A scene from the floor of last week's Web 2.0 Expo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco:
Due no doubt to a clerical error, Time has picked me as one of the top 200 most influential people of the year. They've put it all online as an interactive poll, with the aim of helping the editors pick 100 people for the magazine's Top 100 list. I'm not sure whether it's the number of votes or the average rating that will ultimately influence the decision, but your clicking will help either way (unless you give me a really low rating. Ulp.). Right now I've got an average rating of 44, which puts me somewhere between Osama Bin Laden and Moqtada Al-Sadr. I'd like to be, well, a different kind of influential. Vote me up and make it so!
Long-tail helps niche albums
23 April 2007
The so-called “long-tail” impact on the singles market, since the introduction of legal downloads, is starting to reach the albums business, according to new Music Week research.
MW’s detailed study of quarter one trading patterns indicates that, while sales of the Top 200 sellers plummeted year-on-year by more than 20%, the rest of the market dropped by little more than 3%. It indicates that, as the top titles suffer the biggest falls in a clearly tough market, sales are being spread out more widely across a greater number of titles.
The apparent trend is being warmly received by labels and retailers alike, coming after a challenging opening three months of 2007 when artist albums were 8.94% down on Q1 2006, despite having had the added benefit of download album sales. These were not added to OCC sales figures until quarter two last year.
The drop was led by disastrous sales of the Top 200 artist albums, whose total of 11.29m physical units in the 13-week period was 21.13% lower than the first quarter of 2006.
Further down the chart, however, it was a different story, with sales of wider catalogue remaining relatively healthy. Excluding the top 200 best sellers, 13.10m physical artist albums were sold in the first quarter of 2007, down just 3.33% on a similar total for Q1 2006.
Furthermore, OCC data indicates that, despite the generally poor state of the artist albums market, sales of the 5,001st to 9,999th best-selling artist albums in Q1 2007 increased 11.82% year-on-year.
This comparatively robust performance, suggests Universal commercial director Brian Rose, is partly due to the falling price of chart CDs, which has forced many retailers to shift away from chart albums.
“Because there are thinner margins on chart, retailers are being forced to work campaigns even harder and getting better at it,” Rose says. “It’s either price-driven or people are giving more space to promotions.”
Rose adds that the rise may also be influenced by the growth in online retailers, which can offer a far wider range of product than physical stores – Play.com, for example, aims to offer all available UK catalogue albums by April and Amazon.co.uk already provides more than 1m different titles.
“We have grown and grown our catalogue business,” says Play.com head of music Helen Marquis. “We have had growth just by expanding the catalogue.”
[crossposted from geekdad.com]
Today I spent the day in Seattle at the headquarters of Bungie Studios, makers of the Halo videogame series. A couple years ago I'd had dinner with Marty O'Donnell, Bungie's audio director (and composer of the legendary Halo theme music), and after a lot of wine had got him to half-jokingly promise me a voice-acting cameo in Halo 3. Earlier this year I slightly exaggerated the absoluteness of his commitment and reminded him of that. To my delight he agreed to have me come up and record a few lines. Today was the day. It was awesome.
To answer the obvious questions, yes, I've seen a lot of the game. Yes, it's amazing. No, I can't talk about most of it (I'm NDA'd). But I can say (because this feature has been discussed) that the one thing that completely blew me away (aside from the graphics, animation, level design and new vehicles and weapons) was the ability to record a game and play it back on Xbox Live, freezing the action at any point and flying around the scene, Matrix style. It may sound just like a standard replay function, but take my word for it, it's not. I think it's revolutionary, and I predict that Halo 3 will take machinima to a whole new level.
Marty had me record about 30 lines, mostly playing a marine (that's me in the recording studio, above). I got to utter timeless phrases such as "Brutes can't smell through rock, can they?" and "Wonder if anyone knows we're down here..." They said I warmed up nicely, but I think they were just being polite. They were trying hard not to crack up as I screamed like a girl when I was being "possessed by the Flood". My entire script is scanned here, with a few bits redacted. Click on the images for the full-sized readable versions.
When the game is released this fall, I'll find out which of my lines made it into the final version. Then I will have awesome bragging rights: "You know that marine on level X, near the beginning, sort of off to one corner by himself? No? Well, anyway, if you do find him and you melee him, that's my scream!
(A GeekDad aside: I'd wanted to bring up one of my kids to record the voice of a grunt, but Bungie rightly noted that the game is rated M and this could be seen as an inappropriate setting for kids. Fair enough. But just imagine the cred the kid would have had on the playground if Bungie had gone for it. They could have told their friends that they're IN Halo 3! That would have won me GeekDad of the Year, hands down.)
Finally, here's a video of Marty talking about the thinking behind the fanfare that opens the Halo 3 E3 trailer. And then he plays it, live:
Those of you who have seen my speeches on the legal dimensions of the Long Tail know that I consider the absurdly complicated and expensive process of rights clearance to be the primary barrier to unlocking the latent Long Tail value in content archives. The example I usually give is WKRP in Cincinnati, not because there's necessarily a lot of value in that 1970s sitcom, but because it's often cited as one of the hardest TV series to clear. Since it was set in a radio station, there are dozens of songs playing in the background of each episode. To release the series on DVD would require clearing the rights to each of those songs, which is too expensive and time-consuming for anyone to consider.
Yet today comes news that WKRP in Cincinnati is indeed being released on DVD. How did they do it? Read the following, from Wired's Listening Post blog, and weep:
The series will finally be released on DVD on April 24th, but fans are already irate. The music originally included in the show has been replaced by generic muzak in order to placate the almighty copyright gods, who would otherwise have prevented the series from being released by (apparently) demanding so much licensing money as to render the whole project unfeasible.
Here's an account of the situation from the guy whose job it was to replace the offending musical compositions in order to pave the way for the series' release on DVD:
"During my years with MTM, I was asked to perform the most painful duty I have ever had to do in entertainment business. I was given the task of excising much of the original music from the episodes and replace it with Muzak-style songs that could be licensed in perpetuity for a small flat fee. This was deemed necessary in order to keep the program in syndication.
"The new music that was inserted into the show sucked ass. It was wrong for the feel and attitude of the show. Some scenes relied on specific songs at particular junctures (i.e., Les Nessman trying on a toupee to the soundtrack of Foreigner's “Hot Blooded”) . Those scenes were ruined. In many instances, we couldn't even finesse the proper audio levels in order to cut the costs of replacing the music...
"Allegedly, the original producer of the show (Hugh Wilson) was involved in replacing the Muzak with some other generic songs that are more palatable. While this is admirable, and Wilson has some great artistic instincts, it still isn't enough to undo the damage."
[Read more here]
Note: I do think that musicians should be paid for their work, if that's what they want. The problem lies with the convoluted rights clearance process, which imposes its costs mostly in delay and uncertainty, depriving both artists and fans of value from archived content. Nobody wins when WKRP in Cincinnati is released with a muzak soundtrack!
A few weeks ago I spoke at a conference for romance novelists, which was fascinating. I knew nothing about that world. Some mindblowers (aside from being the only man there, which was a little unnerving):
Finally, in doing some research on how romance novelists promote themselves, I came across the following romance novelist site, which sums up my impressions of that world perfectly. I'll post a screenshot without comment:
[Just an update for those following the Lego Autopilot project. The project diary on this and a load of other fun science and technology stuff to do with your kids is at GeekDad, where I'm posting every day with a dozen other geeky dads. The following is cross-posted from there.]
Our summer project is to create a sub-$1,000 UAV as a proof-of-concept for a drone competition for kids. This weekend we passed a major milestone with a successful ground test of the key elements. The video below shows the prototype working.
We'd initially intended to do all the autopilot functions in Lego, but the gyro programming turned out to be beyond our abilities. So we switched to a commercial stabilization unit to keep the plane level and just use the Lego Mindstorms for waypoint navigation. In the next few months we'll integrate a Bluetooth GPS module, but for now we're just using a HiTechnics compass sensor for basic navigation. The mechanical components are the same as they will be for the GPS (ailerons and elevator for flight stabilization, rudder for navigation), so the below looks and works very much like the final version.
Next weekend, we take it to the air.
My friend Shai Agassi recently announced that he was leaving SAP to do, among other things, a new project on electric cars, starting in Israel. He discussed it a bit at Davos this year, and with many alternative energy transportation efforts, the tricky thing is the fueling/charging infrastructure. Rather than replacing the gas stations that exist today, the idea is to develop a massively distributed charging infrastructure, potentially turning any outlet into a billable filling station by tracking the electricity use and getting the accounting right. Several other electric car projects are also working on distributed power schemes, including using renewable energy for micro-generation. This is, naturally enough, called The Long Tailpipe.
Many have asked whether there is a Long Tail of medicine. The analogies seem pretty apt: you've got blockbuster drugs at one end of the curve and orphan drugs for rare diseases at the other. Personalized medicine, where individual genetic profiles are used to target one-size-fits-one therapies to individual patients is the obvious application of Long Tail theory, although it's not going to happen overnight.
Paul Kedrosky writes about this today, citing a new journal article:
The current NEJM has a good piece [abstract only for non-subscribers] on the death of the blockbuster drug. The threefold argument:
- It is ever-rarer for one drug to be the only one in its class. The average new drug in the 1970s enjoyed 10.2-years of market exclusivity, while that is now down to 1.2 years.
- Even with healthcare, not everyone can afford all prescription medications
- The blockbuster model relies on the proposition that one drug size fits all, which is less true than ever
Also note his own perspective, in the comments on that post:
- While prices are declining, time-alone-on-market is falling, etc., the other side is that massive new therapeutic markets are emerging as people in other countries fall into Western patterns of bad eating and unhealthy living
- Personalized medicines are and remain a pipedream
- It is hard to take claims of disappearing blockbusters seriously when we are so bad at predicting current blockbusters. The favorite example remains v-word anti-impotence drug, which famously was originally targeted an altogether different indication
FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.
Order the hardcover now!