Archive: librarything

This week, I have decided to make another attempt at reading more books. I read stuff all the time, but almost all of it is on the web. A few hundred words at a time. Lots of breadth but not much depth.

I have never done much in the way of reading books. Fiction is not for me, so novels are more-or-less out of the question. However, I do enjoy reading non-fiction books. But I somehow never get the time to read them.

Time is the scarcest resource imaginable, and I have a tendency to build these backlogs. Not too long ago I wrote about the huge number of podcasts that are stuck in my backlog (I am just about getting that under control). I also have a small pile of CDs that I bought several months ago and still haven’t listened to, and a slightly smaller pile of DVDs from before Christmas that I still haven’t watched.

The unread books shelf But books are the big daddy of my backlog. I have special shelf just for unread books! Currently, 15 books sit there. Some of them I must have got almost a decade ago.

I think they are perhaps the wrong books. How tempted am I to ever reopen the ten-year-old book about US radio stations that I started but didn’t finish? How about the two political books that I started but never finished? Or the two books about economics that I started but got bored of?

In the summer of 2006, between my second and third years at university, I went on a big drive to read economics books. I had begun to realise that I was struggling at economics, and decided to spend the summer reading less academic, more accessible economics book in an attempt to soak up some of the subject and hopefully become a better economist in third year.

I happened to read a blog post by Greg Mankiw called Summer reading list, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. After a bit of research, I selected five books from the list and ordered them. Sadly, it took me a year to read one of them. I finished another of them last year. I started one of them this year but gave up, and two others sit on the shelf virtually unopened. (I finished Freakonomics very quickly, but I think I bought that afterwards.)

My lack of talent in economics became clearer in third year, when I performed abysmally. My motivation plummeted. I later bought the Penguin History of Economics, which was on the reading list for the History of Economic Thought course that I took. This, also, has been started but not finished.

For a while, my main plan was to get through these economics books, and the other books in my backlog, before buying any others. But having not done any reading for several months, I had to recognise that this wasn’t a good plan.

Before I completed my degree, I had already more-or-less made the decision not to pursue economics further. I was lucky enough to somehow get a 2:1, but mostly due to the politics courses and my dissertation. It was clear to me that I just wasn’t cut out for economics, even though I planned to maintain an interest in it.

But there was no point in pretending I was going to start reading these books. So I have decided to buy more books on different subjects and start reading them. Last week I acquired seven new books — six that I had bought, and one surprise gift. It’s a mixture of stuff — some about writing and editing, a humour book, some motorsport books that I will probably blast through, and… an economics book.

Well, I figured that since I liked Freakonomics so much, I would probably actually read Superfreakonomics. Wish me luck. I will keep my LibraryThing thing updated.

Apologies for taking so long to get round to writing this post. That pesky life business getting in the way as usual.

In the previous posts in this series I have been waxing lyrical about copyright law and the mistakes the entertainment industry has made in adapting to a world with the internet. Over the past couple of years, people in the music industry have — belatedly — begun to tackle the issue properly.

Radiohead made big news last year with their latest album, In Rainbows. What hit the headlines was their novel pricing structure. You could choose the price you wanted to pay for it, between zero and £100.

This idea wasn’t all so novel though. Radiohead are by no means the first band to release their music for free, or to take the ‘honesty box’ approach to pricing. They certainly won’t be the last.

Prince did a similar thing this year as well when he gave away his latest album free with copies of the Mail on Sunday. This led to the odd sight of branches of HMV installing a dumpbin of the paper for one day only.

It’s worth thinking about exactly what Radiohead did by implementing a choose-your-own-price method. The record industry often likes to talk about how much it has “lost” as a result of piracy. But the numbers they use are misleading.

As Tim Worstall pointed out on his (now tabloid) blog many months ago, demand curves slope downwards. So the record industry don’t lose anything like as much as (number of illegal downloads) × (RRP of a CD) as a result of the download revolution.

The old model meant that people could basically either choose to buy a CD at its RRP or pass on it completely. So if you were only willing to pay £11.98 for a CD that was priced £11.99, you wouldn’t buy it. That is fine — that is how the market works.

But when filesharing became more common, people could choose to buy a CD at its RRP or download it for free. Those were the only options available. So if you were still willing to pay £11.98 for that CD, you would not pay £11.99 — you’d just download it for free. From £11.98 and lower, record companies were losing profits. They didn’t know how to deal with this, so used the ham-fisted techniques I described in the previous post instead of coming up with a new business model like they should have done.

The In Rainbows method tackled the problem head-on. Under Radiohead’s system, if you were willing to pay £11.98, you could choose to pay £11.98. What’s more, if people were willing to pay, say, £80 for the album, they could choose to pay that as well.

Chances are that most wouldn’t. You could legally download it for free, so lots of people will have done this without feeling any sense of guilt. Radiohead aren’t releasing any figures, so we can’t tell. But reading between the lines of the interviews Radiohead have given, they seem quite happy with how the experiment has worked out and most estimates suggest that Radiohead have made more money using the honesty box approach than they would have done with the old way — mostly because all of the middlemen have gone.

The middlemen are a big problem. They seem to be particularly so at EMI. Recently EMI was taken over by a private equity firm, Terra Firma. They appear to be particularly clueless. In the space of a few months they have managed to piss off three of the biggest acts on their roster — Radiohead, Paul McCartney and now Robbie Williams.

Here is some insight from Paul McCartney:

“I’d started saying to them: ‘Look, we could write a thing and have it released the next week.’ And they would say: ‘You can’t do that these days.’ So I would say: ‘Well, how much time do you need?’ And they’d say six months. I said: ‘Why do you need that long?’ And do you know what they said? ‘To figure out how to market it.’ I said: ‘Wait a minute, are you sure you need six months for that? Couldn’t some bright people do that in two days?’ Jesus Christ. I said: ‘Look boys, I’m sorry, I’m digging a new furrow.”

EMI seem to be making the mistake of treating artists like widgets. They have mistaken creativity for something that can be switched on and off like a tap.

And they seem to be amazingly inefficient. Fans know all-to-well about the six month gap between the announcement of a new album and its actual release date. It surely don’t have to be that way. Indeed, one of the most refreshing things about In Rainbows was that it was announced a mere ten days before its release.

So if the middlemen are no longer needed and are actively hurting the artists and the fans, does it mean labels are doomed?

Well, Radiohead took a risk, and it paid off. A lot of people say they were in a lucky position. And they were. Radiohead are the best band in the world and probably the most popular contemporary band. They were always going to do well regardless.

But what about the smaller bands? Surely the chances are that they won’t do as well as Radiohead by adopting such an honour system.

But honour systems work. Paul Feldman the bagel salesman knows that. LibraryThing has been using such a model for a while, and found that their takings increased once they adopted the system.

A lot of music fans are extremely loyal to their favourite bands. They are just the type of people who won’t take advantage of the fact that you can get music for free. They get such a warm glow from knowing that they are rewarding their idols.

Labels and bands may still be wary. If honour systems don’t convince, the common answer to the problem is to release music for free and use it as a way of generating publicity so that more money can be made from touring. Alan McGee, manager of The Charlatans, who are also now giving away their music for free, reckons that it could even triple the size of the crowds at gigs.

Merchandise is also becoming increasingly important. There is a theory that the reason concert promoters don’t charge the market value for gig tickets is because keeping the price low attracts a younger audience. These youngsters will go on to buy loads of t-shirts from the merchandise stall, so in the end everyone involved makes more money. Some bands are even stopping selling CDs at gigs for fear of cannibalising t-shirt sales.

So the future of music is gigs and t-shirts. This is great for my wallet. I rarely attend concerts, and I am more and more reluctant to buy t-shirts.

But I think the music industry could still potentially make lots of money from selling physical copies of the music. And my wallet won’t be so happy about that. That will be the subject of my next (and, at last, final) post in the series.