The Big Data vs Artists and Everyone Else

By David Trend:

Heard about Generation Z?  The demographic growing up in the 2000s? It’s a bigger group than Boomers or Millennials–––and it has one further distinction. “Members of Generation Z are ‘digital natives’ who cannot remember what it was like not to have access to the Internet –– no matter when, no matter what, no matter where,” according to Forbes Magazine. This is a group raised on networked “connecting” with others, sharing, and buying things. It’s second nature to Gen-Zers to upload their favorite music on YouTube, post images on Facebook, and sell things on Etsy or eBay. Much is being made in creative economy talk of how networks now blur traditional producer/ consumer roles, manifest in the new figure of the “prosumer.” In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything authors Don Prescott and Anthony D. Williams effused over the democratization inherent in the new “Openness, Peering, Sharing and Acting Globally.”  Of course, there is nothing really new about home-made items, crafts, and people’s willingness to share. What’s different today is the ability to copy digitized materials and circulate them via electronic networks. Digitization also has made Generation Z the first demographic to be completely tracked by “big data” analytics.

Some creativity industry experts argue that this is nothing short of a revolution, driven by ongoing change more than any clear future. Evolutionary economist Jason Potts and collaborators have proposed what they term “Social Network Markets” unlike the top-down models of industrial capitalism.  Characterized by fluidity and exchange through complex fields of actors, the new social network markets are less governed by competition and profit than by communication and preference. Participants are “Not ‘buying’ the property, but buying into the social space.”  Moreover, the dynamics of these new markets are highly interactive. As the Potts group put it, “a social network is defined as a connected group of individual agents who make production and consumptions decisions based on the actions (signals) of other agents on the social network: a definition that gives primacy to communicative actions rather than connectivity alone.”  Almost by definition, this process rules out conventional manufacturing or professional services. Instead, the networks generate value through production and consumption of network-valorized choices.”

The beauty is that much of what is online now is free––seeming to arrive just in time in a tight economy. While a lot of the “free” stuff available online is user-generated (selfies, birthday announcements, anecdotal postings, etc.), a huge volume of material comes from other sources (news outlets, filmmakers, commercial music producers, artists). On the surface it looks like old Marxist doctrines are being reversed as items seem to be “decommodified” in the sharing economy. This idea has become an anthem of resistance in some circles. The Burning Man Festival, to take one example, has stated: “When we commodify we seek to make others, and ourselves, more like things, and less like human beings.  ‘Decommodification,’ then, is to reverse this process.  To make the world and the people in it more unique, more priceless, more human.”  This may be all well-and-good in the real-life sharing of food and weed at Burning Man. But when things get virtual, it’s usually a large corporation that owns the websites, servers, and networks that make sharing possible. Continue reading “The Big Data vs Artists and Everyone Else”

Amazon not-so prime

We knew it couldn’t last. Here at the Worlding offices, we’ve been getting cases of soft drinks delivered via

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Amazon Prime, along with all of the other junk we buy. it was just too good to be true.

As Wired reports, “for nearly a decade, Amazon.com customers could enjoy unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year. But the company has now hiked that price to $99. The move could change purchasing habits at the world’s largest online retailer if customers balk at the increase. But Prime — which also offers unlimited access to online video — is still a perk that’s unrivaled across the web.

“For existing Prime members, the hike will hit if their membership renews before April 17. And according to reports, the price for new members goes up March 20. Though the extra $20 might be disappointing to customers, it was expected. In its most recent earnings call, the company said it would likely have to raise Prime’s price to keep up with rising shipping costs. CFO Tom Szktuk told analysts and reporters that the price hike would be anywhere form $20 to $40, so Amazon is at least coming in at the bottom end of the scale.

“Of course, that was probably part of the company’s PR strategy. “Look! We raised it the bare minimum!” It’s also no surprise that Amazon brought Prime right up to the edge of triple digits without going over. If there’s anything about customer psychology that any retailer knows, it’s that 99 — cents or dollars — is way better than 100. Prime is such a huge driver of sales for Amazon that messing with the price at all carries a big risk of losing existing subscribers and failing to sign up as many new ones. Amazon had to strike a balance between keeping its revenue engine running and slowing the billions it loses each year in shipping. Continue reading “Amazon not-so prime”

Amazon versus borders

Students who rent textbooks through Amazon.com’s Warehouse Deals, Inc. may be unknowingly agreeing to an unusual condition: They are not permitted to cross state borders with their books, as Inside Higher Ed reportsimgres

According to the Textbook Rental Terms and Conditions page on Amazon.com, when renting through Warehouse Deals, which is an Amazon subsidiary, “You may not move the textbook out of the state to which it was originally shipped. If you wish to move the textbook out of that state, you must first purchase the textbook.”

If Amazon does determine that a renter has moved his or her book to a different state “at any time during the rental period,” the company at its “sole discretion” can charge the consumer the buyout price of the textbook.

Some experts believe the policy is another reflection of the extreme lengths to which the company continues to go in order to avoid collecting state sales taxes. But could Amazon’s use restriction and other complicated rental conditions cause problems for students or lead potential textbook renters to take their business elsewhere?

It seems like a policy that would be nearly impossible to enforce. But Richard Hershman, vice president of government relations at the National Association of College Stores, points out that if a student has textbooks sent to her home state and ships them back from a different state where she attends college, Amazon could easily note the new shipping location. Continue reading “Amazon versus borders”

Transparent = visibility

In a surprising new trend among non-traditional television outlets, transgender characters are gaining not only increasing visibility in programming, but prominence within show plot-lines, reports Huffington Post

“Most recently, writer Jill Soloway announced that she is creating a new pilot for Amazon titled “Transparent,” which is set to cast “Arrested Development” star Jeffrey Tambor in the leading role.

“The show, which will begin filming in September, reportedly centers around a “middle-aged parent who sits his three adult children down for a revealing, personal conversation. Mort has been secretly living a double-life as a woman, and is eager to introduce the family to their new, authentic parent.”

“Tambor recently starred in Netflix’s non-network revival of the popular television comedy “Arrested Development,” as well as played the head of a news network in another Amazon pilot for Onion News Empire, which has not yet been green-lighted for production. The actor also filmed four episodes of an NBC series titled “Next Caller” alongside Dane Cook, though the network cancelled the show before the season finished filming.

“In the past, trans visibility on network television has proven to be fairly problematic, with representation of the trans community usually presented in an extremely narrow, limited understanding of the vast plethora of identities encompassed by this signifier. Last year, GLAAD published a study that examined ten years of transgender representation on television and found that “more then half [of the portrayals] were negative or defamatory.”

More at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/08/jeffrey-tambor-transparent_n_3726212.html

E-books and the death of print

For many of us, this week’s final print edition of Newsweek was no great loss. Think of it as an editorial dinosaur succumbing in an age of the blogosphere.

But those of us who still write a bit for things actually published on paper get the sense they are coming for us next. The recession has been rough on everyone, but for publishers this has been a nightmare (especially for small, independent presses).14_52_39_416_file

If it isn’t big bookstore chains squeezing diversity from the retail marketplace, it’s e-books merchants like Amazon who  (following the iTunes example) extract ever larger slices of profit margin from both writers and original publishers. Today npr.org published a quasi-apology about the new e-reader. A few opening paragraphs are reproduced below:

“What counts as a book these days, in a world of Kindles, Nooks and iPads — and eager talk about new platforms and distribution methods? Continue reading “E-books and the death of print”