Big Day

So, I get married today. Happy Independence Day, America.

(Feel free to make all your losing independence jokes. I’ve made them all.)

The Apple Music Strategy

Since Apple’s (poorly) staged announcement for Apple Music, there’s been a lot of “so what” and “big deals”—It’s just another Spotify. I think that’s partially correct, if you think that the logical outcome for the streaming music business is that everything is streamable.

But I don’t think that’s where the music business is going, at least not in the short-term. Not if the labels have anything to say about it. (And today, they do.)

Instead, I think Apple’s strategy (paid streaming only, Beats One radio station, artist outreach) is a 3-pronged approach to become the preferred and select distributor of new music for most artists, and be the only game in town (or at least one of a handful) where you can find every song you want.

Even if you can’t stream it.

Paid Streaming

Apple is only doing paid streaming. No free tier. That’s, potentially, a huge knock against them when it comes to the likes of Spotify and Pandora, with their free, ad-based streaming level [1]. Spotify has 20 million paying subscribers, with another 55 million free subscribers [2]. That’s a lot of people listening for free, paying only with eyeballs and earholes. And, as of 2014, Spotify, with it’s 20 million paying subscribers, was not a profitable business [3]. Now, that’s not to say I think Spotify is going to go out of business tomorrow. Just that it sets the table for why Apple is doing only a paid tier.

Taylor Swift famously pulled her album off of Spotify (and other streaming platforms) because she didn’t think her music should be free:

It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is [4]

So most (major) artists don’t want streaming, and don’t make money off it. Follow any of them on Twitter and they’ll tell you how little they make from streaming, particularly from free streaming. [5] Apple offering only a paid tier is a great way to ingratiate themselves with the labels and the artist—see, we love you, we won’t make you deal with this silly free streaming bit (free trial aside). [6]

Apple gets to walk up to the artists and labels and say “Everything is paid, oh, and Spotify’s 55 million accounts? We have 800 million iTunes accounts.” Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts, most of which likely have a credit card.

Apple comes to the game with the potential to bring 800 million paying customers to the music industry.

Oh, and the Apple Music app will come pre-installed on every iOS device. Of which, there’s been a billion sold.

Let’s even cut it in half and say there’s 500 million active iTunes subscribers. That’s 10x Spotify’s total base. Cut in to 25%. 200 million possible paying customers for Apple Music, 10x Spotify’s paying base.

All of whom just have to click a button to start paying 10 bucks a month for music. It wouldn’t shock me to see Apple Music pass Spotify in the first 6 months.

Doesn’t matter that Apple is late to the game. They’re going to be the biggest player in streaming music by the end of 2016, at the latest.

Beats 1 Radio

If streaming is going to be so important, and users will have all this music at their hands, what’s up with Beats 1 Radio? Besides Russ ‘3 commas’ Hanneman on Silicon Valley, who cares about radio on the internet?

Well, loads of people still use Pandora to discover music. Or listen to something to point them to new stuff (podcasts, youtube, friends). There’s still some need for serendipitous discovery of music. Beats 1 is Pandora, with a human DJ.

Oh, and with shows from major artists, who will come on to promote their own albums, or albums of other artists.

I’m sure both Pandora and Spotify slip promoted artists into their recommendations, but they have to do it subtly. They would jeopardize their existing base if they were obviously shoving paid artists into their algorithmically generated playlists.

“You’re listening to Arcade Fire. Here’s the new one from Taylor Swift.”

Beats 1 can do that. Even if it won’t be as cynical as that, Beats 1 has human DJs. They can promote new songs all the time. They can break artists and new music. Artists can debut new songs and albums on their own shows.

It’ll likely become commonplace for an artist to put together a couple of shows for Beats 1 as part of the lead up to a new release. With an easy one click “add this to your library” button right there to generate more streams for the artist.

Artist Outreach

Beats 1 and paid streaming are two ways to draw artists closer to Apple. And to help Apple start to disintermediate the labels. That’s why Apple has launched Apple Music Connect. It’s another Facebook or Twitter for artists (or their representatives) to reach out to their fans directly, keep them engaged between albums, and oh yeah, remind them that there’s a concert coming out, or that an album from the back catalog happened to have come out 3 years ago today.

I don’t know if it’ll be successful, but it’s an attempt to help bring artists closer to the process, and maybe (over time) show them that they don’t need a label.

The Magic Sauce

If you’re Taylor Swift (or really, any artists), what do you need to launch your new album now? A radio show on Beats 1 (that you promoted across Facebook and Twitter) to get customers streaming it within moments of it being released? Sure, some advertising in the iTunes store or on TV and traditional radio helps too.

But, as the music industry, you’re trading dollars of selling albums for streaming. And, today, that’s not a great tradeoff.

This is where Apple helps the music industry save the day. What if Taylor Swift (or Kanye or Drake or The Shins or whomever) says “sure, you can stream my album, but not until it’s been released for 6 weeks”. The old VHS/DVD rental window.

Now it comes together.

An album gets released, gets real promotion, and for some period of time, you can only buy it physically in stores, or online (at iTunes, Amazon, etc.).

Apple will have hundreds of millions of subscribers who can hear a song on the radio, or Beats 1, or wherever and will be the only place in town to actually hear it (via the iTunes Music Store).

I have to think the music industry is looking at that as a way to stem the erosion from paid music to streaming. The artists get rewarded for their new music, get paid (less) for streaming their older music, and can use their older music as a loss-leader to get people into the newer (paid, non-streaming) albums.

Personally, I think when you look at all of these factors, I don’t think Apple is looking at Apple Music as “oh shit, we need to get into streaming”, but more “oh shit, there’s a bank vault’s worth of money here, if we can get a big enough streaming base.”

If Apple can quickly grow their streaming base, with the paid streaming lever, and the iTunes Music Store, they’re positioned, I think to change the music industry again. From a lot of people’s perspectives, it’ll be a step backwards (“paying for music?!”), but I think it’s the logical next step for music. Apple will have everything (almost), whether it’s brand new music (paid albums/tracks via iTunes Music Store), everything else (paid albums/tracks via iTunes; streaming via Apple music), or serendipitous discovery/promotion (Beats 1 radio, algorithmically generated radio stations).

I’d be willing to bet, we’ll see some of this by the end of 2016. We may start to see the underpinnings when Apple Music launches tomorrow.


  1. I don’t pay for Spotify today. I’m an old-school idiot who uses free Spotify to sample music, and then buys the stuff I like off of iTunes and Amazon for fear that the man may someday shut down Spotify. (I’m old-school because I buy downloadable content. Weird.)  ↩
  2. http://press.spotify.com/us/information/  ↩
  3. http://recode.net/2014/11/25/spotify-is-a-booming-billion-dollar-business/  ↩
  4. http://time.com/3544039/taylor-swift–1989-spotify/  ↩
  5. Though someone is making the billions of dollars going from streaming services to the music companies. I wonder who that is. I wonder who it is that signs these agreements with the streaming services that result in billions of dollars for the labels, and pennies for the artists. I wonder.  ↩
  6. Of course, last week, Taylor Swift and Apple had a little back and forth about Apple’s decision to not pay artists during the three month trial of Apple Music. Apple relented (as they should have from the start) and will pay artists during the free trial period. As you might have guessed, the quid pro quo of that decision is Taylor allowing 1989 to be streamed on Apple Music.  ↩

Please Call Me, Jerome!

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Yes, Jerome. Please call me at 555–5555. I’m free any time.

(That’s why I don’t use real info on my test domains. Because leeches like “Jerome” skim WHOIS info and then spam the shit out of you.)

Charleston

I don’t have much to say. What can you say?

The last year in this country has shown, with great clarity, our problems, problems we refuse to address. It seems that those who see the problems continue to struggle and fight to rectify them. Those who refuse to see the problems grow even more recalcitrant, attempting to deflect the blame on to the victims or anything else that fits their narrow world view.

It’s astounding and profoundly upsetting.

And even more astounding and upsetting that there are only two TV news organizations—HBO and Comedy Central1—who care to address the issue head on. The other networks have to play the “middle”, as if there are two sides to the argument.

Fuck.

Here are people who express my views better than I can.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show

Charlie Pierce in Esquire

There is a timidity that the country can no longer afford. This was not an unthinkable act. A man may have had a rat’s nest for a mind, but it was well thought out. It was a cool, considered crime, as well planned as any bank robbery or any computer fraud. If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it’s because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It’s because they do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge.

(Credit to Alan Sepinwall for pointing to the Larry Wilmore video.)


  1. Yeah, you heard me. Comedy Central and HBO. They’re the only news organizations worth a damn in the US. And it’s because they’re lead by comedians who don’t give a shit about whether you agree with them. They just want to tackle the story. 

A Couple of iPad Accessory Reviews

I recently grabbed a couple of quick accessories for my iPad, as I’ve been getting a lot of use out of it as my “weekend” getaway computer[1].

The Anker Bluetooth Ultra-Slim Keyboard seems like a really great deal. It’s usually under $20, is the same size as Apple’s bluetooth keyboard, has an actual easy physical on-off switch. For less than $20, it was easily worth a try.

It’s very clicky and loud. Probably too clicky and loud for my tastes, but some folks might like it.

It’s a fine keyboard. Except for two major things.

The Esc key is only accessible when you press a modifier key. Since I planned to use this as my keyboard for quick, emergency fixes, that means lots of vim. Sure, I could remap the escape key in vim. Or the key could just work on the keyboard without a modifier. A simple switch to flip the keyboard from having the function/esc keys act normally, and their iPad special features act behind the function key would go a long way.

I also had an issue where ctrl + another modifier key didn’t seem to work.

I bought another Apple Bluetooth keyboard. The Anker will probably work for someone, but it’s not right for my use case.

It also didn’t work with my other recent Amazon purchase …

The WINGStand iPad Stand is two little clips that wrap onto your Apple Bluetooth keyboard and hold your iPad in place. They are small enough to unclip and throw in a pocket, and then clip on and use when you want to do some work on your iPad.

Better than a full time iPad stand, where you keep your iPad and keyboard tethered 100% of the time, you can use your iPad like an iPad when reading in bed, but turn it into a workstation in a pinch. Which is exactly what I needed for my weekend getaway computer. Couldn’t ask for more for $15.


  1. The weekend getaway computer basically amounts to me trying to figure out how to travel (we’ve gone to a lot of weddings recently, and have more coming up—including our own) without having to lug an entire laptop. If I can do email/ssh on an iPad with a keyboard, why bring anything else?  ↩

This is some supremely dumb shit

"i’ve been wearing an apple watch for weeks, and though i generally like it, it’s often uncomfortably restrictive for something tim cook calls ‘the most personal device we have ever created’ at every opportunity. the apple watch relies heavily on voice dictation from siri to mitigate its tiny, keyboard-less screen; you can use this to search for information or, more importantly, reply to messages.

i hate using siri to reply to messages. it listens to what i say and, if it hears me accurately, converts my thoughts into flat, expressionless, standardised prose with imperfect punctuation. i do not want this. i don’t type short messages in lowercase because i’m lazy or don’t know how to capitalise — i type short messages in lowercase because it’s the best way to render how i imagine my thoughts would come across. i like lending writing with accurate spelling and grammar a casual veneer by decapitating the caps. plus, well, i just think it looks better. i’ve typed in lowercase ever since i first got internet access and started talking about radiohead on audiogalaxy boards fifteen years ago. it’s why i’ve turned autocorrect off on every phone i’ve ever owned."

Pardon the cursing, but, Jesus Christ. The Verge is (was?) sort of a real tech news outlet. And they published this drivel. I completely thought it must have been a joke. Voice recognition tries to put your text into readable, accurate sentences. Hold the fucking presses. This has to be a parody of someone else’s bullshit, right?

Sadly, I don’t think it is.

(And, on top of that, I don’t have an Apple Watch, but I think you can get Siri to set your text in all lowercase. What a douche.)

(Via Dan Frakes on Twitter.)

Some Light Reading

There’s been a handful of articles from the past few weeks that I’ve found really interesting/eye-opening/rage-inducing.

From Daily Kos, is an article attempting to debunk the recent premise that a lack of father figures is the cause of the conflicts in Baltimore and Ferguson. The article evolved over the course of the day as folks dove into the numbers (from the CDC). In the end, it seems there’s no evidence to support that black fathers are any less involved their white fathers

However, what the CDC info does show is that pound for pound, on a family by family average basis Black fathers are generally more attentive to their children whether the live with them or apart from them, and even using the Census Bureau numbers there are far more White Children “at risk” from their less attentive and absent fathers than there are Black

Sy Hersh wrote on his (reasonably well sourced) suspicions that the assassination of Osama bin Laden didn’t happen quite the way we’ve been told. This is an astonishing article, and one that has generated a ton of criticism. Certainly it’s wise to be skeptical. I did love this analysis of the criticism from the Columbia Journalism Review. Both worth reading.

Finally, this Ars Technica article about one of the early documentaries about Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht is so even handed in its takedown of the documentary and the “Free Ross” crowd that I don’t know how a reasonable person could quibble with it. I’m going to start paraphrasing parts of it to use to shut down the super-libertarians who believe that folks like Ross Ulbricht are activists:

Take a hypothetical example: Let’s say I go outside my apartment in Oakland and mark off a few city blocks as a “freedom market” where anything can be bought and sold—I just need a 10 percent cut of all transactions to maintain the marketplace. (Suspend your disbelief to imagine this can be done without violence.) No surprise, it’s mostly drugs that are sold in the market. The goods are high quality and sold peacefully. My “freedom market,” when it works right, arguably does reduce harm, making sellers and buyers safer. It also inarguably will make me rich, as long as I get my 10 percent cut.

But running my hypothetical street market doesn’t mean I am striking a nail in the coffin of the drug war. Likely, it’s just the opposite. A market designed to hide from the law is a great excuse for law enforcement to double down on the severity of enforcement and punishment.