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Archive for January, 2008

Alchemist concocts a new business model for books

Paul Cohelo, best-selling author of The Alchemist, uploads pirate copies of his own books because it helps him sell more physical copies.

In a keynote speech at the Digital, Life, Design conference in Munich, Cohelo talked about how uploading the Russian translation of “The Alchemist” made his sales in Russia go from around 1,000 per year to 100,000, then a million and more. He says:

“In 2001, I sold 10,000 hard copies. And everyone was puzzled. We came from zero, from 1000, to 10,000. And then the next year we were over 100,000… I thought that this is fantastic. You give to the reader the possibility of reading your books and choosing whether to buy it or not… So, I went to BitTorrent and I got all my pirate editions… And I created a site called The Pirate Coelho.”

Coelho is convinced, and I agree with him, that giving people free electronic copies of his books helps physical sales. I’m hoping we can do something similar with The Pirate’s Dilemma at some stage. But I’d rather get my publishers to come to the table on this idea instead of going behind their backs. While I have no problem with free/pirate copies of my book circulating, I wouldn’t put them out there myself the way Coelho did, against the wishes of his publisher, out of respect for the time and effort the many people at the publishers put in. I suspect Coelho’s publisher let him get away with this for the same reason Micheal Jordan got away with playing baseball. But the strategy has clearly worked.

Last.fm free the music


It’s looking like this is the year the music industry’s old business model will finally give way to the new one that’s existed illegally for almost a decade. From Last.fm’s blog:

“As of today, you can play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Last.fm website.

Something we’ve wanted for years—for people who visit Last.fm to be able to play any track for free—is now possible. With the support of the folks behind EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner—and the artists they work with—plus thousands of independent artists and labels, we’ve made the biggest legal collection of music available to play online for free, the way we believe it should be.

Full-length tracks are now available in the US, UK, and Germany, and we’re hard at work broadening our coverage into other countries. During this initial public beta period, each track can be played up to 3 times for free before a notice appears telling you about our upcoming subscription service. The soon-to-be announced subscription service will give you unlimited plays and some other useful things. We’re also working on bringing full-length tracks to the desktop client and beyond.

Free full-length tracks are obviously great news for listeners, but also great for artists and labels, who get paid every time someone streams a song. Music on Last.fm is perpetually monetized. This is good because artists get paid based on how popular a song is with their fans, instead of a fixed amount.

We will be paying artists directly.

We already have licenses with the various royalty collection societies, but now unsigned artists can put their music on Last.fm and be paid directly for every song played. This helps to level the playing-field—now you can make music, upload it to Last.fm and earn money for each play. If you make music, you can sign up to participate for free.

We’re not printing money to pay for this—but the business model is simple enough: we are paying artists and labels a share of advertising revenue from the website.

Today we’re redesigning the music economy. There are already millions of tracks available, and we’re adding more every day. We will continue to work hard to bring this to everyone in the world.”

*UPDATE* Mike Masnick over at Techdirt points out two problems with Last.fm’s model. A – It’s not really free. B – Other companies have been doing this for a while already. Personally I don’t think that changes what’s exciting about this news – the fact that this is another march towards the inevitable; free music for real. (Thanks to Nick for the heads up).

Excerpt From Chapter 1: Punk Capitalism

Punk Capitalism illustration by Art Jaz

I just found this online at ereader. I didn’t know my publisher had authorized this excerpt, but figured since it was up there, I could re-post it here. Please enjoy…

“I’d noticed that hair mattered.”

He’s sitting across from me in the back of a café. You wouldn’t think that hair mattered to look at him. His dark brown hair falls around his thick-rimmed glasses down to his jaw, casually framing his face. He has that relaxed, just-got-out-of-bed look. Not the on-purpose kind media types have, but as though he actually might have. It doesn’t look as though he’s given hair much thought at all, but the man I am talking with had one of the most important haircuts of the twentieth century.

This is Richard Meyers: writer, poet, artist, and former front man of bands the Neon Boys, Television, and the Voidoids. He is better known as Richard Hell, and the angular hairstyle and cut-up clothing he pioneered in the early 1970s would come to define a movement better known as punk.

Not far from where we’re sitting on New York’s Lower East Side was the club CBGB, where Hell’s early performances inspired punk’s first generation. A runaway from Kentucky, he arrived in the city an aspiring writer, affected by beat poets and writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but quickly realized he could make a more powerful statement with music. “Part of what I liked about music was all these other means for communication,” Hell told me. “In rock ‘n’ roll it’s always been important how you looked. How you looked said something. And it was usually something about rejecting convention and the nine-to-five, and any kind of control, but you could get really elaborate with how you used the way you looked to communicate stuff. You’re always being interviewed, your album covers, your live shows, it was so broad, the areas for getting your message across. I wanted to use all of them.”

And use them he did. Inspired in part by the rebellious French poets Rimbaud and Artaud, who had sported spiky hair in the early nineteenth century, Hell chopped his mane into a short, aggressive style as a way of rejecting the hippie movement and the big-hair glamour of stadium rock. He looked at the Beatles’ bowl haircuts and asked himself, what are they really saying? “Well,” he explains, “they really say five-year-old kid. So I thought, ‘What was my generation’s haircut like when we were five years old?’ Where I grew up, the most popular haircut was called the ‘Butch.’ Short all the way around, and you’d maybe wax up the front of it. But of course being kids, we wouldn’t get to the barber that often, and we wouldn’t keep it neat, it would just be kind of raggedy…. I wanted it to be do-it-yourself. I wanted it to not be something you’d go to the barber for.”

Richard fused the Beatles, the “Butch,” and two radical nineteenth-century French bohemians into his new do-it-yourself hairstyle, and hell literally broke loose. In 1974 Television took to the stage at CBGB on Sunday nights. Hell wore clothes slashed as aggressively as his hair, held together with safety pins and emblazoned with slogans such as PLEASE KILL ME. “It was a rejection of having who you are imposed on you by corporations who were gonna profit from making you feel insecure about how you look,” he says. “I’ve just always been really skeptical and suspicious and resentful of people who try to sell you stuff by intimidating you.”

Hell’s statements were a full-frontal assault on the senses, burning his ideas into the minds of his audience, who at the time happened to be some of the most influential people in New York City, and in pop culture period. After Television’s success, CBGB (which stood for “Country Blue-Grass Blues”) switched to a punk rock–only format every night, becoming a creative hotbed for artists and bands such as the Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, and Debbie Harry, all of whom cut their teeth on its stage. Malcolm McLaren, then manager of another influential group, the New York Dolls, was so stimulated by Hell’s look he took it back to London and used it to create a new band: the Sex Pistols.

Punk exploded.

Thirty years after it first shook the world, punk is in a museum. A few miles uptown from where Hell and I are sitting, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is holding a punk exhibition sponsored by multinational luxury goods brand Burberry. Tourists are studying early British punk clothes—made by now world-famous fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood—and listening to a podcast commentary by the world-famous Sex Pistol Jonny Rotten.

Punk is dead.

But Hell survived. Instead of becoming a parody of his former self, he moved on. He remains on the Lower East Side, under the mainstream’s radar, but credible in many other circles, now the successful poet and published writer he always aspired to be. This new attitude, career, and his current, less threatening hairstyle are all part of a strategy. “The interesting thing is to not remain the same,” he muses. “To me that’s what’s boring; I don’t really care to see fifty-year-old people going around in punk leather jackets. The point is to stay unclassifiable. Then they don’t own you.”

When the hairstyle lost its meaning, Hell lost the hairstyle. But his statement and the do-it-yourself ideal he promoted affected the world. Today it is the driving force behind a new generation of D.I.Y. entrepreneurs who are raising hell once again. Disruptive new D.I.Y. technologies are causing unprecedented creative destruction. The history of punk offers us valuable insights into how this new world works. Punk was an angry outburst, a reaction to mass culture, but it offered new ideas about how mass culture could be replaced with a more personalized, less centralized worldview.

Punk has survived in many incarnations musically—it became new wave, influenced hip-hop, and conceived grunge and the notion of indie bands. But more important, its independent spirit also spurred a do-it-yourself revolution. D.I.Y. encourages us to reject authority and hierarchy, advocating that we can and should produce as much as we consume. Since punk, this idea has been quietly changing the very fabric of our economic system, replacing outdated ideas with the twenty-first-century upgrades of Punk Capitalism.

Suddenly like at a punk gig, today everybody is getting smashed together in a much more turbulent, concentrated environment that is constantly changing. There are fewer conventional “jobs,” and increasingly complex relationships between those consuming and those producing. And changes in manufacturing mean soon all of us could have the means to create literally anything ourselves, from the comfort of our own homes.

As we shall now see, the possibilities of D.I.Y. are reaching new heights. Like a roomful of teenagers with green hair throwing bottles at one another, this new world can look frightening. But once you get it, it’s obvious it’s a better place to be. The end of top-down mass culture is creating opportunities and freedoms for us all.

Hell used the past to create a hairstyle that shaped the perspective of a generation. Generations since have grown up using ingenuity and creativity to do the things punk always promoted: tearing down hegemonies and hierarchies, starting over, and improving the way we operate as a society.

Hell is right. Hair mattered.

Long live punk.

Spoiler Alert! How Pirates Will Change The Entertainment Industry


I just wrote a new piece for TorrentFreak on where I think the entertainment business will end up because of file sharing. I think the only workable solution, which we are slowly but surely moving towards, is a voluntary collective license for music, and possibly other forms of entertainment and maybe even software too. Consumers and license holders could choose to pay, or not, and it will need to be truly global in scope, and controlled by lots of small companies rather than one large organization. Check it out here.

The Pirate’s Dilemma in the Boston Phoenix

Pirate’s Boston

The Boston Phoenix is Massachusetts’s finest alternative newspaper, so it was great to get this very positive review from journalist Mike Miliard. I thought Mike’s intro was cool and worth sharing here:

“When Napster, invented by a Northeastern freshman, threw the music industry into chaos in 1999, Steve Jobs didn’t panic. He saw an opportunity. Nine years later, Apple’s iTunes has sold more than three billion songs — 70 percent of worldwide digital-music sales.

Why can’t everyone think like that? This past month, having seen the volley of lawsuits they unleashed over the past five years do virtually nothing to stanch the flow of file-sharing, the record companies and Hollywood studios shined their shoes, pulled their Windsor knots tight, and went to Washington with hats in hand.

They want the Justice Department to prosecute more people. They want local police to work harder sniffing out online malfeasance. They want to ratchet up the already draconian penalties for copyright infringement. And they want Congress to help them, by passing the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2007, which would create a new federal agency, the sole purpose of which would be to combat copyright crooks.

As the British Royal Navy finally vanquished Caribbean buccaneers in the 1700s, so the RIAA and MPAA are hoping to rout 21st-century Internet pirates. They won’t.”

Ford Responds: Car Owners Are *Not* Pirates (They Just Can’t Sell Merch With Our Logos On)

Ford Logo

I thought this comment which I received from Whitney Drake at Ford on my previous post about the Black Mustang Club’s 2008 Calender was worth publishing here. Whitney writes:

“We’ve been watching this discussion with interest and I’d like to clarify what is essentially a misunderstanding.

Yesterday we spoke to both Cafe Press and the Black Mustang Club and explained the situation (about the Black Mustang Club’s calendar) to everyone’s satisfaction. Ford has no problem with Mustang or other car owners taking pictures of their vehicles for use in club materials like calendars. What we do have an issue with are individuals using Ford’s logo and other trademarks for products they intend to sell. Understandably, we have to take the protection of our brands and licensing very seriously.

Ford did not send the Black Mustang Club a “cease and desist” letter telling them that they could not use images of their own cars in their calendar. The decision not to allow the calendars to be printed was made by Cafe Press, because we had gotten in touch with them in the past about trademark infringements on products they sold.

The Black Mustang Club, and any other Ford enthusiast club, are free to take pictures of their own vehicles for use in calendars or other materials as long as they don’t use Ford trademarks in products that will be sold.

I think it is great that the Black Mustang Club, and any other enthusiast club, would take pictures of their own vehicles for use in calendars or other materials.

I’m looking forward to purchasing a copy to hang in the garage next to my Mustang (even if mine isn’t black).

Thanks for giving us the chance to have our say.”

Protecting trademarks while allowing customers and fans to express themselves and create media with your products is certainly a difficult balancing act. I agree with Whitney that third parties producing Ford-branded merchandise, without obtaining permission from Ford, is an infringement of some kind, and a problem Ford needs to address in order to protect its trademarks. Legally Ford do own some rights to the “trade dress” of their products, even after they have sold them, and others can’t use that trade dress for profit. But in reality this gets a little more tricky.

Taking pictures of your Mustang with the logo clearly visible isn’t the same as selling these (can’t believe this is still on Cafe Press after all this). But you could interpret the law to mean that selling a second-hand Ford in your local paper with the Ford logo visible would be a tradmark infringement – after all, you would be reproducing a Ford logo and trade dress in the hope of earning a profit, would you not? It’s clear Ford doesn’t take this view, but legally it’s not so clear, and this is where the problems start.

The problem here isn’t what Ford did, it wasn’t Ford who stood in the way of BMC. The real problem is what Cafe Press did. Because they had been spoken to by Ford before about trademark infringement, they stopped BMC in their tracks without even consulting Ford. A decision that had nothing to do with anyone at Ford turned into a PR snafoo for them, because Cafe Press tried to act in Ford’s best interests. Sites like Cafe Press or YouTube, where third parties can upload content they may not own the rights to, are under pressure to police what people upload more effectively. This is causing sites which feature user-generated products and content to impose draconian measures, preemptively prohibiting some content without checking if it’s ok or not, which in this case turned into a PR problem for the actual trademark holder.

Like I said, a difficult balancing act.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the end of the CD business.

Mac Book Air

Steve Jobs just delivered his latest keynote, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the CD business. The Mac Book Air has no CD drive. When the original iMac lost the disc drive, the floppy quickly went the way of the Dodo. Now Apple have done the same thing to the CD, and quite possibly hastened the demise of the DVD too.

And why not? We live in a world where it’s perfectly feasible to distribute most types of media without the need for little plastic discs of any kind. Yet EMI, who are laying off one third of their entire workforce, still find it economically viable to ignore ubiquitous digital distribution with zero marginal cost, and instead spend $50m a year scrapping unsold CDs.

Moving to all-digital media formats isn’t just the most efficient thing to do economically, it’s the right thing to do environmentally, and it wouldn’t be happening as quickly without companies like Apple accepting the reality of the situation when most media and technology companies won’t.

Apple: Master of the remix


There’s a great piece over at Gizmodo on how Dieter Rams, a designer working for Braun in the 1960s, influenced the work of Apple’s design mastermind Jonathan Ives.

“When you look at the Braun products by Dieter Rams—many of them at New York’s MoMA—and compare them to Ive’s work at Apple, you can clearly see the similarities in their philosophies way beyond the sparse use of color, the selection of materials and how the products are shaped around the function with no artificial design, keeping the design “honest.”

“This passion for “simplicity” and “honest design” that is always declared by Ive whenever he’s interviewed or appears in a promo video, is at the core of Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for good design:

• Good design is innovative.

• Good design makes a product useful.

• Good design is aesthetic.

• Good design helps us to understand a product.

• Good design is unobtrusive.

• Good design is honest.

• Good design is durable.

• Good design is consequent to the last detail.

• Good design is concerned with the environment.

• Good design is as little design as possible.”

In the book I talk about other great designs Apple have paid homage to – such as the Regency TR-1 pocket radio (pictured below), released in 1954, the world’s first portable player of free music. More on that here.

apple ipod

Ford: Car owners are pirates if they distribute pictures of their own cars


Saw this unbelievable story on Boing Boing:

“The folks at BMC (Black Mustang Club) automotive forum wanted to put together a calendar featuring members’ cars, and print it through CafePress. Photos were submitted, the layout was set, and… CafePress notifies the site admin that pictures of Ford cars cannot be printed. Not just Ford logos, not just Mustang logos, the car -as a whole- is a Ford trademark and its image can’t be reproduced without permission. So even though Ford has a lineup of enthusiasts who want to show off their Ford cars, the company is bent on alienating them. ‘Them’ being some of the most loyal owners and future buyers that they have. Or rather, that they had, because many have decided that they will not be doing business with Ford again if this matter isn’t resolved.”

Ford Motor Company’s claim that they own all rights to the photos you take of your car means the BMC 2008 Calendar won’t be coming out. Ford has just fallen to third place in terms of vehicle sales, behind GM and Toyota, with Dodge not too far behind. Maybe not the best time to start alienating some (and by some I mean 9,000) of their most ardent fans with baseless copyright claims. Keep up on the story here.

J.J. Abrams thinks outside of the box.

I loved this talk from TED by J.J Abrams who “traces his love of the unseen mystery — the heart of Alias, Lost, and the upcoming Cloverfield — back to its own magical beginnings, which may or may not include an early obsession with magic, the love of a supportive grandfather, or his own unopened Mystery Box.”

Abrams makes some great observations about where the real value is in our ideas today. In a world where high tech means of production are ubiquitous, creating and spreading ideas has become democratized. But good ideas can still be very low-tech, and are as scarce and important as they ever were.

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