Monthly Archives: January 2009

mp3-for-all

Back when iPods only came in one non-colour – that very 90s shade of white – I decided that a single Apple device (my computer) was enough. I bought my first mp3-player from Bic Camera in Shibuya, Tokyo (pictured above), from a display in between ionic hairdryers, discount liquor and clocks. It was not Apple, and it was butt-ugly. The size of a shuffle, with an FM tuner included, it was nevertheless good for banging Seawind while jogging through the backstreets of Okusawa. If an earthquake struck Tokyo I figured the FM tuner would come in useful. Adding and deleting music files was achieved by scrolling through the music folder on my hard drive and dropping files into an easy-to-use syncing software. Still, it was annoying to have to mess around, converting m4a files from iTunes to play on it.

Apple announced yesterday at the Macworld Conference and Expo 2009 in San Francisco that music files purchased through iTunes would no longer be restricted by access control technologies – a method of controlling access to, conversion and copying of files known as digital rights management or DRM.

Despite the fact that digital purchases reached a milestone of 1 billion songs bought online in 2008 , according to an article yesterday in the New York Times, “industry pundits have long pointed to DRM as one culprit for music companies’ woes, saying it alienated some customers while doing little to slow piracy on file-sharing networks.“

Three major music labels – Sony, Warner and Universal – were in fact the ones dictating the DRM format to iTunes. Industry analysts have surmised that, due to worries about Apple’s increasing industry clout and dominant market share in digital music sales, the majors decided to offer unprotected music instead to other online vendors like Amazon’s mp3 store to help them become more competitive.

Did the annoyance factor of using a different brand mp3-player with an Apple computer encourage me to purchase music from different online retailers like Amazon.com? No. But it did, eventually, lead me to cave in and start using a (hand-me-down, 90s-shade-of-white) iPod. Things were just easier that way. I guess re-induction into the church of Apple was not exactly what the major labels had in mind.

Steve Jobs, in his letter Thoughts on Music (published in early 2007) denied that the small percentage of purchased iTunes music (3%) compared to illegal downloads owned by the average consumer would provoke someone to use an iPod rather than a player from a competitor. Whether that’s true or not, the deal with the majors to remove DRM from iTunes and in turn to allow variable pricing via iTunes shows a certain mellowing in Apple’s approach.

Still, it doesn’t look like the syncing of Apple devices will become any more flexible. Currently iPod owners can only sync their players to one computer. Every iPod is supposed to be unique to one computer, so that even with the more easily transferrable iTunes purchases, an iPod cannot be used as a portable hard drive to connect with any computer. Erik puts it this way: “If you have two computers you can only use one to sync an iPod or iPhone with iTunes. If I want to put something I did on the studio computer onto my iPhone, I have to first put the files on the other computer with an external drive: I can’t just plug the iPhone straight into the studio computer.”

Meanwhile, supporters of other mp3-players have had to endure their own trials.
On December 31st, Zune and Toshiba Gigabeats mp3-players suffered a ‘Y2K9’-like crash.

How can we get all these mp3-player frustrations out of our hair? Guess we’ll have to go plug in that ionic hairdryer.

The Paperwork Explosion

Media watch Pt 1

Was listening to an archived
interview by the irrepressible Kim Hill with journalist Michael Wolff on National Radio, as I made mexican meatballs the other night.

Any of Kim Hill’s podcasts are worth checking out: she is an institution in New Zealand radio. At times dry and confrontational, yet quick to make sly jokes and be chatty: your grandmother would think she was a hoot. This interview isn’t notable so much for Wolff’s character defences for media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, so much as for the comments about what makes a good sellable paper and the future of newspapers in general.
According to Wolff, there isn’t one.
He’s hardly the first person to pronounce doomsday, withmany newspapers closing or cutting staff numbers in the USA in 2008, and others outsourcing journalistic work on top of technical labour to India. But it’s always sobering to hear such a hopeless prognosis.

Of course, there’s no doubt, it’s much more time-economic to click through one’s favourite sections online, especially when there are slide shows of hypo allergic architecture in towns called Snowflake to look at. (Did I really say time-economic?)

Whether they maintain an online presence or not, I suspect the demise of print editions of newspapers like the New York Times will end a golden age of writers who were rewarded, however meagerly, for penning standfirsts like the following:

“Living with the clones of a dead dog has its surprises. The DNA may be the same but the behavior is another story.”

Media Watch Pt. 2

I’ve ranted incoherently about American Vogue before. But on December 31, 2008, Cathy Horyn did us all a favour by expressing the shortcomings and strong points of Vogue more delicately, in this article in the NY Times.

MySpace Codes

(Images by Scott King as posted on http://www.creativereview.co.uk. King is an artist-slash-graphic designer who has recently exhibited at Ps1 in NYC and the Kunstverein in Munich)