Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Connect the dots... but do not assume

So I finally had some time to consider (and write down my thoughts on) the implications of Apple claiming they "most likely would not continue to operate (the iTunes store) if it were no longer possible to do so profitably." (see Forbes story towards the bottom).

Let me say that I highly respect and admire the contributors to MacBreak Weekly, but here they (as well as TWIT that week) made a big jump. Not operating iTunes store at a loss does NOT mean they must shut down the store. There are alternative ways to run the store for a small profit.

Alex Lindsay has discussed on MacBreak Weekly the relationship between creators (musicians, filmmakers, etc) and Apple products. Take the example of iMovie's menu option, "Export to YouTube". Now make a paid version in Garage Band (or Soundtrack Pro) that says "Include in iTunes store". Then after the music revolution is running on all cylinders, Final Cut Pro gets the same type of option to sell movies or shows in the iTunes Store (do we call it Television when it looses all connection to classic television?).

OK, maybe you're thinking "That's a nice theory, but it's just a thought experiment". After all, Apple could have done this at any time, even before signing with the labels originally. Yes and no, Apple actually could not have done this type of deal before they settled their long running legal negotiations with Apple Corps, but they could have initiated a direct music service any time after Februrary 2007. Besides, Apple doesn't want to handle all the billing and accounting issues surrounding millions of content creators with a small number of sales, right?

If only there was a recent example of Apple cutting out layers of publishers and going straight to the creators... Maybe a store that sold little widgets or games that ran on Apple hardware. Wait, I think I've got it! The App Store. Rather than recruit a few big companies to develop applications for the App Store, Apple created a pipeline. They released the tools, published the enrollment process, and handled all of the fees, and standardized the rates for their share and the creators share.

And what would musicians get out of the deal. How many musicians would like to keep 70% of the proceeds of their creation and still have a shot at Apple's front page. All of them (except maybe the 3 or 4 who already have that kind of deal after decades in the industry, think NIN).

Why does Apple want to do this? Because even if they do not, somebody else will. They have the opportunity to have a big splashy announcement that takes everyone by surprise, or Steve Jobs can try to paint an "us too" announcement as revolutionary (which he's very good at doing, but why not just be first). No other company could do it with the kind of earth-shattering effect of Apple, but that does not mean it could not succeed. Amazon has the best chance to create the big marketplace version of it, but it will lack the style of an Apple offering.

Why did Apple start the ball rolling with the App Store? The software industry is already much more diversified than the Music and Movie/TV industry. Independent software developers have been swimming with the big boys before Apple brought their model to the App Store. It's a perfect way to work the kinks out of the pipeline. Once they add music submissions, they'll already know how to handle the billing issues, the application process, etc.

Now there is just one problem: old media. As I said at the top, I have no idea what kind of contract the music companies have made with Apple. What I do believe is that they all think Apple needs them more than they need Apple. The hole in the boat that may have alerted them to their folly was NBC walking away from Apple, only to walk right back the next year. But hopefully (for consumers) the big media companies will keep pushing Apple, keeping giving DRM-free music to Amazon instead of iTunes, keep pushing to raise the prices on the iTunes store. When one of the Record Companies declines to renew its contract with Apple, all the analysts will say this is a huge blow to Apple, not realizing that this is a huge win for Apple. Then when all the cards are turned over and Apple ends up transforming the industry, analysts will wonder if this was strategy or making lemonade from lemons.

And I will wonder to. If something remotely like this happens I will be able to pretend that I am prescient rather than lucky. But I will know (and admit) that I only connected the dots that others pointed out. And I will know that the best part of the whole thing is getting to be a consumer in that new age of consumption.

Which brings me to my final point. Did the financial crisis ruin the opportunity? Actually it might have made this scenario more plausible. After all, Apple does not make its money off of iTunes, it just does not want to lose a lot of money to it either. Ultimately, Apple makes money on iPods. With disposable income declining for the time being, the best way to stave off losses is to offer something fresh and interesting. Also, if it uses the next few years to position itself properly, it will be ready to blast through new heights when the next cycle starts to lift. Then again, it might be easier to just release some new shiny MacBooks!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Horrible is Wonderful

If you haven't heard about Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, don't question it, just go now and watch it. It's funny, it's free, it's forward thinking. What more could you ask for? Watch it before July 20th!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Creative Systems Theory and Creative Lawyering

For my Legal Analysis and Writing course I am reading about "Developing a Persuasive Theory" through the "six stages of the creative process". (Legal Reasoning and Legal Writing: Structure, Strategy, and Style by Richard K Neumann, Jr. Chapter 24 on pages 302 & 303).

I cannot help but notice the striking similarity between these six stages: Problem-identification, Gathering and evaluating information and raw materials, Solution-generation, Solution-evaluation, Decision, and Action, with the stages of the Creative Systems Theory: Pre-Axis, Early Axis, Middle Axis, Late Axis, and Integration. (See Charles M. Johnston MD work on the Creative Systems Theory).

The two are not completely analogous; there are not even the same number of steps/stages, but I find the underlying process compatible. In fact, the separation of Early Axis into two steps, Gathering and Solution-generation, is used as an example in the text (Neumann, pg 303) of how stages can overlap.

The biggest departure in my mind is the difference between Integration and Action. Action implies a destination, while Integration suggests the spiraling of previous stages into a better future. The production of a Memorandum or appellate brief seems so terminal, while Integration lasts a lifetime. And yet, the process of appellate advocacy can span a career (or more). Perhaps I am taking this microscopic example, the process of creating an appellate brief as the singular application of what should be a larger framework.

I will try to see this lesson as an inroad to a larger understanding, using these two creative processes to generate well reasoned thought on all levels. Creative Systems Theory is extremely relevant to every creative process. The wisdom of these truths transcends the language that is used to name and describe them.

So now I had better shut up and do it!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Not Mobile like phone, not Stable like horses

The other theme (besides Function - Expression) that has been burbling in my thoughts recently is Mobility - Stability. If you don't know what that is, the simplest example is walking down the street, you plant one leg (Stability) to move the other forward (Mobility).

But like all of the other themes, Mobility & Stability not only apply to micro application, but also to macro application. Right now I am very aware of the flip-flop of our usual family dynamic. For almost ten years my occupation was very stable, dependable income and pretty set hours. Now I've tossed out all those rules. My income is not enough to support my family as I venture to create my new career in law. My schedule is variable by semester and at odds with a lot of the needs of my family. I'm as stable as it gets.

In response Andrea has felt the pressure to be te stabilizing force. She has put her continuing education on hold while I get underway, she's very aware of how many clients she carries and the income associated with that. For someone who was always the psychic stability in our relationship, I feel like I've put a huge burden on her. But she has been so amazing and supportive, through the transition period of figuring out what I wanted to do and now through the struggle of trying to establish myself in school. I am so grateful to her and hope that when I come out the other side of this, we will be able to strike a flexible balance of Mobility & Stability, flowing together or in balancing opposites as needed.

Monday, June 02, 2008

iPhone != i + Phone

I thought iPhone hit critical mass when my Sensei bought one (he is a car head, not a tech head), but his impresion so far is "It's OK".

But then he said "I heard the new one is coming out soon". He wants to buy that one and give this one to his youngest instructor.

So maybe the iPhone has hit a type of critical mass where the experience itself is irrelevant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coffee Expression

A few months ago Merlin Mann (of fame) talked on MacBreak Weekly (see about how some people get so involved in their productivity systems that they forget that the purpose is to actually make life more productive.

His analogy was brilliant. He said a productivity system is like a coffee cup. If there are cracks in the cup, then you have to fix the cup, but otherwise spending lots of time redesigning the cup is just overkill. You want to get on to actually enjoying some coffee in your cup.

Likewise, if your productivity system has holes in it, then important tasks fall through the cracks and get lost. However, if the important tasks are making it on your list, then any time spent adjusting the system is wasted. Spend that time doing the things on your list or enjoying recreation.

I was reminded of this last week when a lot of our final IMS weekend spiraled around function and expression. I realized that this was the Laban way of describing the same concept. Being intentional about what elements of your life are functional and which are expressive, allows efficiency and fuller expressivity. It also clarifies that things are not black and white. Many elements of our life have functional and expressive components. But just like the coffee cup, the point is not the analysis itself. The point is to live richly and fully because you spent the time making conscious decisions about how to go forward.

My personal productivity system is usually full of holes. Then I spend a few weeks focusing on it and it gets better for a little while. I hope that slowly but surely it's getting better as a whole, even with 10 steps forward and 9 steps back each time.