iTunes: shooting the messenger? [update]

According to The Independent, in the US Apple makes just 4 cents from each download sale while copyright owners get 62 cents; music publishers take a further 8 cents. As the article notes:

With the sites, the copyright owners have doubled their share of royalties, even though the marginal cost of manufacturing has fallen to almost zero.

…Phil Evans, a spokesman for the Consumers Association, said the data suggested record labels would have to change – or strangle the nascent market. He said: “Unless the record labels look at new [distribution] models, they’re bringing about their own demise.”

Michael Robertson, the founder of MP3.com, is blunter. He says commercial downloading is so unprofitable it is “a race where the winner gets shot in the head”.

And the Consumers Association wants *Apple* investigated for profiteering?

The giant awakes: Sony to support MP3

Sony’s boneheaded refusal to make MP3 players that can play MP3s is one of the key reasons why the firm is little more than a footnote in the world of digital music. However, it looks like the firm realises its insistence on its own ATRAC-3 file format (and nothing else, unless you want to convert your entire music collection into ATRAC-3 so you can use it on a portable) means it’s getting spanked in the portable player market: according to C|Net, Sony has changed its strategy and will start to include MP3 support in forthcoming players.

The change won’t happen overnight – Sony will start with its flash memory-based players, and there’s no word on whether its hard drive-based players will also support MP3 – but it’s a significant move. To date, Sony’s attempts at digital music have been laughably bad: the conflict between being a hardware firm and one of the world’s biggest record labels means Sony has had something of a split personality towards digital music, and while its players are often excellent (great sound and very long battery life are the rule rather than the exception), nobody in their right mind is going to shell out on an MP3 player that doesn’t support MP3.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out for Apple: the iPod rules the roost partly because it was the right product at the right time, but also because companies such as Sony haven’t made compelling iPod alternatives (Creative and iRiver kit is lovely, but it doesn’t have the iPod’s cool factor or intuitive design). However, it looks like the sleeping giant of Sony is finally waking up. Things are about to get very interesting.

Quiet iPod? Blame the French.

If you’ve got a European iPod or iPod Mini, it’s crippled: thanks to various European countries’ attitudes to music players and their potential for hearing damage (apparently it’s a big issue in France), the volume output on EU iPods is much lower than it is on US models. The simplest way to address this is to get in-ear headphones, like these:

However, you’ll still encounter problems if you’re trying to listen to Mazzy Star on a main road, or if you want more volume when your iPod’s hooked up to your stereo or an iTrip*.

The easiest solution (on the Mac, at least) seems to be iPod Volume Booster.

This nifty bit of freeware enables you to boost the volume of the songs on your iPod and works flawlessly, although if you’ve got iTunes set to automatically sync songs with your iPod you’ll need to disable that feature or run iPod Volume Booster after every sync. It’s not perfect – if you add new songs and forget to boost them, you’ll end up with a mismatch of volume levels – but it’s a big improvement.

[Thanks to David for the tip]

* Not in the UK, of course, because the iTrip’s illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

If it ain’t broke, don’t ditch it

I was using one of these at the weekend:

The actual model I used was a graphite one, but I can’t find a photo. In technological terms it’s positively archaic (we’ve had two generations of iBook and a whole new generation of processors since then), but when it’s fitted with a Wi-Fi adapter it’s a lean, mean blogging machine that’s perfectly capable of handling day to day tasks such as web, email and a bit of word processing. It also possesses one of the finest keyboards I’ve ever used.

It’s something you should keep in mind when faced with the relentless hype about bigger, better, faster hardware and software. The weak point in Word has always been my typing speed, and a 1GHz jump in processing power won’t make any difference to that; the weak link in most web wandering is the speed of your connection, not your computer’s processor. Of course, there are exceptions – inadequate RAM makes even the simplest task positively painful; don’t even think about video editing on really old hardware – but for home computing, expensive new kit isn’t significantly better than older kit.

The one exception is in gaming: even a reasonably recent PC will struggle with some of the current crop of shooters, such as Doom 3. Then again, if games are important you don’t need to shell out £2,000 on a state-of-the-art PC: £99 will get you an Xbox, and you can use the money you’ve saved to invest in Wi-Fi and a ridiculously fast broadband connection, with enough left over for an iPod or two.

Remove cable clutter! Buy a desktop!

So much for laptops freeing up desk space and removing cable clutter: despite using wi-fi, my Powerbook’s currently sitting at the centre of a spaghetti junction of cabling. There’s the adapter for the second monitor, the firewire cable to the ipod, a line-in for the phone recorder, the USB connection for the digicam, the power cable, the firewire cable to the external hard disk, the line-out to the speakers, and the usb cable to the hub, which in turn hooks up to the printer, the keyboard and the wireless mouse.

Guilty pleasures: Keane

Keane are the latest next-big-thing in music and they’ve already had tons of vitriol heaped on their heads: they’re too posh, too well-connected, too goddamned *nice* to be credible musicians. And yet, and yet… their album’s absolutely wonderful.

Here’s a few reasons why I love them:

* The piano part on “everybody’s changing” reminds me of The Associates. Anything that makes me think of The Associates is by definition, fantastic.

* Singer Tom Chaplin looks utterly terrified in videos, the antithesis of a pop star. Which makes me – a 30-something straight bloke – want to mother him. God knows what effect he has on women.

* The lyrics are utter bollocks, but sung with such conviction they’re utterly compelling.

* There’s a real ambition to the music, a feeling that the band wants to be more than a poor facsimile of the latest fad.

* Chaplin manages to combine the choirboy vocals of Thom Yorke with Bono’s roar – and he’s barely started, musically.

* They remind me of A-Ha. This is a good thing.

* They’re hated by the people who praise carbon copies of 30-year old “credible” bands to the skies. That alone should make them worth listening to.

* The album is a masterpiece of rock music production. It’s so shiny that you could eat your dinner from it.

* In these days of “two good songs, ten throwaway ones” on most bands’ albums, “Hopes & Fears” doesn’t have a single duff track.

Of course, it could all go horribly wrong: the band could fall into the trap of worrying about sales positions and end up writing pale imitations of their current stuff (see Bryan Adams, whose current single has the music from “Run To You” with a different vocal on top), or worry about credibility and write an album whose core audience will be approximately six London-based music journalists. Then again, they might use their current fame as an opportunity to do whatever the hell they like, giving pianist (and songwriter) Tim Rice-Oxley free reign to be as uncommercial as he likes. I sincerely hope they go for the third route.

Tally-ho ho ho!

Squander Two is winding up the pro-hunt lobby, in a discussion that’s taking place over a few different blogs. He makes a great point:

All those people who say the hunt is no crueller than shooting, here’s a question for you. You’re sentenced to death and given a choice between being shot or being chased across twenty miles or so of country by a pack of dogs and mounted men and then being ripped to shreds by the dogs. Would that be a difficult decision?