Cultural Openness

Most of the sites and platforms that have made publishing one’s work as easy as clicking a mouse aren’t “open source” in the formal sense that applies to software. Instead, they’re tools to facilitate cultural openness.

That quote comes from a Wired article about how the internet is supporting the rise of a real alternative to “mass media”:

The dirty secret of mass media, though, was — and still is — that a great deal of it belongs to the companies that distribute it, rather than to the people who make it. That’s begun to change as the internet rewrites the rules about who can put creative work into the public sphere as well as who can take it out. Mass culture has traditionally required corporate middlemen to operate the machinery of publishing and broadcasting; without them, no one’s creation had any hope of reaching a broad audience. In the age of Flickr, Blogger, YouTube and Twitter, that’s simply not true anymore.

My hope with Public Patron is that creators, at least of video & audio content, could make their creations accessible to the whole world without losing the creative rights to them, while simultaneously supporting themselves and a family. Culture should not be held hostage behind a pay wall nor reliant on the whims of commercial interests for distribution. We need to, and now we can, make it simple and almost automatic to support a lot of the culture that defines us.

No Hulu On Your HDTV

HULU got yanked off Boxee last week, and this week a great episode of TWIT discussed why. First, a primer:

With Boxee, you can hook up a mac or linux box to your HDTV and watch almost anything available on the internet on-demand on your nice big screen TV while using your remote and relaxing on your couch. While the geeks don’t talk about it enough, this switch from the experience of internet video on your laptop/desktop to internet video on your big HDTV is huge. Its cultural. And when you add HULU, arguably the most consistent higher quality free LEGAL content out there, it is quite hard to beat, if you dont mind the advertising.

But its over now. And it was the broken advertising/commercial business model built on controlling distribution that killed it.

For some reason, at some level, content producers make more money from advertisers if you get this stuff over broadcast or cable than if its streamed or downloaded over the internet. Most likely, its a function of CPM, where advertisers pay some amount for every thousand eyeballs, and the CPM is higher for broadcast & cable than for internet viewers, right now. So the content providers told HULU to tell Boxee that they are not allowed to pipe HULU through their application. They desperately want to prevent more people switching from watching their content over broadcast or cable to the internet, cause they’d make less money. And getting anything you wanted on-demand over the internet and onto your big screen HDTV, like Boxee+HULU supported, was a huge incentive to do so. They see putting their content on the internet and viewed on a desktop/laptop as an opportunity to add viewers, but viewing that same content distributed over the internet on your TV is understood as subtracting from the bottom line.

This is the convention wisdom on why HULU was forced to disconnect from Boxee, from the few of us who even think about this stuff. From a big picture perspective, this demonstrates how the big media companies are not too concerned about internet video on your desktop, but are scared sh*tless of the day that the internet makes open & independent HQ video a reality for most Americans on that big flat cultural icon in your living room. Big media has control of broadcast and cable, but the internet is truly an open media landscape. They don’t want folks even thinking about whats possible when you really bring the openness of the internet to television.

And it also points out how the business model is broken, how the incentives in the model fail those who are supposed to be at the center of the transaction, the creator and the fan. The people creating the content and the fans who love it are being shortchanged when advertisers have a voice in the creative decisions and when supporting the legacy big media distribution businesses prevent wider dissemination and enjoyment of the content. The creative teams want artistic freedom and to be fairly compensated while fans want great content at a fair price and to be able to experience it however they choose. We can do that.

Case Study: Radio Paradise

Radio Paradise does internet radio right. And the way they pay for it, well, it basically demonstrates that the Public Patron model could work. From their support page:

Our plan is simple: we create the best station we possibly can, refrain from contaminating it with advertising, and then ask you to pay us what you think it’s worth. So far it seems to be working out nicely. We’re not likely to get rich this way, but that’s not our goal.

Here at RP we’re not just non-commercial. We’re anti-commercial. We feel that quality radio programming and advertising just cannot co-exist. We also choose to refrain from forcibly extracting money from you by charging subscription fees. We leave it up to you to decide what our service is worth to you.

Your voluntary support enables us to devote all of our time and energy to making RP the best station possible – and pays for the bandwidth, equipment and services required to keep the station online, and for the rather substantial copyright royalties we are required to pay.

The amount of your contribution is up to you – based on your opinion of how much you enjoy RP & what you can afford. A number of listeners have adopted the “one hour’s wages per month” formula – some can afford to send even more than that (thanks!), others can afford only $5 per month.

We particularly appreciate automatic monthly, quarterly or annual support payments. The more regular ongoing support we receive in that fashion the less we have to bug you on the air. Please consider choosing that option on the support form.

And, as always, we understand that contributing money is just not an option for some of you. That’s fine. All streams and services at RP are open to everyone, and we will do everything in our power to keep it that way.

Please check out their great website and their broadcast. And of course, check the wiki, especially the In the News section under External Links.

iTunes Going DRM-free, kinda…

Everybody is covering this, but since this site complained about iTunes’ DRM before, we’ve gotta mention it as well. Or at least point to a great post on the Songbird blog about it. It is a must read, they nailed it. And now the name of the group behind the Songbird project, “Pioneers of the Inevitable”, makes perfect sense. Still holding out hope for Mirobird. What about “Pioneers of the Inevitable Participatory Culture”?

Bittorrent Support for Video Podcasts

Newteevee posted this weekend about “5 Video Innovations We Would Love to See at Macworld Expo“. Obviously, with DRM on their music and video, I am not a big fan of Apple. But the best set-top device to get Internet video and digital music onto the TV is clearly the mac mini, and many people including myself use one for exactly that. We are waiting for 1) Miro to merge with Songbird 2) a 10-foot media center interface 3) and a nice hardware & remote combo. Until that happens, we will alternate between Miro and Front Row. Bittorrent support for podcasting (RSS) in iTunes would be a great transitional step. Here is how Newteevee explains the importance of merging these two technologies:

BitTorrent support for iTunes podcasts. Video podcasts are eating up more and more bandwidth, and podcasters don’t exactly have much money to spare in times like these. Adding a simple BitTorrent client to iTunes would go a long way towards guaranteeing that great shows will stay online even if corporate giants like AOL stop to sponsor podcasters with terabytes of free bandwidth. Apple could even limit the client to a company-run tracker to make sure that iTunes doesn’t become the latest toy of the Pirate Bay crowd. Likelihood of this going to happen: None. Never. Ever.

One media player already does this. Here is an example of how much money show creators can save when they distribute via torrent rss and encourage viewers to use Miro.

Zeitgeist & The Dark Knight

There is only one LEGAL place to get the entire digital version of the latest album by the Smashing Pumpkins, and that is on iTunes.

There is only one LEGAL way to get all the special features for the latest Batman movie, and that is by buying the Blu-ray disk.

Is this the future you want?

Via iTunes, the Pumpkins album “Zeitgeist” is DRM-ed (here is an explanation of why that sucks.). You can get HQ files without DRM from Amazon MP3, but you have to buy the songs one at a time and cant even buy one of the tracks at all. I have every album but this one, and I wanted to listen to every song by them before attending the concert this Sunday. I will probably download all the tracks but that one from Amazon, but I hate the idea of missing one song from an album, especially from an artist important to me.

Regarding “The Dark Knight”, you can buy the movie on DVD. But it doesn’t have nearly the amount of special features that come with the Blu-ray version. Normally I wouldn’t care that much, but I loved the film & it was filmed downtown in Chicago where I live so I want to pour over all the special features this one time. But I don’t have a Blu-ray player and this is isn’t enough to change my mind.

Yep, of course Ive gotta mention it, publicpatron would solve this problem. Just release the files on your site (in an RSS feed perhaps), and if users of publicpatron listened to the music or watched the special features, the creators would get paid.

Besides, all these anti-consumer strategies do is make more people have even less respect for copyright. You are feeding the monster.

The Future of Music

What do you want to see? How do we make it a better world for listeners and creators alike?

There is a non-profit organization focused on this topic, the Future of Music Coalition. Good name, but I’m most impressed by their manifesto, articles, and resources.

And the guys at Sound Opinions (“The World’s Only Rock’n’Roll Talk Show”) are hosting a discussion about “The Future of Music” next week, at Columbia College on Wednesday, December 3rd. You might not agree with their reviews, but they bring context to the music and their rating system is nice and forward thinking as well, rating albums on a “buy it, burn it, trash it” scale. I really appreciate the weekly podcast of Sound Opinions, and how they almost always discuss a news story that addresses the changes in the industry, from downloading music to how its becoming even corporate-focused on business over the music. I expect this event to be like that part of the show, only extended with audience participation. I will be there, and I hope to tell a few people about my ideas for publicpatron.

But I do want to get my ideas on the Future of Music out on here as well.

First off, Im biased towards “independent artists”. And what I mean by independent artists are those whose prime motivation is creating music to express themselves and create great art. Of course finding an audience and making money enters into that, but it seems that the best work of an artist comes earlier in their career, when they sound most original, and are not expected to have huge sales. My guess is that at that point, nobody else is trying to pressure them to do anything musically, and they have the freedom to make the music they want. They are independent. This might also come later in their career if they can maintain or rekindle the passion that usually comes with youth and now have the money to ignore outside influences, if greed doesn’t get the best of them.

So then, just like all media, with so many options of what to listen to available on the net, the biggest problem for independent artists is how to get noticed. You might expect FM radio to fulfill this purpose, but there is ample pressure on these stations to fill the airtime with less-independent artists, from both advertisers and the labels whose major draw to sign these artists is their ability to provide this pressure. Satellite radio might be better, but I doubt it since its now all owned by one company. Besides, the potential audience is so much smaller since they have to pay to listen. And there are the music recommendation services like Pandora or iTunes Genius, but Im not sure how independent they are. Also, I think people want more context for their music and a sense of community. You want a great DJ who can tell you a little about the artist, some history and genre perspective, and make it more human.

The response from independent artists seems to be to put out their music for free download on the net, or on MySpace. I think this is moving in the right direction, but instead of MySpace, they should make their own web site. Fans want a connection to their artist, but they also want to be able to listen to the music wherever, whenever, and on any device they choose. Let them download the files for free without DRM from your site, as this will give you a connection to your fans that MySpace and iTunes simply cant provide, a place on the web where the fan can hear directly and honestly from the artist. Of course artists would rather get paid for the downloads, but on the net, its really hard to ask potential listeners to pay for something they may have never heard, or heard only once and may tire of quickly. There are just so many other free options out there. Publicpatron helps to solve this dilemma, so that the listener pays per listen at a rate they feel comfortable with and the artist is allowed maximum exposure, a fair deal for both artist and listener. This would also allow the artist to use RSS to automatically deliver new tracks to the fans and make available the audio of every concert, getting paid by every fan who listens to any of it and uses publicpatron.

Another way to help independent artists get heard with huge potential is internet radio, also supportable under publicpatron. This makes it really easy for anyone to start their own station, and be heard anywhere they can get a decent internet connection. We need to make internet radio accessible everywhere, an issue of extending and improving wireless internet access and getting a good hardware/software combination everywhere you currently listen to radio, at home and on your portable device, but most importantly in the car. More choices with larger audiences will increase the opportunities of independent artists, whether advertising funds it or not. But publicpatron will also allow listeners to reimburse the internet radio stations they listen to, giving advertisers less control of the content of the stations.

The industry is going through a lot of changes, and there is a ton to complain but also rave about. Thats what the FMC & radio show & discussion next week should be about. Lots of details, but ultimately its about the music we love, supporting the creators, and a better listener experience. How do we get there?