Monthly Archives: June 2008

license claims in HTML

When you put a Creative Commons license in a web page, it usually applies to that page. For example, if you generated HTML for the Attribution-ShareAlike license using the license chooser at CreativeCommons.org and put that claim into a web page at http://example.com, it would mean that the page at http://example.com could be freely shared as long as there was attribution and the sharer applies the same license to their copy.

By using the “about” attribute specified in RDFa, you can modify that claim HTML so that it applies to a different URL and not the page in which the HTML is embedded.

Let’s say you have a media file “my.mp3” (which may or may not have embedded license info), it is online at http://example.com/my.mp3, and you have a web page at http://example.com. Let’s also say you have a chunk of HTML for saying that the current web page is under an Attribution-Sharealike license.

Your web page containing that chunk would normally have HTML along these lines:

      <html><head><title></title></head><body>
      [the HTML for the license claim]
      </body></html>
    

The modified HTML would look like this:

      <html><head><title></title></head><body>
      <div about="http://example.com/my.mp3">
      [the HTML for the license claim]
      </div>
      </body></html>
    

This is a new way to publish a license claim for a media file. The existing way is to embed the claims into the file using a tool like liblicense. The reason you would use the new method is that the benefits and drawbacks are a better match for your needs.

Pros of embedding within media files:

  1. A license claim inside a file travels with the file, so that the license claims on the copy are still identifiable. If you use the external HTML method, the only way to tell that a copy at a different URL is under the same license is to do a byte-for-byte comparison of the files.
  2. A license claim inside a media file is instantly accessible to any program which is already accessing the file and only slightly less accessible to a program which already has a copy of the file. A license claim in external HTML requires the HTML page to be found, fetched, and parsed.

Pros of using an external HTML file:

  1. A license claim embedded in a media file can only be recognized by fetching the file and parsing it. AJAX techniques usually can’t be used to parse a binary file. Bandwidth and latency limits may also prevent this. In contrast, an HTML file can be parsed by JavaScript, and is often small enough that bandwidth and latency are not a problem.
  2. A license claim inside a media file is hard for web spiders to see, and most search engines won’t index it. In contrast, a license claim in HTML is easy for a spider to see and all search engines will index it.
  3. A license claim inside a media file requires a dedicated program like liblicense on the client side to edit. A license claim in HTML can be generated using a simple web application like the license chooser at CreativeCommons.org, and any decent content management system (like Drupal or WordPress) could easily do it.

You don’t have to choose between these methods. There is no reason why these two methods can’t be used together, which would give you the good parts of both.

As with all implementation proposals, this method may not work. It may be that the RDFa “about” element isn’t widely available enough, given that it is specific to XHTML 2 as far as I know. It may be that the rel-license microformat can’t be extended like this.

There’s one improvement to this method that I don’t know how to do — making it work in existing search engines with no changes on their part. If it’s possible to tweak the HTML syntax so that existing search APIs or query arguments could be used to find Creative Commons works, the entire open media ecosystem would benefit.

1 YMP free in every box of FoxyTunes

FoxyTunes Blog:

FoxyTunes 3.0 for Firefox is finally here!

This version adds a very cool new functionality – it can turn any webpage into a playlist you can play right there on that page – without needing to launch any external media players or programs. How is this possible? With the new Yahoo! Media Player.

FoxyTunes and Yahoo! Media Player

What’s Yahoo! Media Player?

Yahoo! Media Player is a really cool music player that lives on the web and can play music found on web pages as a playlist. The player floats ‘above’ the page content, so even if you scroll up and down the page, the player stays at the same position right in front of you.

Yahoo! Media Player

Up until now, in order to add this player to a web page, you had to be the owner of that page. But what about sites that still haven’t added this to their pages? FoxyTunes to the resque!

Yahoo! Media Player + FoxyTunes = Play any page

The latest version of FoxyTunes enhances any page that has music on it by automatically adding the Yahoo! Media Player to that page. Then, you can conveniently play any track on that page or even the whole page as one big playlist!

The deal is basically that FoxyTunes can now act like a Greasemonkey plugin which auto-inserts Yahoo Media Player into any page you visit. This is totally handy.

ad-sponsored music and the major labels

What are the economics of ad-sponsored streaming music services like iMeem? Labels want some amount, most commonly quoted as a penny a play, and the question is whether this price makes sense, or if not what the price will have to be.

A song lasts 3.5 minutes. The majors have been asking $.01 for it. The site pays for the play by selling advertising. Let’s say the site shows a new ad every time the song changes. To break even the site needs to sell one ad per song at the rate of 1 penny a song, which gives you an effective CPM (“eCPM”) of $10.

A $10 eCPM isn’t feasible. Sites don’t earn that kind of rate with 100% sell-through. Even if were feasible it leaves no room for the rest of the business. They have other costs. They need to earn a profit, and it has to yield a return on investment comparable to web businesses that don’t pay music royalties; otherwise investors will move their money out of music-related products into royalty-free products like search engines.

A $1 effective CPM is closer to the mark, meaning that Myspace, Google, Facebook, etc need a 10X price reduction from the labels to make this business work. The labels see this as unreasonable. They’re already lowering prices from what they earn at the iTunes store — why should they keep going to accomodate third party businesses at their own expense?

The alternative business for the labels to be in is selling music by the piece. The majors gross about $.70 on a download at the iTunes store, 70X what they are proposing for an ad-sponsored play; $.01 is only 1/700th of that! So naturally the price change is freaking people out.

Volume

But of course price is irrelevant by itself. Profit is a function of price, marginal costs, and volume. In the recording industry marginal cost is close to zero, and fixed costs like studio time don’t go up with volume, so the basic equation is price*volume.

Music plays which feel free because they are sponsored by advertising should get a lot of plays. If you could search for a song and play it right there, without all the friction of paying for a download or even downloading at all, you’d be more likely to go through with the transaction. Price would be lower, but there would be more transactions. And the only question that matters is whether the number of ad-sponsored transactions would be high enough to make up for the lower revenues per piece.

If the price is 1/700th, there needs to be 700X more transactions. A gold single with 500K sales would need 500K*700 = 350 million plays to get into the black if all those sales were converted to ad-sponsored plays paying a tenth of a cent per play.

What’s the likelihood of this working for the labels? Will ad-sponsored plays be at least 700X more popular than sales at the iTunes music store?

Almost nobody buys CDs; only 15% of the population; and the number of people who buy singles from iTunes is miniscule. But almost everybody listens to the radio. Ad-sponsored plays would extend the reach of monetizeable events to people who don’t buy CDs and to people who aren’t committed enough to a particular release to buy it. For the fan club members who listen to a CD over and over again, every play would be monetized. Plays in an incidental context like background music in a sports site would be a worthwhile business. Ad-sponsored plays in the browser would replace much filesharing, because they would be so much more convenient, and this is a gargantuan pool of monetizable events.

So the volume is indeed likely to be very high. Because these numbers are very fuzzy there’s no way to say whether the volume growth will be 350X, 700X, or 1400X. Still, they’ll easily get into the right range. The necessary volume isn’t guaranteed but it is realistic, and there is plenty of upside because of the possibility that volume growth will blow way past 700X.

Internet strategy

But there’s one other issue in addition to volume: compatibility with the web. The web is almost everywhere, and it needs music to be able to flow with no more friction than any other content. It can do this with or without the majors on board, and unless they choose to get on board it will leave them behind.

Sites that try to comply with label requests repel users and soon go out of business. There is no way users are going to stop for a paid download whenever there’s a need for a song. First of all, acceptable page load times are in the range of a few seconds, and when you add on the time to acquire a download the load time goes up to minutes. Monetizing via ads is the only way for the labels to support acceptable load times. Second, interrupting the user to incorporate a paid download into page rendering creates fatal usability problems. Users will get confused and leave the site. Third, there’s no way to enforce the use of paid downloads without restricting available music to what the iTunes store will carry, and this is not a web-scale design. Because these are fatal problems, successful sites route around the labels by having users of music-related features fall back to filesharing for provisioning.

Can labels counter filesharing networks without moving to an ad-oriented revenue base? It depends on how advertising compares to other revenue sources. Labels can sell complementary products like concerts and merch, but other businesses already occupy those niches. They can earn a cut of a music tax to cover filesharing, but that’s a wildly speculative idea which the labels don’t support because it would undercut their per-unit sales. They can take part in other experimental blanket licensing schemes, but they don’t support those because they undercut per-unit sales. Labels can get paid for subscription services like Rhapsody, but these are and will always be a small niche. They can earn a living on CD sales, but these won’t support a very big recording industry. They can earn a living on download sales, but these aren’t growing fast enough to replace CD sales.

The only bright spot in this picture is that online advertising is thriving. It can generate the revenues the labels need. In addition it makes technical sense, since ad-sponsored music can flow as easily as ad-sponsored text, and ad-sponsored text is the majority of the web. This model works.

I don’t mean to say that per-piece sales will go away: fans will keep buying them here and there. Providers like eMusic will continue to exist. But this business will be an adjunct to the ad business, just like all premium services on the internet. The only thing that will save the major labels is to embrace ad-sponsored plays as their primary revenue source, and that requires them to drastically lower the royalties they’re seeking.

so who’s driving this cart, anyway?

Crosbie Fitch’s thoughts on what’s a label anyway:

What I think we’re seeing is a market inversion, that we’re currently bang smack in the midst of.

When this inversion is complete, instead of a label acting as an artist’s promotional agent maximising the sale of their music to their audience, we’ll have an audience’s discoveral agent maximising the discovery and commissioning of the music they like.

A label in this case will be just like 4AD, but instead of representing a common je ne sais quoi character of the signed bands, will represent a common undefinable taste of the represented audience members.

I don’t completely agree. Yes, listeners are getting more power to pull fresh media according to their own taste, and publishers are losing power to push media according to what they can monetize. As Umair Haque would put it, attention is becoming scarce at the expense of marketing. And yes, listener-driven distributors like shared playlist sites have an edge over creator-driven distributors like garageband.com.

But at the same time, distributors with a compelling voice are gaining ground. Good music bloggers speak with their taste, and they have a lot in common with specialized labels like Dischord. Per Greg:

Maybe it’s just my view from the extreme edges of the indie fringe, but to me a label is a vehicle for a particular real life community, aka a scene. The indie labels that have had real and long lasting artistic and commercial success, from SubPop and Touch and Go at the high end to Kill Rock Stars and Dischord at the low, have been built around groups of people who actually know and like each other. They play in each others’ bands, they tour together, etc. Even when the bands on the labels play different styles of music, there’s some kind of shared vocabulary there that creates a commonality.

It’s these kind of relationships that give labels meaning for fans, as well. If you’re into Fugazi, you know what it means to be on Dischord. In fact, you might buy a Q and Not U record, or some other release, simply because it’s on the label. How’s this for a definition of a label: a collection of artists under a common banner where, if you like one, you’re likely to like more. That’s why labels (in the sense of companies) had labels (in the sense of logos) in the first place: as differentiators for the customer to know something about a new record before getting to listen to it.

The structure of the attention network is not so much around automated attention agents acting for listeners. It’s more like representative democracy — listeners are delegating the selection process to trusted curators like MP3 bloggers, playlisters, and labels.

the mo bettah label

Ok, so, this might seem like a basic question but what is a label anyway?

Ian thinks it’s a music service organization oriented towards market niches:

With the disappearance of advantaged label competencies such as superior production, distribution, and marketing, reconfigure your labels to be based around affinities and focused narrowly enough to serve roughly the same audiences from release to release. The labels would be very small teams responsible for fan cultivation, focused and direct marketing, and A&R. They would rely on EMI for service, support, and tools (generic marketing would happen on the EMI mothership, for example).

That’s sounds an awful lot like a marketing company to me. And if that’s the case, Victor isn’t down with it:

as far a I know no major label have ever, as in never, broken a band. The band breaks itself, proves it has an audience, and then the labels cash in and sucks the artists’ till dry. There is zero expertise there.

The thing that I get hung up on is that the music business doesn’t have a lot of empty niches, and I don’t see what a label brings to the table in any of the niches it doesn’t already occupy. Sure, labels can get into the concert business, but why are they better at it than established players? They’ll be coming to the party with culture and resources designed for a completely different line of business.

Every other significant revenue source in the music industry is a complementary product to recording sales. As far as concert promoters and merch vendors are concerned, every CD should be 100% free. Having to sell the CDs just gets in the way of creating the attention that moves t-shirts and concert tickets. So how does a label get into these businesses if its legacy interest in selling recordings interferes with its new interesting in giving recordings away?

The business of a record label is selling records, and if selling records isn’t the point then labels seem to be the wrong kind of business to drive the music industry. That’s not to say that there won’t be label-ish things in the long run, just that the labels seem to be the worst candidates to fill that slot. And what slot is that?

Bands need to cluster

Comment thread at audiblehype.com

Bruce Warila:

If I were writing a business plan, investing money or advising investors, I would say – stay away from stand-alone artists and invest in groups/collectives/labels/consortiums/franchises, but not stand-alone artists or bands.

Stand-alone artists are not, and can barely be entertaining on the Internet. Clusters of artists can. The person that can figure out the “model” – how to cluster artists and make it all work, will be creating a real business.

Justin Boland:

Well, I agree with you…we were lucky with World-Around Records, though. I look back at the past year of our operation, and it was mostly formalizing informal networks that grew organically and mostly by accident.

Taking this back to the long running theme on this blog about musician sites and musician blogs, the success of standalone musician blogs depends on becoming part of a network.

A complementary point from a blog post on newmusicstrategies.com titled Do I really have to blog?

The idea that the world is divided into content creators and consumers is increasingly redundant. What’s important is the quality, frequency and ‘engageability’ of your content – and that’s no longer restricted to your musical output.

The fact that you make music is unremarkable. The quality of your communication — musical content included — is now the measure by which you will be judged. This is not a call to pick over the mundane minutiae of your life. This is a challenge to be interesting.

And really, this is not such a radical or transformative idea. Your music has always been communication. Your music business has always been a communication business. This is about using the online tools to enhance that communication.

But blogs can easily be isolating experiences, and that’s a core problem for musician-bloggers, who need to keep up a steady stream of releases but have to stay connected to a vital cluster of fans and other musicians. Hence the reason why most musicians thriving on the net pick a social publishing context like YouTube, Myspace, CCMixter, or GYBO.

Mo bettah, Mr. Hands

Clustering is something labels are already doing. Blue Note is for jazz. Warp is for a particular kind of electronica. Matador, Sub Pop, Metal Blade…

Which brings me back to Ian’s proposal to Guy Hands: reconfigure your labels to be based around affinities and focused narrowly enough to serve roughly the same audiences from release to release. I’ll buy that this is an important thing to do, and the need is not going away. But I’m still skeptical that record companies can cannibalize their current business to do the right thing in this new niche, and in the meantime YouTube, Myspace, CC Mixter, and GYBO are doing fine without them.

So here’s my proposal to Guy Hands as to what he should do with EMI’s new music business.

Creative Commons has posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) regarding the future of the ccMixter.org site, and Victor has posted detailed comments on this. If I were EMI I would step in to operate CC Mixter. It’s a fully functional cluster of music makers with a strong hold on its niche. I don’t know how to monetize it at the scale EMI would need, but I do know that at least EMI would be in the game. Take over and learn how it works. Use the time to gain the institutional skills in managing community. This will take a while, but in a few years the Mixter community will have started to reverse colonize your company. And that’s EMI needs — to absorb the values and skills needed to manage clusters.