AOL Surveys and Myspace Killers: Press Releases in Action

Instant Messaging habits have been surveyed here. The most interesting findings at a glance:

  • IM usage is up 19 percent year over year for 2005
  • 38 percent say they send as many or more IMs than emails
  • 33 percent of IM users send mobile IMs or text messages from their cell phones at least once a week

If their study is accurate, then the internet is indeed transitioning to an increasingly mobile, increasingly synchronous state of affairs. We increasingly carry all our buddies around with us wherever we go, and we respond to them (and come to expect a response from them) more quickly than ever before. If these interpretations are sound, then North America is clearly primed for 3G adoption. We already use “3G”, just not on our phones. Yet.

According to their press release, the survey results are based on 4,032 respondents — Internet users aged 13 years and older — in the top 20 markets around the country. Hence, in the first place, we should interpret these results with caution, as there is bias toward large urban centers over remote and rural locations. Additionally, since it’s an AOL survey, we should question how respondents were selected – from among existing AOL subscribers, or by some other method?

We might also wonder if the following findings are true, or possibly attributable to sample bias:

More than 47 percent of those surveyed say they use more than one IM application. However, AOL remains the leader, with 65 percent of users selecting AOL’s instant messaging services.

Considering MSN Messenger is installed on almost every Windows machine in almost every office and home, one can’t help but wonder if swaths of internet users are being overlooked here, which conveniently pumps up AOL Instant Messenger. Yes. Given related hype about a “myspace killer” floating around, one can’t help but wonder.

These findings are methodologically opaque (as is the case with all public relations texts masked as science). No serious student of the internet and society should take this kind of information at face value, especially considering the absurdly transparent timing of the “myspace killer” AOL is rumoured to be launching soon (and even acknowledging that this survey is done annually, my reasoning still applies – the timing is perfect for a new product launch). Nonetheless, there may be grains of useful information in it – findings that could provoke real truth-seeking disconnected from revenue-seeking.

Myspace, Marketing, Marx and Me: A Cluster of Gripes from the Maginot Line of Art and Commerce

I’ve been trying to build an exportable contact list out of it (out of myspace…for the band…the band I play in?…) and it scores a fat DONUT for Usability.

While LJ and Yahoo services generally rock in comparison in this area (usability, open standards), you can’t top tha ‘Space for eyeballs and kids giving the whole world a peepshow of the interiors of their bedrooms/diaries. Really, it’s a phenom you just can’t look away from. It’s like geocities and angelfire crashed into each other, a colossal internet vanity page trainwreck, and we’re all its willing victims, limping around, trying to fashion our disfigurements into stunningly pimped out profiles, with the help of Thomas’ profile editor, or whatever. Until we grow up and start using wordpress, that is…

Sorry about that little ramble. Where was I? Oh. Because Myspace has such enormous reach, such horrifically effective stickiness, and such a low cost of entry (setting up a music profile is free), it is likely the most important marketing tool for pop musicians (especially indies) in history (it’s no wonder I get distracted thinking about it).

However, it’s far from perfect. I’ve emailed them time and again promising to PAY THEM to put up a decent friend management/contact export tool (and by this I don’t mean the Hot-Or-Not-knockoff “Top 8”, but something by which I can sort people, seeing that I need to sort promoters, DJs, reviewers, labels, graphic designers, photographers, podcasters, fans, and so on). But myspace thinks they’re better than everyone else, and they won’t DO anything, and they probably don’t need my money (I probably can’t afford to pay them anything anyway, come to think of it).

Maybe they’re right? Maybe I need them more than they need me after all? Right then, I don’t mind, as I’m comfortable going old school, or old hat, or whatever. It’s all coming home to my cute little iBook (well, the dental receptionist said it was cute), and I will scrape and toil and sweat my weekends away when I should be out riding my bike, or writing new material. The whole music industry can get crammed into a tiny 30 G hard drive, you know.

So it goes. Given their much-trumpeted ringtones for bands campaign announced recently, you might have the false impression that myspace cares about indie musicians. Not so, said the fox (or was it News Corp? does it matter?…). If they cared (or knew more about indie music marketing) they’d fix the inexpensive, little things that have a track record of actually helping indies do their everyday stuff (like simple email list exporting). But, then again, doing that would drive those little sullen eyeballs off their portal, wouldn’t it?

Oh well. They’re doomed to struggle against us for centuries, anyway. How many H4X0RZ are ready to move?

Mobile browsing to dominate: Ipsos

Emarketer has published new statistics on mobile browsing habits, courtesy of a report by research firm Ipsos. Mobile browsing adoption appears to be exceeding conservative expectations from 2005. A key statistic: 56% of mobile phone users worldwide browsed the web last year. In Japan, a whopping 92% of users went online via their mobiles.

Exciting news.

Via Russell Beattie

P2P and Concert Prices

Concert ticket prices are skyrocketing. There’s some hullaballoo today about the role online filesharing plays in this phenomenon, though some say don’t believe the hype. It seems even Madonna‘s been implicated in the tussle. Apparently, concert tickets have risen, on average, by 8.9% every year between 1996 and 2003, as against a concurrent inflation rate of only 2.3%.

I’d like more insight into the methodology of this research, but for now, I’ll just comment on a couple of issues that I think are being overlooked in much of the discussion:

One factor that’s been completely ignored is that between 1996 and 2006, retail gasoline prices doubled (and in the United States, they nearly tripled). It’s hardly surprising to see the increased costs of staging a tour (e.g., fuel, freight) getting offloaded to consumers via increased ticket prices. Am I way off base here? Those tour buses guzzle thousands of litres of fuel just idling outside a venue to keep Dave Matthews’ beer fridge cold (not to mention the fleets of Peterbilts hauling Britney Spears’ gargantuan lighting and sound apparatus all over the place).

Also absent in the discussion is consideration of the different (though related) effects this economic upheaval has had on independent music scenes. The BBC article documents the unsurprising finding that

research into the market in the US … has found that in 1982, the top 1% of artists received 26% of concert revenue. By 2003, that figure had gone up to 56%.

Vanishing profits and fierce competition have decimated many smaller live music venues in North America (this is particularly true in Vancouver, where I live…RIP, Starfish Room), devouring tour opportunities for lesser known rock bands. The concomitant rise of electronica events and touring laptop acts (the best way to cost-cut – replace your entourage with robots!) has probably played a role in amplifying this trend, too.

Indie bands have been pressured by changing economic conditions to promote themselves more heavily (and far more cheaply) online on sites like myspace and Inexpensive channels for online music marketing have been exploding all over the place, while Madonna’s company simply raises the price of admission after conducting some careful audience metrics. P2P filesharing has been instrumental in indie music successes, as recent research shows (original paper here, in PDF format).

The changing economies of popular music deserve our attention, but P2P is only one small piece of the puzzle.

Digital Downloads and Retail CD Sales: UK

Digital Music News is reporting new findings based on UK data that about 75% of all internet users in the country prefer physical CDs, while only 8 percent prefer digital formats. The research also appears to confirm that bricks-and-mortar retail CD revenues still outstrip their online competitors’ earnings.

Full story here. The original Nielsen/Netratings release is here (PDF download).

Note, however, that the researchers only surveyed 1,165 Internet users, aged 16 and above. Given the fact that younger people are less likely to have credit cards or high credit limits (and those under 18 in the UK most likely don’t have them at all!), the street revenue may only appear greater here due to overrepresentation of youngsters who do not have the option of credit cards (all but essential in online buying). Significant age-based differences in credit card habits would also suggest that research of this sort should be carefully qualified by age cohorts within the surveyed population before any actionable conclusions are made.

iTunes pricing: is Apple winning?

An article in yesterday’s New York Post (found via Techdirt) argues that Apple’s Steve Jobs may be finally winning his battle with the major record companies over fixed price music downloads via iTunes. The major labels’ deals with Apple all expire in the next two months, and the Post reports that several record executives now say they are unlikely to convince Jobs to allow variable pricing.

I’d say there’s still a fight ahead. But with the pace of change in this space, and with the push to bring music to mobiles upon us, there are clearly other factors at work in how this conflict unfolds. What deals are being inked, scrapped or hornswaggled between the carriers, the Apples/Napsters, and the Big Four to which we’re not privy at the moment?

Wild Emoticon Swings

Smart Mobs tells of some new software used to track collective mood swings on Livejournal.

For those readers out there who aren’t already familiar with LJ, it’s sort of like myspace’s older (and more literate) sister. It generates about 250,000 new posts every day. Of these, about 150,000 posts include a label for one of hundreds of different moods. According to New Scientist, the software (called Moodviews) tracks mood tagging habits and graphs them, recording emotional shifts across all LiveJournal blogs over time.

Put this information together with the recent stats on the blogosphere reported a few days ago at Technorati (scroll down and look at the third graph on posting volume as against major events last year), and you’ve got fodder for some powerful analysis of collective anxieties, happiness, and feeling just plain “weird” as our moods dictate.

At least for Anglophones. Who have computers.

And surprise surprise. The emoticon for “drunk” is most popular on weekends.

Putting all pedantics aside, at least “drunk” is a “mood” that means pretty much the same thing to just about everyone.

More ado about China & mobile music

Here’s more information about the booming mobile music market in China. P2PNet hipped me to this, as well as to China Mobile’s mobile music portal. It’s so pretty (I love the animated bubble tea houses that squirt green bubbles into the sky!). China Unicom’s competing mobile music portal is a bit garish by comparison, but however you slice it, the whole phenomenon of China’s boom in mobile phone music is exciting. Almost as exciting as buying UK import records used to be…

I so want to learn Cantonese!

Ringtones and Mobile Society: article

There’s a thorough scholarly treatment of the ringtone in contemporary public life in the December 2005 issue of First Monday. Author Sumanth Gopinath gives us an historical account of the ringtone in the context of the rise of the wireless telephony industry, and how this development has played a role in our everyday experience. In the author’s own words:

ringtones are central to the contemporary sonic imaginary … (and have) progressed quickly in a series of stages or moments from the initial, functional ringtone to the tone as a digital sound file … entire cultural practices have appeared in conjunction with particular stages and seem likely to decline, as the outdated forms of ringtones with which these practices are correlated become increasingly infrequent.

The piece synthesizes a wide range of research in its attempt to enrich our understanding of the ringtone in contemporary culture: its history, its situation within Western tonality, its role in the contestation of public and private space, and its comparison with older mobile music technologies such as the Sony Walkman and the boombox.

Towards the end of the article, Gopinath provides an insightful critique of mobile content as a commodity, and how its profitability is “revitalizing a stagnant music–industry oligopoly”. He goes on to explain that “for some companies, the ultimate aim (is) to transfer content to mobile systems, devalue the Internet in the process, then buy up those online assets and eventually transform them into for–pay services.” We are reminded by this example that

internet utopians should be wary of the sustainable independence of new media under capitalism — forms of originally independent media like cable television were understood and used in a similar way to the present Internet and ultimately found themselves under the ownership of large media conglomerates.

File this under “comments, anyone?”