Archive for March, 2007

Friday Mystery Author: Kenneth Grahame

March 26, 2007

This week’s Friday Mystery Author (the first return installment after a three-week break) was Kenneth Grahame, from The Wind in the Willows, of course – specifically, from that first exuberant chapter on Spring and the River. The passage continues with the first meeting of Mole and the Water Rat:

He [the Mole] thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before — this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver — glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

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Economics of Music

March 25, 2007

A quick post to collect a recent flurry of writing on the economics of music:

  • UPDATE: Joe Malchow links to a blog, Recording Industry vs The People, that monitors RIAA activity.
  • UPDATE: Boing Boing: “DMCA’s author says the DMCA is a failure, blames record industry” (via Instapundit).  Chris Anderson comments: “Music in an abundance economy.”
  • Alex Ross: Dead or Alive. Are classical music sales up or down? No one knows. “[T]he whole point is that there are no hits in classical music.”
  • Norman Lebrecht in La Scena Musicale: What are the top-selling classical albums of all time? “In a whole century of recording, no more than 25 classics topped a million sales, the oldest being Enrico Caruso’s ice-breaker of 1903 and the most recent, in 2002, the first appearance of a Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa, at the internationally televised New Year’s Day concert from Vienna.” (Via Tyler Cowen).
  • New Music Box is midway through a three-part series on the economics of new music (via Tyler Cowen):
    • Part 1: Free to Compete, by Marc Geelhoed of Deceptively Simple: “New music presenters are well aware of the potential draw as well as the pitfalls of giving a free concert.”
    • Part 2: The Malady Lingers On, by Matthew Guerrieri of Soho the Dog: “Baumol’s cost-disease (sometimes more prosaically referred to as the Baumol-Bowen effect) is well-known among economists and arts administrators, but not many working musicians have even heard of it.”
  • Free Exchange (economist.com): Music Wants to be Free. “[D]o we say farewell to the recording industry? iTunes sales are not, and may never be, enough to support a large recording business. What would the world look like without the major labels?” (Via Megan McArdle.)
  • Free Exchange (economist.com): “[T]he problem that artists have is not the recording industry. The main problem musicians face is other musicians. There are too many of them.” (Via Megan McArdle.)
  • Joe Malchow: The Recording Industry Association of America is demanding money from college students for allegedly downloading music illegally, though it probably can’t link illegal activity to specific individuals. “[R]ecord companies have let loose on colleges and universities another barrage of extortion letters, each demanding around $5,000 from students.”
  • Amazon.com launches a “Classical Blowout” store with CDs priced under $10. Chris Anderson notes “Amazon’s listing is customized for classical music, while iTunes isn’t.” Barry Ritholtz asks what might be the profit-maximizing price for music: “Shouldn’t an online store, with theoretically infinite shelves, and extremely low cost of marginal product manufacturing, offer a wide variety of products at very competitive prices?” I’ve written about a related topic in the past: Catching iTunes with Classical Music.

In addition to having strong yet fragmented tastes, classical music fans are potentially very heavy music users. Asking a classical music buff how many Beethoven recordings he should have is like asking a wine connoisseur how many bottles of Bordeaux she needs.

Admittedly, I’m an extreme case: I probably have 15 sets of the Beethoven symphonies, mostly on LP. I would buy another set, but for a very low price – say, $6 for the nine symphonies. Amazon is going in the right direction. I am happy to see that “Classical Blowout” purchases are still eligible for free shipping.

The next step is deeper discounting on large bundles. The Napster/Grokster file sharing phenomenon, and the success of downloading services like Rhapsody, showed that there is large unmet demand for music at prices lower than iTunes and retail CDs. How about a quiet market test of 60-CD bundles for, say, $279?

Header Issues

March 23, 2007

It seems we’re having some sort of trouble displaying the custom header image for Zeal and Activity. I think that we have restored the header text. Sorry if anyone was alarmed by a blank Kubrick header. We’ll fix it as soon as possible; in the meantime, please pardon our dust.

UPDATE: This seems to have been a WordPress-wide problem affecting all embedded images.  The crack team at WordPress.com got right on it, and we appear to be back to normal.  Thanks, WordPress!

Friday Mystery Author: March 23, 2007

March 23, 2007

Friday Mystery Author returns after a three-week hiatus and much needed break. If you are new to this series, every Friday we post a selection from literature more or less obscure. If you recognize the author and title, let us know in the comments. If not, just say hello.

This week, in honor of spring:

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!’ and `O blow!’ and also `Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, `Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

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Will the Real Jane Galt Please Stand Up?

March 20, 2007

Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information, in a March 19 list of “basics which seem obvious” about U.S. public education (and with which I otherwise mostly agree):

24) To h— with rich people: if you’re in, say, the top 5-10% of the income distribution, you ought to get the same help educating your kids as my parents got, which is to say none.

Megan McArdle in a November 2005 post on measuring prosperity:

While I realize that for some people, the wealthy getting poorer is a feature rather than a bug, this would still decrease net utility in our society. Unless our society gets a lot of net utility from watching rich people suffer, and while this may be true, judging from our tabloids, I’d prefer not to believe that we as a nation are that petty.

All right, zinging someone with a cherry-picked, 16 month-old quote is pretty petty too. But this sentiment expresses a type of libertarianism that I don’t recognize. I know that despite her pseudonym, Megan’s not particularly orthodox, and neither am I: I agree that half the battle for a mass voucher system will be “getting the pricing right” and I don’t see any problem with regressive pricing (however achieved) if that gets the votes. If we can tolerate near-perfect price discrimination in higher education, we can tolerate it in primary and secondary.

But when did this disdain for “rich people” become a “basic that seems obvious?”

UPDATE: Megan responds but misses the point: “Then there’s the taxation is theft crowd. I’m sorry if my nom de blog fooled you, but I’m not that sort of libertarian.” (See also Why Children are a Special Libertarian Case from January 2006.) Actually, I don’t think anyone on the earlier comment thread said that “educating poor children is immoral,” though Blackwing1 did say that “steal[ing] money from Peter to pay for Paul’s children’s education … is, simply, morally evil.” What’s firing up the commenters is the “obvious” proposal to exclude the rich for being rich.

RELATED on Zeal and Activity: Review: The Price of Admission and Higher Education Impartially Considered

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2007

Inspired by Soho the Dog, here is a lovely, unaffected performance of O Danny Boy by an a capella trio.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Anti-Mortar System

March 17, 2007

Today’s Michael Yon Report, transcribed by Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt’s site, described a new anti-mortar system being tested in Iraq. Here is the backstory from Defense Industry Daily:

C-RAM will uses target acquisition sensors, including Northrop Grumman’s AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder radar and the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar, to detect and track fired rounds. Once a threat is detected, audio and visual alarms sound to warn exposed soldiers. Meanwhile, the fire-control subsystem predicts the mortar’s flight path, prioritizes targets, activates the warning system, and provides cueing data to target the mortar round while still in the air.

Dangerous Nation Revisited

March 16, 2007

A few months ago we reviewed Robert Kagan’s excellent Dangerous Nation. Now Neo Neo-Con is reviewing it in detail.

Kagan goes back to original sources to maintain that the impetus towards the Spanish-American War was not the lies told by a jingoistic and overreaching press eager for the conflict. In fact, by the time the war began, bipartisan support was strong, even among many of those who had originally opposed it. And the newspapers hadn’t gotten it very wrong.

Preview here, Part 1 here, Part 2 to follow. Also, check out her nice new site design.

UPDATE: Here’s part 2.

Viacom v YouTube

March 13, 2007

Jeff Jarvis says that Viacom is “boneheaded” to attack its customers in the effigy of Viacom. I think Viacom’s position is stronger perhaps than Jeff does, based on related prior court decisions.

I commented on his post, but inadvertently posted the comment early, and my followup attempts have been blocked – because of too many links or too many comment attempts, I guess. I’m sure Jeff will clear my comment from queue but wanted to combine the two comments in one post here.

Here is my first (partial) comment:

Viacom has precedent on its side. The most relevant case is A&M Records, Inc. et al. v. Napster, Inc.

“Napster allow[ed] its users to: (1) make MP3 music files stored on individual computer hard drives available for copying by other Napster users; (2) search for MP3 music files stored on other users’ computers; and (3) transfer exact copies of the contents of other users’ MP3 files from one computer to another via the Internet.”

The appeals court found that because mp3 files are not transformative, the downloading was commercial (“repeated and exploitative unauthorized copies of copyrighted works were made to save the expense of purchasing authorized copies”), and the market for recordings was harmed, Napster’s users’ exchange of mp3 files was not fair use.

Here’s a link to the opinion: A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 114 F. Supp. 2d 896 (ND Cal. 2000)

Not everything on YouTube infringes, but I would expect the courts to find that the following do infringe: (a) posting whole movies or TV episodes in chunks or (b) posting the “heart” of a work, e.g. the climactic scene, best laugh lines, etc. (“Heart” here in the sense from Harper & Row v Nations Enterprises, an early fair use case.)

Jeff notes U.S. code that states that a service provider shall not be liable for infringement by users – but it continues “if the service provider …upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity.” Viacom’s press release alleges that YouTube’s “strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site…” (Note, I haven’t read the complaint, which I couldn’t find in a very quick search.)

Napster was found to infringe because it facilitated file transfer and search. In addition to these activities, YouTube also stores potentially infringing files on its own servers, which Napster did not.

Whether Viacom can execute this case without angering consumers and damaging its brand is another question. The risk is lessened because Viacom isn’t primarily a consumer brand, and, unlike RIAA, Viacom isn’t going after individuals. But it certainly has good business reasons to prevent Google from preempting any download services or distribution agreements it might make at its own discretion. Based on A&M v Napster, its complaint appears to rest on solid precedent.

UPDATE: I think I should be more responsive to Jeff’s actual point:

Viacom complains about YouTube but, in truth, they’re complaining about their own viewers. They whine about theft but, in fact, they’re whining about recommendation, about their audience finding them more audience. Viacom is trying, singlehandedly, to turn the TV industry into the music industry.

I think that Jeff is reading a bit too much into this. Yes, the complaint mentions users. But if Viacom wanted to turn the TV industry into the music industry, they’d be suing individuals. They’re a lot smarter than Jeff gives them credit for. Here’s an MTV (Viacom) executive on Feb. 13:

“We need to open up our Web sites and content both for consumers and for other companies,” Mika Salmi, MTV Networks president of global digital media, said in an interview last Friday.

The move [making MTV content available for ebedding] is part of a strategy to bring Viacom’s Web sites up to “Web 2.0” standards, Salmi said. “Part of that is allowing people to take our content and embed it and make (their) own things out of it–whatever they want,” he said.

That doesn’t sound like whining about recommendation or finding more audience. Viacom is merely trying to keep some control out of Google’s hands – a prudent strategy if there ever was one.

UPDATE 2: Fred Wilson disagrees.  I’m not sure how this theory would play in court.

Given the number broken links we all experience on YouTube do to take down requests, I have a feeling that Viacom’s case isn’t so open and shut. … This is not Napster all over again by a long shot as much as Viacom would like it to be.

Media Disintermediation

March 9, 2007

I just finished watching Gen. David Petraeus’s press briefing at The Pentagon Channel. He read from a prepared statement for about 15 minutes and then took questions for 45.

Takeaway quote:

We’re in the early stages of this, and I have been, on occasion, bemused by people saying, how’s it going, have you won yet? And the answer is, we’ve just started. Just the second of five brigades is coming in. And again, this is going to continue. It’s going to be determined. Our soldiers are resolute. They want to see this succeed, as do their Iraqi counterparts. And that is what we are going to endeavor to do. (58:25)

There are many interesting topics in this conference. Michelle Malkin has a good summary. I just wanted to note that this is one more step in the disintermediation of traditional media sources. For example, Lauren Frayer of the Associated Press asked:

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