Subject: Re: Free software and free music have some similar problems.
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 08:31:51 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Rich" == Rich Morin <> writes:

    Rich> [I am not a musician nor a music publisher, just an
    Rich> interested fan...]  The current music distribution system
    Rich> isn't working all that well for most musicians.  Even the
    Rich> ones that get published and distributed see little of the
    Rich> gross receipts; most musicians don't even get a chance to
    Rich> get that far.  (This isn't to say that the publishers,
    Rich> distributors, and resellers are crooks; just that the system
    Rich> is what it is...)

This cracks me up in the "it hurts so much there's nothing left to do
but laugh" sense.  You should take a look at the system in Japan,
where 75% of the people who get promoted are on salary (small) and are 
expected to do 40-plus hour weeks on stuff irrelevant to their music.

Essentially all of the college students I've asked about it listen to
anything but Japanese music as a consequence.

    Rich> Finances aside, the current system keeps most potential
    Rich> musicians from ever reaching much of an audience.  There
    Rich> could be a really good folk singer playing in Santa Cruz and
    Rich> I'd never even hear of him; forget about hearing a group in
    Rich> Ann Arbor!  Even if an unknown musician can produce a CD,
    Rich> how will I hear it?

Well, matching taste and artist is exactly what the current system
tries to do.  Without systematic indexing, it's impossible to
coordinate listener's taste with artist's style.  Heck, if the
artist's name is Bob Dylan, you can't even be sure from one concert to
the next whether you'll like the music.  And I know lots of people who
love CSN&Y but can't stand Y solo.  (Have I dated myself yet?)

It's expensive to do the search and coordination; it requires a
certain talent to spot talent.  Combined with the economies of scale
and the fad aspects (even in jazz and classical), this results in an
oligopoly.  True, the musicians and their music tends to get lost in
the process, and that's an evil we should strive to ameliorate.  But
it just isn't clear that there's much alternative, even with the
Internet and modern search and classification technology.

One thing we will see a lot of is free-lance critics on the net.  The
ones who have good taste will build followings.  We may see links from
one to others they find tasteful.  But it will take time for this to
build up in all the dross of fan clubs and rings.  And many of the
good ones will end up signing up with Yahoo or the Atlantic, or
Billboard---but there will be a grass-roots avenue.

    Rich> There's also a risk factor.  Should I risk buying a disc on
    Rich> the chance that it _might_ be interesting?

ObComment:  MP3 and "fair use" will allow much more effective reviews.

    Rich> I also think that folks will create indexes and collections
    Rich> of music, pointing out stuff they like.  Email lists and
    Rich> newsgroups can also help to disseminate reviews, so a
    Rich> musician has many chances to get noticed.

Too many worthy musicians times too many chances to get noticed equals
information overload, and we're back where we started.  The big thing
about the internet is that it will allow wide distribution of and
competition in amateur reviewing.

    Rich> BTW (Off-off-topic alert), the academic publishing industry
    Rich> is also ripe for a shake-up, IMHO.  We currently have a
    Rich> situation in which academics (and even libraries) can't
    Rich> afford to buy the current literature.  In the meanwhile, few

I can easily afford the 10--12 subscriptions I need and can regularly
scan for my field (mathematical economics).  It's worse for medical
research with those full-page pullout glossy photos, but still
possible (they make a lot more money both in salary and research
expenses than I do).  Again, a phenomenon of too many pages chasing
too few eyballs.  The internet is only going to make this worse.

    Rich> academics make anything from their writing efforts.  I'm

A richly deserved consequence of our ever-more-prolific simulation of
intellectual activity.  Those of us who _can_ write _do_ get paid for
it, although not via peer-reviewed channels.  (I've been paid for my
writings; evidently the quality cut-off is not particularly high.)  I
hope we never do get paid for publication of research; the information
overload argues for _less_ academic publication, not more.  Or better
indexed and quality-rated publication, at least.

    Rich> hopeful that peer-reviewed electronic publishing will
    Rich> eventually help to resolve some of this problem.

It will reduce costs of distribution somewhat, but that's not where
the costs are anyway.  Again, it's a matter of spotting talent.  The
top journals will remain the top journals because everybody wants to
publish there, including the Nobel-caliber scholars. will get a following only if Steve can
provide value=added by spotting papers that don't make it in the big
journals, but deserve to, and on a regular basis.  Once that gets
going, of course, it can take advantage of the "all the best articles
are here, that's where I want mine published" effect, but that's not
automatic.  Keyword indexing and free lance reviews will help, but not
that much.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
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