Sunday, June 23, 2013
This weekend Annie’s stepfather Deric Longden sadly passed away.
Deric was a bestselling writer, a journalist, broadcaster, screenplay writer, after-dinner speaker and a lover of all people and animals. Who else do you know that has written some six autobiographies about his life caring for his first wife Diana, who suffered with ME and his second wife Aileen Armitage, who despite being blind, had written some 34 novels and won Woman of the Year. However, Deric also cared for cats in all shapes and sizes and many other animals which are recorded in his many books and short stories. His witty observational view of life and what it often threw at him was written in such a way that struck a chord with many.
Deric was born in Chesterfield in 1936 and married Diana Hill in 1957. They had two children, Sally and Nick. After various jobs he took over a small factory making women's lingerie, but began writing and broadcasting in the 1970s and before long he was writing regularly for programmes like 'Does He Take Sugar?' and 'Woman’s Hour'. Most of his work was based on his own experience. The demands made on him by Diana's illness, subsequently believed to be a form of ME, forced him to sell his lingerie, and since then he devoted himself to full-time writing, broadcasting, lecturing and after-dinner speaking.
From the experience of those years of ‘love and pain’, Deric wrote Diana’s Story, which was first read on Woman’s Hour by Deric himself and voted by Radio Four listeners as the most popular serial in 50 years of broadcasting. Diana’s Story, published in 1989, some years after Diana's death, was a bestseller. The book hit the Sunday Times bestseller list straight away, won the NCR book award. It was followed by Lost for Words, The Cat Who Came in from the Cold, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Enough to Make a Cat Laugh and A Play On Words. Deric Longden's first two books were adapted for television under the title Wide-Eyed and Legless, and an adaptation of Lost for Words. Both were nominated for multiple BAFTAs and Lost For Words, screened in January 1999, attracting an audience of more than 12 million viewers and won the Emmy for best foreign drama and a BAFTA for Thora Hird as best actress.
Bibliophile Books digitally converted his titles and rereleased them as ebooks. This has enabled Deric’s humour and insights to reach a new audience, build his fanbase and importantly ‘got the car back on the road.’ He didn’t fully understand digital but loved the fact that he was reaching new readers and that they loved his writing. In 2012 Bibliophile published a new title, Tailpieces, which was a collection of his humorous cat stories.
A number of years ago whilst constructing his web site www.dericlongden.com I interviewed him.
Below is an extract from that interview:
What started you writing?
Deric said, “I always wanted to write but never did anything about it other than little bits and pieces for my own pleasure. Then in 1974 BBC Radio Derby ran a five hundred word short story competition. Each entry had to be submitted under a pen name and so I called myself ‘Biro’, which I thought was a pretty good pen name.
My story was about a hundred year old man who put his great age down to the fact that he had always lived in a house without an outside lavvy. It kept you on your toes, he said. There was no easy trot upstairs like when you have one inside.
You never quite knew when the urge would come over you and you’d have to gather together your packet of twenty Capstan full strength and your box of matches. Grab the Daily Mirror from under the dog, slip the lavvy key off the hook and then vault the old wooden gate as you sprinted some thirty five yards up the garden path in the pouring rain. You could never relax for a moment.
Somehow I won and the following year I entered again, this time under the pen name ‘Papermate’. I wrote a story about a shepherd who only had two sheep and rather than leave them out on the lonely moors at night, he would take them home with him.
Most shepherds dip their sheep only once a year, but he was able to do it once a week because fortunately he had a double draining sink unit. Afterwards he would pop them into the tumble drier – for forty five minutes on woollens.
I won again and the following year went for the hat trick. A week after I had posted my entry the producer rang me.
‘Are you by chance Parker 51’?
I said that I was and he told me that I looked like winning again and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
‘If you withdraw we’ll give you a regular weekly slot’.
Two and half thousand broadcasts later I wince slightly when I look at the stories now, although if I’m honest with myself, I smile as I wince.
They were original. They were me. And that is the most powerful weapon we writers have in our armoury. There is nobody in the world quite like me and there is nobody in the world quite like you.
How do you feel when your work is abridged, say for the Reader’s Digest or for radio?
Rather wary. A radio abridgment can sometimes amount to little more than butchery, but I have been very lucky. BBC producer, the late Pat McLoughlin, accepted both ‘Diana’s Story’ and ‘Lost For Words’ for Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ and whittled them down so that they ran for just a dozen or so fifteen minute episodes, but Pat completed the task with such skill that the book sounded as though it had merely gone on a diet and lost a few pounds.
Which do you enjoy most, Journalism, broadcasting, writing sketches for comedians, writing books, screenwriting or making speeches?
Writing books. I don’t have to leave home.
Where did you first meet Aileen?
I interviewed her for the BBC and she talked me through great slabs of her life and thirty odd books but never once mentioned that she was registered blind. I only began to have my suspicions when she stubbed her cigarette out in the sugar bowl. I seem to have been blessed with women who have no idea how to moan.
Do you think you have helped other writers?
I would like to think so. I have certainly tried, both individually and through classes on residential courses, but perhaps the fact that I failed miserably in every exam that ever came my way, from ‘eleven plus’ to ‘O’ levels, hopefully convinces them that if I can do it they can do it and that writing is not merely the province of the Oxbridge set.
Which of your many awards give you the most satisfaction?
How kind of you to say ‘many’? I think each in its turn gave me a fantastic kick at the time, some over here and some over in Europe, but I suppose the International Emmy award has to be the most prestigious and also the Peabody Award, little know over here but greatly prized in America, was a wonderful surprise.
However after what I have just said about my failure to pass any exams whatsoever then the Honorary Degree of a Master of Letters from Derby University and an Honorary Degree of a Doctor of Letters from Huddersfield University make me wonder if they have me mixed up with somebody else.”
Monday, June 17, 2013
Yahoo has filed two US patent applications which are based on delivering adverts to ebooks and even offering a variable price that is dependent on the advert placement. Some will cry, ‘not on my watch and it will never happen,’ but perhaps we need to at least consider the implications further before we dismiss it.
If we step back to the Victorian and Edwardian times, the book was often full of adverts for goods which had no connection to the genre or story. The Pamphleteers of the Victorian age also included many adverts in the ‘Penny Dreadful’ and periodicals. Dicken’s own Pickwick Papers included many adverts that told their own story about the culture, products and trades of the day.
Today the only adverts we see in books are those for other titles by the same other, publisher, or in the series. But as the digital book market approaches respectable figures, will that now change, or will tomorrow’s eBooks always remain advert free? Is the Yahoo move an indication of things to come, or merely a patent filing for the shelf and just in case?
Google first gave us Ad Words and Search Engine Optimisation and we appeared suddenly to discover the holy grail. Companies placed their bets and got suckered into a spiral of marketing investment, which may have given a return when you were top of the list, but you had to pay ‘blind man’s buff’ to get there. Technology has long been able to crunch information and drive targeted marketing from the results. Major retailers and especially supermarkets have become experts at analysing not only what we did buy, but also what we didn’t buy that we should have and even what aisles we didn’t buy from. Some thirty years ago US supermarket Vons were one of the leaders in the coupon driven market of the time.
Technology enables us now to be able to target advertising to; recent purchases or items viewed, demographic groups and profiles, searches, key words within text, even changes within our local weather or breaking local news. The key change is that the analysis and results can be now be generated almost instantly and the same advertisement offer can be dynamically tailored to fit the individual.
The questions we have to ask are about who owns the customer relationship, the advertising contract, revenues and the information? Amazon and Kobo already offer full-screen adverts when the device is switched off and smaller ones on their menu screens. So who drives the advertising dollar? Would the advertising be driven by the retailer, the publisher, or a technology or service provider?
If advertising were seriously introduced into books, it would potentially work with ebooks, but pbooks would remain largely as they are today. So how would, adverts in ebooks be sold to the reader? Would the revenues generated reduce the cost of the ebook as suggested by Yahoo, or will they cross subsidise the tile irrespective of form? Would the revenues count into the royalties net revenues, or be lost outside of the ‘sales’?
We should also recognise moral rights but who would be able to exert them and would they be universally recognised?
In offering that the advertising will pay more and the reader given a greater discount based on how distracting, or intrusive their adverts are to the reader, Yahoo raise an interesting concept. They also suggest that readers could be offered adverts as hyperlinks within the book's text, in-laid text or even "dynamic content" such as video. They suggest the sponsored book, which could be brought to you by Company X and in that we must remember the industry’s acceptance of the MacDonald deal with WHS that we wrote about a few months ago. They also touch on the sensitive aspect of offering sponsored rewards our gifts in children's books.
Books have been a relatively advertising free zone for many decades, but is this has been more driven by the restrictions and economics of the pbook. In the past it was only possible to economically provide mass market driven adverts, but is that now changing with the ebook and internet? We expect to see adverts in papers, magazines and on web pages, so is it acceptable to see them closely aligned to books? With magazines and newsprint the advertiser can reference circulation listings and know roughly who the audience is and how big it is. With TV and film again the audience is well defined but with books some would suggest we enter the world of the unknown.
So do we expect to see ebook adverts soon?
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Subscription business often make good business sense to both the service provider and the consumer. For the service provider it enables them to build a sustainable and predictable revenue stream where the peaks and troughs of fads and the unpredictability of demand is cushioned by the width and depth of offer. They still have to manage down the exposure to churn, but have the opportunity to build customer loyalty and relationship. For the consumer it offers the obvious one stop shop and protection from change in what today is often dynamically changing markets.
Media, technology, software, communications are some of the sectors now either moving towards or heavily entrenched in subscription business models.
Today we have the new battles between BskyB and BT, where the latter threw a new gauntlet down with their ‘free’ new sport channel. BskyB have now responded with unlimited broadband for anyone signing up to its Sky Sports channels. This means that a new Sky customer can now pick up broadband for as little as £5 a month on top of their line rental. It is clear that this cross selling and subsidy offer is just starting and will not just effect these two but everyone else who offers any competing service.
We now have some clear adversaries in the various markets. In music we have Spotify locked with Pandora with Apple and Google trying to muscle in. In films we have Lovefilm vying with Netflix with the battle now spilling over into production and competing with Sky. The world of software which was built on selling perpetual licences is now rapidly repositioning itself to annual licences and is being driven by the likes of Microsoft’s Office 365 and Adobe’s Creative suite.
But what about books, newsprint and magazines?
Learned and Academic journals have long successfully worked within an institutional subscription model, which is now under a different threat from the open access movement. Newsprint and magazines have had mixed success with subscriptions. Where the material can be sourced from an alternative free feed it has struggled, but where the material is highly valued, authoritative and is a 'must have' subscriptions have had success.
Some have tried book subscriptions and the many failed book clubs are a warning to many, whilst others such as Oyster believe that subscriptions will work for ebooks. The challenge is that apart from heavy book readers, consumers don’t read enough books to justify subscriptions and those heavy book buyers aren’t the problem. We believe that our new Read Petite venture is different and that short form work is perfectly suited to a subscription model.
It’s interesting that some of the largest technology players are looking hard at subscription businesses. Intel is reported to be looking to create a US cable service that would sell a bundle of television channels to subscribers over the Internet. However the existing players are not for rolling over led by Time Warner Cable and other cable and satellite distributors. The distributors are pressuring the cable channels, with whom they have lucrative long-term contracts, not to sign new contracts, which in turn is threatening to bring in the DOJ antitrust investigators. It is certain that the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Sony are watching from the wings.
What is certain is that cross media consolidation will happen. You will be able to subscribe to a service and receive; broadband, tv, film, music, games, software, mobile and digital reading. Devices won’t matter as everything has to be device agnostic. It is not a case of if, but when and who will dominate the market with offers you can’t refuse. To prepare for this opportunity we have to understand how ‘stuff’ gets licenced and how creators get rewarded.
We should not simply say ‘no’: we have to instead engage and make it work.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Once thieves broke into houses to steal your possessions, now it’s probably easier to steal your smartphone on the street. As everyone is carrying around a mobile ‘jewellery’, then the value of authentication and protection from theft is becoming a hot subject.
Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco last year involved a smartphone, up from 36% the previous year. In other US cities the same high profile exists with Washington recording 42% of robberies and New York 14%. It is now claimed that a third of all US citizens own a tablet and the ownership of smartphones is very much higher. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics reported that 107,000 incidents of 'theft form the person' were recorded last year, an 8% rise from previous year.
Do you ‘lock’ your smartphone or is it like the majority open to use once stolen?
This week Apple, as part of their iOS7 announcement, a new iOS feature, they call ‘Activation Lock.’ The feature effectively disables the iPhone even if a thief has turned it off or erased the data on the phone. This remote ‘kill switch’ renders the stolen phone useless and difficult to sell in the black market. The phone can be reactivated only after the user logs into it with the right Apple ID and password.
Google also are taking the issue forward and have filed a patent suggesting users stick out their tongue or wrinkle their nose in place of a password. Yes they envisage we will happily look at our phone and pull a face to be recognised and authenticated. They suggest that specific gestures could prevent the existing Face Unlock facility being fooled by photos.
The patent, filed last year, suggests the software could track a "facial landmark" to confirm a user not only looks like the device's owner but also pulls the right expression and this could be; a frown, an open smile, a forehead wrinkle, eyebrow movement, or a tongue protrusion. They go on to cover a number of ways that they could further ensure the phone is not being fooled.
The patent suggests users would have to type in a password if they failed to make the right gestures
Now just imagine you are on a crowed train and you need to unlock your phone, or you are having an intimate dinner in a restaurant and the phone vibrates and you are asked to start to pull faces at the camera. Yes we see it working well at those gurning meetings and the late comedian Les Dawson would be able to give a masterclass in the art, but really there must be simpler ways to validate who you are?
As the smartphone and tablets become our mobile office, personal library and hold more than just contacts and diaries and even our email we must protect them from theft. It is not just a case of replacing them when they are lost or stolen, but maybe thinking about the identity and information that you have effectively lost. This may be more valuable to you and the thief that the smartphone or tablet.
It’s often disturbing whilst you are on the tube or in public places to have to listen to the constant hissing beat of music emanating from people listening to music through their earbud headphones. However, it can also be equally frustrating trying to listen to music or an audiobook through the same earbud headphones whilst you are in a very noisy place like a train station.
So now those masters of sound Bose have come up with the answer and much more.
First they want people to be able to listen without the need to crank up the volume to compensate for all the other surround ing outside noises. Their new QuietComfort 20 headphones, are their first in-ear noise-cancelling headphones. These new earbud-style headphones deliver superior audio performance, weigh just 1.5 ounces and cost a staggering $299.95. However, they claim to be able to block virtually all outside noise, including the ambient. This blocking is achieved by a unique, exclusive digital electronic chip which can calculate an equal and opposite noise cancellation signal within a fraction of a millisecond. Not only is the background almost completely blocked out the sound is enhanced by two tiny microphones in each earbud that can sense the approaching sound while measuring the sound inside. Bose’s StayHear+ ear tips also allow the QuietComfort 20 headphones to create a seal that provides for the passive blocking of outside noise while also ensuring a comfort.
What more can one ask for, apart from maybe a loan to pay for them?
You may ask about those obvious times when the wearer needs to be aware of what is around them. Bose have that covered too and the headphones can also be switched to an Aware setting which allows the user to hear surrounding sounds.
Bose could become the new designer earpiece to be seen out wearing and great for those occasions you want to be by yourself. However the one thing that even Bose can’t do yet is cut that cord between the earpieces and the player but watch this space.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Hands up if you have a collection of vinyl, or even cassettes and don’t have the decks and equipment to play them on. Maybe you have VHS tapes, but no VHS player, or even eight track tapes and no eight track player.
A survey by UK electronics retailer Maplin has found that UK men still have their collections of older media in their homes, even though they don’t have the equipment to play these disappearing media formats. Some 45% still have cassettes, but no cassette deck, 47% vinyl singles and LPs but no turntable. Again some 20% have photographic slides but no viewer or projector.
However, more interesting is that some 75% admitted to having collections of music they never play and photographs and files they never look at. Are we a nation of hoarders, or do we just see equipment as a disposable and content as something we must keep just in case? Is it just that we all spent huge sums and time building up these libraries that reflected our taste at the time and do not want to let go of those memories.
Maplin also found that over 66% of those surveyed would like to be able to transfer old stuff to an up-todate format but lacked the time or the know-how.
In a few years time will we be saying the same about those ebooks we bought and were tied to devices or heavily restricted by DRM? Colin Powell has openly admitted to buying more ebooks than he has read and again once read how many every reread the book?
Contrary to the survey, we are pleased we have a significant vinyl collection and the equipment to enjoy it on, we do have cassette decks but no longer have cassette tapes. We have ripped the vast majority of our CD music library to digital files, but now have a Laptop, which like many, came with no CD although we do have an external one. We own some VHS and DVD tapes but also have VHS and DVD players. We also have a significant library of physical books and some Kindle ebooks which can be played on many devices. However, the majority of our media library is rarely played. Only last night my wife spent time photographing old college photos so we could post them on facebook for a reunion.
This useful survey highlights a number of interesting points about all media and our usage and archive of it in a digital age.
The first point would seriously question why we continue buy digital media and why it’s not made available on-demand, on subscription or on a pay to play basis? This opportunity is why LoveFilm, Netflix, Spotify, Pandora and others have huge potential to change our culture.
Secondly, any file or media that is tied to a specific technology is destined to have a limited life. This is fact and the early media files that were tied to a service, or device, are now potentially dead files. However, whilst they are still current we should be able to resell the files through an authentication broker which not only creates further value but could also generate new revenues for artists.
Thirdly, although upgrade services and devices exist these need to be better promoted by retailers and the industry itself, who could benefit from the improved customer contact and after-sales service.
We live in a market which is geared to forcing us to re-invest in technology on a cyclical basis. To buy the latest, smartest and hippest technology and throw out the old. Many reinvested in their music when the CD replaced vinyl and their VHS videos when DVD arrived but that retail trick can only be done so many times and once media is capture digitally it’s often easier to transfer it to new formats. Perhaps the biggest threat to digital files being upward compatible today is not devices but DRM?
Sunday, June 09, 2013
When we all look into the same house through different windows it should not be a surprise that we may all see different things. It’s the same house just different perspectives.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers have just issued a report predicting a 1% annual growth for the US-based music industry through to 2017. That may put a smile back on the music executives, who are ready to slit their wrist and could only see terminal decline. It may disappoint those optimists who believe that music has turned the corner and would have expected a significant upturn. However, for many it confirms that the traditional music industry after 100 years of stellar growth is now seriously flat lining.
Before we all jump in to defend our own viewpoint, we have to accept that the music industry is going through dramatic change in formats, channels, culture, and how consumers listen, store and pay for music. It would be somewhat foolish to predict the outcome in such turmoil. Who will survive and even what the market may look like in the next decade is open to many prespectives, interests and even down to the extent that the current culture will change.
Today, digital sales may be increasing, but the value of the units sold is dropping. Digital sales may still be in their infancy, but are now under serious threat as Apple’s favour nation starts to faulter, the challenge to resell digital has only just begun and the demand streamed and subscription services is only starting to redefine ownership. Even the relatively new swing from album to singles, which was driven by the likes of iTunes, may not be as clear cut as once predicted and the single versus the album debate is ongoing for many. All this without the introduction of Neil Young’s Pono service which may not happen, but is bound to be followed by others who are wanting better quality than MP3.
If we look at through Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ revenue window we see a flat business.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers predict grow in 2013, but based exactly on what? Physical sales are falling and not being compensated by digital sales and even the return of vinyl can only be seen as niche. Kids are increasingly now turning to YouTube to watch and listen and even if these licences were revisited they would never bring back the glory days. We see from the recent Apple iRadio negotiations that although the streaming business appears to be sound it will not feed all the production mouths that have been built up over the good days.
If we look through another Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ window that shows the comparative revenues generated by digital as opposed to physical we see a sick physical patient and a digitally challenged one.
When we look at live revenues the Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ perspective is more bullish and predicts a 3% growth to some $30.9 million by 2017. They state that this will "more than offset the continued decline in recorded music revenues." The question they fail to answer is whether this money and growth will be owned by the traditional gang of three majors, or now migrate to others such as Live Nation?
The question also exists about the division between publisher revenues and recorded revenues and how that split will grow as streaming services grow.
It’s easy to look at music and see a sector that is struggling to compensate and balance the loss of traditional physical sales revenues with the emerging digital ones but it’s harder to see how music will generate the same revenues it once did. It’s the same house but today even the foundations are changing!
All Media sectors are having to adapt to changing and often disruptive markets. The once predictable economies of scale and scope that kept order are being challenged by the lack economic rules, where anyone and everyone can reach for their 15 minutes of fame. Creators are becoming increasingly independent of the big studio and production model and consumers are increasingly accepting rough cuts alongside the traditional polished diamonds.
These changes are feeding each other. We find ourselves moving from the polished and expensive MTV video to the amateur and cheap YouTube self made live recording, from the highly literate and proof read novel to the often unedited self-published work, from the multi million pound concept album to the one produced in a studio in the shed. The consumer is no longer expecting everything to be perfect and packaged and also want to discover material and artists for themselves. The reality shows have feed the growing perception that there is a lot more talent out there than yesterday’s media producers would have ever discovered, invested in, let alone marketed.
Self-publishing has gone beyond yesterday’s all too often ridiculed ‘slush pile’ and has started to free itself from those that once exploited and fed on the vanity of the authors who wanted to be published. Digital has democratised the process of getting published and the likes of Amazon, Lulu, YouTube, Facebook and others have created the channels and made it easy. Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions was a wake-up call as to the valuation of this business and also demonstrated the perceived threat to the old factory model poised by the self-published.
Bowker Market Research (BMR) have this week claimed in their research Books and Consumers, that self-published titles now make up 12% of all ebook sales in UK and in some genre crime, science fiction and fantasy, romance and humour, the market share may be as high as 20%. They also claim that in genres such as graphic novels, food and drink, and children's non-fiction e-books, the self-published share is no more than 5% of volume sales. These observations are logical because the development and presentation aspect of these genres are more complex and therefore not so easy to self-publish to a quality standard. They also find that online browsing is the biggest driver for self-published titles, which again is to be expected given that online browsing and social networking are the discover channels open to those who self-publish often on limited budgets. .
We could not help be wonder how the consumers surveyed knew what was self-published and what wasn’t and also how BMR were able to cross reference the 12% to sales when the much of the sales data is not openly available? Maybe their research panel is telling us that consumers actually know the difference between publisher and self-published material even though they hardly recognise brands other than authors. If this is true then this a significant finding as it would dispute all previous assumptions on publisher brand recognition.
BMR also claim that heavy readers, who are likely to read every day, are more likely to buy self-published books (61%) compared to 37% of all book buyers and 36% of self-published book buyers are females over 45, who make up 24% of all book buyers.
There are lots of unanswered questions about the ratio of sales achieved to titles published, the cost to publish versus the earnings received, the number of channels used, the usage of metadata and standards and much more. However, the BMR survey was about consumers and irrespective of whether the findings are correct or incorrect, the conclusion that the self-publishing market is growing is clearly reality.
Saturday, June 08, 2013
‘Our employees pay tax so why should we pay corporation tax?’ was one argument raised by one global giant when accused of tax avoidance. Now we have another from Vodaphone who have paid NO UK corporation tax for second year running, despite earning £5 billion in UK sales.
The new argument is that they have made enough contribution via other investments in UK infrastructure. Over a decade ago it paid £6 billion to the Treasury for the 3G spectrum and has recently paid over £800 million for new UK 4G spectrum. Ironically they were able to slash their corporation tax liability to zero by claiming allowances for investment in infrastructure, such as it made in the mobile spectrum and in interest payments. They claim they paid £300m of interest during the year on loans to fund its £6bn purchase of 3G spectrum in 2000, which they offset against last year's profits. We may be naïve, but to the simple person that would suggest that the interest payments against the investment were then effectively funded by the taxpayer. If correct that is somewhat like Amazon being paid more in grants than it pays in tax.
Vodaphone still made £294 million operating profit.
Then we have the usual Luxembourg company, Vodafone Procurement Co Sarl, which reported profits of 215 million euros and according to accounts paid no income tax, for the period. The company which lends money to other group units, reported profits of $2.43 billion for the year to March 2012 and reported a tax bill of less than 1%.
Vodaphone are not new to tax controversy and are reported to have stuck a significant ‘deal’ with HM Revenue and Customs in the past. It is somewhat ironic again that Dave Hartnett, the tax officer who struck the deal has now joined Deloitte, who advise Vodaphone on such issues. The names ‘gamekeeper’ and ‘poacher’ spring to mind.
Vodaphone has published a defence of its tax activities and insists it is committed to "integrity in all tax matters" and although it paid no corporation tax in the UK it did pay over £2.5 billion in similar taxes in other countries and claims it paid £882m in other UK taxes and contributions during the year.
We should erect a rogues gallery of corporations who avoid their taxes on such a grand scale. Every month a new ‘rouge’ is unveiled, every month the size of the kitty not being collected and being effectively avoided, grows. Everyone points the finger at each other and appears to cry, ‘not me guv!’ The reality is that when we all have to tighten our belts and we have welfare cuts and caps, it may be legal, but it is becoming increasingly immoral for these corporations not to pay their fair share and that applies to all taxes and not those they select to offset others. It is also immoral for a government and its agents not to act as diligently as it does to others to close down what is fast becoming a moral scandal.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
The ex-Taking Heads musician, David Byrne now opens his shows encouraging folk to take pictures, film and record and share on YouTube, but to only post the good recordings. In his book ‘How Music Works’ he describe that cathartic moment when he stopped trying to fight concert recording and embraced them as a way of marketing the show and his music.
The guardian reports this week on concert pianists, Krystian Zimerman’s reaction to being filmed during a performance. He was so annoyed over seeing a member of the audience filming him perform he asked the audience member, "Would you please stop that?" He shortly afterwards left the stage and on returning told his audience that he had lost many recording projects because of YouTube and that it was ‘destroying music.’
It’s ironic that this is reported in the same week we have written about the increasing issues of privacy in our increasingly Internet intrusive world. Is David Bryne’s world different to that of the concert pianist, or the opera singer, or should we treat them all the same? We would expect a certain decorum within the various concert halls, but if that is being observed, then we have the core issue of recording and its impact on artists.
The days of banning filming of rock and pop concerts is fast disappearing and common sense has prevailed. YouTube, is becoming for many, the most popular way of listening to music today. We first created the MTV generation, which now have spawned the YouTube generation. Many artists have realised that it can be a great way to promote their music and concerts and have in the main embraced it. Go to any rock concert today and before you have reached home we can guarantee there will be a posting on YouTube.
Yes, we expect certain decorum within a classical music concert and don’t expect people using flash cameras, standing to record, or dancing in the aisles, but that is not the issue here. Today, and certainly in a few months, we could see Google Glass being worn by the audience. No more having to hold the smartphone in one hand whilst dancing in the aisles. You can’t ban Google Glass and not smartphones. The person wearing Google glass could be sitting quietly next to you in that classical concert and be disturbing no one, as tomorrow they live stream the concert to YouTube. In fact they will be less obtrusive than those with opera glasses.
We have to find new codes of practice, separate the bootleg recordings which are made for profit from those made by fans to share. Opera, classical, pop, folk, rock concerts are inherently no different. They are based on people enjoying the music and sharing the experience with friends and the sharing should be encouraged as it grows awareness and introduces new people to the experience. Concerts and live shows are more popular than ever and they are now filmed and posted more than ever and some would suggest that there is a correlation there.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Sometimes it’s best to keep your dirty laundry inside and not show it to the world. We have seen some interesting misjudgements and statements over the last decade, first with the Google Book Settlement (GBS) and latterly with the Apple Agency Pricing. In both cases there appears to be a clash of cultures, misunderstanding between parties and momentum behind the search for a ‘silver bullet’ at all costs.
What is interesting from the material released on day one of the agency trail, is how the search for any solution appears to have blinded one side and the need to establish a market fixated the other. The references to ‘idiots’ by both sides against the other, doesn’t help, and the case as laid out by the DOJ would suggest that there is little wriggle room for the defendants. But it is only day one and despite all the other parties settling with the DOJ for tens of millions, Apple may still have some technicality, or material, tucked up their sleeve.
Opinion is still divided on GBS and probably will, whatever the outcome of the court case, continue to be divided on agency. But if the five publishers settled, so why is Apple still fighting its corner?
They obviously have deeper pockets and can take a hefty fine if found guilty, and will probably fight any adverse decision through the appeal system. So is it about the agency model, or more about the ‘most favoured nations’ clause they imposed on the publishers? Just as the GBS debacle was not about scanning and lending, but more about the ‘land grab’ of orphan works, the core issue is often hidden.
The most favoured nations clause grants Apple the ability to sell ebooks at least as cheap as all other retailers. No one, not even Amazon could sell ebooks cheaper. The clauses are common in media licensing deals, but there is concern that they allow the largest players in each industry to force prices higher than open market forces would set them. The EU has already forced Apple to drop its most favoured nation status with publishers. In the US case, the case is on price collusion and if the court were to rule that Apple’s most favored nation amounted to an antitrust violation that could have enormous implications in all media industries.
Music, movies, and TV are far larger than ebooks to Apple and these sectors are still dominated by large producers that don’t have the same threat as book publishers’ face from self-publishing. However in these other sectors Apple do have new and strong competitors and the use of the most favored nation clause may be essential to them moving into new sectors such as TV whilst protecting others such as music.
We watch the case with interest and please read the opening statement from the DOJ and make your own mind up.
Why did VHS win in its infamous war with Betamax? The answer was largely down to the introduction of the first VHS camera. Why did that make a difference? It enabled the pornography market to create cheaper, more edgy films and importantly enabled amateur pornography to flourish. This is turn created demand and demand reduced prices and being able to capture film became as important as watching films
Pornography has always been at the cutting edge of technology and it is now interesting to hear of their obvious interest in the forthcoming Google Glass. The technology will enable users; to capture close and intimate hands free action, upload it live and even for some users to watch their pornography dreams whilst they do whatever they wish. An Android app store MiKandi is already planning to make content to watch on the new technology.
Just like the early VHS cameras made us all film directors and actors so the new technology promises to take that a stage further and free our hands and make everything filmable. Everyone you see and meet could be filming us on devices that are ‘connected’ to the world.
However, trying to ban or curtail the use of the new technology might be like trying to ban people using mobile phones. The technology itself is only going to get cheaper, smaller and even less detectable. We are entering the world where everyone could be potentially filming and uploading images at any time. The question is not how we control pornography, but how we protect civil liberties and privacy.
Once the butler peeked through the keyhole to glimpse at what was happening behind closed doors, perhaps soon he will merely be able to film through the door itself and instantly stream it to the world.
Monday, June 03, 2013
Apple broke the album mold and introduced us to not back to singles but tracks. It priced these at a point that was attractive and tied it t their iPod, iPhone, iMac, iPad and the rest is history. Now they plan to introduce iRadio to the family and hope to cash in on the move to music on demand.
So how will they fair against the established communities such as Pandora, Google’ ‘All Access’ and Spotify. Will they be able to lure customers away from subscription based services to what is reported to be an advertising paid model? Will consumers accept free with ads even if it links seamlessly to iTunes to buy?
The challenges Apple face in trying to close down on this low margin high volume business is not just consumers and attracting advertisers but also convincing the music producers and publishers that another low margin licence service will work for them. They already have disparity between existing revenue models and Apple are unlikely to want to pay the going rate for their licences. It is rumoured that Apple has signed a deal with the Warner and Universal for their music rights but has still to complete on the latter’s publishing rights. It has still to close a deal with Sony with a few days to go to their launch of the service. All deals are based on Apple paying a fee for the music rights and a separate fee for the publishing rights on music streamed. The interesting aspect is the ratio of the number of times an individual will play the same tune versus the cost to purchase. The user doesn’t care and may play a track 50 times but the meter is running and everyone else will be watching. In Apple’s case they have to either pull in the necessary advertising revenues or sales through iTunes to cover the royalties. But why would a user buy a track when they have unfettered access to play it for free?
The challenge for the music business is grappling with the clear migration from purchase to subscription or ad based licence deals. The music business has a track record of poor transition to new models and technology and only recently has started to see the new shoots of a digital recovery, but this has been on the purchase model which may not prevail as more become switch on to on-demand streamed services.
The challenge to Apple is that they are not leading this market and are coming relatively late to the party. They believe that the tie to iTunes will work in their favour but other will argue that it will further heighten the difference between owning all one’s library of music and merely playing it when you want to at a lower operational cost.
Saturday, June 01, 2013
Globalisation and Technology has introduced a new breed of corporation who ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, do no evil’, but sail very close to the wind in their approach to many moral aspects of business.
We have all heard the lengths that they go to avoid tax and ensure that they operate at maximum profit. The list of companies that play the game and operate within the tax laws but with questionable moral,s is not just restricted to the big technology companies we read about. The hall of abdication includes; Google, who have a preferred lower rate in Ireland than the Irish companies, Amazon, who have the weird situation where they earn more out of government subsidies than they pay in taxes in the UK, Apple whose tax regime is ‘complex’. There are many others, such as the ticket company, The Trailine and UK rail operator, First Great Western, which are hardly international companies, but find it good to be based in Luxemburg.
Then we have the VAT games which apply to those who operate in lower EU tax countries and sell into higher rate countries and gain the obvious windfall VAT as a result. Of course the EU are going to fix this in 2015 but that doesn’t stop 'hay being made while the sun shines' today and traditional businesses suffering a governmental penalty for paying their appropriate tax. Most of the major digital media operators look to use the Luxemburg VAT haven; Amazon, Kobo, Nook. There should be a simple windfall tax levied against this organisations and they should be made to realise that there is a moral conduct of practice even if they can skirt around the legal one.
All this is without the social network and technology services that are constantly pushing the privacy boundaries and being challenged by authorities and social rights groups when they make changes. Here we often see the old, 'act first and think later’ approach being adopted.
We also have CEOs who sit in front of being questioning and merely state they operate within the law. Its like listening to a suspect being questioned and them merely saying, ‘No Comment’ to every question. Some such as Google’s Schmidt have the bare faced arrogance to claim, that as they employ workers in a country and the workers’ pay tax then that should taken into consideration.
One of the biggest commercial challenges we face is the global corporate's ability to become untouchable. They want to reap the benefits of doing business in one country whilst paying their reduced dues in another. They want to have an unfair advantage over traditional and indigenous business who pay their taxes in the country they do business. They want to offset huge revenues to Intellectual Property companies sitting in some far off tax haven.
If politicians are to earn the consumer respect they need to tackle this plague of locust before they truly become untouchable.