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Friday, February 16, 2007

US Operators Back to Basics

On our on-going pet subject of why Americans have not developed a deeper relationship with their mobile phones…look at these two ads which I spotted in a mobile operator store window in New York this week.

So here's one ad about mobile TV/streaming - and another one positioning the operator as the one with 'the fewest dropped calls'. First of all, I don't quite see how or why one would use a sector negative to build an ad around (surely the implied proposition'we're not great at what we do but our competitors are worse? isn't what we'd call hugely compelling...).

Secondly, how much faith would one have in a high tech service like mobile TV if the basics - ie voice communication - aren't sorted? And if the operator actually admits that in their ads? No wonder etc

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Scary quote about blogging(?!)

Couldn't resist posting this (rather lengthy) quote from Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Just substitute 'book' for 'blog' and you'll see what I mean about the scary bit... A person who writes books is either all (a single universe for himself and everyone else) or nothing. And since all will never be given to anyone, every one of us who writes books is nothing. Ignored, jealous, deeply wounded, we wish the death of our fellow man, In that respect we are all alike: Banaka, Bibi, Goethe, and I. The proliferation of mass graphomania among politicians, cab drivers, women on the delivery table, mistresses, murderers, criminals, prostitutes, police chiefs, doctors, and patients proves to me that every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself and that all mankind has every right to rush out into the streets with a cry of "We are all writers!" The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding. And that was written in 1978! Of course, with blogs people are also interacting. But as, for example, the 'left' vs. 'right' debates in the American political blogosphere go to show - this isn't necessarily fostering any sense of greater understanding.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Apple Envisions DRM-Free Future

I wasn't planning to post about Apple twice in one week but Steve Jobs is causing a stir again - this time over an open letter on the Apple website declaring their support for a digital music business model free from DRM (digital rights management) restrictions. Whilst I'm sure that this is a tactic that has been calculated with Apple's best interests in mind, it could also potentially be a great thing for UK consumers and could deflect public concerns before they've even really begun (in the UK at least). On the Web DRM seems to have become a contentious issue for many but, having done groups on the subject in the UK, it is still an unknown concept for most consumers. The idea of any kind of restrictions being placed on the music they buy is alien to them based on their current understanding of music ownership, developed on physical formats such as CD (or increasingly (illegal) downloading and sharing for many). Even most who have used iTunes are still apparently unfamiliar with the idea that they can't use this music in the future on a non-iPod mp3 player. This is not to say that they are neutral to the idea. When probed it is obviously anathema to their understanding of 'buying' and 'owning' a piece of music. As digital music does become a more viable option of music purchase for more people, it is unlikely that the current model developed by the major record companies will do much to shift their behaviour from the current patterns of (illegal) downloading and sharing with the occasional physical purchase - especially for the more 'muso' types. When iTunes or other digital music stores are used, the reason most often cited is for the ease and guarantee of quality - supporting Jobs' hypothesis. In other words, many consumers using the service are well aware that they could source their music elsewhere for cheaper/free. They use digital music stores because they make life simpler for a small fee. Given the amount of DRM-free music already floating about out there for anybody willing to look for it, perhaps this is the hook that the major record companies should be banking on to capitalise on their assets, rather than hoping that they can somehow stop the changes that have already been forced on their industry. Because when it does eventually reach the mass public consciousness it seems likely that DRM will be very unpopular, potentially pushing more people away from the idea of purchasing digital music and encouraging more file-sharing and dissemination of DRM-free tracks.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

iPhone and the Wired West

Had to post up the video below a) because we're yet to mention the iPhone on this blog and b) because it illustrates so nicely (at the 8 minute and 44 second mark) Sofia's earlier post about "cellphones" as a "commodity" in the US, in contrast to the rest of the world... The iPhone is clearly causing a stir, in the US but also here. Jobs' claim to have reinvented the phone may be in some part marketing hyperbole but some of the issues he claims Apple's new product addresses, namely ease of use and reliability of software, could have been picked straight from some of the common complaints people do make when we talk to them about their current phones. Even more central to the stir the iPhone is causing is probably it's integration of other already popular computer-based systems - Google Maps, Email/Gmail, full web browsing, iTunes, Mac OSx etc. In the 'Wired West', this fusing of these familiar online/PC based apps with a mobile phone, should be exactly what is needed to develop people's otherwise rather impersonal relationships with their phones vs. the rest of the world. Apple are building on already established behaviours and bringing them to the mobile world. They have the heritage and the infrastructure to make this possible. Another interesting thought... how will Apple's one product based model work vs. those of the other mobile operators, especially outside the US where there are dozens of models vying for customer attention? Apple may have made one decision a lot easier for some consumers when the iPhone is released in the UK.... well for those who can afford it anyway! The free phone and contract market here may well make the iPhone more of a gadget fantasy than reality for most people when it is introduced here towards the end of the year. If it manages more than that then it really will be challenging the current market structure here

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vinyl vs. the World

Not exactly new news but an interesting article by Sean O’Hagan in this Sunday’s Observer poses the question: Music consumption is becoming increasingly digitalised – is this also provoking a shift in people’s relationships to music? His conclusion seems to be that people need things and so we are not going to see the death of the CD, or even vinyl, quit yet (although cassettes, it’s probably now safe to say, are a dying breed). Based on our own research, I would have to agree. Over the last year and more we’ve been holding groups with people and talking about this subject and there’s no doubt that digitalisation is changing relationships with music. Talking to teenagers (digital natives if you speak jargon) sheds most light on these changes. Music remains as important to them as it ever has been; it forms an important part of their self-identity, of their membership to whichever group: R&B, rap, indie, D&B, 80s, rock, "speedy G". All of this music is more accessible than it ever has been. Importantly, it’s also all available for free, downloaded via LimeWire, shared via Bluetooth or MSN. Doing the sharing gets you musical kudos, for leading the way, for being the latest. It is this sheer availability of music that has probably changed people’s relationships most. For many teens music does seem to have become something of a disposable resource. Divorced from its physical form, it has become something to keep-up-to-date. It is still amassed, but perhaps not cherished as it could have been. But, there does remain a hardcore of more serious music fans for whom music does mean something more. They may still buy CDs or vinyl, they’re still interested in finding out the stories behind the music, they still like to have something to hold. Even when music is in digital form, it can still hold deeper meaning. Knowledge of the stories behind music, of the obscure, the esoteric, the underground is something that you can’t just download. This trend gets stronger as people get older. When music is freely accessible to all, you need to go the extra mile if you want to consider yourself a serious music collector. Underlying all this is something else: As ethical and environmental concerns start to loom larger in the minds of the consumer, so physical music may start to look like a waste of resources. Vinyl and CDs look to be safe on the shelves for the time being (see the above photo of Virgin Megastore Oxford Street's new 7" section) as long as music fans continue to want something more than a disembodied mp3. Perhaps it will eventually be environmental concerns that marks the end of the love affair with music in its physical form.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A green year

Like many people I’ve already spent a lot of this (new) year thinking about being green and what I can do to make a difference. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved house and finally have both the space to grow vegetables and install a composter, but I’m finding myself thinking harder about where things come from and what the packaging is made of when I shop M&S recently surprised many media commentators with the extent their green strategy, whilst others were quick to dismiss both M&S and Tesco’s commitments as ‘brand dressing’. But I’m not so sure that’s all it is. Whether you applaud the promises they’ve made or feel they haven’t gone far enough, they’ve obviously been listening hard to their consumers As Sabine said in her post in December ‘How Times have Changed’, green marketing does seem to be moving mainstream. It’s certainly more noticeable in groups that consumers want help with being green. Even when the research has no connection with issues such as recycling, packaging or sustainability it seems there are always one or two consumers who weave these into the discussion. And whereas a couple of years ago you felt the consumer who raised the issue was coming from an outsider point of view (with others agreeing because it was ‘socially acceptable’) – this is now less the case More than a year ago Innocent’s marketing Director Richard Reed signalled their desire to be the first FMSG brand (fast moving sustainable goods). I hope 2007 is the year more brands follow suit.