journals + iTunes = ?

Finally got around to reading this tab I’ve had open for ages (sorry, can no longer remember whom to hat tip!) about a pessimistic take on Elsevier’s business model, and was struck by the following:

At the APE Conference in Berlin in January 2010 there were several presentations on article-level impact metrics — it is at least plausible to imagine a world in which the value of the franchise of each individual journal decreases and the value of the franchise of the individual articles increases.

This reminds me very much of the ongoing music-industry business-model freakout, some of which centers on the dissolution of the “album” as an important object in favor of more easily customized and remixed singles.[*] Surely I am far from the first person to have thought of this analogy, and there must be people who understand the business landscape for journals well enough to have thought through this analogy; anyone know where I would find them?

[*] I have to say, sometimes I feel little sorrows that the mix tapes I once spent so long making, and that were once made so carefully for me, may no longer be a meaningful genre. We put so much time into, not just the overall blend of the songs, but story arcs, and striking transitions. But this is only possible when the mix tape is a standalone object that gets played in a single order — it crashes to pieces on the shoals of iTunes.

Which is not to say I regret iTunes; I listen to more diverse music these days, and have a few really useful playlists, and I like the serendipity of shuffle. Just that — few goods are unmixed, and here’s the casualty of progress. (And how d mix tapes fit into the analogy?)

7 thoughts on “journals + iTunes = ?

  1. I wish it were possible to give someone an iTunes playlist: put together a playlist of music from the iTunes store, pay what it would cost to buy all of the tracks, then send it to someone. That someone would get all the tracks they don’t already have, and then get the balance in cash. (Bonus points if it lets you specify suitable substitutions, like when the same song exists on both the original album and a ‘greatest hits’ album)


    1. I’m of two minds — on the one hand, iTunes totally needs more playlist-oriented and social tools. On the other hand, it’s a massive piece of already too-slow bloatware. I think that Apple is hemmed in by their decision to make it entirely a monolithic app rather than a web app.

      Your playlist-gift-purchase idea is excellent — we actually started building such an app at Oxy a couple of years ago — but gets ugly if your gift crosses a national or regional border. The same songs may not be available for license in different countries, or may be licensed for different amounts, or may be in a country where “database copyright” makes playlists copyrightable. Worse, many online music sellers are experimenting with dynamic pricing, so you don’t know in advance what a different person at a different time will be charged for the same track. And the recent Pink Floyd licensing foofraw will only make this stranger.


      1. Can you go into more detail on the last two sentences?

        Also, I’m not clear how your first sentence isn’t answered by Genius, except insofar as you inexplicably do not like it.


      2. (1) Dynamic pricing is when a vendor computes an item’s price as a function of the buyer, time, popularity, etc. rather than having a single fixed price. Some music retailers don’t do this much (indies, Apple today), some do it a bit (Amazon, Apple in the near future), some do it a whole lot (BMG Napster, IIRC).

        (2) Pink Floyd recently won a legal battle against their label’s licensing of their music to iTunes. They successfully argued that their original contract only licensed their label to resell the whole album, and didn’t apply to iTunes single-track sales. The contract term in question was unusual but not rare (especially among prog-rock bands); expect to hear more about this in the future.

        (3) Genius is clever, but it’s not very social — all of the sharing it enables is totally passive. The standard model of social media I learned is that a social media system consists of three things:

        – Clustering (eg, friend-lists)
        – Active sharing (eg, comment on posts, retweet, “like”)
        – Passive sharing (ie, your posted stuff is findable by people in your cluster)

        Genius has the third of these but not to my knowledge the first two. So I don’t think of it as a social tool — it is built on social data, but to my knowledge you aren’t meant/able to interact with it in a social manner.


  2. The other thing about mix tapes, from a librarian point of view, was they were not exactly copyright-compliant, were they?


    1. I suppose not, although the current copyright regime makes me cranky, and insofar as I’ve bought (or even become aware of) music it’s largely because of mix tapes.

      Oddly I find myself much more sympathetic to sharing mix tapes than sharing random tracks — I suppose in part because it’s my background so it seems normal to me — but partly because there’s an added artistry involved in making a good mix tape, and I want my intellectual property environment to support remixing and creation. (Sigh.)


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