Shirky Posts

Just got hipped to Clay Shirky, courtesy of a twitter friend @activecultures (aka Bill Bragin). Reading some of his posts on his blog, and enjoying them very much. Some posts to read, along with my fave points he makes:

* “The Music Business and the Big Flip” – One of my favorite lines is this: “Most new music is bad, and the users know it. Sites that sell themselves as places for bands to find audiences are analogous to paid placement on search engines — more marketing vehicle than real filter.”

What is fascinating here (other than that if a company like that is well funded it may well be a sales target for me in my day-job) is that it is true! I’ve never understood how sites touting themselves as the best place for unknown bands to find audiences (or vice versa) can succeed by any measure (MySpace excepted). Why do fans want to sort through the chaf themselves?

The other interesting aspect of this article is Shirky’s take on Collaborative Filtering itself. CF, to be a bit geeksnotty, is generally a term of low-repute in the recommendations space. Basically, CF is like first grade math for a recommendations company. If you can do that, great, but you need much more than that to actually properly recommend anything. If you can’t do CF, you are probably in the wrong space. Anyway, Shirky applies CF to mean something very different from that definition – essentially a nested set of lightly applied human filters to replace a traditional A&R department. Great idea. And also the kind of idea that needs wide traction to succeed, and has no obvious business model (aka – it’s hard to see how anyone can get rich building the infrastructure, so hard to see who will build said infrastructure).

* Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content – One of my favorite lines here is “These systems [micropayment providers] didn’t fail because of poor implementation; they failed because the trend towards freely offered content is an epochal change, to which micropayments are a pointless response.”

Again, fascinating. Previously, I was with CalabashMusic, and one of the ideas we threw around there was the idea of variable payments and micropayments for music (this was back “in the day”, when such ideas were actually kind of “new” – although since Shirky’s article is from 2003, looks like we were behind the 8ball even then!). One of the big problems we had was that such payment schemes are logistically tough, as credit card processing fees remain no matter where you put the payment, so micropayments are rarely scalable to a large non-paypal/similarsystem-using audience. So I’ve been skeptical of micropayment sites for that reason. Shirky’s post touches a deeper resonance with me however, since “free” really is replacing paid, no matter the cost, and the issue of mental transactions and percieved value also step in to destroy micropayments.

Final point from this – “It [the ‘net] likewise makes collecting fees harder, and soliciting donations easier.” So the takeaway for artists is – put good material out there, and make it easy for people to donate to your cause – whether by tipping you, buying a ticket to a show, becoming your patron, etc.

* The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed – finally just a quick note to say that the law of unintended consequences lives! And with today’s verdict agains the Pirate Bay, we’ll see what unintended consequences pop up (1000 new pirate bay-lets?)!

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