Are Creators Really Thriving in the Digital Age? Doesn’t Look Like It | Robert Levine @ Billboard

“Free Ride” author Robert Levine takes on Steven Johnson’s stats and conclusions…

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, author Steven Johnson wrote a piece, “The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t,” which ventured to examine the state of creative business in the digital age. Johnson conclusion was that it’s thriving. I have strong feelings on this topic, since I wrote a book that makes the opposite argument. I’d very much like Johnson to be right, since the health of the creative business strongly correlates with my ability to put food on the table. But although I think he’s a smart writer — we worked together, briefly, years ago — I think he’s looking at wrong information in the wrong way. He ends up oversimplifying a complicated subject to make a contrarian point.

Johnson’s premise is that the best way to assess the health of the creative businesses isn’t to look at falling sales or struggling companies but how actual creators themselves are faring. It’s a smart, refreshing approach. But his evidence that creators are thriving is far flimsier than it looks.


Apparently Billboard Doesn’t Want Jay Z at Billboard Music Awards, Pimps for Spotify! @S_C_

Why on earth is Glenn Peoples and Billboard warning artists not to go exclusive with Jay Z’s Tidal?   Is Billboard pimping for Spotify?    We’ve long suspected this. Glad it’s almost out in the open.

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The ‘Zero Effect’: Do New Consumption Charts Penalize Compilation Records and Artists Who Window?



New Math $.00666 : Billboard’s New “Consumption” Chart, Free Streams and the End Of Meaningful Metrics?



New Math $.00666 : Billboard’s New “Consumption” Chart, Free Streams and the End Of Meaningful Metrics?

The purpose of a chart is to provide meaningful metrics to determine the relative value of a title in the marketplace. The new Billboard 200 “consumption” chart moves away from the traditional metric of album sales. In doing so, the new chart also creates questions about how meaningful this new information will be to artists, managers and labels. As album sales continue to decrease a method of measurement that addresses today’s environment is absolutely important.

The move from a “Sales Chart” to a “Consumption Chart” acknowledges what we already know…  More music is being consumed than ever before and conversely musicians are being compensated less than ever before, for that consumption.

Track Equivalent Album sales for measuring the volume of individual songs by a single artist has been a helpful and accurate method of comparing unit sales in the ala carte song era of Itunes (and others) in that every 10 song sales equal one album. This is easy to quantify as logically ten songs sold at 99 cents really does equal the revenue of one album at $9.99. So for comparative purposes this makes sense both in terms of the underlying logic and the economic reality.

But the new Billboard chart has a bigger problem when incorporating streams. The new metric of 1,500 streams per album and 150 streams per song would make sense if there were in fact a fixed price point for streams of $.00666 (as in $.0666 x 150 = $.99 and $.00666 x 1,500 = $9.99). We’re gonna have some fun with this, stay tuned…

Maybe Billboard has a sense of humor in that the calculation of streams to song and album equivalent’s are $.00666 per stream?

It get’s worse because we know from our Streaming Price Bible that neither Spotify or YouTube are paying anywhere near those rates on an summed, averaged per stream rate. From what we’ve heard Billboard is excluding plays from YouTube (for now) but we have a feeling streaming from YouTube Music Key will be included just as those are from Google Play.

The problem here is that the free tiers dilute how meaningful this data is actually going to be to everyone. As we pointed out in one data set we reviewed Spotify’s free streams accounted for 58% of total plays, but only 16% of revenue in the USA. On YouTube (by any name) the amount of streams to revenue is likely to be far more extreme.


What’s worse is that we can clearly see that over time, as fixed revenue streaming services scale the per stream rate will drop. The bigger the services scale, the less each stream is worth. This is unless of course the labels demand a minimum per stream rate that actually matches the metric the chart is suggesting ($.00666 – retail) and no streams from free tiers should be included.

Suddenly, we’re not feeling so lonely on this point, see here:

WME’s Marc Geiger Sides With Taylor Swift, Calls Free Streaming Services ‘F—ed Up’ | Billboard

Add one more name to the list of industry figureheads who’ve sided with Taylor Swift in her battle with Spotify: Marc Geiger, William Morris Endeavor’s head of music, who called the ubiquity of free, ad-supported streaming music services “a f—ed-up, torturous thing for 15 years”


Essay: Why Streaming (Done Right) Will Save the Music Business | Billboard

As the first music-streaming service to be licensed by all major labels — and the No. 2 on-demand music service in the United States — it may surprise you to learn that we at Rhapsody support, and generally agree with, the decision by Taylor Swift and other artists to not make their new albums available on free streaming services immediately after release.

If we can all agree that Free Streams are problematic for the business, why can’t we agree that free streams are bad for a chart?


Combining the free and paid steams defeats the purpose of what the chart is attempting to achieve, a meaningful metric of paid consumer demand.

Free streams must be filtered out of the chart for it to be meaningful.

Giving away a million of something to gain chart positoning is not new and has been controversial. Lady Gaga’s “Art Pop” album benefited from a 99 cent sale at However albums given away for free by Jay-Z (in partnership with Samsung) and U2 (in partnership with Apple) have not qualified for charting. There is a reason why.

Add to this YouTube views are known to be gamed regularly with many services offering “pay for plays”. We’re also seeing a growth market for services that provide “pay for plays” on Spotify as well. We recognize that in the early days of Soundscan there were attempts to game that system as well by buying off heavily weighted indie stores with free goods, cash or both.

In a digital world where more consumers are streaming on free tiers than paying subscriptions, where the price per stream is falling as services scale, and where there is no fixed price point as a baseline one has to wonder what the true value of the new chart will really be? If it is to illustrate just how wide the gap is between consumption and revenue, then that may be it’s only real purpose.

It’s not like any of this is new, or news. Big Champange, Music Metric and others have been tracking not only sales data but social media metrics for engagement, free streams (youtube and soundcloud) and even p2p filesharing data for years. If we’re going to get honest about “consumption” charts The Pirate Bay has a Top 100 why not include those rankings? To be clear, this is sarcasm, not an actual suggestion. It also illustrates the grossly mislead notion of including free streams in the new chart. It’s not that hard to determine how we are not making money…


Streaming Is the Future, Spotify Is Not. Let’s talk Solutions.

Why Spotify is not Netflix (But Maybe It Should Be)

How to Fix Music Streaming in One Word, “Windows”… two more “Pay Gates”…



The Hubris Behind Google’s Demotion of Rap Genius (Guest Post) | Billboard

by Chris Castle

Rap Genius topped any Google results for practically any lyric search string, so the site was very well-known to music fans. That enviable ranking doesn’t seem dissimilar from search results for Isohunt, the Pirate Bay or Kickass Torrents.

So what was the cardinal sin justifying Google in disappearing Rap Genius? Operating without licenses? No, certainly not that. Openly challenging the music industry? No, not that either.

It would appear Rap Genius did the one thing Google doesn’t permit — it spoke openly about beating Google at its own game. Rap Genius evidently tricked Google’s search algorithm into ranking it higher than the site should have been absent the manipulation. And for this cheeky violation of Google’s rules — not a law — the search giant demonstrated two points in one flex of its dominant muscle.


Meet the Free Market Royalty Act, an Elegant Solution to Some Complex Issues | Billboard

This guest post at Billboard is a great overview for understanding the “Free Market Royalty Act.”

Representative Mel Watt (D-NC-12) has introduced the Free Market Royalty Act (H.R. 3219), one of the most intriguing royalty proposals in years. The bill accomplishes two principal goals: Watt starts the process of getting the government out of the music business by eliminating the compulsory license for digital audio transmissions, and extends the sound recording public performance right to all audio performances.

Here’s why this is a productive solution to a knotty problem.


Derek Khanna & Co. Continue Attack on Artists Rights at SXSWi Panel

The recent SXSW Interactive panel titled “Copyright & Disruptive Technologies” was merely another single point of view attack on artists, musicians and creators as artists rights are copyrights. It’s interesting that this panel offered no differing perspective from the view point of the artists and creators whose work is actually being exploited, without permission (or compensation).

On the panel were those who are advocating for “Permissionless Innovation” including Andrew Bridges, partner at Fenwick & West LLP, Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network as well as a trio from Yale Law School’s Information Society Project including Wendy Seltzer, Margot Kaminski and Derek Khanna.

Glen Peoples at Billboard reported on the ongoing unilog of the copyleft attack on artists rights. The panel presented the usual anti-artist, anti-creator maximalist talking points which don’t believe in the artists right to grant consent for the exploitation of their work (and in many cases don’t believe in granting the creator compensation as well).

We’ve previously pointed out in some detail that Derek Khanna is wrong while highlighting all of the obvious fallacies and self created myths in his disavowed RSC “memo” on copyright. Now it appears that Derek himself is confused over the who may have even requested the memo. As our reader Jonathan Bailey (@plagiarismtoday) noted,

“Right now, we know who wrote the paper, but not who requested it, what supervision it was under and who, if anyone, approved its publication. This is not an acceptable way to interject a work into the public discourse.”

The persistent use of the meme “permissionless innovation” might just as well be called what they want it to really be, “permission to steal, and profit with immunity.” There is nothing innovative about stealing from or exploiting artists. In fact it’s a very, very old narrative sadly.

Panelist, Ben Huh complained that it might actually cost him money to track down rights holders whose work he is profiting from, how unfair right? Ben says…

“The cost of tracking down the rights owner is a minimum of $300 to $500 [per image]– if you’re successful.

Of course Mr. Huh went on to illustrate his problem in not paying creators in greater detail stating,

I have 23 million images, and I’m one of the smaller [online businesses] out there.

Yeah, what a drag to actually compensate the creators! So in simple math 23 Million multiplied by $500 equals $11.5 trillion dollars. One might determine that perhaps this is not a well thought out business model that requires such vast capital to support it’s inventory, if the cost of that inventory actually requires payment to the creators. Here again we see another internet business supported by advertising that earns revenue on marginal costs, but refuses to pay the creators fair compensation for their labor.

Of course, the site does provide a DMCA link, but we have to wonder how many rights holders are actually using it.


What is clear is that the war on artists and creators which is now over a decade old continues to rage on by those who are profiting. Let’s once again be clear that this discussion is about money. It is about mass scale, enterprise level, commercial businesses profiting from the illegal exploitation of works by artists, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, authors and other creators.

Just for fun, we went over to Mr.Huh’s website Cheezeburger dot com to see why he would be so invested in the battle against artists rights. Well, as it turns out the first two items we saw were the products of well known and beloved mainstream creators (you know, the companies the copyleft hates but can’t seem to live without).

In this first screenshot below we see images from Fox Tv’s “King Of The Hill” show. What we also see is that Toyota, one of the already identified 50 Brands Supporting Music Piracy paying the bills to Mr.Huh. Good work if you can get it, being able to monetize content of a major TV network without the pesky need to ask permission or to share in that advertising revenue.


And, the second post we noticed were images from the Disney Pictures film “Up.” This time with advertising courtesy of Google and AT&T, also previously identified as two more of the 50 Brands Supporting Music Piracy.


And here’s the kicker from the man who doesn’t want to ask permission to monetize creators content for profit… hmmm… hypocrisy much?

(d) Pre-Approval Required. The license described in 1.1(a) above is contingent on you submitting all application-related materials that are requested by the Company and the Company subsequently approving your application. The Company may approve or reject your application in its sole discretion. The approval of your application by the Company shall not constitute an endorsement or legal review of your application.

But wait there’s more…

3. General Use of the Websites — Permissions and Restrictions
Cheezburger hereby grants you a revocable, non-transferable, and non-exclusive permission to access and use the Websites as set forth in these Terms of Service, provided that:
A. You agree not to distribute in any medium any part of the Websites, including but not limited to Content and User Submissions (each as defined below), without Cheezburger’s prior written authorization.
B. You agree not to alter or modify any part of the Websites, including but not limited to Cheezburger’s technologies.
C. You agree not to access User Submissions (defined below) or Content through any technology or means other than any as authorized by this Terms of Service or a written agreement between you and Cheezburger.
D. You agree not to use the Websites for any commercial use without the prior written authorization of Cheezburger. Prohibited commercial uses include, but are not limited to, any of the following actions taken without Cheezburger’s express approval:
1. Sale of access to the Websites, Content or services via another website or medium (such as a mobile application);
2. Use of the Websites, Content or services for the purpose of gaining advertising or subscription revenue;
3. The sale of advertising, on the Websites or any third-party website, targeted to the content of specific User Submissions or the Content;
4. Any use of the Websites, Content, User Submissions or services that Cheezburger finds, in its sole discretion, has the effect of competing with or displacing the market for the Websites, Content or User Submissions.

And it continues to go on from there into another set of rights, and restrictions. Wow. Ok then… well, so much for permissionless innovation afterall…