Creative Commons Doesn’t Cannibalize Sales

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor (Photo by Capital M)

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor
(Photo by Capital M)

Chris Anderson recently posted “The best selling MP3 album of the year was free” on The Long Tail blog. Apparently, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the best selling MP3 album of 2008 despite being released under a Creative Commons license that allowed for free, legal sharing.

The album grossed more than $1.6 million in revenue duing the first week in release.  Creative Commons blog has more:

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

This would seem to be another big win for proponents of alternative models to the traditional intellectual property attitudes stemming from the physical goods economy.

Bargain Hunting on Craigslist

What do you still buy on Craigslist?  I find it useful for finding apartments and jobs (or gigs), but since Craigslist became a household name, shopping for cheap stuff has been replaced with avoiding the people trying to rip you off.

Now you find things posted above list price rather than below.  I wonder if there are people who actually overpay for these things or if the sellers are just hoping to find someone to haggle with.  Occasionally, a good deal will crop up, but is sifting through the overpriced ones to find it still worth the virtual trip?

Personally, I use keyword RSS feeds.  I check my Google Reader almost daily (or several times depending on the day), so it makes sense for me to check there instead of going to Craigslist to browse the deals. To set up a feed for the camera flash I’ve had my eye on, a Canon 430EX, I did my search on Craigslist and clicked the RSS icon in the lower right of the page to get that feed and add it to my reader.

Most days there are no entries, but whenever someone posts a 430EX for sale, I see it in Google Reader. Most of these deals don’t even beat Amazon’s price for a brand new 430EX, but yesterday I noticed one listed for a good 15% below the best price I’d seen anywhere else.

I immediately emailed the poster, and shortly received the reply: already sold.  Even with my custom keyword RSS feed and frequent visits to my reader, I still wasn’t fast enough to take advantage of none-too-common bargain.  Maybe I should set up SMS alerts to my phone.  Has anyone had success with a similar setup?  What deals have you found on CL?

Obama Considers Options for FCC Chairman

Ethernet Switches Image from twenty_questionsBusinessWeek reports that President-Elect Obama’s transition team is hard at work considering options for FCC Chairman.

“The new Administration is expected to give greater prominence to emerging providers of communications products and services, such as Google (GOOG)—a departure from the Bush Administration, which has tended to favor traditional providers such as AT&T (T).”

This is not unexpected, as Barack Obama has gone on record before supporting net neutrality, but it is certainly good news for internet companies and the new media producers who rely on them.

Radio for a new generation

Ken George, blogging for my local NPR station, WBUR, has some interesting thoughts on “New Millennials” and radio in his ConverStation blog.

The post jumped out at me because one of the blogs he quotes sounded like I could have written it myself:

In college, I listen to less news radio, mostly because I don’t drive anymore. But I faithfully listen to the This American Life podcast every week, and am a recent convert to WNYC’s RadioLab, which I also listen to via podcast.

I had never thought before that I might be exhibiting “New Millennial” behavior. Of course, my need to have content fed into my ears at all times is quite different than my parents (also avid NPR listeners) who generally don’t want to consume media and do something else the same time.

Radio is one of the only media formats that people above the age of 30 do consume while doing other things. We can keep our eyes on the road and listen to the stock market numbers (unless it’s this week, then we should all pull over). We can cook dinner during “A Prairie Home Companion.” We can listen to a new song and make out on a first date. Hurray for radio!

The thing that New Millennials like me probably enjoy less about radio is that it’s so gosh darn local. I can’t reliably get my favorite college radio station, WERS, outside of Boston. A station’s ability to stream live on the web does change that, but might not necessarily benefit the radio station. I worked in a dark, gloomy basement computer lab one summer, and became obsessed with Southeastern Louisiana State’s radio station, KSLU. Unfortunately, their news, events and advertisers had almost no effect on me. Since I won’t go to a live concert, or a furniture sale, in Hammond, LA, people like me (listeners outside the local area), don’t make a compelling case to sponsors to donate at a higher level.

It is possible that I’ll start to have more of an interest in local politics as I become more rooted in a single community. Right now, news about property taxes in Massachusetts on WBUR doesn’t really do it for me, since I don’t own property and don’t know if I will settle here for good. It’s also possible that the radio landscape will shift to meet my generation’s specific type of media consumption – namely nonlinear, constant access, and loaded with content-rich goodness.

Lucky There’s Seth MacFarlane

Family Guy Graffiti Image from Cheryl’s PhotostreamI used to be a pretty big Family Guy devotee (back in that golden age when it was only shown on Adult Swim). While I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the manatees-with-idea-balls approach to storytelling (just watch the South Park episode), I think that MacFarlane’s talent for tapping into everything from Victorian literature to modern art and coming up with a poop joke is kind of impressive in its own way.

And that leaves us with MacFarlane’s latest venture, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. These are mini episodes (1-5 minutes a piece) that seem like deleted cutaway scenes from Family Guy.

Now, if you read the URL in that link, you’ll notice that you can find this Cavalcade at www.youtube.com/user/bk – Burger King’s YouTube channel. Every episode is branded with the Burger King logo and a snippet of an animated version of BK’s King character. That is in addition to the regular YouTube logo that plays in the lower right corner of the clip window.

The Cavalcade is branded in three ways: (1) Seth MacFarlane, (2) Burger King, (3) YouTube. It’s an innovative approach to producing web media, but one that was phenomenally popular in the early days of TV and radio. Comedian Jack Benny was sponsored by everything from Canada Dry to Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the show was labeled as the Canada Dry Show, The Grape-Nuts Show, etc. Philip Morris used to sponsor “I Love Lucy” – and characters, or animations of those characters, actively hyped their cigarettes on screen before the show. This level of corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s brand is equally or more visible than the brand of the show itself, might be exceedingly valuable to indie and mainstream producers trying to get their shows on the web. It also creates some problems.

Up until now, the internet has not been an epicenter for high-quality, original, intentional humor. “Charlie bit my finger” was and is much more typical of online comedy than, say “Nobody’s Watching.” But well-established celebrities producing web exclusive content is going to mean higher production values, actual scripting (gasp!) and possibly even some steady camerawork. This means that maybe, just maybe, your well-scripted, innovative comedy has a chance to shine out there too.

However, while Seth MacFarlane can get away with a foul mouth when he’s sponsored by a “hip” brand like Burger King, I’m sure a sketch about transfats and obesity would not be welcome. Finding a patron if you are not already on the inside will be an uphill battle. And patron-sponsored content may mean sacrificing some ideas to preserve an overall brand image.

Would you go the patron route with your own web TV series? Or would you rather get your content out there, and find funding later?

Canon 5D Mark II Video Footage

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Image from Steve KeysCanon lent a prototype of the new 5D Mark II to New-York-based commercial and editorial photographer Vincent Laforet for 72 hours, and this short film is what he put together: beautifully shot, put to music (no sync sound), using only footage from the 5D Mark II. The footage is 1/4 size (from the original 1080P) and shot with mostly L-series glass. The 5D Mark II retails for about $2700 (body only) from B&H. The combination of excellent lenses with the full frame sensor yields some gorgeous low-light shots.

I’m certainly interested to see some of this tech make it over to the prosumer video side of Canon. After seeing this kind of result, would you consider shooting your next project on a DSLR?

Virtual World Creation Gets Democritized

In an interview with Information Week, Raph Koster talks about the Metaplace project.

“As [game] technology has risen, it has been harder and harder and harder for ordinary people to contribute,” said Raph Koster, the founder and president of Areae. This has driven budgets up “and the result is less creativity, less innovation, and fewer worlds,” he said.

“So we want to democratize this by doing what the Web has managed to do, which is push content creation tools to a much lower threshold,” said Koster.

The vision of bringing the technology behind virtual worlds to a level that allows non-technical users to easily create new content is akin to the dropping prices and lower thresholds in video equipment that fuel YouTube and other UGC video sites.

Virtual Building Blocks Image from fdecomiteThe difference, of course, is that democritizing virtual world creation is a matter of software design and usability, not governed by Moore’s law. Most modern computers are already powerful enough (rendering time aside) to create and run a virtual world. The difficulty is in designing the tools. Given Raph Koster’s previous successes, we’re optimistic that the future holds a signifigantly lower barrier to entry in the virtual world department.

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem: DRM done right? Or yet another failed attempt?

Here’s what we know so far. DECE will announce details at CES in January. The general principle is something along the lines of a digital rights locker in the cloud that keeps track of what content you have purchased and have rights to play.

Burned (read: Destroyed) DVD Image from Night Star RomanusThe major goals of the project are interoperability, allowing users to copy content onto household playback devices (as opposed to streaming only) and to enable writing to physical media.

Sounds like an ambitious project, and maybe a pipe dream given the walled garden approach that most content providers have been pushing thus far. But with a list of players that includes most major media corporations, some serious technical expertise, the device manufacturers of both HD disc technologies (and then some), and at least one major retailer, this might have a chance to get past the conception stage.

The list of companies signed on so far is Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros.

What does this mean for indie producers? That remains to be seen, but for most of us, there’s already an alternative. What else supports interoperability and portability of content to offline and physical media? What lets viewers watch what they want, where and how they want to? Anything without DRM. Just sayin’.

Women on the Web: Who’s Leading Who?

Image by Mike Licht

Image by Mike Licht

Woman to Woman, Online, yesterday’s business section cover story, explores trends on websites targeted at women. The article notes the ways in which content and advertising have begun to run together, especially on blogs that feature fashion, decorating and style advice.

Companies are finally catching on that you can draw in potential shoppers by using interactive patterns that are native to the web: Viral videos, user-generated content, quizzes, memes and polling. But why do women gravitate toward all these blogs about clothes and apartments and boyfriends – and not to, say, women’s political blogs?

Lauren Zalaznick has an absolutely creepy answer:

“Time and time again, women are happy to see their relationship with their food, their clothes and their relationships externally manifested in entertainment and how-to content,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal’s women and lifestyle entertainment networks, including iVillage.

Women are “happy?” A few dozen feminist bloggers would say no. . . The article misses out on something HUGE about women on the web: There is no information about how many women get their political news from blogs that don’t specifically target women. Just because women’s political news sites don’t find a large audience doesn’t mean women aren’t interested in political news (or science news, or business news). But what Yahoo “Shine” defines as “women’s news” might not match up with what women actually find to be relevant to their lives.

I took myself off of a prominent women’s news list because I felt the subjects of the articles were too narrow in scope. I happen to find many types of stories interesting: A story about advances in prostate cancer treatment might not have anything to do with “women’s” news – but I might find it interesting because I happen to like science.

Zalaznick also ignores the way that media influences and changes women’s expectations about their own lives. The media often leads or labels trends in how we consume products, and how we relate to each other, by incorporating them into entertainment (think of the rise of the phrase “he’s just not that into you”). Then, bloggers often parrot these trends right back to the media (say, on a your livejournal the day after a breakup).

On television, advertisers have about 20 seconds to sell a single product. On the web, companies can create immersion experiences that sell a full-blown lifestyle. Web advertising can occur 24 hours a day, and can be integrated with almost any web experience. It’s scary to think how often our expectations about relationships (with lovers, family members, friends) are influenced by a corporate conception of how we are supposed to live.

PBS Vote 2008: Not Just for Television Any More

The Producer tipped me off to PBS Vote 2008, a spot where PBS is culling together the best of their documentary films, news coverage and web tools on the ’08 election, and presenting it to PBS viewers like you.

My favorite of these is a game called Budget Hero:

Play Budget Hero

You get to play “cards” like “Bring Troops Home Now” that change how much money the government spends, then watch your budget play out over time.

If you’re trying to find a source to help you follow everything that’s happening up ’til November, this seems like the place to go!