Tag Archive: Facebook

Jan 18

Starbucks Coffee ≠ Artist’s Work

TL;DR Stupid Facebook truthy meme oversimplifies complex issue and pisses me off.

I’ve seen this image posted on Facebook a couple of times now, and it bugs me.

Dumb_Meme

First off, a disclaimer: I am an artist who would like to make a living from my work. I believe that artists should be paid.

On the surface, this little meme-graphic seems to make sense. Cheapo yuppie scum will pay $5 for a mochalatteccino steamer, but they don’t want to pay $1 to listen to a song that they like. Dig a little deeper and this analogy not only falls apart, but backfires badly.

First, “won’t pay” means “won’t pay, but will download for free”, since otherwise there isn’t much of an argument here, unless we are suggesting that one must purchase anything one likes rather than going without. Millions of people won’t buy expensive cars either, but they’re not doing anything wrong unless they attempt to obtain one for free.

Second, let’s quickly define “song”, since the meme author doesn’t do that for us. Since the meme claims that a song costs $1, it seems to suggest that “song” means a digital file containing a recording of a song, since $1 is about the going rate for a single song on legitimate digital music purchase channels.

Maybe that seems intuitive, but I just wanted to make clear that the original meme isn’t even all that precise. Now, having made sure we’re all talking about the same meaning, I can launch into the main flaws of this meme.

 

A cup of coffee and a song are both things that one can buy, so how does the analogy not hold together?

The meme’s author isn’t comparing the two items equally. The ingredients in a single cup of coffee may cost less than one dollar, but the ingredients (bits and bytes) in a single digital song file cost even less. But what about the years of training for the musician(s)? What about the cost of the recording equipment? The instruments?

Well, if we’re going to count those, as the meme graphic does, then we have to look at a coffee on an equal footing. Here’s a little infographic from the Wall Street Journal about what makes up the price of a Starbucks Grande Latte in China (choice of country is arbitrary):

Coffee_G_20130904024204

(courtesy of http://consumeronomics.anoj.net/2013/09/caffeinonomics-1-pricing-cup-of.html)

I’m not going to bother doing a mathematical comparison, because that’s not really my point. My point is that the simple meme treats a $5 cup of coffee as simply the cost of its ingredients (which are more than a few pennies… at least 64 pennies if this infographic is right) and doesn’t take into account all of the costs that go into making it the way it does for the song. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to compare them on an equal footing, because some costs, percentage-wise, would change based on how many units are sold, and some wouldn’t.

The root of why we can’t compare them, then, comes down to this: the most obvious way that the two items differ is that a cup of coffee is a physical object, and a song is not. Here are the important differences in properties between a cup of coffee and a song:

 

  1. A coffee cannot be instantly duplicated at virtually no cost; a song can.
  2. A coffee cannot be shared between two or more people without reducing the amount that each person can drink; a song can be shared with many people without reducing the amount or quality of the music.
  3. Each coffee can only be sold once; a song can be sold or given away again and again.
  4. You can steal a cup of coffee; you cannot steal a song. Well, you can, and that’s called plagiarism. But stealing in the sense of taking a copy of the song for free to listen to (rather than claiming it as your own work): no. You can copy it without permission, but the key difference is that the artist retains his/her own copy and you have not deprived the artist of the ability to sell that song to someone else.

 

But that’s not really the point, is it? The graphic claims that effectively everyone (“people”) will pay for a coffee, but “millions” won’t pay for a song. Stay with me on this…

A cup of coffee is a commodity, in the sense that one is essentially the same as another. If we want to be anal about it, we can say one Starbucks Grande Latte is the same as any other, rather than all cups of coffee are alike, but same fucking thing, really.

A song recording is not and the crux of my argument here is that it is silly to treat it as a commodity. A coffee has value because it has cost something to make and if you don’t pay for it you won’t get any. Yes, you could grab someone else’s coffee off the counter and make a run for it, but you are still paying because of the effort and social cost involved (try going back to the same shop the next day). A song recording, on the other hand, no matter how much it cost to make, can be copied without permission at essentially no cost and essentially no risk. You can not pay for it and still get it, without depriving someone else of the pleasure of listening to it. A song does not have value because of the cost of making it. A song has value because we say it does.

That’s what copyright law is, at its heart, regardless off all the corporatist baggage it carries now. It says certain types of ideas have value and can be treated in limited way like property for a limited amount of time. Someone else should not profit off of your creative work without your permission.

 

I think I’ve shown that the comparison itself is flawed not only in the sense that the graphic doesn’t compare coffee and songs on equal and fair footing, but that even if one could compare them fairly, they are not really comparable. But let’s get back to the main premise of the graphic: “Millions of people will pay for a cup of coffee, but not for a song (recording, presumably)".

Again, there’s a surface truthiness to the statements, but something still niggles at me. Yes, I know people who would pay for a coffee and download a song without paying for it. But those same people pay for music all the time, directly and indirectly. The argument has been made that heavy music “pirates” (arr! E-S-P-E-C-T) also tend to spend more on music than non-“pirates”, because music lovers tend to be the type of people who acquire music by any means.

 P2P-Collections-1024x546

(via http://piracy.americanassembly.org/where-do-music-collections-come-from/ )

You could argue, I suppose, that music purchases for some artists don’t benefit those whose music wasn’t purchased legally, but my feeling (no data on this, just opinion and experience) is that the popular, famous acts are the ones who lose out at the expense of smaller, independent artists because the work of the former is easier to find on P2P networks. This may or may not make a difference to you, depending on how fiercely you cling to the social Darwinian principles of a capitalist free market and the letter of the law, or how much of your feeling about music copying hinges on “don’t hurt the little guy”.

In addition, even the most dedicated illegal downloader pays for music. It’s unavoidable. For example, part of the “store operating expenses” for Starbucks Grande Latte include the licensing for the in-store music, so coffee buyers in a Starbucks are technically paying for music in the price of their coffee. But we all also pay for music that we hear on the radio (through theoretically listening to their advertisements), in the background of movies, the BGM on elevators, etc.

The graphic also doesn’t say what context the purchase of a song is in. Sometimes consumers make value judgements on items based on their packaging or other criteria. For instance, personally, I will not pay $1 for an .mp3 file. I will not do it. I will pay ~$1 for a losslessly compressed audio file with no DRM. I will pay ~$10 to $30 for a physical copy of an album (which can come out to more than $1 per song), depending on context and perceived value. I think that most people who actually like music will pay for it under certain conditions.

The last thing that the meme graphic doesn’t take into account is the ease of acquisition. If I’m out in the middle of a rice field planting rice and I feel like a coffee, I am not likely to drop everything, walk 40 minutes to a train station, and go into town to buy a coffee. Give me an option to make it appear, for free, in my hand, and I’ll take that option. (Actually, I won’t because I hate coffee, but that’s beside the point.)
Likewise, while the channels for legally purchasing music downloads have become much better, frequently it’s faster and easier to get a song through P2P channels than it is through the legal ones. iTunes is apparently really great, for instance. If you like Apple telling you which devices you can play them on (theirs). Other music stores aren’t much better and frequently have much worse selection. Because of music licensing being handled by many corporate entities who don’t necessarily play nice with the digital distributors (remember when iTunes didn’t have any Beatles songs?), there isn’t one central way to search and find what you’re looking for.

The quasi-legal back channels for getting music, on the other hand, don’t give a rat’s ass about corporate concerns, and it’s usually trivial to find what you’re looking for, as long as it’s at least moderately well-known.

Another point is that most online song sellers require payment by credit card. Don’t have a credit card? Don’t have an iTunes gift card on hand when you want to buy that song?

Does this sound trivial? Maybe it is, but every little obstacle you put between the customer and the music makes it that much less likely that he/she will buy said music.

 

To wrap up: the meme graphic tries to demonize some theoretical person who will pay what is suggested to by an obscene amount of money for a cup of coffee, but will not pay a single dollar to support an artist by buying a digital song recording. I think I’ve shown that the comparison is faulty due to unfair footing in the comparison (designed to make the thesis more emotional), and the fact that these two items are so different that they should not be directly compared.

Moreover, by pointing out that music downloaders tend to also be music buyers, and discussing how all purchasing is affected by ease-of-use and circumstance (e.g. coffee doesn’t get bought unless one is somewhere that sells it when one wants to drink it), I think I’ve shown why the graphic bothers me so much, despite the fact that I think artists should be paid for their work.

 

I really dislike meme graphics like this, because they take a really complex issue and turn it into something black and white. There are topics where this reductionism can work (“if you don’t vaccinate your children, you’re endangering everyone else’s kids”), but the topic of copyright in the digital age and the changing economic playing field for artists who produce work that can be reproduced digitally is something we should be discussing thoughtfully. We should not be drawing lines in the sand until we’ve explored more possibilities and pitfalls, in theory and in practice.

 

Wow. I did not intend to write such a long piece. Even so, I feel like I’ve only covered half of the issue. As an artist, I feel I should contribute to the discussion of how artists should be paid, and why it’s really bad, on a philosophical level, to compare a commodity (coffee) to our art. If I have time, I may write a part 2…

May 16

A Class Act, Er, Acting Class

In real life, I run a 111 year-old Theatre company called YTG, which I am in the process of registering as an NPO here in Japan.The Beggar's Opera as performed by The Yokohama Theatre Group

 

The first half of the mandate of the company is to bring contemporary Theatre to people in Yokohama and Japan. To fulfill this mandate, we obviously mount shows, but we’re also trying to get a Theatre school off the ground. There are several reasons why the school is an important part of what we do.

 

Firstly, with our limited resources, shows can only happen a couple of times per year for the time being. This gap between productions causes YTG to drop out of public awareness for months at a time. Running workshops gives us something to publicize all year long.

 

Secondly, good training will empower and inspire students to go off and do their own projects, which will mean more Theatre buzz. I strongly believe that art begets art in a positive feedback loop. A city that has lots of active artists has lots of demand for art because everyone is aware of it. That is true for all the arts, but especially performance-oriented arts like dance and Theatre.

 

Thirdly, there is a dearth right now of Theatre artists who have both the need to create contemporary work and the technical skills to do so. The YTG classes are being designed to develop both of these requirements in the hopes generating future YTG company members.

 

We’ve had some problems finding suitable rehearsal spaces for these classes, so we’ve just got one coming up: Voice for the Actor. Voice_For_The_Actor_Spring_2011_Graphic_and_TitleBut what a class to start with. My friend and Theatre colleague Graig Russell has been working his butt off to write the curriculum for the class, and it’s going to be eight weeks of intense voice work. It’s not all the time I get to work with someone like Graig whose philosophy toward Theatre is so much like mine that it’s uncanny. Although voice work will always involve technical elements, what’s great about this course is that it doesn’t concentrate on technique to the exclusion of all else. Graig has really built a workshop that emphasizes the idea of the individual voice, so that each student will learn not something that’s standardized, but something that’s unique to his or her own body.

 

(And I’m not talking sight unseen here; Graig was my vocal coach on William Shakespeare’s R3 two years ago, and did some wonderful work with a number of my actors.)

 

Because we’ve had trouble booking space at YTG’s usual Yokohama haunts, this workshop will take place in Tokyo at the OUR SPACE rehearsal lounge. I’m so lucky that the management at that space are also good friends

 

So my job now is to sign up seven students to take this course. I’ve printed flyers and we’re sending them out to Universities; I’ve sent out the YTG newsletter announcing the class; I’ve notified a Yokohama English-through-Theatre school; I’ve sent email to my international school contacts; I’ve updated the YTG facebook page; I’ve tweeted it; etc., ad nauseum… Publicity is definitely the part of the job that I’m worst at.  I know that there are people out there interested in this course… the question is simply: how do I reach them?

 

Oh well, I’ll find the magic formula one day. In the meantime, I just need to keep plugging away. I really do believe that if I build something based on good, solid, ideas and ideals, that it will eventually generate interest. Art begets art and all that.

Mar 14

Quake News – Bits and Bobs

Just some miscellanea regarding my quake experience before I continue with my interview thingy.

 

  • My mechanical clock is running 20 minutes slow as of this afternoon; must be the continual bumping. I’m planning to leave it for a few more days to see how slow it will get.  It’s losing about 5 minutes per day.
  • During the 8-hour blackout on day of the quake, I spent 5 hours not flushing the toilet until I realized that the water was, in fact, running.
  • The upstairs toilet flooded. Salient points below:
    • This toilet has a small, random leak on the left side, under which I’ve placed a bucket
    • Japanese toilets frequently have a water-fountainy thing at the top (see picture)
    • We have incense cones sitting on the window sill in case of a particularly monstrous odour
    • I used this toilet only twice during the blackout, at which point it was already dark outside
    • I went back in yesterday morning while vacuuming, and discovered water on the floor
    • Inspection revealed that there was now way the normal leak could have missed the bucket
    • Further inspection revealed that an incense cone had fallen (presumably during the quake) near the hole on the top of the toilet where the water ‘fountain’ drains into the tank
    • The cone is smaller than the hole, so it must have originally fallen sideways
    • The water from my first flush must have pushed the cone towards the hole while simultaneously engorging it
    • Thus, said engorged cone blocked the hole
    • Second flush must have flooded the tank top
    • Interesting?  Probably not.
  • Around 12:30 today, two obaasan (Japanese old ladies) rang the doorbell.  They wanted to present me with an impeccably-written note in English informing me about the power outage from 15:20 – 19:00ish.  Of course, my wife is home from work today (trains too unreliable and crowded from here to Tokyo), so it was completely unnecessary, but they were worried that I was home by myself.  The hilarious part to think about is that, knowing how little old ladies do things here, it probably took them 3 – 4 hours from coming up with the idea to executing it, working solidly the whole time, with many discussions.  It gave me a bit of a smile to think about that and about how much my neighbours care about me.

Mar 13

Quake News – Interview PT I

As you may have heard, the largest earthquake in its 140 years of recorded earthquakes has struck the north eastern part of the main island of Honshu.

 

Since the quake struck at 14:46 yesterday afternoon, I’ve been posting my reactions and any updates I can think of on Twitter and Facebook, which for many hours after the quake, were the only reliable means of communication.

 

You can follow my trains of thought there: http://twitter.com/#!/StageRabbit and http://www.facebook.com/Woolner

 

japan-earthquakeOne of the more dramatic photos from the tsunami that followed the quake. [Not my house]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a false alarm that I might be interviewed by the cbc, but once I informed them that the most trying part of the experience was going eight hours without a heated toilet seat, they smiled politely and backed away.  So I thought I’d do the interview myself:

 

PART I

 

Q. Where were you and what were you doing when the quake occurred?

A. I was at the kitchen table, eating half of my lunch.  The other half was in the toaster oven.  The house started rocking, and I froze.  Imagine a rabbit raising his head and cocking his ears.  That was me gauging the seriousness of the tremor, as I think all of us here have learned to do.  After about 10 seconds of rocking (the house felt like it was rocking back and forth, south to north), it seemed to be intensifying, so I pushed out my chair and ducked under the table.  My back was to the south wall of the house, which, as the quake went on, I could feel thumping into my back.

I felt like I was on a boat, not in a house, and the shaking seemed to go on forever.  I’d left my laptop sitting on the table, and I tried to make a grab for it, but couldn’t get a good angle.

I heard something fall and smash in the living room.

The shaking subsided, and I grabbed my laptop and went to check the living room.  While doing so, a light shaking started, so I moved on to the genkan, put on my shoes and got out of the house, where I met up with my neighbours.

I had only been wearing a T-shirt when the quake hit, so it was a little cold, but I didn’t take the time to grab my jacket.

Q. Is that what you should do?  Run out into the street?

A. No, probably not.  But after riding the rough seas in my house, my instincts were screaming at me to get out.  However, I was probably more likely to get hurt by falling debris (ceramic roof tiles, etc.) out there than I was to be hurt under my kitchen table.  However, at this time, no one had any idea what was happening, and I didn’t trust my house not to come down around my ears.

Q. What did your neighbours think of the situation?

A. They’re all old Japanese men, so very hard to fluster.  We discovered quickly that power in the whole area was out.  I was actually the news source for the first 15 minutes or so.  I’d tethered my laptop to my phone and was able to check the news while everyone else was still looking for his battery-powered radio.  I felt inordinately proud to be the one to break the news that the quake was in the northeast and measured 8.9 [note: since upgraded to 9.0].

Q. Did you eventually go back into the house?

A. Eventually.  I had to: it was getting insanely windy.  But I rode out the second aftershock (biiiig one) on the steps outside my house, crouched down and chatting with a neighbour.  The aftershocks were reasonably strong and coming so frequently, that every time I went back into the house, I got scared out of it again.

Oct 25

Facebook and My Blog

I thought I’d write a short entry on the subject of my blog’s integration with Facebook, since I’ve had some queries and complaints.

 

Facebook’s RSS feed integration is incredibly broken.  It was always crap, but there were ways for me to jog it, making my blog entries show up as notes.  Unfortunately, I can no longer to that, and RSS is hit-and-miss.  I’ve searched for other ways to automatically integrate my blog posts with Facebook, and it seems the only way to do it (that I could find—I’m open to suggestions) is to use the plug-in called Word Book, which requires me to create a custom Facebook App.  For some reason this app asks you for access to everything when you try to read a full post.  Part of the reason for this is because it allows your posted comments on Facebook to also appear on my blog site.

 

No one else has access to this App except me.  Word Book uses it as an entry point.  If the plugin is somehow abusing this, the hundreds of users using it have not discovered this.  The weird title is the name of my blog.  So you can ALLOW this APP without your account being hacked.  Okay?

May 06

House Hunting Blog on Facebook

I am currently attempting to have my blog automatically update to Facebook.  This post is kind of a test.

 

Also, I’m using this to announce that I’ve done my best to blog the experience of buying a house in Japan (far from finished yet).

 

For the (very) few of you who have actually been reading this from the beginning, my apologies for the interruption.

 

You can see older posts by visiting http://squeeze-box.ca .