Tis the season

I hope you are all having a relaxing and warm spot of downtime. Here’s a winter picture I took in Norway last week. Back to real blogging one of these days…

Light through the frosted trees

… in the meantime, here’s to peace inside and out in the new year.

You Can’t Force Them To Come To You

As you have likely heard, Prince has been ruffling the righteous feathers of many fans lately by seeking the domain names of a number of Prince fan sites. The grounds are ‘intellectual property violations.’ Among the violations are photos of fan tattoos of images to which Prince holds the rights. Nevermind whose body they’re on.  You can follow the struggle from the affected sites’ POV on their site Prince Fans United.

In their year-end Pop review, the Telegraph offers their take on this, and on Prince’s move earlier this year to release his recent album as a free newspaper supplement:

What is being established is a new and more direct relationship between artist and fans, apparently with the intent of cutting out the record-company middleman, but it is not without its own complications. Prince gave his latest album away with a Sunday newspaper, using it effectively as a marketing exercise for his fantastically well received 21-night live run at the O2 Arena .

It was a move that reflects the profitability of the booming live sector and, in many ways, marks a welcome shift towards performance becoming (once again) the principle source of income for working musicians. It is the one musical transaction that still requires all parties to show up in person.

But what Prince giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other, launching lawsuits against internet sites (including dedicated fan sites) for unauthorised use of his image. Suing your own fans is not usually considered good for business, but Prince may get away with it on account of his legendary eccentricity.

Prince’s unstated aim, in forcing YouTube (among others) to remove all footage of his performances, is not so much to control his image as to compel fans to come to him (and his own internet portals) for all Prince-related material.

If compelling your fans to come to you rather than building sites of their own isn’t control, what is? He may well “get away with it” but it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that he did not do damage to himself compared to where he would have been if he respected the fans’ dedication and let them do their thing.

To expect all the fans to come to you for all their needs is to misunderstand the internet, fandom, and what it means to have “a new and more direct relationship between artists and fans.” You don’t make new friends by insisting they always come to your house and do what you want to do. Sometimes you have to go to their houses and do what they want to do.

Fans like official sites. Fans also like — and many downright need — to build their own spaces where they create the culture.

The trap of the filesharing debate

Sweden’s Hybris is an exemplary internet-savvy record label. The other day, on their blog, they reported on a seminar they held in Stockholm along with also-exemplary label Songs I Wish I Had Written, to discuss the future of music:

It was never said out loud, but in some parts, our original aim seemed to be there all along as a background in the discussion at the seminar. We never fell down the trap. Ah, yes, the trap. It is very hard to talk about the future of music, music that deserves respect, and not fall into the trap of the filesharing debate. The filesharing debate is over. There are nothing more to discuss. Unfortenatly that is mainly what is going on. Endless talks, discussions, laws, propositions and what nots about what to do about the big ‘problem’ of file sharing. Not much discussion about what to do if you are lost in music however. Or why to do it. Or for whom. Or how. Or where. And so forth.

There need to be discussions though. What are we going to do with our love for music? etcetera. [...] We feel that there haven’t been a lot of discussions between people in this crazy business. So far the discussions have been done in small circles of friends, in confrontative style in big media or at blogs, leading up to progress in some parts but no-one is really talking. Or maybe mainly, listening.

I recently interviewed their top guy, Mattias, who is an exceptionally articulate analyst of how labels should adapt to this new terrain. He articulated his stance on filesharing a bit more in our interview.

I view file sharing as a positive. It’s affecting the culture, listeners who are into our kind of music, they are more music fans than the general listener. That kind of person has increased in number over the last 5-6 years. In Stockholm now there are tons of clubs that play our kind of music. It’s 100% file sharing and the internet that we have to thank. All people involved in indie music have known that if we could only get exposure we’d be huge. The majors had marketing and budgets, but the internet made it easy for the independents.

mp3 bloggers are important in the development of mp3 culture. In the beginning there weren’t many mp3 blogs, it had very big impact if we put up our own site because everyone would go to the site. Nowadays mp3 blogs have taken that place. The label isn’t enough of a filter anymore. It’s great for us. If a big mp3 blog puts up a track by one of our artists it gives it credibility. It makes it easier for people to like it and accept the music.

Some more quotes from other label people are here.

He is quite right that what discourse there is remains stuck in the endless cycle of “what will we do about file sharing” instead of “how can we create a new model that works in this environment?”

Hybris’s website is worth exploring for the ways in which they are building a new model: giving some of the music away (on video too), emphasizing their global nature, blogging and maintaining a presence on many different online spaces (MySpace, Last.fm, Facebook…).

On a related note, today Its A Trap contributors listed their 10 favorite 2007 Scandinavian releases, and many of us included Hybris/Adrian Recording’s Familjen on our top 10. Familjen is nominated for a Swedish Grammy and is getting Pitchfork adoration for their super super supercool video for Det Snurrar I Min Skalle, and recently won a huge online voting competition in which both labels made heavy use of social network sites for recruiting votes. This crew knows how to work the internet.

Interpersonal media use and relational quality

It took way too long, but an article I wrote with several colleagues has just been published in the new issue of New Media & Society. This is a followup to the piece I published there in 2004 with Zhang and Lin (who are co-authors on this new one, along with Andrew Ledbetter and Adrianne Kunkel). In the time between its acceptance and publication quite a lot of new work has come along that I would have cited were I writing it today, but it still fits nicely into the growing body of work that shows that using the internet to socialize is not inherently bad (or good) for personal relationships.

What we did was to survey about 500 students. I asked them to recall the most recent voluntary social interaction they’d had and (among other things), to assess the quality of that relationship and also to estimate what percentage of their total interaction with this person took place via face-to-face communication, via phone, and via internet.

In contrast to some other studies looking at internet’s impact on relationships, we controlled for several other factors known to affect relational quality (gender, relationship type — like acquaintance vs family etc, same vs cross sex relationship, etc.). This allowed us to see clearly how much impact on relational quality media use has.

We found that relationship type affected which media were used: our respondents (mostly students at a residential university) were less likely to communicate face-to-face with family and more likely to use the phone with them. Other than that, we didn’t find differences in media use amongst friends, family, romantic partners and acquaintances.

And on the big question: do people who use the internet for more of their communication report lower relational quality? NO. As we say in the article “participants’ estimated proportion of face-to-face, phone and internet communication with their partners did not affect relational quality.”

Another nail in the internet-is-relationally-inferior coffin.

To be clear, I do not believe that the internet is adequate as a SOLE means of maintaining meaningful relationships over the long haul. In fact, research (including the last.fm friends data I’m working with now) suggests that what’s important in developing and maintaining close relationships is using more media to communicate, regardless of which specific media one combines. Using more internet vs more phone or more face-to-face conversation to maintain the relationship does not seem to do any relational harm. What’s more, it’s not just that more internet wasn’t bad, it’s that more face-to-face was not good. Media choice just didn’t matter. Another nail in the coffin of face-to-face-communication-is-unconditionally-best coffin?

Article citation:

Baym, N.K., Zhang, Y.B., Lin, M.-C., Kunkel, A., Lin, M. & Ledbetter, A. (2007). Relational Quality and Media Use. New Media & Society, 9(5).

More on “the Radiohead economy”

Before it slips away, I wanted to draw attention to this excellent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the interpersonal elements of the Radiohead pricing experiment. It draws on an article I’ve used often when I teach nonverbal communication about tipping, which I thought was a clever link on the writer’s part:

But so far, economists don’t understand much about what motivates people to make payments voluntarily—and those of us doing the paying don’t understand it, either. When it comes to restaurant tipping, for instance, a “gifting” practice that continues to baffle economists, research indicates that the actual quality of service doesn’t make much of a difference to the tips a server receives. Although patrons invariably cite service as a major factor in how and why they tip, research data show that it only accounts for a 1.5% difference. What makes a greater impact, according to studies done by Professor Michael Lynn of Cornell University, is the degree of interpersonal connection we feel with a server. One subject in the study who made the simple change of introducing herself to diners by name saw her tips increase from 15% to 23%. Tricks such as touching customers on the shoulder, writing “thank you” on the bill and crouching beside the table to take an order were shown to generate even greater monetary rewards.

Another piece, also exploring the extent to which this model might be expanded into other products appeared recently in AdWeek. Its author speculates that games are ripe for this sort of pricing scheme, and quotes me (this is getting old, I know) making the interpersonal point:

In general, game developers build successfully on a key element of consumer-generated pricing: passion. According to Nancy Baym, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Kansas who studies online fandom, that factor is the assumption or reliance on “an audience that cares about you enough to pay for something they can get for free.” It’s a dialog, she says, that “melds a commercial relationship with a social relationship. There’s something more than commerce.”

At any rate, both articles are notable for replacing hype with reasoned comparisons to other phenomena that rely on user-generated pricing.


On a personal note, my apologies for my irregular posting to anyone who misses more regular updates. At least until the new year posting will stay sporadic: We are hosting 4 job candidates in my department this week (during an ice-storm that has left Kansas in a declared “State of Emergency”) and next week I am headed off for an exciting little combined work and pleasure jaunt to Oslo and Copenhagen. Sunlight? Who needs it!