Some recent links

This is my second selection of links from the web (mostly via Twitter) to replace what I used to do on Facebook. This lot are all about some aspect of copyright and the debate still raging between people who want things to be free and people who make things in the first place.

  1. Steve Albini and Amanda Palmer: Piracy Only Helps Musicians Alan Cross blog
  2. Copyright law reform Music Law Updates
  3. The cult of free—a user’s guide John Degen
  4. RIAA not going after Limewire for more money CMU
  5. It’s not the song, Stupid, it’s the rights David Newhoff

A note about number 2: it’s a good article with many references but some of the historical practices of the record industry won’t apply today. For example, artists are no longer signed for life—although it’s undoubtedly true Major labels would still like to do it if they could get away with it.

What do social networks do?

We’ve all seen a lot about Facebook recently and the question of value—can it earn money? That got me thinking about what social networks actually do.

Very briefly: the first social technology was writing, followed much later by printing, postal services and eventually blogs. Communications technology brought us signalling, wired telegraphy, telephony, wireless, radio, TV, recording, mobile phones, text, email and most recently networks and streaming multi-media. Some of this goes over the Internet but there are other communication networks.

(You could say music, fashion, art and other aspects of culture have their own social technology, and that is also true.)

Communications companies earned their revenue from renting lines, call charges and licensing.

By 1995 we had bulletin boards, forums, Usenet, mail lists and the early manifestations of dedicated social networking. Already you could send anything you wanted—sometimes slowly—to anyone who had an Internet address and the tools to open your message (audio, video, etc.). And using various forums you could broadcast to other members, people you didn’t know.

The owners of these services paid for communications infrastructure and connected computing services. They had two sources of revenue: advertising and subscriptions. (Some content—our music, art and literature—was for sale.)

Now, you might think social networking was complete at this point but a bunch of other services came along and—ignoring all that existing technology—called themselves social networks. And they are an odd bunch: somewhere to put your photos (Flickr, etc.), somewhere for short messages (Twitter) and your music page (MySpace, etc.) and so on.

Now, subscriptions and advertising are opposing revenue models online. Advertising pays for eyeballs and subscriptions limit the number. Scale seems to be winning and Facebook has chosen advertising to its 900 million members while Spotify is betting on subscriptions (3 million sold so far). Both also have some “platform” income, but not much. Both have VC and partner income, which is considerable.

(I can also see an argument for including Google in the “social” ecosystem now it promotes its own apps and has abandoned any pretence of neutral search.)

Over last weekend Facebook was valued at more than twice Apple and Google combined in terms of earnings per stock dollar. Which is remarkable because we know what their earnings really are, and Facebook isn’t in the same league. And as far as I can see Facebook adds no value apart from its name and that population of 900 million. Everything else people want to do on a social network is possible a hundred other ways.

During the week Facebook’s value has gone down somewhat, but I doubt this is the big crash. Too many important people have a stake in the idea. But at some point people are bound to ask why Facebook needs to exist at all.

Some good links

I’ve mothballed my Facebook page in the past couple of days because this site (6,000 unique visitors a month) and Twitter (750 followers)  have a lot more visibility. My Facebook page was building slowly until they introduced Timeline when it died. After 18 months on Facebook I reached just 149 of its 900 million users.

So I’ll post an occasional selection of links from the web (mostly via Twitter) here to replace what I used to do on Facebook. This is the first bunch.

  1. What your act needs to attract an audience DeadMau5 blog
  2. Virgin EMI rejects Iggy Pop album Guardian article
  3. Trevor Horn talks about drums Music Radar interview
  4. Should streaming bypass the megastars? Alan Cross blog
  5. Drowned In Sound music documentaries YouTube playlist

One comment about number 4: I’m not sure if many people really expected the mainstream to go away. Sales breakdowns from the heyday of CD make it quite clear who buys what and why. DIY artists I know are content to have a crack at making a living and don’t really expect mass popularity.

Grooveshark self-interest explained

The head of Grooveshark Sam Tarrantino recently did an interview with Evolver to explain why his company—which streams music without paying artists and without permission—is not “dodgy”. Grooveshark is of course of doubtful legality and defending its business in court right now.

Tarrantino argued 6 main points in his defence. He didn’t mention the fact that he’s living off the music he plays for free (Spotify’s Daniel Ek is worth £300 million).

1. Record labels want too much money

Music licenses were established for traditional radio, TV, video and live performance. Those businesses have always paid up, otherwise they get shut down. Online companies like iTunes, YouTube and Spotify also pay music licenses.

If they can’t make make money that is not the artists’ problem.

2. Musicians already get paid more by touring

That’s not always true but even so it doesn’t mean the music is free (see 1.).

3. The music business is too slow and partially broken

Tarrantino favours 360° deals. He’s not in the record business but considers himself knowledgeable about how artists should be paid. Just not paid by him, obviously.

4. Grooveshark is modelled on early YouTube

YouTube is now licensed but Tarantino points out that YouTube hosts unlicensed content such as The Beatles. He seems to be arguing that two wrongs make a right.

5. Grooveshark complies with takedowns

In point 4 Tarrantino argued that unlicensed material is OK, now he says he takes it down. But we know Grooveshark doesn’t takedown effectively (and neither does YouTube).

6. Grooveshark’s ad platform can boost an unknown band

Is he really suggesting that screwing some artists is OK because he’s promoting other artists? Yes, he is. He has 30 million users and thinks that’s a great asset for promoting new bands as long as everyone is happy to give him free content.

Or maybe he really thinks Grooveshark is going to make him £300 million. That seems a lot more likely than his 6 rather confused points. Did he convince you?