Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Internet article!

The advent of the Internet has greatly transformed the experience of music, most notably the greatly increased ease with which people can access music content and the greatly increased choice of accessible music. According to Anderson, in his book, The Long Tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more, the selection made easily available to people online was one of the prime reasons for the rise of peer-to-peer sharing and piracy. He goes on to expand his theory to explain that the previous economic model based on supply and demand was actually based on scarcity while the new Internet model was based on abundance. So since merchandise like CD's in the real world have to be placed on shelves, the space they occupy has rent invested, so they must sell in order to be worth their space. Entrepreneurs are forced to cater to the lowest common denominator as a result. An interesting thought that Anderson had was that “many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching.” So we might think that the masses like pop music when in fact they are just fed that kind of music. In contrast to real life, space on a server costs next to nothing, so a company can afford to make their whole inventory available. Since almost everything can be put online, costumers now basically have infinite choice. This breaks the old model of supply and demand because now there is no reason not to make available products that very few people are interested in. Even though there are very few purchases for each obscure product, the sheer number of different obscure products, when multiplied by the number of purchases, actually adds to quite a significant amount. The name of the book, Long Tail, refers to the shape of the distribution of the sales. The tail extends much longer to the right than expected because the purchase rate for even obscure products doesn't fall to zero. 1

As a result of this increase of interest in other out-of-the-mainstream types of music, there has been a decline in the amount of money made with the mega-pop hits 1. It seems that the record-holder for fastest-selling album in the first week belongs to *NSYNC, with their No Strings Attached (2000), the “last bit of manufactured pop” selling “virile young men” with “looks and scripted personalities” to young women before Napster happened 1. All this is good news, because world's population can more easily than ever branch out into classical music if they aren't already fans. From the 2006 Nielsen SoundScan, the service that tracks music sales for Billboard and other music industry companies, it was seen that there was an increase of 23 percent in classical music sales from 2005 2. The comment by the Pacifica Quartet that they have never felt more optimistic about the future of classical music perhaps finds basis in this phenomenon of increased willingness and means to explore different types of music. Anderson places emphasis on the point of the consumer's increasing consciousness of choice, saying that we are “becoming mini-connoisseurs, flexing our taste with a thousand little indulgences that set us apart from others.” This individuality in consumption has weakened the shared narrative of a culture and has created thousands of niches 1.

The exact effect of the Internet on the sale of music is hard to quantify. There are views that the spread of peer-to-peer sharing of music amounts to nothing more than piracy 3, as well as more positive views that file sharing is actually helpful 4, to views that file sharing is only part of the matter 1. The view of the RIAA is that pirated online marketplace currently dwarfs the legal marketplace, and thus compromises the ability to invest in new artists 3. This situation gave rise to digital rights management (DRM), where someone who purchases a song online or rips a song off a purchased CD can only create so many copies of the song on so many devices. The view of some artists, though not most of the highly established artists, is that any distribution of their music is good since it increases their exposure 1,4. Anderson believes that the a fundamental change in commerce model in the move to the Internet as happened to be realized by large-scale file sharing is the primary reason for disruption of music sales. The fact that the sheer size of the selection available through piracy was much greater than commercial channels, and the ease made piracy a natural choice. Of course it is almost impossible to determine which of these is more correct than the others.

Another effect the Internet has had on music comes from online communities like Youtube and Myspace. Myspace has made social networking with other musicians much easier and greatly facilitates distribution of one's music. Youtube is another phenomenon which has greatly encouraged dialogue between music-lovers, both between amateurs and professionals. Youtube is being used by amateur musicians to show off their prowess and to seek advice, which comes in abundant amounts. Professional musicians are also using Youtube as free promotional publishing. Viewed differently, Youtube users are no longer content to just consume content, like downloading and listening to mp3's, but are now actively creating their own content 5. According to Tapscott and Williams, there has been a shift from a traditional consumer role to a “prosumer” role, a consumer who creates value and well as consumes it 5. An example given was LEGO, which introduced a website on which you could make your own designs and the company would send you the pieces needed to build it. The designs were also stored online so you could browse other people's designs also. A manifestation of this in music in a production of mashes, remixes, and music videos by fans 5. What are some implications of this new prosumer culture for classical music?

1. Anderson, Chris (2006). The Long Tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. Hyperion. ISBN 1-4013-0237-8.
2. Retrieved on 2007-12-12.
3. Retrieved on 2007-12-12.
4. Retrieved on 2007-12-12.
5. Tapscott, Wolff and Anthony D. Williams (2006). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. Portfolio. ISBN 978-1-59184-138-8.

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