Mobile Mall

2 03 2012

Marketers have a way of following people around. They count rooftops when it comes to deciding where to put brick-and-mortar stores. They built websites once enough people had computers and internet. And now they are placing high hopes on in-app purchase capabilities, as well as e-magazines to make the sale. Within the last year, offerings from Gilt and Google Boutiques offered consumers a magazine-like shopping experience that was optimized for the iPad (side note: Boutiques has since closed, and has been replaced by Google Catalogs and Google Shopper). And now the latest to join the fray is Zmags, with what they promise will blend “the physical store experience with that of flipping through a magazine or catalog.”

And Zmags does not try to hide the fact that its user interface works rather nicely on iPads. Sure, it will also work on phones and computers, but the emphasis these days is clearly on mobile, and specifically, tablets.

The question, though, as Google has apparently had to reconsider, is whether people will actually purchase from an iPad. To be sure, I use my iPad to purchase e-books and magazines all the time through Amazon, as well as to watch streaming movies. But I admit to having never purchased anything else.

The presentation, though, of Zmags is compelling and very user friendly. And when you consider that iPad3’s resolution will be double that of iPad2, then you can probably picture the most stunning piece of marketing material ever produced.

Since tablets have become the new de facto metaphor of everything print, it stands to reason why marketers would be willing to bet the farm on it. Yes, there are wrinkly spots to be ironed out, but with tablets standing in for so many things we once did on laptops and desktops, it is a necessary step to put the stores where the people are.

Kind of like counting rooftops.

Tablet owners are a lucrative target market, because they are proven leaders in technology adoption, and also able to afford the sometimes hefty price of acquisition ($200-800). I have no reason to doubt that we will overcome whatever apprehensions or uncertainties may exist regarding mobile commerce of this sort, because we definitely overcame it with regard to e-commerce.

And that, my friend, is something I think you can count on.

Dr “With Apologies For Ending In A Preposition” Gerlich





I Am *Not* Hooked!

23 02 2012

I can quit anytime I want. Heck, I’ve been doing this for over 15 years.

I’m talking about the internet, of course. The problem is, I don’t want to quit. And, according to the folks at Mashable, there’s a lot of other people who are hooked and don’t want to quit. And for a variety of reasons.

Many studies have been done at the academic level regarding the Uses and Gratifications of internet usage. Mashable’s Infographic puts it all in layman’s terms. Basically, we kinda dig what we’re able to do online, and it has become like a digital cigarette. It’s a hard habit to break, especially when you don’t want to.

I am one of the lucky ones, I suppose. I “have” to use it, since I teach online most of the time, as well as teach about all things social and words prefixed by an e-, i-, m-, or s-. But that is probably just a flimsy disguise for the fact that being online perfectly suits my personality.

But personality aside, the internet can truly become more than just an addiction. It can become dysfunctional to the point of alienation. Do you find yourself compulsively checking your phone for email? Facebook replies? Tweets?

You may just be addicted.

Can you go more than a couple of hours without checking in to any online portal? If not, you may just be addicted.

Do you keep your phone or iPad within a couple of feet while sleeping? OK, I’ll try to quit talking about myself.

It’s OK to have addictions. The problem is when you allow them to interfere with other facets of your life. If you’re out with friends, family or colleagues, it’s probably not a good idea to keep checking your Facebook.

But I will confess to laughing while in social groups, waiting for the first person to sneak a peak at his or her phone. Know what happens next? Everyone else quickly feels justified in checking their phones for incoming messages.

Messages that could no doubt wait, but heck, Joe over here is puffing away on the internet, so it’s OK for the rest of us to light up.

They say that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And while I know that I do use the internet an awful lot…OK, a ton…it’s only a problem if it starts hurting personal or professional relationships. Until that time, though, I suppose we can all agree that the internet is the crack cocaine of the digiterati. And you had better step aside when we start having a jones. I’ll try to keep it short and under control, but it’s not easy.

That’s what happens after 15 years.

Dr “Facing Two Hours In The Air Today Without A Signal” Gerlich





Text Book Case

20 02 2012

Text books are the bane of every student’s existence. From the 1st grade on through college and grad school, we have to lug these heavy tomes around in backpacks and briefcases (for the nerds), no doubt doing harm to our posture and spinal health. And in spite of the author’s and publisher’s best intentions, these books are always far out of date long before they ever reach our hands.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why I have not used standard text books in years. Why turn the class into a history lesson when things are happening right outside the window?

These books costs lots of money, as every college student will attest. But grammar and high schools follow a different model, with books being issued to students at the expense of the school district. Unlike college Texts (which tend to be revised every 2-3 years), lower-level books often have a shelf life much longer (like 5 years). Still, the amortized expense of these volumes is no small burden for the taxpayers. So that’s why everyone was gaga over Apple’s announcement earlier this year about iPad text books. These texts would eliminate the need to wear heavy backpacks; instead, a single solitary iPad could contain everything the student needs.

Which is why everyone was gaga recently when Apple announced text books for iPad. Unfortunately, we nice as the idea sounds, it is likely still an unfeasible solution for nearly everyone involved.

How’s that again, Mr. Technology Maven?

Simple. First of all, these things cost money. Lots of money. Starting at $500 a pop, it’s going to take a hefty tax increase and/or corporate sponsorship to give every student an iPad. Follow this up with the seemingly small price of $15 per text having to be renewed each year, and suddenly the book itself, over 5 years, costs the school $75.

Never mind all that previously mentioned hardware. If you think your current iPad is going to last 5 years, think again. Especially when you consider that kids will be using these things.

“The dog ate my iPad.” “Sorry, I dropped it in a puddle.” “My sister deleted all my texts.”

Uh-huh.

The fact is, there is a hefty price to pay for this digital convenience, and until iPads (or other tablets) are ubiquitous, this idea simply will not fly. It will ultimately take everyone owning his or her own tablet device (good luck with that), and the schools being willing to consider a digital trade-off as being a fair dollar-for-dollar exchange.

Which is another way of saying that an iPad in every backpack is likely still a long way off. Especially for those unable to purchase their own as well as those in cash-strapped school districts.

At the college level, there is a better chance of it taking wings, particularly if there is a transitional period in which students have a choice. Still, going digital is not without its problems. College students love to sell their books back to the university, but this won’t happen with ebooks. There will be the sunk costs of both the tablet and the book.

While I am all in favor of Apple’s bold initiative, I regret to say that we have a long way to go before this becomes reality. Until then, though, I will continue to make all of my materials available electronically…for free…and let my students figure out how and by which device they wish to access them.

You’re welcome.

Dr “By The Book” Gerlich





Apple Of My Eye

10 02 2012

It’s a classic case of the Haves vs. the Have Nots. In the tech field, you can never safely turn your back on the competition, and if you are one of the lucky Haves, it pays to keep putting wood on the fire.

Because the alternative is a cold, chilly night in the digital wasteland. Just ask Kodak.

Which is why everyone loves Apple. Yesterday, news began leaking about the imminent release of iPad3 in March. Stock prices surged $16, pushing a share ever closer to the $500 elite league.

If you recall, Apple shares dipped to $75 four years ago when Steve Jobs announced what would be his final bout with cancer. The market reacted swiftly. Don’t you wish you had bought some?

As for iPad, two years have yet to pass since the release of the first model (that would be 3rd April 2010, for those of you compiling Trivial Pursuit fodder). iPad2 made huge improvements (including a camera), and now the third-gen promises twice the screen resolution and a faster processor.

Which raises the question: Why is Apple forging ahead so quickly, rendering its recent products obsolete?

Simple. Because if it doesn’t, someone else will. And that someone else is Amazon with its too-hot-to-handle Kindle Fire.

While Fire and iPad are admittedly aimed at different demographics and price points, it is still a tech land grab out there, and Apple feels the need to keep winning. Kind of like a Steinbrenner era Yankees team, unless the men in blue win at least 100 games a season, it has not been a good year.

iPads are currently flying off shelves at the rate of over 4 million a month (and accounts for about 75% of the tablet market), but that could change if Amazon ratchets up its product array with a second-gen Fire that rivals iPad. It’s not as if Apple is scared; no, they just have the good sense to protect an early lead. You can never hit enough home runs.

As for me, I will no doubt be in line to buy one. It’s not that my original iPad (delivered to my door by overnight courier on street date, of course) is failing me. No, it’s kind of like why I have more than one of anything important to me, like cameras, computers and bikes. They merely take on specific tasks.

I see my (notice I have already bought it in my mind) iPad3 being my mobile digital media shooting and editing bay. The first one will be my bookshelf and eReader. And I also see the steady transition of our society becoming less encumbered by (and married to) laptop and desktop computers.

The Apple ecosystem is alive and well, and that the market continues to react so favorably to every hint and rumor further attests to the legacy of the man who saw it all coming, who boldly told us what we needed before we ever knew we did.

May all who want to play hard ball channel their inner Steve Jobs. There’s no future in being a Have Not.

Dr “Out Of The Park” Gerlich





Armed and Dangerous

4 02 2012

I have waxed poetic more than a dozen times about the citizen journalist movement. Thanks to the internet, computers and mobile gear, pretty much anyone with a pulse could be the Matt Drudge. It has its upsides and downsides, but in the balance, this power shift has been beneficial for us all. The Fourth Estate may not have liked the competition, but the survivors have learned to embrace those of us who have a knack for playing cub reporter, and weave our stuff in with theirs. Those who have learned this lesson have a better total product because of it. The dissemination of information has never been better.

And neither has it been more egalitarian.

A similar power shift has been playing out in our stores. Starting a little over 15 years ago with the advent of e-commerce, we shoppers have slowly but surely gained nearly equal footing with the people trying to take our money. “Showrooming” quietly became a regular phenomenon, with average people like you and me using (and I mean “using” in its full exploitative sense) retailers to pre-buy, check out product qualities, and track prices. Then we would run home and look online for better deals. Who among us hasn’t done this?

If the entry to heaven is predicated on this one question, I am doomed to an eternity of full retail prices.

But now smartphones are making it even easier for shoppers to comparison shop. Bar code readers and various other apps allow us to have the mall of the world at our fingertips. And a lot of retailers are hating it.

I feel their pain, but not for long. After all, they have spent gazillions of dollars trying to create the right atmospherics in which I will melt into a puddle of mindless, babbling spendthriftiness. While I realize I am fully responsible for my actions, I still have a hard time forgiving them for taking advantage of my humanity.

And oh, our humanity. Hell, I happen to be one of those bad guys. I teach people how to take other people’s money. And I do that for money. Maybe I am predestined to full retail by default. Double dose of damnation.

For years some major retailers have worked with vendors to create “unique” products that allow them to evade the very price-matching guarantees of which they brag. Heck, if that HP25CTRX printer at Target is one letter away from the HP25CTRW printed at Best Buy, then neither have to play the nickel-and-dime game with you. “Sorry folks, that’s a different printer there. See that last letter?”

But there is no stopping the tide of consumerism writ large as the 21C unfolds. John Lennon’s “Power To The People” rings anthemic in ways he never imagined when he sang it 40 years ago. And I pity the poor retailer who does not learn to embrace, rather than fight or fear, Smartphonicus Man.

Because he will soon find himself being swept into the dustbin of retail history. With the furrballs and lint of the others who fell by the wayside, the detritus of an ever-changing market.

Welcome the 50% of us who own smartphones. Give us a reason to not only come in, but maybe even buy something. Dare to be different. Dare to reach out to me, not push me away. And even if your price isn’t the lowest, show me how you’re going to shower me with customer service to the point at which I could not possibly say no.

Because the alternative, as the Fourth Estate has discovered, is not pretty. We really can all work together on this.

Dr “Shop Smart” Gerlich





For Better Or Worse

4 12 2011

My life took a fateful turn in Spring 1974 when, in my high school freshman Honors Math course, we were introduced to computers. These were not like any computers we use today, of course. And, truth be known, we never actually saw the computer on which we worked.

Yes, I used the singular. It was a mainframe located at the Illinois Institute of Technology in downtown Chicago. We were connected via a very clunky cradle telephone modem. And we had to take turns using our one TTY machine, a beast of a contraption that basically was a massive keyboard with a punched paper ribbon output as “memory.” We spoke in Fortran IV, and stored all of our programs on those pale yellow rolls of paper. Perish the thought we might actually lose it. Or the dog eat our homework.

Things did get better after that, of course, and today we are so connected that the world hardly even resembles what I knew 37 years ago. Despite how crude this all sounds today, though, my peers and I were on the bleeding edge of technology. And it whetted my appetite for more. Much more. It helped shape who I am today. Gadget guru. Purveyor of all things cool. OK, sucker for all things geeky and expensive.

It is fun to look over my shoulder to see just how far I (and we) have come. Heck, we had just gotten a color TV about that time. We were rockin’. It’s also reassuring to read that most people think that technology has made our lives better.

Although I will admit to many instances of serious questioning. Soul searching. Cursing.

Ever since I started teaching online in 1997, people have asked me what I think about it. My standard response: “The good news is that I get to take it with me. The bad news is that I get to take it with me.”

Fast forward to 2011 and suddenly the majority of us are on 24/7 call, seldom more than a text or Facebook Message away. And when we aren’t, people start to get worried. I should know. People have become so accustomed to my being wired (in a wireless kind of way, of course), that anything other is cause for alarm. Just the other day my colleague tried to reach me for over an hour. I had silenced my phone and had not turned it back on. Worse yet, I did not have the phone in my pocket. It was not against my body, meaning I was, for all intents and purposes, off the grid. Completely. “Dude. You went cell phone MIA. Everything OK?”

I took this as a sincere act of friendship. In a 21C kind of way, of course. (Thank you for caring, my friend.)

Still, I do indeed wonder about all this technology. In many regards, it has made our lives much better. It has changed our homes, our workspace, everything we do. Today, tablets like the iPad are allowing us to put computers in places we never could have put a PC. Like on the fridge or hanging beneath the kitchen cabinet.

While we have not yet reached the point of the paperless office (some studies show us actually using more paper than before, thanks to the ubiquity of printers), none can argue that the way we do our jobs today is light years removed from a couple of generations ago. Yeah, in just a few decades. And the improvements I have seen during my professional career (23 years), is nothing short of amazing. What was once the forefront of computing power is now just a box of stone tools beside today’s workhorses.

Interestingly, though, while we say it has improved our lives, we’re not necessarily always happy about it all. One of the funniest skits on this paradox was performed by comedian Louis CK. Maybe all the advancements have made us techno-entitlement freaks. I know I am guilty. I curse my iPhone’s autocorrect for typographical blunders that would never have occurred back in the day of F2F communications. If I slip off the 3G grid into Edge, I become impatient when my Facebook posts hang and emails take forever to send (from my handy wireless computer phone, remember). And don’t get me started when there’s a little snow on my satellite dish and I have to venture out in the middle of a snowstorm with a long-handled broom. So I can receive television signals from space.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t complain. After all, it’s the weekend. I am taking advantage of every guy’s prerogative to spend a couple of days in low self-monitoring mode (read: I have not shaved since Friday morning). I’m working at home using Clear Wimax, listening to the Cowboys game from across the room via satellite TV, sending text messages, and downloading a book to my iPad.

Sure beats 1974. “Cradle modem? Are you freaking crazy? How did you guys live?” At least I’ll have stories for the grandkids.

Dr “Better? You Bet” Gerlich





Killing Time

4 12 2011

One of the recurring themes I encounter and write about when it comes to life in the 21C is that we suffer from an increasing poverty of time. It’s not like this is a new phenomenon, for I have been addressing it for a good solid 20 years. We crave convenience. We feel forced into multitasking. Walmarts and websites with 24/7 shopping are de facto requirements of the day.

And yet it appears that when it comes to one very important activity in which most of us engage…internet…we apparently have far more free time than we realize. In fact, according to a study by Pew research, most of us go online just to kill time..

Although they didn’t use these specific words, what Pew research has done is explore a very popular topic in communication research, that being Uses and Gratifications (U&G). This stream of research, popular now for about four decades, seeks to understand what people seek out of particular media usage. Implicit in studies of this type is the assumltion that it is not so much what the media vehicle does to us, as much as what we do with it

I must confess to be enamored of the subject. My research partner at MediaBuffs.org and I have jumped headlong into this field of inquiry by creating and testing our Reading Motives Scale to determine what uses and gratifications people seek with regard to books. The result so far has been a couple of journal article acceptances this fall, with another pair in the pipeline. We are also exploring extending the early research on U&G of Facebook and other social media, as well as smartphone apps.

U&G research has explored all manner of media-related phenomena. Early pushes evaluated why people watch television, read newspapers and other media forms. Niche-focused research has even looked at fantasy sports leagues and reality television. I sat through a paper presentation in New Orleans last month exploring why people watch shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and Dancing With The Stars. One of the interesting results was that viewers watched for the sheer delectable taste of schadenfreude…the enjoyment of seeing others being humiliated.

Which may explain why these shows, all saying they are not scripted, seem to provide us with fools and foils each season, apparently for the express purpose of feeding our desire to see others make utter idiots of themselves on national television. I’m not going near an audition, because I could probably be worth a few ratings points exposing my lack of dancing and singing skills.

But back to the Internet. U&G is no stranger to this field, either, as numerous papers have been written about it. But Pew has brought it all forward with very current data, and excellent demographic demarcations so we can compare across age groups. Turns out the younger you are, the more likely you jump online is just to pass time. While the vast majority of adults confess to this guilty pleasure, the amount of time killing is inversely related with age.

And to be honest, I have a hard time imagining people having so much time to kill, but maybe we’re all just not coming clean when we complain to everyone else about how busy we are.

First of all, every U&G study I have seen has a “pass time” factor researchers have found. We found the same with reading books. Chalk it up to nervous energy, boredom, ennui…I dunno. As for computers, maybe they have come full circle. When personal computers were first gaining traction in the early-1980s, only a handful of people actually knew what to do with them beyond typing documents, balancing checkbooks, and playing games. In fact, prototypical cyber cafes popped up around 1982 whereby people could stop in a storefront to play games on very rudimentary computers. Asteroids. Pac Man. Space Invaders. We didn’t what the hell else to do with them, so we played games.

Which is another way of saying that we were killing time.

Of course, things changed after that, with many people learning how to design websites, and an endless stream of information and shopping websites. Shortly thereafter came online courses. And then came social media (Classmates.com was the first true social media site, in 1995…it’s just that it didn’t realize what it was at the time).

I think we have no so mastered computers in our lives that we get them to do everything we want them to do, and more. This leaves us with…hold on, folks…spare time.

I am sure we could do similar studies of smartphone and tablet device usage. I will admit that when I go to sleep, my iPad is always within reach. At my age (watch it there, you younguns), I wake up between 2 and 4 every night. So what do I do? I read the newspaper online a few hours before it reaches my driveway. I scan email. I catch up on Facebook. And I read books and magazines.

Basically, killing time and hoping to get sleepy again.

My point (and as always, I really do have one) is that the vacancy sign of our lives is lit more than we may like to confess. And as serious as we may like to come across, we spend a lot of time just goofing around. It’s the digital equivalent of going for a drive in the country.

Maybe our lives are not so bad after all. In a strange kind of way, I find some encouragement knowing that 24 hours may indeed be about enough. That 28 hour days are not some idyllic future tense in which we can get even more done. That it really is OK to mentally shut down.

And that is a time usage about which I can be extremely gratified.

Dr “How About A Nap?” Gerlich





U Can’t Touch This

24 10 2011

Everybody loves a comedian. Unfortunately, it’s no good when that is not your intention.

I nearly laughed myself off the recliner the other day when I heard that rapper MC Hammer is launching a new search engine called WireDoo. The site is not yet functioning (“pre-Beta” is their term), but visitors can sign up in hopes of being selected to be a Beta tester in the days ahead.

The endeavor would not be nearly as laughable if MC Hammer weren’t behind it all. Good grief. Never mind that we really do not need another search engine. But MC Hammer? If anyone needs to be searching for something, it is he. And he needs to find the magic elixir to jumpstart a dead career.

The graveyard of dead search engines is close to being full. Google and Bing (admittedly a latecomer, but when you’re backed by Microsoft money, there is hope) dominate the search scene. Specialty search engines exist that promise “deep” or specialized searches. But if you know how to search, you probably don’t need any of the others.

Furthermore, the only way to make money in search is by selling advertising. Eyeballs beget advertisers. And if the eyeballs are not there, then why bother? Unless MC knows something we don’t, I don’t expect this site to be any more relevant today than MC’s parachute pants

Gack.

But it gets better. Hammer’s unique selling proposition is “relationship-driven searches,” a fancy way of saying that if you enter something like a ZIP Code, it will return all manner of meta data about that locale…like schools, hospitals, etc.

Excuse me, but I already find those kinds of results, especially when I search from a mobile device. And now that 50% of US cell phone users have a smartphone (thanks to the iPhone 4S), these types of queries are the thing of apps, not search engines (e.g., AroundMe gives me pretty much everything I want without ever having to enter one single data point). WireDoo? How about WeirDo?

While MC Hammer may be 2 Legit 2 Quit, I give this girl a year before we’re all singing Have You Seen Her. It’s a bum rap, but someone’s gotta take it. MC may be humming Let’s Get It Started, but this one is just an online version of his pants. Full of dead air.

Dr “Put The Hammer Down” Gerlich





Turn The Page

23 10 2011

Writing is a very cathartic experience for me. It allows the inside to be outside, the unheard heard. Those who know me have heard me spin the yarn of how my father steered me clear of a journalism career, and pointed me instead to business. But I never lost my desire. And as my students know all too painfully, this is my voice, one to which they must listen daily.

I also learned very early in my life that to be a good writer, you first had to be a good reader. A quick glance around the Gerlich household bespeaks my voracious appetite for the printed word. To this day I plow through books like a John Deere through West Texas soil. Rows at a time.

But it was in writing yesterday’s blog that I had a surreal experience. I wanted to open with a quote from Jesus of Nazareth. I left my computer desk and ran to my collection of Bibles and other spiritual tomes, and for some reason, selected the New Testament I had purchased when I was a college freshman. Little did I know that simple act would spawn an evening in which I waxed nostalgic, and another blog today.

Because in that well-worn volume I found the words and passages I had highlighted 34 years ago. Words that inspired. Words that comforted. Words that directed. And redirected.

It was at that point I realized how important my books are to me. Through the decades I have dog-eared pages. Highlighted. Scribbled marginalia. Each one of those books represents a page of my own life, a time when I learned something. Pondered a new idea. Reflections of a cognitive growth spurt.

But in recent months I have found myself buying fewer and fewer printed books, and instead downloading them to my iPad. And I admit to having made a lot of noise about my new-found affectation, for I find myself reading faster, reading more books. There’s one nagging thing, though, as a result of yesterday’s epiphany: While I can highlight and comment on e-books just like printed volumes, one sad fact remains. I am not.

Furthermore, as I look on my symbolic e-bookshelf, all I see are thumbnails. No well-worn covers. No gift inscriptions. No receipts I once used as bookmarks. Nothing.

It’s going to be hard to wax nostalgic in 34 more years. Heck, who knows how I will be looking at them anyway. I cannot imagine my original iPad lasting that long.

Which is another way of saying that I am having a little cognitive dissonance over this e-book thing. Yes, I love that I can tote a stack of books and magazines with me in one handy device that only weighs about 1.5 pounds. As long as I don’t exceed my 16GB capacity, I can load more books without additional weight.

Books have been the last media form to make the switch to digital. Music and movies are one thing, as are photos (which can still be printed, if we must have the tactile experience). But books are different. All I have to do is listen to a song to begin melting; all I have to do is watch the original Airplane! and howl like I did over 30 years ago. I can peruse my SmugMug photo albums all day and night, and have the embers of fires long burned out stirred to life once more.

Yes, books are different. And so powerful that we have crafted more than a few metaphors attesting to their relevance.

So what to do, I ask? I worry about my kids, who in 34 years may not be able to turn to dusty volumes to find not only words, but also a history of themselves. But I do not want to stand in the way of progress. Never. A guy who created a course in Evolutionary Marketing cannot turn back. It’s too late. I already drank that Kool-Aid. And it was good.

It may well be possible that we are the last generations living who will be able to experience books the way I did last night. Maybe I need to just let go of it. I know they say you can’t take it with you when you die, but maybe, if the rules on eternity could be relaxed one iota, we could take one thing. And for me that one thing would be the iPad 23. The one with the 100 TB of memory. Because then I could take all my pics, tunes, movies and books with me.

And if there is wifi in the afterlife, I’ll be able to download new stuff as it comes along.

Kind of like I did this morning when I ordered Steve Jobs’ new autobiography from Amazon. It won’t be released until tomorrow, but it will be on my iPad before I wake up. Somewhere, Steve is smiling. But I wonder if I will be in 34 years when I look back on it.

Dr “The Chapter Hasn’t Ended Yet” Gerlich





I’ve Got The Music In Me

26 09 2011

I have been buying music for a very long time. Starting with the musically quirky Gimme Dat Ding by the Pipkins in 1970, and followed by Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul McCartney and Wings (1971), both in 45 R.P.M. versions mind you, I went on to amass an enormous collection of recorded music. Hundreds of 45s. Hundreds of LPs. And starting in 1985, over 1500 CDs.

Yeah, I’m a music freak. And when I tell people I have a juke box playing inside my head all the time, I mean it. I suffer from ear worms.

But all that music buying changed drastically a few years ago when I quit buying CDs in favor individual song or album downloads on iTunes. I realized I did not need to actually take physical possession of a song to own it. How liberating.

But about a year ago, I endured another paradigm shift by subscribing to Rhapsody. And I quit buying songs from iTunes. For $10 a month I can listen to any of millions of songs and albums. I learned that I do not have to own anything in order to derive the listening pleasure I have always craved.

In other words, I could just rent my music.

This silent revolution of renting music just got a steroid boost last week when Facebook announced its partnership with Spotify, a similar listening service. With a three-tiered freemium model, Spotify is a newcomer to US shores (having cut its musical teeth first in Europe). It’s tied inexplicably to your Facebook account, so all of your friends will see (in the Ticker) what’s coming out of your speakers right now. For $5 or $10 a month, the benefits increase.

But not everyone is enamored of Spotify or services like it. In fact, one Harvard Business Review blogger has come down against it.

And after reading his rant, I could only think one word: Huh?

OK, I understand his argument. he says that listening to music is very different from watching movies. And he is right. We want to listen to manhy songs over and over again. Today. Tomorrow. next week. And we probably do not want to watch the same movie with such recurring frequency (if ever). I also understand his argument about Netflix and their recent price increase as being a distinct possibility at Spotify…once they get us hooked.

But Netflix had very little competition prior to its fateful announcement (the biggest being Amazon, and to a lesser extent, Redbox). But all that changed in quick order when Walmart bought Vudu, and Dish announced its repurposing of the Blockbuster brand. Suddenly Netflix has a bunch of competitors, all willing to scoop up disgruntled customers.

Furthermore, Spotify also has lots of competitors. In addition to Rhapsody, there’s MOG and Rdio, as well as “mixologist” sites like Pandora and LastFM that create stations on the fly based an artist or genre of your choice. Oh, and let’s don’t forget Apple, poised to introduce its own listening service in the very near future.

In other words, unless an entire industry puts it foot down on inexpensive music listening, I don’t think Spotify has much opportunity to raise prices. They will either all have to go up, or else be faced with the daunting prospect of having to prove to customers why your service is worth extra bucks.

Good luck there.

There are also concerns that Spotify is busy scanning your music library and uploading that information to its servers. While at first this may seem scary, consider this: Everything other service you are already using has been doing this for months. years. Google knows you better than you know yourself. Apple’s iTunes knows everything you have bought, everything you have ripped, everything you have stored on your iPod/iPhone/iPad. And Amazon knows every single item you have ever looked at in its online store.

So there. And so much for privacy.

As for me, I rather like Spotify so far. Although I am not quite ready to dump Rhapsody, I will say that Spotify’s music library runs deep. I played “Stump Spotify” last night and lost 64-3. And my three points were for very obscure songs.

The primary concern users should have is whether they want all of their music listening to be social. Do you want the FB Ticker to tell the world that you just listened to Green Day’s “Last Of The American Girls?” On your office computer? OK, so now we know that you like punk rock, and you might not be working very hard.

Wait. I just listened to Green Day, and I am hard at work…writing this blog. But to be safe, I accessed it from a different site.

As for the fearmongering, it happens every time change comes along. I am not worried about Spotify or Rhapsody or anyone else knowing my listening preferences. If any of them can offer up a few good suggestions, I will thank them. Even if this really is one big bait-and-switch, I am still saving far more money than if I purchased all the music I like. And I still kinda like The Pipkins. “That’s right, that’s right, I’m sad and blue, ’cause I can’t do the Boogaloo.”

Dr “A Dat’s Right!” Gerlich