Media Identities: why pirate music?


Interesting read in the Guardian about the history of music downloading, with an extract from a new book (How Music Got Free). This article is interesting from the perspective of both impact of new media and media identities because the question comes up – all of this piracy stuff is very involved, complex, awkward, even expensive. Why do it, when downloading from iTunes is easier? Snip:

Oink’s heavily trafficked user forums revealed a community that resembled Ellis himself: technically literate middle-class twentysomethings, mostly male, enrolled in university or employed in entry-level jobs. A significant number of members weren’t even that lucky, but were instead what the British government called “Neets”: Not in Education, Employment, or Training. Concerts were a popular topic of discussion; so were drugs. One of the busiest threads on the site simply asked “Why Do You Pirate Music?” Thousands of different answers came in. Oinkers talked of cost, contempt for major labels, the birth of a new kind of community, courageous political activism, and sometimes simply greed. The biggest draw of all was the mere existence of such forums. They were a place to learn about emerging technology, about new bands, about underground shows. iTunes was just a store, basically a mall – Oink was a community.


Seven new social classes – really?



The BBC has a story about the results of a “huge survey” they undertook (and then again, on a smaller, more scientific scale), which, they say, leads to the conclusion that there are (now) seven social classes.

Personally, I’m not happy with their use of the word “class” here – it’s playing to the British obsession with class, but I think these are classifications rather than classes.

I also think that the BBC appear to have inadvertently (re)invented the classic Young and Rubicam international market segmentation (cross-cultural consumer characterisations) known as the 4Cs.

My students will remember from class that the 4Cs match social classification against values in coming up with seven groups, which are:

Resigned, Struggler, Mainstream, Aspirer, Succeeder, Explorer, and Reformer.

I’ve always liked the 4Cs, not least because they factor in values as well as income, meaning (for example) that Explorers and Reformers may have less money than Succeeders, but are more adventurous consumers of both goods and media.

The new survey has also factored in forms of “wealth” other than the economic capital that separates the 1% from the rest of us. They call these social and cultural capital respectively. Young and Rubicam bundled these together as “values”, which seems both more vague and simpler.

Here’s a flavour of what the BBC’s survey has concluded:

Elite – the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals

Established middle class – the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital

Technical middle class – a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy

(See BBC News – Huge survey reveals seven social classes in UK)

The groups are divided as follows: Elite; Established Middle Class; Technical Middle Class; New Affluent Workers; Traditional Working Class; Emergent Service Workers; and Precariat, or Precarious Proletariat.

It seems to be that, unlike the 4Cs with their emphasis on values, these new classifications still give more weight to economic wealth, and also hint that it’s quite hard to shift between groups. In economic terms, this is probably true. The Emergent Service Workers of today are unlikely to ever have the economic capital of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, who have wealth locked up in pension funds and savings.

In fact, the “hidden” economic capital of pensions, savings, and investments is what separates the bottom four groups from the top four – far more than their so-called social and cultural capital.

Marx would dismiss social and cultural capital, of course, as comforting illusions. Follow the money is always the main message.

Which brings us back to that nebulous idea of values, which is something I prefer: rather than the clumsy “precariat”, for example, I understand the terms resigned and struggler. We all know what a succeeder looks like, and also aspirers. I think that values are a more powerful idea, in the end, and tell you far more about a person and their likely patterns of consumption and lifestyle.

I think there’s a lot more nuance than the seven new groups imply. I think “Emergent Service Workers”, with their high cultural and social capital and low economic capital will map quite effectively to reformers but also to explorers. Sometimes, these people will be leading hedonistic exploratory lifestyles; but others within the group will be trying to change the world.

And when it comes to changing the world, it’s far more important that people recognise the values they share in common than it is for people to envy those who have more economic capital.

Power and the audience


Here’s a reminder of a slideshow we looked at last year, which explores the ways in which new media empowers the audience.

Far from being the passive, sponge-like, audience imagined by the hypodermic theory, audiences are instead active and often pro-active, controlling their media consumption and often producing their own media texts in response to the world around them.

Some people are watchers, true; some people are lurkers; some people are contributors; some are builders.

Which are you?

Sony Awards


At last night’s Sony (soon to be called Nintendo – joke) Awards, BBC Radio 5Live won five Gold awards, including one for Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s film programme.

BBC Radio 1, on the other hand, won nothing, being usurped by Electric Radio Brixton – a prison radio station:

Run by the Prison Radio Association (PRA), whose patrons include Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, most of the station’s music and speech output is produced and presented by prisoners. With a tagline of “making waves behind bars”, it broadcasts 24 hours a day, but only inside the prison walls.

There’s a story here about how the lowering cost of technology is making broadcasting possible for a wider range of producers than ever before.

The Sony Awards now includes an internet radio category, which was won not by an old media news organisation but by the Bristol Catholic Diocese. The Guardian got the silver award in that category: they’re an old media organisation that has adopted both video and audio formats to produce additional content for their popular web site. But the point here is that with the low cost of entry and the low cost of hosting, you too could win a Sony award.

Radio is in many ways the most interesting medium. It’s one that can be a secondary activity, and it’s one that maintains an audience in the face of fragmentation. Radio is all about the captive audience: whether they’re in prison, in cars, or in the workplace, people often listen to the radio when they can’t do anything else.

Internet radio/podcasting, on the other hand, is not quite like this because people tend to seek it out on an individual interest basis. To win in this category, therefore, you have to identify a clear need in the audience for your content. It’s not about self-indulgence!


On EastEnders



Victoria Derbyshire’s phone-in on 5 Live (hopefully that’s a link to the listen-again version) this morning included an interesting discussion of the recent EastEnders plotline about Danielle/Amy and Ronnie Mitchell, and Danielle’s attempts to let Ronnie know that she was the baby she’d given up for adoption sixteen years ago.

One thing soaps can do well is run a story over many months, allowing it to bubble along till it reaches a climax and becomes “event TV” just in time for Festivus, or Eostre.

What I found most interesting about the discussion were the number of people who were disgusted with the way the storyline had been finished (with Danielle being run over on the most dangerous stretch of road in Britain). Many felt that they’d been jerked around for a year while they got emotionally involved with the character, only to have the whole thing finish as a kind of in-joke (given the number of roadkill deaths on the Square, you’d think Peggy would have campaigned for some speed bumps by now).

There were also complaints about the “EastEnders Revealed” documentary shown afterwards on BBC3, which featured many of the (male) production staff sniggering about the story. One female caller thought this was indicative that a male-dominated production was unable to imagine a different (i.e. more female) outcome, in which perhaps Ronnie and Danielle spent months/years getting to know each other and healing their emotional scars. One male guest on the show compounded this impression by talking about this as amounting to the two of them “going shopping” and bonding over shoes or something.

So here we have great examples of audience needs/expectations perhaps not being met by an institutional context which holds them in contempt. Why else opt for the road death, which is at least the third time a major character has exited in this way, not to mention Pat’s trauma at running someone over, and all the road accident deaths.

Danielle’s story was an example of EastEnders doing things right (until the end), instead of their previous habit of parachuting whole plotlines into the soap with new extended families moving into the Square. But it seems as if the script meetings came to an impasse once they got to the big reveal. There was so much else they could have done, and it’s clear that in real life, the “reveal” would just be the beginning of a difficult period of emotional growth and development.

Now, emotional growth and development is supposed to be what soaps do well, and why they are so popular with female audiences, but it really does seem as if a rather more cynical approach was taken this time.

Give it a listen while it’s still available. As a related aside, it’s interesting to note that Nicky Campbell’s Breakfast phone-in (male, news-related) is available daily on iTunes, but Victoria Derbyshire’s (female, more general) phone-in is not!

Why TV Lost


Via BoingBoing, the latest in a long line of predictions of the death of TV, this one from Paul Graham: Why TV Lost.

When I was a student, I worked as an iMac demonstrator in PC World for a while, and the manager would bore me with his opinions about the future of computers: convergence, he said.

Convergence has been a buzzword for a long time now. If you predict something often enough and for long enough, is it bound to come true? I’m sure there are millions of people who enjoy watching stuff on their computers. But I have a number of questions about this habit before I’ll be convinced that the 32-55″ flatscreen in the corner of your living room is going to be replaced by a 13-24″ computer screen.

I’m an old has-been, so the fact that I’ve never watched a whole TV show online – even using iPlayer – has no relevance, but what exactly is the average attention-grab of an online video? Aren’t the most popular videos on YouTube the 2-minute ones? Does anybody really click through and watch a whole show in 10-minute chunks? Does something count as a “viewing” on the YouTube stats, even if you only watch the first minute or so of it?

What’s the most comfortable and convenient way to watch a 44-minute TV show? Which system has the best sound? If 20 million people are watching TV at peak time, how many million are watching on the internet?

On the other hand, if the revenue stream of TV dries up, it dries up. If there’s no TV, then there’s no TV on the internet, except for the amateur stuff that users generate. If it costs a million dollars to make an hour of quality TV, where is that million coming from if nobody is watching? How many DVD box sets do you have to sell to break even? Questions like this are going to have people scratching their heads for years to come. And remember this: there are more older people alive than there are younger people. The baby boomers, the biggest generation in history, now getting into their 60s, are going to be with us for 20-30 years yet. Are they really going to give up the TV that they grew up with so easily?

Here’s Paul Graham’s take on what we were talking about today (audience and influence):

After decades of running an IV drip right into their audience, people in the entertainment business had understandably come to think of them as rather passive. They thought they'd be able to dictate the way shows reached audiences. But they underestimated the force of their desire to connect with one another.

Facebook killed TV. That is wildly oversimplified, of course, but probably as close to the truth as you can get in three words.