pressing "5, send" on your iPhone. Maybe they will come up with a method that is easier than needing to scroll through a possibly ridiculously long phone book for every call.

$600 for a phone that could be easily lost or stolen, in a world where most phones are either free or heavily discounted with a 2 year service plan? $600, when many customers are going to be considering paying another $100-200 to cancel their current contract to switch to Cingular? Not to mention Cingular is going to be rolling out new rate plans to go with the iPhone. I don't know about that.

In China, they have already wasted no time coming up with a copycat version of the iPhone. Should be interesting considering it uses Windows instead of MAC software, which implies that it may be easier to add other programs onto the phone once they become available. As a PC fan, I'd have to say I'm interested. Check it out. Reviewers are already saying the Meizu M8 is everything the iPhone should have been. The website points out how interesting it was that Steve Jobs claimed they were 5 years ahead of technology, when it took about 5 days for this clone to come out.

My personal problem with the iPhone is the touchscreen, that I get the feeling I might damage within 2 weeks of owning, the same way I cracked the top screen of my new V3X within 2 weeks of owning it. Apple, what's going to stop the screen from breaking after being dropped once from 2 feet off the ground?

Are you one of those businessmen who can't use it, someone like me who can't keep things in one piece, someone who doesn't want to spend money on a phone when they could get one free, an avid music listener, or someone who is a diehard Verizon/T-Mobile customer?

Apple hopes not!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Jobs Saving The Day...Again

Steve Jobs has been on fire, all over the entertainment news for the past few weeks. As if the iPhone announcements weren't enough, on Tuesday he posted his thoughts on music, calling for the beginning of the end of digital rights management systems. Finally, someone who realizes!

Laying out three possible paths for the future in his article, Jobs makes his opinion clear. Between staying the course, making DRMs cross-licensed open systems, or dropping DRMs and selling unprotected downloads, the clear choice should be selling unprotected downloads. DRM hasn't stopped many people, if anyone, so it should be abolished.

Jobs said the music industry must radically evolve toward a market in which people can easily use any online music service, even if music companies have to remove the technology that protects their copyrights. Makes sense, considering it would do nothing but make online music services more popular.

Because of current anti-piracy technology, songs purchased from iTunes play only on the iPod, while songs purchased from other online music services, such as Rhapsody and Yahoo, do not. "Imagine a world where ... any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players," Jobs wrote.

"Forcing would-be competitors to sell music incompatible with the popular iPod is not showing any signs of working," the story notes. Removing DRM might attract powerful new players to the market, and writer Antony Bruno names five possible entrants into the music-download business in 2007 as Amazon.com, Limewire, MySpace, eMusic, and Yahoo Music.

"I don't think Steve Jobs would stick his neck out on this point if he didn't believe the music labels will come around," said Chris Castle, a music and technology lawyer who represented peer-to-peer network Napster. "The industry has been moving toward this for a while. This could be the year that it starts to take hold." I agree, imagine if you could use shop around and use whatever music service you wanted, but have it be compatible with your iPod without needing to do something illegal.

Digital music sales were expected to decline in the next year, but perhaps Steve Jobs will be responsible for saving the record industry once again. What a hero, you would think. Until you took a second to ponder his motives.

Once DRM gets the boot and Apple has no choice but to open its software in Europe, it's only a matter of time before the US consumers demand the same. Steve Jobs is thinking about the future and his DRM statement will have put the consumers at odds with the major labels(who obviously want to keep DRM)--making Apple look golden.