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Archive for February, 2008

Pirates of the Third Screen


I wrote and op-ed on the future of mobile marketing for this week’s edition of ADWEEK, making the case that treating customers like criminals for illegally remixing your brands and messages isn’t a good idea:

“Effective strategies will mean more connections with consumers and increased opportunities to communicate with them. But they may also mean more crossed wires and mixed messages. The question is, are we in the business of spreading messages or controlling them? In the future it’s going to be harder to do both.”

You can read the piece in its entirety here.

Update: The New York Times picked up on the op-ed too.

Digital Music Forum East

Digital Music Forum East

This week I’ll be on a panel at Digital Music Forum East, the major annual annual get-together of music industry folks on the east coast interested in digital (which should be just about all of them). 500+ music industry insiders from the majors, the indies, not to mention artists and artist reps, attorneys, investors and everyone else involved in the ever-changing and expanding business will be discussing their collective future. Should be interesting, if you’d like to be there too, you can find out more about it here

The Art of Storytelling


Regine Zylberberg

I was intrigued by this post I came across via PSFK on how to open a nightclub. They missed one point which is key to opening a great club, but also to creating any kind of brand; you need to have a good back-story. Nobody understood this more completely than Regine Zylberberg, one of the world’s first DJs, and a pioneer of what would become the modern nightclub.

Born in Belgium in 1929, as a teenager Regine had spent part of the war hiding in a French convent before reuniting with her family in Paris, where she began working as a hostess at her father’s bistro. “That was where my ambition began,” she recalls. “It was a working-class Jewish cafe with all sorts of people passing through. I said to myself: I want a place where I get to choose who comes in. I wanted counts and dukes – people with titles.”

After a spell selling bras on street corners and working as a scullery maid, 23 year old Regine began working at one of Paris’ first discotheques, Whiskey á Go-Go, in 1953. She quickly earned a reputation as a “fast-living, fun-loving girl about town. She could dance and sing, and she had great legs” the BBC’s roving eye later observed. Her enchanting presence attracted Parisian playboys, princes and members of the Rothschilds banking family, and she quickly became the club’s main attraction.

But she wasn’t just a pretty face. She had some ideas for the club, and began to experiment. “I laid down a linoleum dance-floor, put in colored lights and removed the juke-box. The trouble with a juke-box was that when the music stopped you could hear the people snogging in the corners. Instead I installed two turntables so there was no gap in the music” she recounted to AFP years later.

Regine became so well known that when Whiskey á Go-Go opened a second venue in Paris’ Latin Quarter, locals referred to it simply as ‘Chez Regine.’ She intrinsically understood how to make a club feel special. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton highlight one example of her flair for innovation in Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: “When a new Whiskey club in Cannes began to slump, Pacini sent his bright young hostess to save it. Regine knew the value of hype. For a month she would dutifully open the doors at 10.30pm and promptly put up a ‘DISCO FULL’ sign. People were regularly turned away as the empty cacophony of the club echoed outside. The day she opened for real, the place was mobbed.”

Regine struck out on her own in 1958, when her pals the Rothchilds financed her first official Chez Regine venue. Princesses, socialites and those who wanted to rub shoulders with them flocked to the place. Bottles of liquor were sold at a premium rather than just single cocktails. The cast of West Side Story breezed in one evening, and taught France the twist. “One night, I got a call at home from the Duke of Windsor,” she told New York magazine. “He wanted me to come to his house, to teach him the twist. I told him, ‘No. You come to my club – I teach you there.”

Regine knew her reputation and exotic stories were her brand, so when the stories spread across the world, she soon followed. In 1975 she packed a reported 200 pounds of Louis Vuitton luggage and 800 pairs of shoes onto a steamboat, and headed for New York. She opened a Chez Regine on the ground floor of the Delmonico hotel, now known as Trump Park Avenue, and lived luxuriously in a suite eleven stories above. Before the club was anywhere near open, she had sold more than 2,000 membership cards (which were gold, and came in Cartier cases) for $600 each.

At Chez Regine in New York, even more extreme elitism was enforced. So tough was the door policy, the State Liquor Authority thought about suing her for social discrimination. People were thrown out ruthlessly – the wife of a former Indonesian president tried to sue Regine for $4m after being kicked to the curb for knocking over some wine glasses. She eventually won one French franc.

But the tough policy worked wonders, and Regine was a hit. Her decadent reputation had preceded her and Regine capitalized on it, befriending the jet-set and networking faster than a speeding Concorde. Michael Douglas, Ivana Trump, Julio Iglesias, Bridgette Bardot, Rod Stewart, Joan Collins and Salvador Dali were just a page worth’s of the VIPs in Regine’s little black book. The Jaggers and Onassis’s pow-wowed with the Kennedy’s, while Jack Nicholson and John Gotti partied with Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. Andy Warhol was showing up every night to tape everything, and he later painted Regine’s portrait. Federico Fellini gave her with a twelve-foot boa constrictor, which she kept as a pet.

Chez Regine became a spiritual home to 1980s greed and hedonism as celebrities and hangers-on flocked to her opulent theme nights. At her famous white party, a spotless carpet as pure as the driven cocaine was rolled out, blanketing the sidewalk in luxury. Stories of Chez Regine spread beyond the velvet rope, and this was no accident – it was a branding exercise. Its exclusive walls and the mysterious French glamour-puss who held court within were perfect tabloid fodder. “Order a drink and be prepared to close out your bank account” a 1982 guidebook advised. “Once, I flew with her to Paris on the Concorde, and she was the only person I ever saw who didn’t have to show her passport at Customs,” Diane Von Furstenberg told New York magazine. “It was just, Bonjour, Madame Regine.” The New York Post crowned Regine ‘the queen of the night.’ The title stuck.

But Paris and New York were not enough. Regine wanted the world. She expanded her empire until she had 25 franchises on three continents. By the early 1980s there were branches in Rio de Janeiro, Saint-Tropez, Santiago, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, Monte Carlo and London, not to mention cafes, a clothing label, three fragrance lines, a magazine, dancercise classes and Regine-sponsored cruises on the QE2. At her peak, the queen of the night was grossing $500m a year. Regine became a celebrity in her own right, landing acting roles in Hollywood and recording a version of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive,’ which was a smash hit in France.

But as the eighties wore on, Regine’s star began to fade, and the empire’s shoulder pads began to sag. Studio 54 and its topless waiters promised even further extremes of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and the crowds at Regine began to dwindle. By the time Gordon Gecko had been arrested and the early-nineties recession hit, Regine had closed its doors altogether. Her sparkle eclipsed by a changing world, the queen of the night returned to France.

Of course, she survived just like she said she would. The empire was chopped up and sold off long ago, but Regine is still releasing albums, appearing on French TV and writing memoirs. She still operates Jimmy’z in Monaco, where celebrities and Eurotrash to this day clamor to enjoy cocktails starting at $40 a pop.

The queen of the night has an important lesson for us. If sharing is going to take over the world, and everything is to have a free substitute, the only way to compete is on the strength of your story. When Regine took over Whiskey á Go-Go, it was one of several boozy Parisian jazz bars. Because she created a story behind the name, the name lives on today. Using the same formula, countless businesses trade in luxury and illusions of grandeur.

Regine sold exclusivity. She made it perfectly clear her brand was the best of the best, strictly for the elite, but she sold this story to everyone. She understood the cult of celebrity a long time before the rest of us, and used it to build an empire. But the celebrity game changed. She can today be seen mucking in on Celebrity Farm, France’s most popular reality television show.

Celebrities aren’t quite as glamorous as they once were, because it’s easier to become one. They no longer seem a world apart like rock stars did to punk bands. It is clear the power is with us, the consumers. We buy ideas from people like Regine who become brands, to tell a story about who we are as people.

Brands have become central to our lives, but what we buy is the stories that come with them. Nightclubs sell experiences, but these days, so does everyone else. In a world of free substitutes, meaning is the only way to differentiate. We need door policies. We need good stories. We need people like Regine.

And… We’re back.

Costa Rica

Apologies for the lack of activity these last few days, was taking a break in Costa Rica, but normal activities have now resumed. While I was away a lot has been going on…

Lawrence Lessig might be running for congress.

Ji Lee developed the ultimate t-shirt for Red Sox fans.

Some great books came out, like Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and Gerd Leonhard’s Music 2.0

The BBC thinks the Chinese model of music-as-advertising could be the answer, I think that loss of independence will damage music and all we’ll be left with is muzak. As a revenue stream sponsorship makes sense, but as the revenue stream, it will damage music. There needs to be royalties and licenses and other ways for people to earn money from their work. I think as prices of these things fall (which they will) the value artists can create will go up, because more people will be consuming their material.

Oh, and I did an interview with Creative Generalist.

5 Reasons Why Downloaders Will Not Face UK Ban


There’s been a lot of buzz about a story The London Times ran this morning under the headline “Internet users could be banned over illegal downloads,” which also appeared on the BBC website under the even more alarming headline “Illegal downloaders ‘face UK ban.”

The Times says “people who illegally download films and music will be cut off from the internet under new legislative proposals to be unveiled next week.” Actually, this story is complete balderdash. But the fact that this nutty proposal is getting anywhere at all illustrates how ignorant the powers that be are about downloading.

Let’s get a couple of things straight –

1. This proposal was a draft consultation green paper, defined as “a proposal without any commitment to action.” The government receives many of these on a daily basis. They are like junk mail at Number 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s toilet paper is more important than most green papers, and both are usually filed in the same place.

2. This proposal is totally and completely unworkable in the real world. ISPs will not accept liability for the contents of packets (nor should they), and it would be impossible for them to open and check if every single download and upload was legal or not without the entire Internet grinding to halt. This isn’t in the best interests of the government, the ISPs or the voters. Banning customers and exposing yourself to billions in liability isn’t a good business strategy. Criminalizing six million citizens and inconveniencing the rest is not a vote winner.

3. It would be impossible to tell the difference between illegal downloading and legal activities such as downloading software patches, using torrents to share stuff legally, playing online video games, using VoIP, photo sharing, telecommuting, and many others. The resistance from the private sector would be as strong as it would from the general public.

4. The very idea of this goes against the ruling of the European Court, which says EU member states are not obligated to disclose personal information about suspected file sharers. It would also fly in the face of Article 10 of the European freedom of expression laws, which gives every European the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

5. WiFi piggybacking and encrypted packets make it impossible to tell who is downloading what in the first place. These techniques are only getting more sophisticated, while for the most part, the content industries collectively remain as dumb as a box of hair.

So in summary:

<Toilet Flushing Sound FX>Paper on Banning Downloading</Toilet Flushing Sound FX>

This idea makes as much sense as trying to ban people from singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each other over the telephone network, or burning down libraries to protect the publishing industry. But what’s frightening about such ideas is that they are still taken seriously all over the world by powerful decision makers in government and industry who have absolutely no clue about how the Internet actually works, or the damage such laws could do to democracy.

Before there is any more discussion about this, the music and film companies need to definitively prove illegal downloads cost them millions of dollars in lost revenues. CD sales are falling because nobody uses them anymore, and Hollywood is in rude health despite the pirates. There should be no more talk about changing laws and spending tax payer’s money on this ‘problem’ until someone proves there really is one.

Furthermore, if there is a problem, tax payers shouldn’t have to pony up in the first place. The content industries need to stop braying at governments to protect inefficient business models and look at the real solution that’s been staring them in the face for ten years.

Originally written for Torrentfreak, I also did another piece today on that solution for Internet Evolution.

The Pirate’s Dilemma on Bloomberg TV

The Pirate’s Dilemma Matt Mason Bloomberg

I did the In Focus show on Bloomberg TV this afternoon, catch the interview here.

The Medici Effect: Free Download


Giving away something for free is a great way to compete with pirates, but it’s also a great way to compete with obscurity. Around 200,000 books come out every year in North America, and the average book sells 500 copies or less. A free e-version might cost you some sales, but all the evidence suggests it’s more likely to gain you an audience.

It’s also a great strategy for books that aren’t obscure. Bestselling author Paul Coelho had a lot of success with this approach, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. But it seems the idea of free books itself is now starting to go viral. This morning I got this email from Frans Johansson, bestselling author of innovation bible The Medici Effect:

“My publisher Harvard Business School Press has just done a first. They sent me the pdf for The Medici Effect for me to post on my site. Anyone can download it, post it, and share it with anyone for free. They have never done anything like this in the past and we are all very curious about what could happen … The inspiration for this came effectively from The Pirate’s Dilemma blog where my friend Matt Mason describes how best-selling author Paolo Coelho boosted sales in Russia by uploading a pirate copy of his book The Alchemist. Very good example of competing with pirates. I sent the post to HBS Press – and they said let’s do it with the English version.”

You can download the full version of The Medici Effect here (pdf), which is one of the best innovation books I’ve ever read, and a bargain at twice the price.

I realize there is one book mentioned in this post that doesn’t yet have a free e-version available. I’m working on it…

“If you want to stop piracy, the way to stop it is by competing with it” – Steve Jobs

pirate flag apple

Jobs and the Apple team first hoist the pirate flag at a company retreat in Carmel, 1984.

Photo from Forbes magazine, 1984, via Folklore. Thanks to Mark.

Murakami steals bombed billboard

Takashi Murakami

From BoingBoing (with thanks to Ji Lee):

“In December, graffiti writers AUGER and REVOK modified a billboard advertising the wonderful Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Two days later, the billboard was removed. The LA Weekly now reports that Murakami himself saw online photos of the graffitied billboard and thought it to be “so wonderful, he had to have it for his collection.”

Obama on Net Neutrality

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