Monthly Archives: January 2009

On special tonight: Sea kitten souffle, Omaha steak, and Publicity stunt – p’wned and lightly braised

PETA’s, to be honest, fairly odious campaign to have fish renamed as ‘sea kittens’ has generated a lot of publicity for the organisation; they are masters of the art of whipping up controversy with their PR stunts (see here for a rundown), so it’s hardly surprising.

It’s a deeply stupid idea:

Would people think twice about ordering fish sticks if they were called sea kitten sticks? Would sea kitten soufflé be a hot seller at the local seafood restaurant? Does fillet o’ sea kitten sound even remotely appetizing?

and, while the campaign has a high profile, it doesn’t seem to be garnering much support – just over six thousand people have signed a petition for the name change.  The intention, presumably, is to be provocative, but the problem with this kind of provocation is that more often than not, people fail to see any worth in the message because they’re rolled their eyes to heaven already.  Anyone who doesn’t give up at this stage will probably just provoke right back (the nyer nyer dialectic) and sure enough, a couple of pranksters have registered the domain name seakittens.com and mocked up the site to look exactly like PETA’s Save the Sea Kittens page, but with an ad for Omaha steaks in the banner.  The stunt was professional enough to take in AdAge,the Wall Street Journal (‘We looked at SeaKittens.com today and found atop the page an ad for Omaha Steaks. To our mind, steak is a much better argument against eating fish than kittens are’) and Silicon Alley Insider, for a couple of hours anyway.

The art of the shoe-thrower

A statue honouring Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the journalist who threw his shoe at George Bush back in December, has been unveiled in Tikrit.  It was created by Baghdad artist Laith al-Amari, and features a poem dedicated to al-Zeidi inscribed on the side.  Subversive genius at work?  Perhaps, but Tikrit was Saddam Hussein’s hometown – is the statue dedicated as much to Hussein as al-Zeidi?  Not so, according to the artist, as reported in the Huffington Post:

Laith al-Amari, said the work honors al-Zeidi and “is a source of pride for all Iraqis.” He added: “It’s not a political work”

Good, that means I can laugh along with the peeps in the picture.

Prime time for Time Life

American prime-time tv has been taken over by infomercials, The New York Times reports:

The two-minute commercials, for a DVD set of “The World at War” and a CD of relaxing classical music, both from Time Life, ran during almost every show on the (CBS) network’s recent Saturday nights.

It is a sign of just how bad the advertising market is: infomercials are running during network prime time, filling slots that automobiles and banks once owned.

Time Life are running twice as many prime-time ads as they did this time last year, the piece reports.  And newspapers are filling their ad space with stuff that would previously have been relegated to a 3 x 3 square in the classifieds: USA Today and the Wall Street Journal have both been running full-page ads for an Amish room heater.

Things aren’t looking too good on this side of the world either.  The Sunday Times sold all of page 4 to the National Newspapers of Ireland (Association?), whose ad was a plea for more ads:

News, as the name indicates, is the essential component of newspapers…Press is the one medium that never fails to actively encourage information-seekers.  So if your advertising is in the newspaper, then it’s also in the news.  Make the news today.  With newspaper advertising.

(Pleeeeeeeeeeeease!)

Noticed any Amish room-heaters, or the like, occupying page three of your newspaper?  Tell us in the comments.

Voluntary or compulsory levies for music downloads, or neither?

Reported on Ars Technica on the 19th, in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune on the 25th, and the Guardian on the 26th, the Isle of Man plans to introduce a compulsory €1 charge on all ISP subscriptions on the island to allow unlimited music downloads via peer-to-peer systems.  The idea of charging consumers at source via a monthly fee channelled through ISPs and distributed to composers and publishers by a collecting society (or societies) is not a new one: in 2004 the Electronic Frontier Foundation produced a White Paper mooting voluntary collective licensing.  The concept, they say, is simple,

the music industry forms several “collecting societies,” which then offer file-sharing music fans the opportunity to “get legit” in exchange for a reasonable regular payment, say a total of $5-10 per month

and it has been done before, with radio.  The problem, from the music industry’s perspective, is that there is no guarantee that consumers would pay a voluntary levy.  A safer bet is a compulsory ‘tax’ on monthly ISP subscriptions.  The Songwriters’ Association of Canada proposed this a couple of years back, suggesting:

an amendment to the Copyright Act which would establish a new right: The Right to Equitable Remuneration for Music File Sharing.  We define Music File Sharing as the sharing of a copy of a copyrighted musical work without motive of financial gain.  Since the new right is limited to activities that take place without motive of financial gain, parties who receive compensation for file sharing would not be covered by this right. Therefore, this new right is distinct from rights licensed by legal music sites like iTunes and PureTracks.  The new right would make it legal to share music between two or more parties, whether over Peer to Peer networks, wireless networks, email, CD, DVD, hard drives etc. Distinct from private copying, this new right would authorize the sharing of music with other individuals.

In exchange for this sharing of their work, Creators and rights holders would be entitled to receive a monthly license fee from each internet and wireless account in Canada.

The first and most obvious problem with this system, were it to be implemented, is that it would set a precedent for other lobby groups – film, television, even newspapers – to demand simiar levies for their content.  A second, and equally obvious issue, is that people who don’t download music would be taxed unfairly.

The idea of propping up the music industry is anathema to some:

Forcing people to buy music whether they want to or not is not a solution to this problem. The incentives created by such a system are perverse – guaranteed revenue and guaranteed profits will remove any incentive to innovate and serve niche markets. It will be the death of music.

Music industry revenues will be a set size, regardless of the quality or type of music they release. Incentives to innovate will evaporate. There will only be competition for market share, with no attempt to build the size of market or serve less-popular niches. Forget labels building new brands and encouraging early artists to succeed – they’ll bleed existing big names for all they are worth and work hard to keep anything new – labels, artists, and songwriters – out of the market. New entrants just means more competition for a static amount of money. Collusion by existing players will run rampant.

Soon labels will complain that revenues aren’t high enough to sustain their businesses, and demand a higher tax. It will go up, but it will never go down.

As I said before, Asking the government to prop up a dying industry is always (always) a bad idea. In this case, it is a monumentally stupid, dangerous, and bad idea.

also:

What you’re doing is setting up a big, centrally planned and operated bureau of music, that officially determines the business model of the recording industry, figures out who gets paid, collects the money and pays some money out. The same record industry that has fought so hard against any innovation remains in charge and will have tremendous sway in setting the “rules.” The plan leaves no room for creativity. It leaves no room for innovation. It’s basically picking the only business model and encoding it in stone.

These reactions seem to infused rather with bitterness at the music industry’s greed in the past.  But the point is well-made by both that a static yearly revenue for the music industry would very likely stifle innovation and lead the industry’s big players to try and shut out newcomers.  A voluntary license would at least have the advantage of being competitive – encouraging the industry to continue to innovate and seek out new artists in a bid to increase its uptake.

Whether or not the Isle of Man goes ahead with its compulsory levy remains to be seen, but, realistically, a music ‘tax’ of this nature doesn’t seem to be a viable or fair way to keep the recorded music industry alive.

DEC/BBC update

On the DEC/BBC, a couple of links I should have included in the original post.  First, if anyone wants to donate to the DEC gaza appeal: https://www.donate.bt.com/bt_form_gaza.html

If anyone wants to complain to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complaints_stage1.shtml

The British International Development secretary, Douglas Alexander, yesterday expressed his ‘disappointment’ at the decision to refuse to broadcast the appeal in a letter to the BBC, ITV and Sky reports the Guardian.

The BBC’s Chief Operations Officer, Caroline Thompson, appeared on Newsnight on Thursday.  Asked if the BBC would reconsider its decision she said they would, ‘If the situation changes..so that it stops being an issue of great controversy and it starts being a much more stable situation there’.  Round May 2087 then.

B’Tselem and citizen journalism as a very serious enterprise

A brilliant idea:

In January 2007, B’Tselem launched its camera distribution project, a video advocacy project focusing on the Occupied Territories. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights.

The camera distribution projcet works with families who live in close proximity to settlements, to military bases or at the sites of frequent army incursions. Settlers daily harassing a family in Hebron or attacking farmers in the South Hebron Hills, soldiers invading Qalqilya, daily life in the village of Yanun… these are just some examples of the material filmed by over 100 cameras that we have distributed to families throughout the Occupied Territories. B’Tselem has succeeded in airing this material on major Israeli and international news networks, exposing global audiences to the previously unseen.

This is what citizen journalism should and can be.  Not to denigrate the efforts of cameraphonists recording weather disasters or planes in the Hudson, but the B’Tselem project takes it to another level.  And on a number of levels.  One being giving cameras to people who might not otherwise have them, and whose voices, therefore, might remain unheard.  For all the talk about the great democratisation brought about by the web, too many of its democratising elements remain yet out of reach of an unwired, rather than wireless, majority.  Another being the incredibly significant capacity to record aggression in real time.  How many times have we read stories of unpleasantness in countries far from our own and salved our consciences, to a degree, by assuming some bit of artistic licence, exaggeration, rather, by the journalist reporting it?  It can’t be that bad, surely, reasons a small part of our cornflake crunching brain; and on to the next page.  Seeing this stuff in real time does, like it or not, make it an awful lot more real.  Go.  Watch.

http://www.btselem.org/english/Video

Do people really spend so little time reading news online?

From the December/January 2008 edition of the American Journalism Review:

Newspaper Web sites are attracting lots of visitors, but aren’t keeping them around for long. The typical visitor to nytimes.com, which attracts more than 10 percent of the entire newspaper industry’s traffic online, spent an average of just 34 minutes and 53 seconds browsing its richly detailed offerings in October. That’s 34 minutes and 53 seconds per month, or about 68 seconds per day online. Slim as that is, it’s actually about three times longer than the average of the next nine largest newspaper sites.

The Reuters report I wrote about  yesterday gives similar figures for a discrepancy between time spent reading the news online and in print, this time in Europe:

…visitors to the leading UK newspaper websites (as measured by overall traffic) typically only spend a few minutes each day perusing the content. The Daily Mail leads the pack, with an average daily visit of only 8.7 minutes; followed by the Guardian(5.4 minutes), News of the World(3.7 minutes), The Sun(3.7 minutes) and The Times(3.3 minutes).In contrast, McKinsey estimates that, on average, consumers spend roughly eight times longer reading a physical newspaper, compared to the equivalent time they spend at a news-paper website.

In other words, someone who reads the Daily Mail online spends 8.7 minutes doing so, but a reader with a physical copy of the newspaper spends 69.6 minutes at it.

In line with this, (this may have been where McKinsey got their data, I’m not 100% as that data isn’t available online) the UK National Readership survey estimates the average UK print newspaper reader spends 30 minutes reading it per day, with just over 20% spending around an hour.That’s a pretty big discrepancy between time spent reading online and reading print.  And the AJR sees it as having an effect on the amount of money online news providers can charge for ads: Continue reading