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October 26, 2006

The Economics of Abundance and Why Most People Don't Get It

Chris Anderson (author of the Long Tail and editor of Wired Magazine) recently spoke at PopTech on the subject of The Economics of Abundance. I'll let you click the link for more information but to make a long story short, the economics of abundance are directly opposed to the economics of scarity. You remember scarcity right? After all it is in the basic definition of economics itself:

Economics, as a social science, studies human choice behavior and how it affects the production, distribution, and consumption of scarce resources.
(link)

But here's the problem...in a digital world resources are no longer necessarily scarce. A file can be replicated an unlimited number of times at virtually no cost. So in a world in which resources are increasingly abundant rather than scarce everything changes. (For a further elaboration on what is changing, check out this *excellent* series of posts on Media 2.Uh-Oh.)

Yet, most people don't understand what is shifting. Which is why you see Tower Records shutting its doors. It's why you see NBC laying off 700+ employees. Because too many people are blind to the economics of abundance and have no clue how to operate in world that is no longer defined solely by scarce resources. And so rather than change they'd prefer to stick to existing business models that worked in the past.

It's sad to me. Because I have conversations with people in the media world (like one I had this very morning) who want to keep their businesses closed off to the rest of the world. Who don't want to embrace the new channels of distribution that are available. Who'd rather spend their time and energy protecting their existing turf rather than going out and innovating and taking advantage of all of the new markets that are opening up.

And it's a shame because for most of these businesses they won't realize it until it's too late. By the time it becomes painfully obvious what the answer is they are filing for Chapter 11 and laying off the majority of their staff. Because they forgot to read The Long Tail or The Wealth of Networks.

Or more likely, because they didn't know those books existed in the first place.

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October 20, 2006

LearnOutLoud at the Portable Media Expo

Last month at the Portable Media Expo, David and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeff McQuillan from the ESL Podcast and Douglas Welch from over at Career Opportunities to talk about podcasting and education. The portable media expo is getting bigger and better every year and more people from the academic community are catching on to the potential posed with the advent of the ipod. For a half hour we discussed how mainstream education has tested the waters recently with podcasts in the classroom, the pros and cons of making a show for free, and what the future may hold for ongoing education as technology becomes more and more advanced.

We've made this recording available to you in two ways; first you can go to this page and download it for free, or you can retrieve via the Audio Learning Revolution Podcast here. I have to give a special thanks to Lance Anderson and everyone involved with the LA Podcasters for providing the booth space and timeslot for this illuminating panel. Feel free to drop us a line and offer your impressions of what we talked about here. Everything we touch on is a definite work in progress!

 

October 15, 2006

Contemporary Literature Audio Books

We've decided to add a new category to LearnOutLoud.com. Under Literature we now have the subcategory Contemporary Literature. We're going to pull together all the literature on audio that we feel can be deemed educational, and that was roughly published post-1960.

http://www.learnoutloud.com/contemporaryliterature

We're not contemporary literature scholars here, so please feel free to give us suggestions at suggestions@learnoutloud.com, if you feel there's particular authors we've left off. Keep in mind their works must be on audio book, and also that we haven't added a lot of contemporary literature titles yet as it's a new category.

Here's a laundry list of authors we're going to feature in Contemporary Literature to start out with (in no particular order):

Amy Tan
Margaret Atwood
Toni Morrison
Umberto Eco
Salman Rushdie
Alice Walker
Gore Vidal
Thomas Pynchon
John Irving
Chuck Palahniuk
Philip Roth
Michael Ondaatje
Harold Pinter
William Golding
Gabriel García Márquez
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Saul Bellow
Arthur Miller
Norman Mailer
E. L. Doctorow
John Updike
Joyce Carol Oates
Don DeLillo
David Foster Wallace
Dave Eggers
Jonathan Safran Foer
Samuel Beckett
Vladimir Nabokov
Neal Stephenson
William Gibson
Bruce Sterling
J. G. Ballard
Philip K. Dick
Harlan Ellison
William Burroughs
Kurt Vonnegut
Joseph Heller
Allen Ginsberg
Jack Kerouac
Hunter S. Thompson
Truman Capote
Bret Easton Ellis
Michael Chabon
Jeffrey Eugenides
John Cheever
Tom Wolfe
John Kennedy Toole
Tom Robbins
James Baldwin
Ralph Ellison
Alex Haley
Bernard Malamud
Grace Paley
Oscar Hijuelos
Isaac Asimov
Ray Bradbury
Edmund White
Leslie Marmon Silko
Arthur C. Clarke
Harper Lee
Neil Gaiman
Carl Sagan
Walter Miller
Sylvia Plath
Frank Herbert
Robert A. Heinlein
Eudora Welty
Henry Miller
William Styron
William Kennedy
Larry McMurtry
Anne Tyler
Annie Proulx
Michael Cunningham
Marilynne Robinson
Kazuo Ishiguro
Milan Kundera
V.S. Naipaul
Doris Lessing
John Fowles
Jorge Luis Borges
Richard Bach
Iris Murdoch
Samuel R. Delany
Alfred Bester
Thomas Bernhard
Peter Carey
W.G. Sebald
Rohinton Mistry
Carol Shields
James Redfield
José Saramago
Frank McCourt
Yann Martel
John Barth
Cormac McCarthy
Susan Sontag
Jonathan Franzen
Irvine Welsh
Douglas Coupland
Ira Levin
Anthony Burgess
Russell Banks
Evelyn Waugh
Seamus Heaney
Tom Stoppard
Mordecai Richler
Alice Munro
Robertson Davies
Leonard Cohen
Charles Bukowski
Khaled Hosseini

 

October 9, 2006

GoogTube is Official - Who will be YouTube 2?

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So the Google-You Tube deal is official. Only time will tell whether this deal will be a good one or not. Perhaps this will be another MySpace-type deal where a year from now everyone will marvel at how much Google underpaid. Or maybe it'll be another Broadcast.com where the big winners will end up being Chad Hurley and the rest of the YouTube founders.

But here's one thing that's interesting. I'm pretty sure that we'll start to see an eradication of a big chunk of the copyrighted content on YouTube. And this is really important because it opens up the door for something that is all about inevitable...YouTube 2. Part of the beauty of YouTube is the Web 2.0-nature of the site. Miss the Daily Show yesterday? Find it on YouTube (for free) tomorrow. I'm guessing those days are numbered...at least for YouTube 1.

So I decided to put together a list of the companies that have a chance to become YouTube 2. It's tough to say who this will be and of course it's impossible to gauge whether this will end up becoming just like the P2P systems where these sites end up having to face the choice of going legit or shutting down (a la Napster-Grokster-Kazaa). But I think a few things will decide who the next YouTube will be:

1. The company will need to be relatively independent.
It can be venture-funded but can't already be in bed with a big media/tech company. This disqualifies Netscape, Grouper, iFilm, etc.

2. The company will have to have some funding and a good foundation already in place. The race to be YT2 will happen quickly. It's unlikely that a company that is under-capitalized or that is just getting going will have a chance to win this race.

3. The company will have to have an interface at least somewhat simliar to YouTube.
When the teenage crew finds they can't post their copyrighted stuff on YouTube anymore they are going to look for an alternative and if the next best thing seems pretty much like the last best thing it'll have a good shot of getting their content.

So here are the candidates (in alphabetical order) along with Vegas-style odds that they'll become YouTube 2:

blip.tv - Blip just closed an angel funding round and has a lot of similarities to YouTube. While they haven't generated a lot of traction yet their position as a relative independent gives them a shot. Plus they have Amanda Congdon! (Alexa ranking = 10,685)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 9:1

Clipshack - Clipshack hasn't gotten a ton of traction but recently raised $2 million and has a site that could best be described as a "poor man's YouTube." They don't seem to have a lot of copyrighted material (a search on "Jon Stewart" yielded almost nothing) so they might be actively policing that. Possible that they try to become YT2 but unlikely. (Alexa ranking = 23,389)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 30:1

Metacafe - This will be an interesting one to watch. They've received $15 million in funding and have a lot of traction. While their tune is only to serve the world's "best videos" I wonder if that might change post-GoogTube given the opportunity that's out there for them to be a fast follower in this race. (Alexa ranking = 143)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 3:1

motionbox - While they seem to focusing much more on their toolset than on becoming a portal since Arrington thinks they're the best video sharing site maybe they've got a chance. Seriously though it's highly unlikely given their focus. (Alexa ranking = 62,721)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 100:1

Revver - When it became apparent that they weren't going to win the video portal game Revver shifted gears to focus on video distribution. It's a smart move on their part but shifting back to becoming a portal so quickly is probably not going to happen. (Alexa ranking = 2,853)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 40:1

Veoh - Veoh has raised a lot of money ($12.5 million) but given who they've raised it from (Eisner, Time Warner, etc.) it's unlikely they'll be the next YouTube despite the fact that their site is a virtual clone. If it wasn't for their investors I'd say they'd be the ones to be YT2. (Alexa ranking = 3,877)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 50:1

vSocial - vSocial has raised some money and doesn't seem gun-shy about featuring copyrighted videos on their homepage. They don't have quite as much traction as Metacafe but could become "the deuce" if Metacafe doesn't take the throne. (Alexa ranking = 3,611)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 6:1

Vimeo - Another possible contender although their layot is decidedly un-YouTube-like, not all their videos are Flash and I couldn't seem to find anything on their funding situation. A long shot at best. (Alexa ranking = 8,895)

Likelihood of becoming YouTube 2 - 75:1

It'll be an interesting race to watch. If YouTube was worth $1.6 billion then what is YT2 going to be worth? Probably not nearly as much because there will be increasing pressure on them to go legit and they won't be able to fly under the radar (relatively speaking) as long as YouTube did while building up an audience. Still, if they can manage to pull a lot of YouTubers over much the same way MySpace did to Friendster and much the same as what happened with the P2P networks then it's quite possible they could build up a huge audience very quickly.

YouTube wanna-bes start your engines...the race has begun!

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October 8, 2006

CA Governor's Debate on Audio

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So I missed the one & only California Governor's Debate between Phil Angelides & Gov. Schwarzenegger, which was broadcast at 6PM this Saturday during the L.A. Dodgers playoff game. Now I'm trying to find it on audio so I can hopefully get it on my iPod or at least listen to it on streaming audio. But I can't find it anywhere!

I don't know anything about the legality of putting it out there, but this stuff demands to be on audio. I would like to learn more about Phil Angelides, but in the downloads section of his site he's just got a bunch of PDFs (where's the podcast Phil?!). Schwarzenegger's got a podcast which consists of his weekly radio address, but the feed has been dead in iTunes for months now:

http://features.governor.ca.gov/index.php/podcast/rss/
(don't bother clicking, it's a 404!)

I go to all the public radio affiliates in CA: KCRW, KPCC, KQED, and none of them have it. They're doing some rebroadcasting at certain times, but I want it right now on my iPod! I even check Google Video & You Tube to see if anyone put it up on streaming video. Nothing. I went to the chinsy California Broadcasters Association website which was responsible for the debate. No luck.

Update: The Angelides campaign has directed me to it on streaming video: http://cbs5.com/video/?id=17034@kpix.dayport.com. I still wish I could get it on my iPod.

 

October 7, 2006

The TEDTalks Rock!

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The TEDTalks rock! I blogged about this before but it's worth mentioning again because the awesome folks over at the TED conference just keep putting more content up on the TEDTalks podcast feed. I've been listening to a bunch of these lately and just about each and every one blows me away. Like the 19-year-old Princeton student who has. Or the British biogeretologist who thinks that one day in the not-too-distant future humans might live to be 1,000. Fascinating stuff...

If you haven't taken a listen to the TEDTalks yet I'd highly recommend it. Kudos to everyone who has been involved with making them available on the net (for free!). Each one of these talks has the potential to spark ideas that will change the world.

 

October 5, 2006

Sheer "Zune-acy" a.k.a. How the Zune will destroy businesses and confuse customers

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So we're a few weeks away from the much bally-hooed launch of the Microsoft Zune. And while a lot of people are talking about the wireless capabilities or the questionable choice of brown for colors, no one seems to be discussing the most important impact of the Zune...the lack of backwards compatibility with the PlaysForSure DRM.

I understand what Microsoft is trying to do here. They're building an integrated stack (read: MSFT has full control over the player, the DRM and the content store). This is what has worked for Apple so well and indeed the lack of an integrated stack (read: the general yuckiness of slapping Microsoft DRM on content from Yahoo/Rhapsody/Napster and then trying to play it on a device from Creative or iRiver) is what has caused Microsoft to lag in the media world over the last few years. And if the crew in Redmond wants to truly have an integrated stack then they can't support anything outside of that stack which means they have no choice but to drop compatibility with PlaysForSure.

But the implications of not supporting PlaysForSure are huge. Let's assume for a second that the Zune is relatively successful in the market (it takes more than a 15% market share in the next couple of years). If that's the case then that will likely mean the following:

1. Companies that are supporting PlaysForSure content are screwed. There are hundreds of companies out there selling PlaysForSure content, the most famous of them being the music services listed above. A good chunk of Zune's market share will come at the expense of other PlaysForSure devices which means that the number of devices that can play content from those services will dwindle.

2. Companies that are supporting PlaysForSure content are screwed twice. So the easy solution seems to be for the companies selling PlaysForSure content to encode their content with the Zune DRM and either sell Zune content exclusively or sell both formats. Except for the fact that this won't work. Microsoft won't allow companies to sell Zune-DRM-laced content because that destroys the integrated stack model. So your only hope for getting on the Zune will be to work directly with Microsoft to get your content into their store. And that pretty much destroys the market for the middlemen (all retailers currently selling WMA DRM content).

3. Companies selling PlaysForSure devices are screwed. I hadn't planned to use the word "screwed" so much in this blog post but I couldn't help it because a lot of people are getting...well, screwed. Creative and Samsung and iRiver and all the other companies trying to compete with Apple get screwed twice as well. On one hand, they now have another device to compete with (and one that will no doubt have tons of marketing muscle behind it). On the other hand, the services they are so dependent upon (e.g., I bought my Zen almost exclusively because of the Rhapsody-To-Go service) will lose ground and may even shut down if they can't gain traction in a post-Zune world.

Yikes, not pretty. So that's what could/will happen if Zune takes off. What if it doesn't?

Well, if it doesn't then the situation isn't necessarily any brighter. What you'll have is a lot of customer confusion as people rush out to buy Zune devices and can't figure out why they won't work with Rhapsody or buy a Creative/iRiver/Samsung player and are at a loss to understand with they can't load content from Microsoft's store on it. Let's face it...DRM is already causing a fair amount of confusion on the part of customers. The launch of the Zune will likely more than double that confusion.

The funniest thing is that I've yet to see anyone talk about this all that much. Several of the content retailers I've talked about (people selling PlaysForSure content) didn't even seem to be aware of the situation. That's kinda scary when you think about it because there's a good chance that their businesses will change drastically in the coming months and years. Bloggers seems to be talking about everything else related to the Zune but not this. It's kinda eerie...

So is there a silver lining in this cloud? Perhaps. My hope is that customers get so sick of this DRM-nonsense that they start gravitating towards DRM-free audio and stop buying content that will someday be viewed as the 8-track tapes of the digital world. If the Zune accomplishes that then I'll applaud Microsoft for doing this...not because they made the right decision but rather because they made this thing such a mess that people looked for more sensible choices elsewhere.

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October 4, 2006

DRM: Think about it...

Here's a great short video from the folks at Defective by Design that'll make you think twice about the implications of DRM (the copy protection schemes implemented by most retailers of downloadable goods):

We're incredibly proud that all of the 500+ titles we have for download on LearnOutLoud are DRM-free. This means we don't decide where you can play the audiobooks you purchased from us. You do. And that's the way it should be right?

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