Tech News August 2011

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1. Digital music leads boost in record sales

Recorded music sales are actually up for the first time since 2004.  According to Nielsen SoundScan’s midyear sales report, 155.5 million CDs were sold in the United States in the first six months of 2011, up 1 percent from the 153.9 million albums sold at the same time last year. When sales are measured by “track equivalent albums,” which factors in single-track downloads — the rule of thumb is 10 songs to an album — the number is 221.5 million, up 3.6 percent. These increases may be small, but in a business that has been battered as badly and for so long as the music industry has, any good news is very good news.
SoundScan’s report also details the growth of digital music. Sales for digital tracks are up 11 percent this year to 660.8 million, and digital album sales are up 19 percent, at 50.3 million. (By the middle of 2010, digital track sales had declined 0.2 percent from the same period the year before.) Another bright spot is the least digital of all: vinyl albums continue to be a small but rapidly growing sliver of the market, with 1.9 million units sold, up 41 percent this year.  (Source: New York Times)

2. To slow piracy, internet providers ready penalties

Americans who illegally download songs and movies may soon be in for a surprise: They will be warned to stop, and if they don’t, they could find their Internet access slowing to a crawl. After years of negotiations with Hollywood and the music industry, the nation’s top Internet providers have agreed to a systematic approach to identifying customers suspected of digital copyright infringement and then alerting them via e-mail or other means.   The companies took pains to say that the agreement did not oblige Internet providers to shut down a repeat offender’s account, and that the system of alerts was meant to be “educational.” But they noted that carriers would retain their right to cut off any user who violated their terms of service. (Source: New York Times)

3. As we pay less for music, we get less, too

An article in the Denver Post, discusses the impact that the digital revolution has had in the last decade on the economics of the recorded music business.   (Source: Denver Post)

4. Placido Domingo takes on piracy role

Opera singer Placido Domingo is taking a leading role in the fight against music piracy, after agreeing to become Chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the global body representing record labels.  (Source: BBC)
 
5. Behind the music: should the music industry put digital first?

Judging by the media coverage dedicated to digital music one might think the physical format is on its last legs. In fact, even the days of downloads may be numbered as growth in the sector has slowed down considerably over the past year. It seems nobody cares about owning music any more – people are happy to access music via the cloud and stream it from services such as Spotify.

It's as if nobody wants to talk about CDs for fear of sounding like a dinosaur. But while 90% of discussion about the music industry concerns digital consumption and how to monetize it, actual sales show the majority of music fans are, in fact, such dinosaurs. In 2010, 82.2% of album sales were CDs, with downloads trailing at 17.5% (vinyl and USB sticks took up the remaining 0.3%) – despite there being fewer record stores. Revenue from streaming services is pretty insignificant, representing less than 3% of revenue in 2009. This year the digital slice of the pie has grown to 25% but much of that increase is due to record labels working to move consumers towards digital.  (Source: The Guardian)

6. Broadway actors use twitter to connect with friends, fans, industry

Sharing what goes on behind the curtain, with 140-character messages to friends and fans in real time, actors are now able to reach people in and out of the industry. Sometimes tweets go out literally mid-performance, revealing even the smallest private moments. (Source: Backstage)

7. To fill a gap in commercial radio, classically trained apps

It’s been a long decade for classical music fans, with the virtual disappearance of the genre from commercial radio. But now, thanks to mobile devices, who needs radio?  Androids or iPhones make good music players, and personalized radio apps like Slacker, Pandora and Last.fm offer passable alternatives to conventional radio, especially if you pay for advertising-free versions of the services.  And with a few good genre-specific apps and a few dollars, classical music aficionados can stay connected to their favorite composers and performances, and discover new ones they might not find elsewhere.  (Source: New York Times)

8. Cleveland Public Library to offer free music downloads to cardholders

The Cleveland Public Library took a giant step into the world of digital music, by offering its cardholders something few others can -- legal, free, music downloads. With the launch of MyTunes, users can download up to three songs per week and 150 songs per year from Sony's catalogue of more than a million songs without costing a thing.  (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)

9. Is Google+ more of a threat to Twitter than Facebook?

Much of the press around the launch of Google+ has pitted it squarely against Facebook.  Facebook is definitely feeling challenged, if not threatened. They've been blocking attempts by Google+ users to pull their contact information out of Facebook. And even more damning, their PR firm Burson-Marsteller has contacted journalists asking them to run stories on privacy issues with Google+. 

With most people inside the walls being complete strangers, however, those lucky enough to get in have been treating Google+ more like Twitter.  They add people to their "Following" Circles and broadcast their posts publicly, starting connections and conversations with their fellow-nerd-strangers—especially the high-profile ones.  The truth is, Google+ is just as good, if not better, for public broadcast as it is for private conversations.  Unlike the 140 character Twitter limit, you can post long-form essays on Google+, and your audience is right there to receive it in their personal stream.  As a result, Google+ may be as much of threat to Twitter, as it is to Facebook.  (Source: Business Insider)

10. New service offers music in quantity, not by song

Spotify, the European digital music service, is finally available in the United States.  Rather than selling individual tracks to be downloaded, the subscription service sells monthly access to vast catalogs of music, with whatever songs a listener wants to hear streamed directly to his computer or mobile phone.  Spotify will be offered in the same three-tier plan that it has in Europe: a free, ad-supported version; a basic ad-free version for $5 a month; and a premium service for $10 a month that adds access on a mobile phone, higher audio quality and other perks.   At first, Spotify’s free version will be available by invitation only, given out through current users or by the company to the thousands who have requested the service on Twitter and through its Web site. (Paid subscriptions will be available right away.)    (Source: New York Times)

11. Online music, unshackled

Today, Web music services are spread across the entire price/convenience/permanence matrix. Some offer music that’s free and legal, but you can’t choose exactly which songs play (Pandora.com). Some let you download song files to own forever for 79 cents to $1.30 each (iTunes and Amazon.com). Some let you rent music — that is, listen to all you want for a flat monthly fee, but you’re left with nothing when you stop paying (rdio.com, Napster.com, Rhapsody.com).  And some services are illegal.

This month, though, the world took a great step forward toward the holy grail: free, legal, song-specific and convenient. After years of pulling out its corporate hair in tufts while negotiating with the music companies, Spotify has finally brought its service to the United States.   (Source: New York Times)

12. When Borders closes, do doors slam shut in classical music?

In addition to the grim truth of another 11,000 jobs lost and 400 retail fronts closing, the news of the Borders failure marks the end of another chapter in how classical music is distributed, sold and enjoyed.  While Borders was never another Tower in terms of the knowledge of their clerks, it still was a store that acknowledged classical music exists.  However, industry insiders say the demise or Borders was both long foreseen and almost inevitable, in part because they had no idea what to buy or how many to buy.  

For many classical music listeners, browsing is still an important pathway to musical discovery, one that many online sellers haven't managed to duplicate. And lots of people still prefer physical CDs to downloads. The Borders experience left a lot to be desired, for sure, but you could walk into one of their stores and know that you'd see classical music there.  (Source: NPR)
 
13. Hollywood's first digital christmas to cause pain

In its new weekly magazine, The Hollywood Reporter looks at studios bracing for the shift from DVDs to cheaper movies in the cloud as they fight to own their digital future. Most big movies will be sold on home video this holiday season in “combo packs.” Blu-ray Discs will come with a digital file that buyers can register on one of two new services: UltraViolet and Disney Studio All Access Keychest. These free accounts will exist on cloud-based computer servers available anytime, anywhere, on any enabled device.  The move, say studio insiders, is the most serious effort yet to wean consumers away from the DVD, which has dominated home entertainment for nearly 15 years.   (Source: Hollywood Reporter)