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When one business closes, opportunities open up

The internet is successfully ravaging almost every industry from music to real estate. Technology has, throughout history, caused the end of many industries, removing millions of jobs from the economy. What looks scary in the short term ends up being a long-term boon, with technology often replacing those jobs with better jobs, larger markets, and more efficient allocation of resources.

This weekend, Thomas Friedman wrote about the “Do-It-Yourself” economy where, even in this Great Recession, companies with fewer dollars and less manpower are finding ways to do more. He highlights marketing firm Greer & Associates whose budget has been cut 20 percent. Using online collaborative tools, cheap stock photography, and crowd sourced voiceover work, they have been able to produce far more than they could with a full budget.

Greer paid far less for these services. Voice talent that once cost up to $500 was 10 percent its original cost. Thousands of dollars of stock photography could be had for a few dollars.

Friedman sadly doesn’t go far enough highlighting how amazing this ultra-efficiency is. While people will pay less for stock photography, more people can afford it now. It’s feasible for someone making a birthday card or personal website to spend a few dollars for really professional photography. The market is far larger – elastic pricing at work.

But what about the poor photographer you say? Focus only true scarce goods. Stock photography, especially in the age of cheap digital cameras and photo editing software, is a glutted market pushing the price down to zero. That’s competition and it’s a good thing. All this stock photography makes commissioned photography, long the bread and butter of any photographer, more valuable, especially when they can show samples of their work in active use.

With more efficiency and less costs, Greer can put more resources into creativity and making actual marketing products. It’s so cheap and easy to distribute music, musicians can save those resources to engage with fans and sell scarce goods (like time, concert tickets, etc.) to those fans. Greer’s clients and a musicians fans save money they once spent on high-priced voice-overs or CDs can put that money to other areas of the economy, creating other jobs.

Look at 15-20 years ago how many jobs didn’t exist before the internet and computers become ubiquitous. There are search engines, SEO specialists, social media sites, online gaming, life streaming, GPS, cell phone data plans, and more. All of these provide more jobs even if they replace others. It’s like the automobile industry replacing horses and buggies or phones replacing the telegraph. Agriculture is my favorite example, as the majority of the U.S.’s jobs used to be in agriculture, replaced by manufacturing because agriculture became so efficient. Now manufacturing is more efficient, those jobs are disappearing. They will be replaced by new jobs, whether online or in other areas not yet discovered.

Companies need to stop fearing the changing marketplace and embrace the new opportunities, even if it means radically changing your business model. The market makes the decisions and companies just come along for the ride.


Music labels infringing musician’s copyrights, provide convenient list

Music labels (and copyright maximists) often claim they need copyright to benefit the musicians, but their actions more often contradict that. Unlike the U.S., Canada replaced its compulsory license system (where anyone can pay a set amount to use a song) with a permissions based system meaning the copyright holder has to give permission for each use of their music.  Record labels have reportedly been releasing musicians’ music, such as on compilation discs, without permission nor paying any royalties tracing back to the late 1980s.  The labels have even kept a “pending list” of all the musicians they have not paid.  The list includes more than 300,000 songs from major names like Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce.  Jazz musician Chet Baker is leading a lawsuit against the labels claiming at least $50 million is owed to him.

The labels could face liability of $6 billion using the same infringement fines the label seeks from file-sharers ($20,000 per infringement multiplied by 300,000 songs).

David Basskin, the President and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., said in an affidavit that “the record labels have devoted insufficient resources to identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the Pending Lists” adding it would be “an unproductive use of their time.”

There are several other examples of record labels and collection agencies collecting money that never makes it to musicians from creative book-keeping, multiplatinum albums make no money, violating contracts to release music without permission, or just holding onto money because they can.

The reason record labels are so desperate to save CD sales is because that’s their main source of income – and the revenue only works when record labels have full control over distribution. When they have full control, they can charge whatever they want, like $20 for 12 songs,  and treat musicians as they always have – badly. Technology has dropped the cost of making and distribution music so cheap that musicians can control their own destinies – they don’t need labels anymore. Labels served a valuable purpose when there was no alternative. They provided the expensive recording, distribution, and marketing required to make a band successful.

With a computer and a website, almost anyone can make a go at being a musician. This means more music – more people making money from their music (whether through merchandise, live performances, or other inventive business models) and more music to listen to and enjoy.  The labels have lost control over the marketplace and this is a good thing as it will allow the marketplace to grow. Don’t believe me? Look at the U.K.


Holiday and working blogging blues

Yup, I’ve been slacking on my blogging over these past few weeks. Between holiday traveling and some tough weeks at work (even the auction business gets into the holiday spirit), I’ve been finding it tough to keep to a schedule. I’m still working on a big release for my employer, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers (no relation at all to Prodigeek), as their IT and Social Media Manager, so things might be erratic for the next few weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a new rhythm soon. Thanks as always for reading and have a happy holiday.


Murdoch looking into blocking Google from giving him free traffic

Rupert Murdoch, after a short time of seemed like he understood the internet was a new and exciting tool, has since changed his medication and now sees it as the evil of all evils. He has been pushing, vocally, not through action, reinstating paywalls on his various media properties. The Wall Street Journal is one of the last major newspapers to have a paywall around most of its content.

Now Murdoch is claiming he will block Google from indexing the WSJ and his other media properties. Murdoch told Sky News Australia “If they’re just search people… They don’t suddenly become loyal readers.” He explained that traffic from search engines involve no loyalty – just view a few headlines and leave.

Removing a site from Google takes just a few lines of code in a robot.txt file, something Google and other search engines make no attempt to hide. So why is Murdoch waiting?

Maybe because even without loyalty, Murdoch knows traffic will drop significantly without search engines bringing tons of free traffic. Even if 99 percent of those people never return, there are 1 percent that stay and might return. It’s up to Murdoch and his websites to give these users a reason to stay and then find ways to monetize that traffic. Murdoch has previously said no news websites or blogs are making serious money, ignoring the massive enterprises behind Gawker, Huffington Post, PerezHilton, TechCrunch and hundreds of others who have embraced the internet to find more cost-effective ways to engage audiences and produce compelling content.

Techdirt points out that for all Murdoch’s grandstanding, his own websites have aggregators that link to other people’s content the same way he claims others are stealing his content. When others aggregate content it’s stealing. When Murdoch does it, its convenient? Maybe this will stop his crusade to overturn fair use in the courts since he’d be culpable too.


Evidence mounting that file-sharing and movies can live happily together

…but movie companies certainly don’t see that. Paramount Pictures released its study of the five million IP addresses it tracked who downloaded camcorded copies of Star Trek.  Writing to the FCC, Paramount says:

Just five years ago, one had to be computer literate and exceedingly patient to pirate movies. Today, literally anyone with an internet connection can do it. Clunky websites are being replaced by legitimate looking and legitimate feeling pirate movie websites, a perception enhanced by the presence of premium advertisers and subscription fees processed by major financial institutions.

So after years of suing and spending millions in lobbying, spying, and prevention, Paramount agrees it is easier than ever to download movies. Downloading movies “has advanced from geek to sleek” they say.

I interpret this as a sign that the movie companies’ campaign against piracy has not worked. It is easier than ever to download any movie, song, or game you want and it will only get faster and easier. More people are doing it and aren’t embarrassed by it. For all the propaganda (see last Sunday’s 60 minutes), file-sharing is what the market wants.

Paramount, of course, sees the opposite.  The spreading of file-sharing means movie companies need more laws to stop file-sharing, while never showing how these laws, assuming they worked (which they won’t), would encourage customers to go back to their former purchasing practices.

That’s why Big Champagne, a company that tracks online piracy, is urging movie companies to rethink their piracy strategies, claiming their own practices are encouraging file-sharing, especially in European countries where they might wait weeks or months for a TV show or movie to air. CEO Eric Garland tells CNET:

In the digital world, we don’t want to wait three months, six months. We’re just not accepting that anymore…we want it all, we want it right now and even Mom and Pa Kettle are getting to the point where they say if it’s not on, let’s just fire up the computer and watch it. If they want me to wait six months, I’ve got other options. And people don’t really have a conscious [sic] or qualms about that.

So we know waiting hurts (why wait when you don’t have to). But instead of searching for alternatives, movie companies want more windows, or at least maintain the ones they have. This goes against what customers are demanding. Instead of offering customers a compelling product, movie companies just want the government to pass laws supporting their obsolete business models.

For all the increases in file-sharing, movie production and revenue has risen (ignore the blatant lies in the aformentioned 60 Minutes segment), from 567 movies released in 2004 to 1177 movies scheduled for release this year.  Total revenue rose by about $300 million from 2004-2008 (this year hasn’t ended, and for reference 1037 movies came out in 2008).  So more movies, more money. I wish file-sharing would hurt my industry the same way.


How Monticello, Minn got fast and cheap internet before most of the U.S.

While many countries continue to roll out faster and cheaper broadband, the U.S. remains locked in simply how to define broadband. For all our claims of technological superiority, our country is falling behind.  So how did Monticello, Minn, a town of less than 12,000, get some of the fastest and cheapest internet service in the country?

They tried to build it themselves.

In 2007, Monticello tried to build its own fiber-optic network recognizing that no business was going to using city bonds to fund the project. The local teleco, TDS Telecommunications, sued. And it sued over and over again up to the Minnesota Supreme Court claiming the town could only use bond money for specific reasons, like building utilities. The courts ruled the internet is a utility and the town could build its own.

Now TDS has launched 50Mbps fiber service to every home costing a fair $49.95.

TDS originally claimed it did not believe there was demand for faster speeds until after the town passed its referendum, but that does not explain why the company sued to the city rather than compete with its lead in the market.  But as we’re seeing around the country, lack of competition among internet service providers is costing Americans money for poor service.

Lafeyette, Louisiana launched its own fiber optic network and states they have saved their citizens $3 million because local cable provider Cox has not raised its prices even while raising them everywhere else.

Hopefully these examples will be a call to arms for local governments to recognize that their local cable and telecommunications provider is unlikely to improve their service (they’ve had more than a decade) even though prices keep rising.  These companies have had monopolies on their areas, and the lack of competition is costing us money while the rest of the world speeds past us.

The U.S. ranks 20th in the world for broadband penetration and pays higher prices for slower speeds.


One business dying does not end an industry

CDs are dying, but the music industry is growing. Newspapers are dying, but journalism is thriving. DVD sales are dropping, but movie attendance is rising. Yet for all this, article after article says the music, news, and movie industry is dead or dying.

These industries are only dying if you classify them in ultra-specific and limiting businesses. CDs drop, but the music industry is selling more concert tickets and merchandise. The U.K. music industry’s own study (pdf) shows the music business overall has increased even though sales of record music has plummeted.  Even as newspapers suffer, hundreds of new journalism organizations are popping up producing original news, commentary, and fact-checking, all for a fraction of the cost, manpower, and time it takes traditional newspapers. And does everyone forget television news continues to grow in audience and revenue (well, at least cable news). And movies, well, attendance is up even in a down economy.

Technology and societal changes often causes radical shifts in how businesses do business. The death of selling plastic discs and packets of paper is, yes, dying, and for the time, these were the most effective ways to make money. With better computers and distribution channels, it is incredibly cheaper to make and distribute movies, music, and news articles.  This means more money to do other things. Or better, cheaper costs to consumers leading to a larger market – and then more fans to sell more stuff to.

The movie and music industries particularly have enjoyed monopoly pricing on their products, and without competition, fans paid the high prices. But competition from technology, even when used illegally, is forcing prices down. Originally, plastic discs were a scarce good the content industry could control, but the digital files on the discs are infinite goods now available free online no matter what.

Let’s remember, selling plastic discs (or records) for music is really only about 60-70 years old. Movies only entered home collections in the 1980s (and followed a significant legal battle where the movie industry claimed home video would destroy them). These industries made tons of money before and they can make even more money now by evolving their business models – recognizing they are in the music or movie or news industry, not just in the sell-discs-and-paper industry.


Researchers verify you can’t stop file-sharing

A paper from New York University researchers analyzes the methods used by the content industry to annoy and stop file-sharing on BitTorrent networks.  They found the practices of MediaDefender and other organizations presented no more than a nuisance to downloaders despite costing the content industry millions of dollars.

Prithula Dhungel, Di Wub and Keith Ross reviewed two specific methods use to slow down BitTorrent downloads. The first called “piece attack” involves trying to upload as many failed connections or hash fails as possible. Second, there is the “connection attack” where TCP connections are blocked preventing downloaders from accessing the actual content.  The researchers found these methods did slow download speeds, but not enough to deter downloading. Additionally, blocklists which can be easily found online increased speeds by 30-35 percent.  BitTorrent client uTorrent only encountered hostile connections 2 percent of the time while Azureus had only 18 percent.

Emails from a few years ago estimate that music companies pay up to $4,000 for each month of MediaDefender protecting one album.  As many already suspected, this money is likely being flushed down the digital drain.  Downloaders are not being deterred and certainly not being encouraged to buy content in another way.  The content industry is spending massive sums of money to fight against consumers preferred method of distribution. The ethics of file-sharing are not the point – basic economics, as always, is. Consumers by the millions are using file-sharing networks to find the content they want and share that content with other people. This is a good thing that should be embraced, not fought.  As we’ve seen, embracing new technology increases the size of your market and the money you can make, not decreases.


Fighting technology: A history of futility

Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson has written an excellent history of how the content industry has fought against pretty much every technological advancement over the past 100 years for fear it would end creative expression forever. As we know this isn’t true. Rather, technology helps increase the market for these creative works (and other industries) by decreasing costs and increasing efficiency. It is much cheaper and easier to create and distribute music than it was 10 years ago, let alone 100 years ago.

Anderson profiles the content industry’s fight against the gramophone and player piano. John Philip Sousa campaigned to Congress to ban these evil machines for replacing live performances, not recognizing that home recordings might increase the demand for those live performances. This gave birth to the compulsory license system, where the government set rates sheet music must pay to songwriters, we have still to this day, though it has been vastly expanded.

Photocopiers spelled doom for the print industry, with UCLA law professor Melville Nimmer saying “the day may not be far off when no one need purchase books.” While the U.S. and its courts upheld a fair use right to copying, Canada and other countries must pay royalties to collection agencies for every copy. Canada pays the same tax on rewritable CDs and iPods because they might be used for pirated content.

Movie companies famously referred to the VCR as the “Boston strangler” as it killed the movie industry. Universal sued Sony over Betamax all the way to the Supreme Court to ban the use of home recording. Once found legal, movie companies decided to sell copies of their own movies to home viewers, a revolutionary practice that led to the multi-billion dollar home video and rental market.

Pretty much every expansion into digital media has been fought tooth-and-nail by the content industry, from Napster to DVR to the iPod.

Anderson also left out some other highlights. Cable TV, when originally introduced, featured almost exclusively pirated content from network television. This allowed cable television to expand far enough that it could afford its own programming. Even the movie industry began by fleeing New York to Hollywood to escape enforcement of Thomas Edison’s patents and the high prices he charged to anyone wanting to make movies.

Presently, the DMCA makes sure technological innovations are few and far between to help the content industry.  While CDs were released without DRM and thus able to be ripped onto computers and people’s iPods, DVDs are copy-protected and thus illegal to copy in anyway. Even though it is easy to do so, no software or hardware can be released that can take advantage of people’s massive DVD collections.  Even though the content industry claims it would never sue to ban innovation, the industry has done so several times, and won these cases, holding back technology and innovation that consumers want and could do more to help expand the content market.


How Lily Allen showed copyright affects more than just artists

Musicians in the U.K. have been staking out positions for and against a proposed 3-strikes law where after 3-strikes, file-sharers of copyrighted material would be banned from the internet. Lily Allen (a personal favorite of mine) launched a blog in support of the 3-strikes law, but resulted more in a lesson to strong copyright supporters that no longer is copyright just an issue for those creating content.

To summarize the more than week long back-and-forth, Lily Allen began her blog, It’s Not Alright, a few weeks ago arguing file-sharing was stealing and hurting new artists writing “File sharing eats away at opportunity for new artists: by cutting off income at the most crucial, cash-strapped point in their careers and by limiting A&R’s ability to sign new acts outside of the mainstream.”

Allen’s blog quickly gathered a large community of copyleft and copyrighters debating Allen’s arguments and the merits of the laws she endorsed. TorrentFreak pointed out Allen copied an entire post from (another personal favorite) Techdirt without citation or a link. Techdirt’s Michael Masnick explained he didn’t care about the copying, but pointed to how hypocritical Allen’s was being.

A few days later it was revealed that Allen, while a new musician herself, released mixtapes online of her and other artists’ music, music which she did not have the copyright to. These mixtapes were still available on her website – entire songs. Allen defended this as her not understanding copyright law when she made them and that the songs were just excerpts.

Hundred of people commented on her blog and many bloggers posed questions for Allen to justify her position on file-sharing while she herself had no problem copying blog posts and file-sharing songs herself. Further, she used free services like Blogger, MySpace, and Twitter to share her music and connect with fans, turning her from a new artist to a famous artist. And she didn’t respond to questions from Masnick and others asking how Allen balanced her belief that file-sharing was harming music when the U.K.’s music industry’s own study showed the music industry was growing.

Allen discontinued her blog claiming Masnick and other copylefters were bullying and attacking her (one person said Masnick of “leading” his “internet army” to attack her while being angry.

But all this really teaches us that copyright affects more than just musicians. There is a growing fervor among consumers that copyright and the content industry are expanding too far onto individuals and their civil rights. Recording companies keep increasing the penalties for file-sharing, yet file-sharing keeps growing because that’s what technology and the market demands. No amount of government intervention will force people to buy CDs again.

Because Allen stopped blogging and has ended her career does not mean copyright isn’t working. The music industry in the U.K. has significantly grown as technology has made it easier and cheaper to make and share music. Allen herself took advantage of these free and cheap tools to make herself famous, and only when famous does she change her tune (see what I did there) on copyright. While I’ll be very sad to not have any more of her music, there are thousands of new artists eager for space on my iPod.