Wk27: DC Comics and Doing Digital Right

DC Comics embraces technology, eh?

Looking back, as an industry, the music industry made awful decisions when the digital revolution came along and have been catching up ever since. It happened, and there’s only one reason to dwell on it – to learn from those mistakes.

Looking at the film and TV industry, one wonders if they are learning those lessons. Legal digital alternatives simply don’t exist in many parts of the world, leading to illegal files online, feeding the piracy market. The pricing is ridiculous, the release date lags, etc, etc.

So what is the right way to transition into the digital space?

It seems DC Comics is trying to work it out for the comic industry. They have made big plans to enter the digital space in a big and bold fashion. And they’ve learnt from other’s mistakes. Is it enough?

September 2011 will be a big day in the history of DC Comics. The company is basically starting again. Every comic they put out is being cancelled. 52 new titles are launching with new #1 issues. Batman, Supeman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and more – all start again.

But it’s not just the titles. DC Comics have slowly been looking at every part of their business, and will revamp that as well.

It is the real life version of a theoretical thinking game someone taught me about business. If you were to create your business today, what would you do?

Many industries – music not excluded by any means – rely on old systems and old technology. I’ve dealt with CD inventory programs that runs on VGA graphics – and that was last year! VGA graphics went out in 1995! Some record companies use Word 2003 – an 8 year old program.

And yes, they work fine. But if you were starting from scratch, those programs don’t exist anymore. How would you build it? How would you deal with retail? How would you write your artist contracts? Heck – what day of the week do you release and why?

What would you do without the burden of history?

Well, DC Comics are doing this:

(I’m going to look at what DC does, how it compares to what Music does, and then consider what film might do)

Digital Day And Date

Comics have been flirting with digital for a couple of years now. Some bigger titles are available on Apps for the iPad. A small selection of older stories. A few free comics to entice readers.

The reason for this is obvious. A big business was slowly changing. Popular titles are essentially low-risk to experiment with. Digitising takes time and so priorities must be made. There’s no sales history so tentative steps must seem wise.

But fuck that. Come September, all DC titles go digital on the day of release. No delays. No exceptions.

I applaud DC for this. I imagine they had to restructure all their production deadlines to make sure everyone gets finished artwork in on time to digitise.

With Music, it is still a challenge to get deadlines right. It has not been uncommon for me to ask for albums 8 weeks before release date. Part of this is because a more complicated digital market for Music exists (for one, you can pre-order music).

Also, we are still waiting for a handful of musicians to “go digital”. It’s been 10 years and a slow road to get everyone on board. Many artists and their managers gave digital a wait and see approach. And while a lot of it is on iTunes, labels are now hesitant with Spotify. If you label hasn’t pulled out completely, artists can opt out if you have a friendly contract.

It is a vast contrast. Music’s hesitant toe dipping compared to DC Comic’s one-in/all-in. I think the DC way is more exciting, especially for the consumer. How many times have you been shitted off by not finding a band on iTunes, or Spotify or some other service (so you then go and pirate it).

And now film is in the same boat as music. Sure, their businesses are far bigger. But why isn’t every film ever on iTunes? And why, crucially, aren’t they there the same day it hits cinemas?

No Promos

This is a big one, and an awesome one. DC Comics are not sending out issues in advance. Sure, you want retailers to know the comics well enough to order them. You want people to review them so people will buy them. But the other side is the bigger price – promotional copies lead to piracy.

Will the world fall apart without promos? No. But DC will have to build better relationships with retailers so they will order their books. They need to be more transparent about their plans. They will need to drown the internet with promo art, interviews and publicity to build hype. But most importantly, they will have to build a business around people hearing word of mouth after release date and buying books that are weeks old.

Again, think of Music.

For everyone album on a major, there’s hundreds if not thousands of copies doing the rounds before release date. Music is serviced to journalists, retailers, radio stations, promoters and more. And that’s why every album hits the web before release date.

This is where the big hole of piracy starts. And it’s a big hole to fill, but Music can get there. Why do people need copies so far in advance? I think 80% of people get promos just because they are there. Sure, Rolling Stone needs it to review for the issue around release date. But bookers (for example) can wait if a show isn’t coming up for a while, no?

It’s a big change, but we are going to need it. And go back to a time when records CLIMBED the chart. And magazines told you what people thought was hot, not just an exclusive bunch of journos. And radio play songs that you can buy.

Film has a bigger challenge. Cinema is kind of the promo CD for the movie business. Cameras snuck into cinemas make pirated DVDs. And they make their way online too. People go out of their way to NOT see movies at the cinemas. Give ‘em a digital bone.

Working with retail

Another hurdle for the industry is the power of physical retail. They have, traditionally, taken digital technology as the enemy of what they do (as more stores close, it’s hard to argue). With a majority of money still coming from physical goods, they hold a lot of power. If JB Hi-Fi takes offense at your online strategy, they can simply not stock your record.

DC Comic’s are encouraging retailers to work with digital. Comics retail is a bit more sober than Music – I think they know they will lose a part of their audience to digital comics. But DC are offering polybagged comics WITH download codes at higher prices to entice readers.

More importantly, with digital distributor ComiXology, they are allowing stores to sell digital comics on their own website. The stores even make a decent margin (30%), if it’s a dedicated DC Comics store. That wont be hard as DC’s the only one doing it.

I was working at a record company in the early 00s, and we’d get calls from small retailers about digital. How do we get a kiosk in our stores? How do we sell mp3s? These small stores had the desire, and their size gave them flexibility. They also had the foresight to see they sold music in all forms, unlike the bigger chains.

But the technology for affordable kiosks or branded webstores did not exist in 2001. They do now for comics. Actually, they do now for Music. So all those small record stores went away, but comic retailers and DC Comics both share a stake in seeing digital comics succeed.

Price

For the first four weeks, to appease physical retail, digital and physical comics will have the same price. After that, they drop a dollar. Music does this, although with CD prices continuing to plummet, iTunes is starting to seem quite expensive again.

But for Movies, there is a large disparity. Pricing is more complex, but they have to set standard pricing across their digital offerings now. It is all over the shop, and too expensive.

DC has had time to look and reinvent it’s price structure. So once again, for music and movies, if we were to start again today, what is the price?

…and more

DC have also revamped their delivery process. They are offering physical only variants. Video trailers for instore play. A new returns policy. Editorially, they are bringing in new characters, modernising others. Better still, they are bringing more diversity to this fictional universe.

I’m in. I’ve always been more of a DC fan than Marvel. There is only one decent comic store left in Sydney, and it’s a pain to get to. But I can get comics for $2 on my iPad. That’s three for the price of a beer. Bring on some freebies to entice me on new titles. Maybe cheap collections of older books. And subscriptions so I don’t even have to think about it.

Will I miss my physical comics? I don’t buy that much anymore. But if DC do their job right and do nice editions with bonuses of great books, then I will buy my faves. If not, I bought them once already anyway. Who cares about the paper other than the trees.

Odd that DC comics is owned by Warner Brothers, who has a Music and Film and other publishing arms. All of them are going through the same birthing pains. Will they learn from DC?

Or perhaps this could all fail. Perhaps this is not a viable model, and tentative steps turn out to be the right one. We’ll see. But it’s certainly an exciting risk. And I applaud the breadth of DC’s vision and the size of their balls.

 

DC Comics New 52 Retailers Pitch – http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=33078

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Wk25: Pay Your Money Down – the fear of the Scam App Store.

Some Apps are no better than a pick pocket

I am scared to buy Apps. For one really simple reason. In-App purchases.

Perhaps I’m being overly paranoid. But so many Apps on the App-Store tell horror stories of fraud and swindle, it’s hard to not be scared.

Take the Smurfs. A quite high profile case. It is nothing but a swindle. Bright colours for kids, with up to $100 of in app purchases. Buy for free for your kids, and the kids will click on pretty things that are charged to your credit card.

It is an absolute scam. It makes me wary of buying Apps. It’s a surprising move for Apple. And it raises questions about the quality of the Apps in the App Store and Apple’s approach to pricing policy.

Some Apps to avoid like the plague.

Smurf’s Village. Who the hell owns the trademark for the Smurfs? Why would they let people shit on their brand like that? It’s a very typical version of this scam. A simple, inane game. Aimed at children. During this game, you need some sort of element – in this case “Smurfberries”. You can acquire some for free. But the game prompts you to buy them. Like pop-up ads, they are deliberately confusing. And you’re a quick click away from spending $60.

Pokerist is another one. This one is based around poker. Very simple – buy chips to play. The odds are so stacked against you anyway, you have to buy chips to keep up. This is nothing but a pokie machine, with no regulations. And more expensive and more confusing to understand when you’ve spent money.

The really evil ones are the kids one. Fashion Story is designed to trap young impressionable girls. You have to buy “gems” at every step to continue the game.

Lots of “farm” and “animal” apps – growing something and cute characters. Zoo Story. Farm Story. Zombie Farm. All free to enter. All aimed at kids. All aimed at your credit card.

In fact, just go to the App Store and look at Top Grossing Apps. And then see which ones are free.

So, don’t buy them eh?

That’s fine to a point. And it’s that we have these Apps that are designed to steal your money, just hanging around. And there’s already cases where some people have ,managed to install Apps without their knowledge. Sure, it’s not easy to do and you were probably napping, but however it gets on your device, it could have you. And you wouldn’t even notice.

Now, some caveats. Here’s how it actually works.

You buy an App on iTunes. You buy with, with everything else on iTunes, with your credit card, protected by a password. Then for the next 15 minutes, you don’t need a password again.

Initially, in-app purchases were not allowed for Free Apps. Why this has changed is beyond me. It would solve all the problems with this scam.

There is a new App industry. The In-App Swindle. It kills the image of the App-Store. Apple claims to have a competitive advantage over other phone platforms because of the number of Apps they have. But a majority are Scam Apps.

The whole point of this blog is to bring new ideas to light. And calling out this credit card scam seems to be curbed from all angles. And I’m giving them a name – Scam Apps.

Why can’t we call this a scam?

First fight is on the App-Store itself. Many of these Scam Apps have paid stooges who give it five star reviews, despite hundreds of one star ones. So these Scam Apps are hard to spot from within the store. A good solution to this would be an eBay feedback model. A simple positive or negative rating. Too many negative ratings can easily flag someone for a scam.

But maybe it’s not in Apple’s interests to do so. They have quietly refunded some people who have been ripped off – which seems to be a clear sign that something is wrong. But they have yet to get rid of these Scam Apps.

It’s a store after all. And everyone is making money. And these Scam Apps are making a killing – definitely enough to make a difference to Apple’s marketshare figures. They make a cut of every In-App purchase too.

Nowhere is this clearer than the fact there even is a Top Grossing Chart. They have a Top Paid chart app, but this is for Apps that have made a killing from In-App purchases. Those Apps that have no In-App stuff, well, they would be in the Top Paid Apps Chart, no?

And in these Right Wing times, it seems like it’s not OK to take people to task for making money in any way. These people found a way to outsmart you, they deserve your money. It is one of the things you see in comments, possibly from paid stooges. A “you deserve it” attitude.

There’s also an anti-App buyers attitude. A real “well if you can afford an iPad, you can afford to get ripped off a thousand dollars”. And even better – “shouldn’t have bought an iPad at all”. And the good ol’ “computers are not for kids” one. Oh and let’s not forget “First world problem”.

Really unhelpful, missing the point and all it does is put money in the pockets of scamsters.

Ok. So there are valid uses for the In-App purchase.

In fact, this tech was likely invented for one industry alone – magazines. And then there are various plug-ins and upgrades that would qualify. But anyone and everyone can hide a little buy button, anywhere in the App, and swindle you. Yes, there are notifications now, but people don’t know what they are – they are trying to avoid Apps that do that too much to identify them.

Shopping at the App Store as it stands right now is much like a markets at Las Ramblas. You are constantly looking for pick-pockets.

And it’s not just Apple. They are the biggest store so they deal with these issues. And less Apps on other platforms means there’s less people to keep an eye on. But security around those stores are even worse than Apple. Android has already had a high profile App scam.

Apple also seems to be setting the precedent on how Apps work. So it is essential they address this soon. Or this whole App thing will become $2 shop fodder. Cheap, shoddy products that is likely a scam.

There are answers. Don’t make Apps with In-App purchases free. Sure, I can see how Marvel comics wants their reader to be free and to charge for their books. But charge me 99 cents for the reader. Or do a LITE version that is free with a selection of Free books to hook me in. In short – FREE should be FREE.

Apps with In-App purchases should be clearly marked. With a big dollar sign. They are a different sort of App. Tell people they are only buying into part of something.

Clearer negative feedback will improve the quality of the store. I have a lot to say about the quality of Apps (in regards to music), but that is for a later time. But the star system is irrelevant and too easily swayed.

And be careful of ANY Free App you buy. Look on the left of your screen for what is the In-App purchases available.

Finally, there needs to be an attitude change. This shit is not OK. I can’t believe the shit we put up with. Leave bad feedback. Email developers. Warn your friends. Demand your money back. Kick back. For God’s sake. They are stealing our money right our of our pockets.

Smurfs swindling $1400 – http://www.tuaw.com/2011/02/09/smurf-it-all-to-smurf-in-app-purchases-ring-up-1-400-in-charge/

Android App security holes – http://www.informationweek.com/news/security/vulnerabilities/229218789

In-App Purchases Driving Top Grossing Apps –  http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2032615/-app-purchases-driving-grossing-apps

 

 

Wk24: Ten Questions about iCloud from a music fan.

Will we be trying to get off the cloud?

Apple announced, to much fanfare, the iCloud last week. A dynamic way of controlling files across all your devices, all stored on a central server.

I’m worried. Apple has really let their music business fall away in recent years. iTunes LP. Ping. They’ve been living on the success of 2005, and have done very little to expand their audience. iCloud was supposed to be their new way of revolutionising the music experience.

In short, everything you buy on iTunes can be re-downloaded to any device free of charge. You can also use your own music, uploaded to the “cloud”, and treated like purchased music, at a cost.

One of the things the music industry sometimes forgets is not everyone wants to own music. The CD era seems like an anomaly these days, because people had to buy music that fell out of a conservative radio format. So iCloud could be good for them.

But what about the music fan?

I have my questions. About how it will work. How it will cost. And what it will mean to give up control.

1) What about deleted music?

This is the first one that came to mind for me.

Music catalogue move around every day. Things fall out of print for many reasons. Does this effect my collection, if I don’t own it?

Take Paul McCartney for example. His solo material just changed hands again. I’ve uploaded my “McCartney” album from 1970. It hits a match on iTunes, and now the newly remastered version is what I own.

What if McCartney moves again, and the album is unavailable. As a previous buyer, can I download it anyway?

The problem is, iTunes owns the tracks. Not me. That is whole reasoning behind their deal with the majors. So if they lose the rights to something, will I?

2) What about pirated music?

Music leaks. And leaked music can get played on iPods. Can Apple restrict this?

Say Arcade Fire’s next album leaks. Two weeks before release, I upload it to Apple. Can Arcade Fire’s label work with Apple to block those tracks? It is illegal for me to have them. And for Apple to have them. Will the enforce this?

And if they do, what if people have a valid reason for uploading? Could be members of Arcade Fire themselves. How can Apple tell?

3) Demos, bootlegs etc?

If Apple go down the path of restricting what you can listen to from their servers, then there are a whole can of worms here. Artists canning liver bootlegs of performances they don’t like, for example.

For the record, I don’t think Apple will go down this path. But they don’t own the music, and record companies could insist on it.

4) Can they hunt pirates down?

Especially in America, they are not afraid to sue consumers for piracy. With Apple’s new insight into your music library, can they spot a pirate if they see one? Can the RIAA compel Apple to hand over that data?

5) Will they use other uploaded versions?

Let’s look at a band that is not on iTunes. Say AC/DC. If I upload my AC/DC tracks, will it match with someone else whose uploaded it, saving me trouble? Or will they keep hundreds of thousands of Hell’s Bells on their servers?

Multiples go against what the cloud is about. And for a real music fan, I’m sure lots of your music is not available on iTunes. It would still take weeks for me to upload stuff. For something like AC/DC that a lot of people have, matching is the preferred option.

But they might have to. What happens if I have a version that is badly ripped and skipped, and that replaces all other versions?

6) Will my metadata be locked?

Anyone who has worked with iTunes knows they have a team of people who “fix” metadata to suit their own needs. I’ve had entire albums unreleased because iTunes didn’t like the metadata.

For the record, iTunes, you don’t call Abbey RoadAbbey Road – LP”. So similarly, you shouldn’t add “EP” to the end of every EP. Or “single” on the end of some singles.

If I upload something from an EP, am I stuck with Apple’s naming conventions every time? Will it now by iTunes way or the highway?

Also, what albums will things be tied to? Will “Something” be on Abbey Road or a compilation? Who’s to say?

I also make my own stuff up all the time. Various single tracks on my collection, I make a one track single with the 7” artwork. Will Apple wipe this?

7) What happens to international versions?

Will America trump again? I have an awful feeling if I upload Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds album into iCloud, I will get the US album cover.

Or what if I want the US cover?

What happens to the Raconteurs/Saboteurs? Will the Saboteurs suddenly not exist?

8 ) Will it destroy bandwidth?

Sure, we will save storage space. But we are expecting to download a lot of stuff?

Music fans have lots of music. Moving the music around used to be free, with the use of a cable. If I had no cable, then I am using up my bandwidth on music I own and have.

And is it so revolutionary? I was always able to re-download apps that I bought with the same log in. Emusic also allowed for re-downloading.

I guess this question is, how much does cloud re-availability actually mean to people?

9) Is there a limit?

So far, the biggest number Apple has mentioned is 20,000. Is there a limit? I have 50,000 tracks (a lot of crap, sure). I can easily up that immediately. And thousands more a year.

Will Apple limit the space?

And why would I not let someone else log into my iTunes and use my collection to “match” as theirs? I should just spend a few weeks matching friends collections to my Apple ID. I’d break 100K in no time.

Which brings me to another problem. Why not use Spotify? That’s millions of tracks, that you can stream from lots of devices.

10) Finally, what if I leave?

Living in various countries, I’ve had a couple of Apple IDs. This has caused me lost of problems, and I’ve had to re-buy stuff.

So what if I leave Apple? Will I lose everything? I bought it, outright! I am only really subscribing to Apple’s music service, not buying it. Or am I?

It’s the final worrying point. If a spend years cultivating my collection with iTunes, will I lose it all when I leave?

There are a lot more questions. Sound quality? Wave files? Who gets the money? Is this financially viable?

It seems the iCloud is great for the mainstream. But less so for the music fan. And for us, we are waiting to see how it all works out in the wild. There are kinks, but maybe they can work out. Hopefully Apple can keep the repertoire owners at bay.

Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

Apple's iPad with iBooks

This column is all about trying to write about new ideas. So much writing about digital online, and trying to say something that no one else has said is tough. But this week is an easy one. One big gaping hole that I have seen under-reported, and for Australia, unreported.

Why is the Apple iBookstore so utterly devoid of books? And in Australia, it is even worse?

I’ve covered the idea of “paperless” before, but what about the nuts and bolts of the ebook market as it stands today? And in Australia?

iPads are expensive, but the cost can be better justified if you were going to put a couple of hundred towards an ebook reader. And despite a lovely reading experience – the is NOTHING to read.

Well, not nothing. But pretty close.

For the last few months, I have had dozens of books I’ve been looking to read. And absolutely none are available on iBooks. We are not talking obscure ones either.

The new Tina Fey memoir (although it seems to be up now)
Street Gang – the new book about Sesame Street
That last Woody Allen book.
The Sondheim biography.
That Tom Waits bio….
…and so on.

Not particularly obscure books. But the point is this –

I’m WANTING to buy my first ebook, and so far I haven’t been able to. I am waving my credit card at you, begging for you to take it. Why don’t you want my money?

Let’s do a quick compare – iBooks Top 10 vs Dymocks Top 10. Only one – Charlaine Harris’s Dead Reckoning – appears in both lists. The rest of it is filled up by 99c books. Repurposed classics like 1984. Not to mention a huge collection of Free books.

iBooks are developing a different audience than a bookshop. The demographics are vastly different. The e-reader base in Australia is miniscule.

But they don’t come close to replicating a bookshop experience. Where I would say iTunes covers off 90% of what you can find in a regular Sanity store – what would you say for books? 20%? 10%?

But there is a bigger story here – which is some types of books have not become digital. Specifically – anything designed for a coffee table. How is an iPad supposed to replicate that? Of those cute little novelty books at the counter.

Other types are better suited to apps. Cookbooks, travel guides and dictionaries can be bought in the App Store, not iBooks.

So iBookstore is little more than a store for novels. And there is a gap for it to expand. Magazines. Comics. Newspapers. An e-reader can handle any text. Why restrict it to one type – novels?

But even for novels, iBookstore is shockingly lacking. No Harry Potter! No JD Salinger. No “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Genre stuff like Star Wars novels. Not even Da Vinci Code. Surely if any ebook will sell, it would be evergreen sellers like the ones above?

So where the bloody hell are they?

I don’t know – but my guess is they are crippled by the same fears we saw in the music industry a decade ago.

– Cost

Digitising, en masse, costs time and money.

– Red tape

New formats come new rights, royalties and deals. Some bigger authors could be squeezing more money. Some publishers may not be able to report digital sales. There are contracts to consider.

– Fear of supporting a format that makes less money

An odd one, but big at the time for music. Why support digital, when the money is in CDs? (The reason is CDs are dying and to not be left behind, and to make more money out of fewer people)

– Artistic stand offs

Like AC/DC and Metallica, some authors might be making a stand.

– Territory rights

A big one for Australia. A book could be cleared for e-sale in the US, but they haven’t investigated Australian rights (or anyone else outside of the US), so to play it safe they don’t allow AU sales.

All this is very frustrating for the people who pay for the people making these decisions – the readers. We don’t care about that stuff. I want to buy a book for my iPad. LET ME.

Why can’t I see the iBookstore on the web? You can only access it via an iOS device. What is the point of that? Kindle’s store is online and easy.

Why is it not just part of the bigger iTunes store? Why not attract those 50 million customers you have?

And why are ebooks not much cheaper? Most new releases seem to be $20, more than an iTunes album. Looking at Fifth Witness – $23 on Dymocks, $20 at iBookstore. Bossypants – $25/$20. Seems as though it should be cheaper no? At least around the same as an album.

I’m not usually cynical, but this time, I think perhaps Apple doesn’t want people to be able to see just how awful iBookstore is. How expensive it all is. And how bad the range is.

I did finish my first ever eBook the other day. I found a digital, pirated copy of the Tina Fey memoir. I couldn’t buy it anywhere (although it’s out now).

And it was great. I got over the fear of taking out the iPad on the train. I read the end of it in a park. Readability and navigation was all fine.

One thing that did annoy me was I couldn’t do anything else with the iBooks app. Searching for new books, looking at other books, would take me out of Tina’s. Closing the program meant I needed to actually search for the Tina Fey book just to pick up where I left off.

The other problem is, once again, I have nothing to read. I am now carrying a Charlie Brooker hardcover with me everywhere I go. Didn’t I get an iPad to prevent this?

I can be forgiving. The ebook market, especially is Australia, is just terrible for everyone – not just Apple. There are so many challenges ahead.

– Sorting out rights to international books.

– Sorting out a format that can hold all kinds of book content

– Think harder about the pricing

– Building excellent stores with good selections

– Building a reader base that uses e-readers

Because right now it is horrid. To the point where there kind of is no ebook market in Australia.

And it was very, very easy for me to find a pirated copy of Tina Fey’s book. I’m sure I could find more. And once again, industry will be racing against piracy.

And if it’s anything like music, it’s the Australian book industry has to wake up fast and embrace ebooks.

(thanks to Jess for the title)

Wk18: Bandcamp – taking MySpace further

MySpace is in trouble. In  the last month or so I have taken my opinion back from “dead” to “slowly dying”. But even right now, it has become a forgotten destination.

MySpace leaves a big gap in the market. There were many things good about it. Most of all is the easy way for people to hear your music.

Which leaves me to Bandcamp. I really think Bandcamp will take over much of the gap MySpace leaves behind. And it’s really good.

What is the gap that MySpace leaves behind?

MySpace made social networking, but it didn’t realise, like Facebook, everyone would get involved. It was a place for music fans. It didn’t really have much for those who didn’t like music (or stalking).

On the other hand, Facebook is not a music site – and doesn’t want to be. And people don’t want Facebook to be one either – it’s about more than that.

Which leaves music fans, and young musicians, with a gap.

The thing that MySpace did best was make music immediate. You could put your new track, or demos, up on your MySpace straight away.

Which is the promise of the internet – that direct access to fans. That elimination of the middle men.

But the internet is full of music. I have claimed, for years now, the challenge of the internet for music is not discovering new music. It’s filtering it. And for some reason, being able to get yourself a MySpace profile is the first step. If you can do that, it seems, you can probably string a couple of chords together.

And it’s true. Spending a few minutes getting your MySpace profile together meant you were kinda serious about your music. And the brand was a good one. You could say, hey, check us out on MySpace.

The other key thing is music itself. Right there on the front page. Pretty much every band. If you wanted to hear a song – one that didn’t need to go through labels, publicists, CD manufacturers etc – just go to MySpace.

So that’s what we need. A trusted brand for musicians. A place to hear songs. One that is easy to sign up to, with no fees and complete control.

And I think Bandcamp has it.

Bandcamp isn’t a social network. I would argue MySpace in it’s last years wasn’t one either. Bandcamp us a sales site.

The core of Bandcamp is you can sell your digital music on their site. And it’s not a store where everyone is grouped together, like in iTunes. Every artist gets their own profile page. And it has taken a decade of learning about digital sales and made a fantastic system.

First and foremost is the music player. A by-product of album sales, every song is streamed in great quality. And not just 60 seconds – the full song. It is something that iTunes would love to do.

And from there, you can embed any track. I love the embed service because you can make the player look like anything. From a simple play button, to a large, pretty album player.

Here is the big player

And here is just a button

And there are several sizes in between.

I am working on building several sites, and I am recommending bands utilise Bandcamp as their music player. It was the one killer thing MySpace couldn’t do – make their player embeddable. With the large range of options, you can integrate music on any site.

(Which is much better than Soundcloud and it’s annoying wave form. Who cares about wave forms?)

It’s also not a Flash player, and works great on Apple’s iOS products.

The pages look great too. Taking in years of learning, it is customisable – but to a point. You can’t create real bombs like in MySpace. But it’s a neat modern design. And you don’t have to know html or any code to make something look great.

On the money side – Bandcamp takes 15% of each sale. They take the first sale, and you get the money for the next 14. And the cycle starts over again (It is less for more than $5000 worth of sales per month). It all hooks up to a PayPal account.

Although this started as the core of their business, it is secondary to the player. MySpace tried several times to integrate a sales mechanism to their site but couldn’t do it. Bandcamp have done it. If you like a song you hear, chances are you can buy it.

I say “chances are” because you don’t have to sell your tracks. You can disable downloads and just have your music up in their player. Not sure if this will keep Bandcamp in business, but it’s a good trick.

You can do a lot more with Bandcamp.

They will handle transactions for physical goods for you (you just pop them in the post). You can also add other digital products such as booklets as a bonus for digital albums. They even allow for hidden tracks.

Other pros – There’s a great stats page that can tell you what tracks people listen to the most. Every profile page has it’s own URL. If you wanted to be a metadata nerd and input ISRCs and UPCs, you can. If you don’t know what those things are – doesn’t matter.

It is truly international too. Any currency can be supported. And it takes PayPal and credit cards.

It just works.

But there are faults. Every profile stands alone – it’s not a site for discovering music on it’s own. Artwork size is small, which is odd because you can buy FLAC files for audio. There’s not a place for band profiles and info. None of the sales are chart eligible.

But the biggest con is you have to know your rights. If you have a digital deal in place – you can’t be on bandcamp. Is your label or distributor going to allow you to sell without them?

I have discussed this with PayPal and there is a possibility of splitting finances. But chances are your label would have to do it for you – leading to an accounting nightmare.

But for indie bands, why not?

Or, why not upload your demos on there? Why not just put any and all of your music online? Don’t need them to be downloadable.

Because there’s another problem approaching.

Streaming, cloud computing and all that is coming. But it is coming from above, with big businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple heading the charge. And you kind of have to be a big business to be in.

Major labels, major distributors – they can get you onto those services. But what about everyone else? And why do you have to go through someone to get your music online anyway?

That’s surely what Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer are thinking. And a whole slew of indie Australian bands. Almost every indie artist I talk to. And we just need a couple more medium level artists to jump on board to really create a groundswell.

Bandcamp is going to be big – and in the next year. And I’m excited about it. It’s going to fill a gap left by MySpace. And it’s going to put money in the hands of indie artists. And it’s free entry – and a breeze to set up.

So get involved. The sooner this joins the public consciousness like MySpace did, the better it will be for everyone. Go check it out and if you’re a musician, get involved.


Wk16: Up In the Air – the battle for Cloud Computing

Just a really good album with the word cloud in it

Amazon opened up a Pandora’s box a few weeks ago in the US. They offered a “cloud service” to their customers for music. A 5GB (or 20GB with conditions) “locker” where you can upload your music and stream it back to your devices. It opened up a larger debate about the legal issues – what new rules are needed in this new space.

But does it matter? Will technology once again speed past the ability for lawyers to make decisions. The conversations around cloud computing – are they the right ones?

And the fight over the rules for music – how does it effect the internet as a whole? Are we short changing the idea of the cloud for something as small as music?

Tech heads have been talking about “cloud” computing for a long time. But it’s been with us for a while now – in the form of webmail. No need to download your emails to a computer – it’s all online to be accessed from any net capable device. That is the idea behind Amazon’s service – for music.

Record companies and Amazon immediately locked horns. Amazon didn’t seek permission from labels to do this – they just did it. Whereas Apple and Google have been talking to labels for months about doing the same thing.

This has good and bad consequences. Good that progress is made by those willing to drag the rest of the world to it. Bad that the pressure is on and some snap judgements could be made in hot blood.

I will say this – at this level of business, and with the money at stake, it’s pretty silly to imagine any new business ventures involving music can be done without talking to lawyers. Which makes Amazon’s move much more interesting. Is it bravery, or bravado? Have they decided this is the way the world is going, and they might as well get there first?

It is the way the world is going, and it’s interesting once again that the fight is over music when it could be over anything. And it will affect everything.

Cloud computing should ultimately stream anything. Documents, videos, books and more. The ramifications for what Amazon is doing will affect everyone. The laws put in place now will govern all other industries.

It’s surprising that it’s left to music lawyers to clean this up. With the record companies barely the bones of what they once were, are they really the best team to be doing representing all content? Especially in their desperate state?

And like piracy before, will we wait another ten years before the might of the TV and film studios get involved? Or books?

Because here’s the problem – if the cloud is our only way to “own” content, should we be paying for each play? Or should there be ads in that space. Should everyone have access to my locker to see what I bought so they can advertise to me?

Above and beyond retail (like Amazon) and industry (like the Music Industry), who is protecting the consumers?

Another big pro for cloud computing is we don’t have to worry if we drop a harddrive on the ground. My friend Bret recently took his hard drive into work to copy a few things and ended up corrupting it somehow. It is this sort of stuff that will seem as hokey as those circular dialers on telephone. The idea of losing a file – ever – will be gone.

This is a wonderful thing – yet we still have to argue about red tape.

What the hell are these companies complaining about?

It’s a bigger issue than music.

I have seen some discussion about how “cloud computing” validates piracy. It seems a petty thing when the ideas around ownership are challenged.

Music is also in a unique place when it comes to the idea of ownership. It is one of the few “media” we are used to owning. For decades, the music industry has fed itself on the revenues of sales – music fans buying a record or CD outright, playing it as many times as they wish.

In TV and film, this is new. Movies still make money at the cinemas, and TV on the box (although that money is quickly going away). We as consumers don’t really have that sense of ownership with movies. Many of us are happy to watch a film and not buy it. And then there are years of video rentals. This is a bit more like what music companies want from streaming – a bit of money per play, not per customer.

Then there’s books. Libraries have started to stock e-books! And the idea of accessing a book for free for a read has been around for centuries. Should publishers get money per “play” in the digital era?

Everything in the digital world comes down to ones and zeros. Books, films and music are all the same. All can be placed in a cloud.

We approach each media differently, but someone will have to come up with a rule that fits everyone. And someone is not going to be happy.

Of course, it all comes down to money. A recent Guardian article (link) published that Lady Gaga made only £167 for 1 million plays of Pokerface on Spotify. A figure used by recrd companies to show how unviable streaming and the “cloud” space are.

But lets unpack that figure. These are PLAYS, not SALES. In the CD era, how many times do you think people would have listened to this track per sale? Once? Twice? Ten times? Considering how beloved she is, and how some rabid fans probably listened every day, lets say it was ten plays. That’s 100K of listeners for £167.

Still seems like very little, but Spotify only has 1 million customers anyway (as of March this year). Might seem like a lot, but last year Apple had 50 million. Facebook has 500 million. We are dealing with global figures, and huge internet properties.

Think of it this way. If there was ONLY a Spotify version of Pokerface, worldwide – what would the plays be?

Would it be 500 million users? Lets follow our above formula (one in ten Spotify users listened to Pokerface ten times).

500 million plays.

500 x £167.

£83,500 for one track.

Now forget it’s Lady Gaga for a second. Does that not seem like a kind of reasonable amount of money for one hit pop song?  We are supposed to be moving away from flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders. And Gaga – with many singles, touring, YouTube royalties, publishing etc – sounds like it’s leading to a reasonable pay day – not a ridiculous one.

But we are so worried about now. And now isn’t going to matter in a couple of years for music. Everyone else will fly by us, and we will still be arguing about rates and royalties still. I looke at Metallica’s continued boycott of iTunes and laugh. And wonder if the entire music industry will go the way of Metallica.

There’s still a long way to go. Amazon’s opening salvo has it’s limits. It doesn’t play on Apple devices for example.

But it’s a start. And it’s a start that could get stifled really early. And push back cloud computing for a few years – or hamper it with stupid licensing rules forever. Luckily, I have faith in the piracy and boffins sector to circumvent any rules. With any luck, industries will remain short sighted about technology loopholes.

So if someone doesn’t build lockers for us, we will start building them ourselves. The beauty of the open internet.

Technology moves on. We can see this now, more than ever.

Yet big companies, especially in entertainment, still try to hamper progress. They have their reasons – money, rights – but they are trying to hold back a wave.

It’s time to ride the wave, and while you’re on the beach metaphor, look up and see how wonderful the clouds look.

Spotify sales article in the Guardian – [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/18/sam-leith-downloading-money-spotify]

Apple’s iTunes number – [http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/225800173]

Spotofy’s One Million users – [http://www.spotify.com/int/blog/archives/2011/03/08/spotify-reaches-one-million-subscribers]

Has Apple Forgotten the iPod?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple‘s announcements this week are all over the web. At their annual WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), they touted new MacBook Pros, iPhones and more. But what about for the pop culture fan? Somehow it seems like Apple is leaving them behind.

When the iPhone was announced, it was a combination of a phone, a net browser and an iPod. Since launch, the interface of that iPod has, really, not changed.

Amongst the highly tech-y new announcements were some things that relate to pop culture.

1. The new Quicktime X. Looks quite interesting, and is set to launch in September with the new operating system. We like the look of it, and lets face it, there is no GREAT video player at the moment. We mix about with the current Quicktime, VLC, Windows Media Player, iTunes for some, our DVD playing program (add YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more – wouldn’t it be great if that was all in one screen?). It looks a lot neater and nicer, but will it do much more than the existing quicktime? With Apple doing such great business on video in the US, it would be great to see them lead in this area. But hey, anyone else who wants to take the crown here, we welcome you.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/07/a_peek_at_apples_new_quicktime_x_interface.html

2. Line 6/Planet Waves unveiled a new application for guitarists. It’s basically an all in one guitar amp simulator. Pretty cool, but is there a line out? I can’t imagine people using their phones over a decent piece of music gear. Especially as they botched the presentation. We couldn’t tell if that was a real guitar or some new piece of hardware. Coolest thing though – setting the tuning of your guitar on the phone.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/06/08/iphone_os_3_0_app_highlights_tomtom_gps_line_6_more.html

3. We can now buy and rent TV shows and movies from iTunes over 3G on the iPhone. If only they weren’t over priced already, and if only I didn’t have to pay data charges on top of that. Fail.

4. The new iPhone operating system promised a hundred new features, only some of which were presented. Maybe there is new functionality in the iPod side of things but we wont know til June 17th when it’s released.

It’s clear that Apple‘s current success and acclaim started with one product – the iPod. They took full advantage, but it seems like in recent years they have forgotten about the poor iPod. Last year’s changes amounted to very little. Genius has been given a lukewarm response. It will be interesting come September to see what changes Apple brings to the iPod line. Or is the iPod over? And the gaming/internet/all-in-one device like the iPhone going to rule us all? We don’t know, but we don’t know many people who use their iPhones over their iPod, especially if they need more that 16GB.

There seemed like hundreds and hundreds more announcements from Apple during their WWDC. There’s great coverage over at Apple Insider – http://www.appleinsider.com/

and hey, we took our image from the great site gadget site Gizmodo.