Best of 2011: Music December 21, 2011Posted by David Card in Media.
Tags: best of, music
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Just barely in time for stocking stuffers, yet another “best of…” list. But you know you love it.
Not a great year, but we’ll see what ages.
I bought about 45 albums, very few singles, all downloads pretty much exclusively from Amazon. This year my mix was about 55/45 new versus back catalog. I still listen mostly from an iPod or my iPhone.
However, I do have the on-demand streaming services from Rhapsody, Spotify, and MOG. (I’m comped as an analyst but I’d happily spend $10 a month on one of them. Which one is for a later post.) And free Pandora. I love all of them for radio-style new music discovery and casual listening, and for try-before-you-buy analysis. I get a kick out of seeing what my friends listen to via Facebook and GetGlue. This social music thing, it might catch on. If only the artists could make money off it.
But I’m technically a digital music aficionado, as defined by digital behavior and high spending on music, and I often discover unfamiliar bands by – gasp! – reading reviews. Turntable.fm is fun, but way too much work. It’s like trash-talking for music. I am not a very successful DJ, and neither are most people.
My favorite new albums of the year were, roughly in order:
Best New Albums of 2011
- The Decemberists “The King Is Dead” – add alt-country to their repertoire
- Black Keys “El Camino” – who knew there were still rock bands?
- The Vaccines – my latest lo-fi, incredibly catchy, pop indulgence
- PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” – yeah, someone still does stirring protest songs
- T Bone Burnett Presents “The Speaking Clock Revue” – rootsy collection from Elvis Costello, Gregg Allman et al.
- Dum Dum Girls “Only in Dreams” – pop-punk grrls with some depth
- Jay-Z and Kanye West “Watch the Throne” – sure, it’s indulgent, but it’s fun when two big stars connect
- Wild Flag “Wild Flag” – I miss Sleater-Kinney, but this is a half-decent substitute
- Wilco “The Whole Love” – experimenting again, with spirit
- Florence + the Machine “Ceremonials” – I know it’s hipper to like St. Vincent, but the prog-rock Sinead, well, rocks
You might also like to look at Tune-Yards (I have a thing for female jazz singers that fool around in other genres), Paul Simon (his latest is like a poor man’s – make that an old poor man’s – Graceland), Fucked Up (gotta love a punk concept album), SPIN’s “Nevermind” tribute (half the covers are pretty awesome), DJ Shadow (channeling Killing Joke of all things), and R.E.M.’s finale (but the Decemberists already did the best R.E.M. album of the year). I didn’t hate the Lou Reed/Metallica team-up, but it was an example of two big artists not connecting.
I was disappointed by The Girls (went from interesting to pretentious in
a year 2 years), Airborne Toxic Event (no sophomore slump but nothing new), the Kills (a killer single), and Gang of Four (one of my all-time favorite bands, but what was I expecting?).
Virtual currencies: from coins to barter December 19, 2011Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
Tags: consumer electronics manufacturers, Currency, goods suppliers, Micropayment, payments systems, virtual currency systems, Virtual economy, virtual goods
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Social gaming star Zynga’s IPO last week casts the spotlight on its virtual goods business, which accounts for 95 percent of 2010’s $597 million in recognized revenue. The company’s broad appeal made me wonder, How do virtual currencies work today and where, outside of gaming, might they be effective? Right now, practical alternative payments systems like Facebook’s and PayPal’s are still based on cash, though consumers might like bartering and loyalty programs rolled into the mix.
Virtual goods and currencies are a potent combination. U.S. sales of virtual goods were $1.6 billion in 2010, and they were projected to grow to $2.2 billion in 2011, according to a report from Inside Network. Zynga is the biggest player, and its transactions run exclusively through Facebook’s Credits, which takes a 30 percent cut. Until it builds out its own gaming site, Zynga remains dependent on Facebook and on its so-called “whales,” the relatively few — reportedly 1 percent — of Zynga players that account for 25 percent of spending (perhaps 10 to 20 percent buy anything at all). These kinds of ratios and pay rates are pretty consistent across both virtual goods and paid content categories like digital music, video and news, from what I have heard and according to a PayPal survey in GigaOM Pro research.
Based on that survey, two features look critical for virtual currency systems: They should offer loyalty programs like frequent-buyer benefits, and the systems should work across different goods suppliers. The latter is one of the main reasons Facebook rigidly enforces Credits exclusivity for apps: The same accrued Credits can rent streamed videos or buy power-ups and game paraphernalia. The PayPal survey showed that a relatively high 36 percent of social gamers said they would be more likely to purchase virtual goods if they could earn loyalty credits for frequent purchases. And 22 percent said they would if they could use the same payment product for all games. Those rates were similar or higher for hard-core gamers as well. The frequent-buyer program angle was even more popular for other paid media like video (45 percent) and music (52 percent). Amazon and Apple should pay attention.
Companies offering new virtual currencies often promote two other features: micropayments under $1, which aren’t cost-effective with credit card fees, and the ability to base currency value on something other than money, including “bartering” user time and attention as well as other goods. No one has ever proven the value of micropayments. Failures include Beenz, Flooz, Millicent and others, though Flattr is still trying. That’s mainly because there aren’t that many things Americans buy that are worth less than a dollar. Music stores try to scrape a margin from 99-cent singles with prepaid PayPal accounts or by bulking up orders, and prices are moving to $1.29.
But there are some hints of promise in basing virtual currencies off something other than money. I’m not talking about Bitcoin, no matter that VC Fred Wilson thinks Bitcoin is potentially hugely disruptive. In its tortured history Bitcoin has suffered massive fluctuations in value from hoarding and has had its brand tarnished by its reported use by drug dealers.
In contrast, currencies based on barter look more interesting:
- TrialPay is experimenting on Facebook and elsewhere with a variety of bartering options. Users can earn gaming goods for making purchases or watching ads, and they can trade in credits for coupons redeemable for real-world products like soda and cosmetics. Facebook is a promoter, and TrialPay claims to have 100 million users and 2,000 advertisers.
- Jun Group recently raised $2.5 million to boost its ad serving system, which trades currency credits for viewing video ads. It claims a high 70 percent completion rate for viewing. Jun Group has worked with big brands like HBO and Frito-Lay.
- Quora, the Q&A site, rewards behavior like answering questions and getting positive votes with credits that users can use to promote their own questions, so they have a better chance of being answered. The system reinforces expertise and participation, so it isn’t likely to migrate outside Quora. But other participative activities like reviews, recommendations and polling could apply similar techniques. Companies with consumer review systems like Amazon, Yelp and Angie’s List could use currencies to reward quality reviews, as determined by voting.
Yes, there is some evidence that users undervalue goods they have earned for actions. Users uninstall a lot of those apps, and Apple has banned trading goods for downloading an app, because developers were using the practice to game the App Store’s popularity ranking. But overall, barter-based currencies appear to be gaining momentum. If Zynga wanted to launch its new site with a bang, it would deploy a new virtual currency scheme that worked across third-party games and maybe even other products, support a frequent-buyer program and let users exchange their time and attention for credits.