THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
In recent days, I’ve written a pair of columns pointing to some potential limitations of iPad multitasking compared to a Mac, even after the major iOS 9 changes that are coming this fall. So, for example, I would not be able to use an audio capture program, in the spirit of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, within Apple’s sandboxing constraints. This doesn’t mean that sandboxing is a bad idea. Apple is making positive moves to secure the platform, and something’s gotta give.
Perhaps Apple will devise a way to allow developers to accomplish this task. It seems to me that the iPad would be a useful platform for producing radio shows. You can already record and edit audio, but when exchanging audio data with a second app, such as Skype, becomes part of the process, there are problems. Perhaps it could be done with an extension with the proper allowances from Apple? I’ll let the programmers chime in.
In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented long-time tech writer Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who recounted his experiences covering Apple’s WWDC virtually. He actually had several devices connected to the online stream, so he could move from room to room and take, say Tim or Craig with him. Bob offered his opinions about OS X El Capitan, and iOS 9, and why he has two Apple Watches. You also heard his reaction to the new MacBook, why he ended up buying a refurbished MacBook Air, and some of the expected limitations of being productive on the iPad that I mentioned earlier, even after Apple’s promised multitasking improvements arrive.
So why did Bob choose refurbished? Well, where possible, that’s what he always does when he buys a new Mac. He can acquire a current or recent model at a decent discount — and sometimes year-to-year changes are essentially insignificant — and still get a reliable product with the full Apple warranty.
You also heard columnist Peter Cohen, Mac Managing Editor for iMore, and Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” in a special joint appearance. On the agenda was a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, where the columnist suggested that Apple ought to kill the Mac because it represents only a fraction of Apple’s revenue. Other topics on the agenda included some of the best promised features of OS X El Capitan, including the ability to stop unwanted autoplay videos in Safari, iOS 9, and Apple Music.
We haven’t had group appearances that often on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, but this segment worked out so well we’re going to do it again with these and other guests. As to the sites with autoplay, it’s unfortunate they are so callous to the rights of their visitors who deserve to surf in silence unless they decide to hit the Play button.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: It’s been a while since we’ve devoted a full episode of The Paracast to the controversial subject of UFO abductions, so we’ve asked Kathleen Marden to join us to report on the latest discoveries and answer listener questions. Kathleen is the niece of Betty Hill, whose abduction experience with her husband Barney has been regarded as one of the most credible such encounters. Kathleen is also associated with the Mutual UFO Network, as Director of Experiencer Research and the Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters, as an advisory board member and consultant to its research subcommittee.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
APPLE ADDRESSES THE APPLE MUSIC ROYALTY PROBLEM
Although Apple Music hasn’t even debuted yet, it’s already received plenty of publicity. In an example of good intentions possibly going bad, that publicity appears to be the result of the promised three-month free trial. As the term implies, it means you’ll have a reasonable amount of time to sample the service before you decide if it’s really worth $9.99 per month, or $14.99 for up to six users.
But in the goal of doing something that ought to have a positive impact, Apple apparently failed to consider the rights of the artists who create, produce and perform that music. So while over 70% of the revenue from Apple Music will be distributed to the music companies and, one hopes, to the composers and artists, the original plan called for no payment to be made during the free-trial periods.
Now from an accounting point of view, I suppose that this position made sense. Apple was giving up money to entice more people to subscribe to the service, thus improving the opportunity for artists to earn money. So, therefore, the artists ought to consider the reality of the situation and take a long view. Yes, I’m speculating here, but that’s how it seems to be.
That decision, however, did not prevent some artists from reacting quite negatively to the situation. In a high-profile example, Taylor Swift said she will not allow her upcoming album, “1989,” to be streamed via Apple Music, explaining “I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”
As you can see, the statement is measured, and she also goes on to say that she hopes Apple will do the right thing and change this policy. Clearly it had an impact. One artist taking on the world’s largest tech company.
Similar concerns were expressed by Beggars Group, which owns a number of indie labels that feature such artists as Adele and Vampire Weekend.
Now I can see where some of you might be cynical about the feelings of wealthy, pampered artists. What difference would it make to such people anyway? They’ve already earned more money than they can actually spend, so why be so concerned about not getting their share from Apple Music’s free trial?
Of course, such artists as Taylor Swift and others who have achieved incredible success, such as Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga and their fellow travelers, represent a tiny fraction of the number of music artists who struggle every single day to put food on the table. The vast majority of musical artists seldom achieve a livable wage, and even working musicians will often end up playing small clubs or weddings. Some will achieve a measure of fame, but only in a single city or region.
True, an artist doesn’t have to have a record deal to get product on iTunes. Remember, there are 30 million tracks available. An unknown may catch a wave and earn some extra cash; most will, at best, achieve a small number of sales, and every penny is critical. So the potential loss of income even at a modest level may be a serious problem, so I can see where Swift was coming from. Her statement wasn’t necessarily selfish.
Obviously Apple can do whatever they want in making deals with industry, and it does seem that the music companies don’t mind a free trial where no royalties will be paid. But that doesn’t mean the artists must agree to such terms, and if they have independent deals, or provisions that allow them to approve or disapprove every track before it’s posted, they will act in their own best interests, or the interests of the music community.
Now I don’t presume to know how much revenue might have been lost as the result of this free trial. At first, it might have been a substantial amount, since tens of millions of iTunes customers might decide to give Apple Music a try. Apple will be in heavy-duty marketing mode to entice you to sign up. The relatively generous free trial is certainly better than what the competition is offering.
So from a purely logical point of view, the move would seem to have made sense. Why pay royalties when no revenue is being earned? But Apple also has more than enough money on hand to spend a little extra to keep artists happy. This sort of accommodation would seem to make sense. The potential loss of income would be mostly temporary. A larger number of people will sample the service at first, but that number will lessen as more and more people subscribe and new Apple customers decide whether to check it out.
Despite my concerns about “renting” music, I might actually give the service a try. Having access to a huge music library is appealing, and that explains why 20 million people are paying monthly fees to Spotify. If Apple sets it up right, it’ll be easy to find the music you like, and partly human curation will make playlists more acceptable, at least in the genres where it’s not just a computer algorithm. I suspect you’ll also discover plenty of music you might not have otherwise considered, even via the free iTunes Radio, but Beats 1 ought to be even better.
Still, I’ve been buying music since I was a child. In those days, I used most of my meager allowance to buy recordings from my favorite artists. Just thinking about it takes be back to the spring of 1967. Recently married, I was working as a disk jockey at a country radio station in Tuscumbia, Alabama. I don’t even know if the station is still around, or the format is the same. Most AM stations have gone all-talk. I also recall the location, since Tuscumbia is part of the quad-cities in Alabama that also includes Muscle Shoals, home of a world famous recording studio.
Well, I placed an advance order for the Beatles classic, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” On vinyl of course, since this was before cassettes, and some 15 years before the arrival of the CD. Well, for some reason the dealer sent out our copy early, so I got it on May 31, one day before the official release. The radio station didn’t have a copy, since it was in the wrong music format.
But I remember listening to that album from beginning to end. It was so very different that it took a while to become accustomed to the many changes in musical style. A couple of listenings later, and I got it!
The point is that, then and now, I have always preferred to buy music, and I’d like to know that if I failed to make my monthly payment for Apple Music, I wouldn’t be in danger of losing access to a significant part of my music library. Of course, I am not at all concerned about the longevity of Apple, since I fully expect the company to be around long after I’ve departed this existence. But still. This is both a logical and emotional decision for me, even though more and more people don’t mind paying a modest monthly fee for all the music they want. And, as I said, I will probably sample the service anyway, at least to cover it for this column.
While some may regard Apple as late to the party with Apple Music, perhaps the decision to buy Beats is more obvious now. One hopes Apple has taken lessons from the experiences of other services, and will do it better.
Meantime, this particular cliffhanger has come to a successful conclusion. On Sunday evening, Apple caved. According to Apple’s software and services boss Eddy Cue, they have agreed to pay royalties during those free trials. All’s well that ends well. The cynical among us might wonder why Apple was so tone deaf as to allow this situation to arise. But the brouhaha also raised public awareness of Apple Music in the days before its launch. So is it true that any publicity is good publicity?
THE FINAL WORD
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