Thursday, 27 May 2010

Hands up if you still love vinyl, photos, CD, DVD, etc

Just over a week ago I tweeted a link to an article on in which they reported that the majority of Britons are still quite firmly in love with physical media, despite the prevalence of iPods and other digital personal audio solutions.

The majority of Britons are still 'wedded to CDs, DVDs and books' - at than a minute ago via API

The article was drawing on a survey conducted by Hewlett Packard (entitled 'Evolution of Digital Media') - a report I have not been able to track down.  If you find it please link me up as I'm a bit skeptical about the questions asked and they way the results are framed.  The survey of 1000 Brits (aged 16-60) seems to be part of a promotional strategy for HP's most recent media streaming server solution, but it did produce some interesting stats/facts which I'll list below.

86% - people access some form of digital media
95% - people who prefer physical books over ebooks
75% - people who prefer physical media for films (DVD, Blu-ray) over digital files (iTunes)
68% - people who prefer physical printed photographs over digital files
64% - people who prefer physical music (CD, vinyl) over digital files

The report claims people currently attach 'little monetary or emotional value to the digital content that they own' - a problem for digital content producers, but perhaps not one for service providers?  For instance, I think music streaming services like Spotify and We7 are pretty good (but not amazing; they still lack about 70% of what I typically search for) but the music is the driver of the business and the product itself is pretty ephemeral.  It seems people are fond of the tangible, although the survey suggests that this is a generational issue.

The 16-24 and 25-34  year old groups were the most enthusiastic consumers of digital services, but 39% of them are still buying physical media.

73% - people who can't see digital service replacing physical media
71% - people who have never lost their digital library and don't care about backups
27% - people who value their digital files at under £50

It looks like the switch to files may not be quite as dramatic as many people may have thought, although it's dangerous to speculate on the basis of such a small sample (and an opaque methodology copies are available on request from  020 3047 2000 or  We could argue that CDs are digital and not quite as distinct from other music formats, but let's ignore that slight gripe.

Do you still buy physical media?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Some shameless self-promotion

Last week I was asked for my thoughts on David Miliband's move for the leadership of the Labour party.  My inane observations appeared in the the Guardian's Comment Is Free, which can be found here.  In it i make reference to an earlier video from the same source

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tracking musical expenditure: April

Sheesh, these are getting later and later in the month.  I started publishing these posts at the start of the month but work commitments have been pretty intense recently.  Let's get down to business...

I bought a few musical items last month, including a 'digital service'.  After an 'anonymous' source (yes, DT, I know it was you) decided to phone Crimestoppers and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) with false allegations that I had been running an 'industrial' scale DVD piracy operation out of my workplace my electronic communications have been subject to monitoring and interception by my employers, I figured it would be a great opportunity to try a VPN service to encrypt and hide all my web access.  Not that I have anything to hide, but I felt a bit violated by the fact that an anonymous claim took precedence over my integrity, so I decided to make it a little awkward for any prying eyes.  I opted to try iPREDator, the service popular with Swedish web-users following the Pirate Bay verdict.  It was easy to setup, but in all fairness I've never really had much use for it.

April's total spend came in at £43.74.  If we take away the anonymity service the figure comes in at £30.54 of which £1.59 was a Guitar Hero game track.  So, traditional single and album sales come in a more modest £28.95, with vinyl taking a significant chunk of the cash (well it was Record Store Day after all).  The total expenditure to date is £1246.80 with the total for just albums and singles coming in at £156.88

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Level 3 Module Choices | Media & Cultural Studies

For those students going in to their final year, here's a sneak preview of the modules available to you from the Media & Cultural Studies team:


Don't forget the module fair is taking place in the Cinema (MC207) tomorrow at 11:30am

You can download the original file here and visit the webpage for the Centre for Research in Media & Cultural Studies (CRMCS) to find the profiles of research active staff.

Level 2 Module Choices | Media & Cultural Studies

It's that time of year again. Here's a sneak preview of the modules our prospective Level 2 students can opt for from the Media & Cultural Studies catalogue

The module fair takes place in the Cinema (MC207) at 10:00am for current Level 1 students

You can find all the research interests and publications of the media staff here

Monday, 10 May 2010

MAC201 essay 2 considering technology...

This is a quick post for a few of my MAC201 students who are considering approaching the second assessment focussing on technology in relation to audiences, so I expect it to have a very niche interest (if any).

A quick recap...

Over this section of the module we have dealt with a few methodological issues and contextual themes.  The first few weeks were spent looking at different ways to conduct audience research (quantitive approaches, qualitative approaches, ethnography, methodological triangulation, etc) and identifying how the chosen method can impact upon the way questions are asked, as well as the data produced.  We looked at some of the assumptions inherent within the effects paradigm (flawed methodology, disciplinary assumptions, poor definitions of subject matter, etc) - see the critique put forwards by David Gauntlett here for a recap.  We also looked at the shift away from the assumption about what the media does, to what sense audiences make of their media (circa Stuart Hall and David Morley).

The overarching concern here was with making sure students are able to take a critical position when consulted with the supposed certainty of research which seeks to make specific claims about our relationship with media forms, texts and practices.  Certain assumptions about these relationships seem to  recur, often through the pages of the popular press, yet we should take a more nuanced and considered approach to these claims by being sensitive to the contexts in which the empirical research took place.  Quite often, being sensitive to the methodology employed is a wise move as it helps avoid the rather sensationalist claims like this headline: "Television bad for children: Canadian study".  You can listen to Steve Hewlett take some of the claims to task in this week's Media Show.  Fast forward to 11 mins in to hear him discuss some recently published research from the University of Montreal (Canada) which featured in the American Medical Association's Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Quite clearly how we approach research (the pre-existing assumptions we make, the way we define the study, etc) will impact upon the material produced.

Recent weeks have looked at issues like audience taste, technology and gender.  These all bring with them a series of different and specific assumptions.

The generic advice...

To date, the generic advice I've given to students has tended to fall into the following camp: divide the essay into 2 sections - one which summarises some of the general methodological and historical approaches; the other looking at an empirical case study which considers the sense audience members make of their media use. Let's be clear, this is a crude essay plan but it should look like this:

  • 1000 words summarising approaches to audience research and some of the problems inherent within this long history
  • 1000 words outlining a specific case study in which you reappraise the methodological approach and subsequent results against the backdrop of previous approaches to audiences
  • 500 words for intro/conclusion
This is just one of several different approaches that can be undertaken.  In reality, the case study you pick doesn't really matter - what you are looking for is the methodological approach employed so that you can comment critically on its significance in producing data.

However, as I mentioned above, there are themes we've explored in recent weeks (taste, technology and gender) and these can be used to approach the essay slightly differently.  For instance, it may be fair to say that there are commonly-held assumptions about specific forms of media use that may be the by-product of supposition or even inappropriate methodologies (eg pornography and it's negative 'effects').  Students may want to select a case study that takes a user-centric or ethnographic approach to understanding the meaning-making processes that take place in such a context, as a means to reappraise those aforementioned preconceptions.


In last week's lecture I spent some time talking about the ways in which technology has been spoken of as the driving force of history (technological determinism), as both potentially liberating and constraining.  See the slides below for a quick recap:

In the workshop, the 6 students that bothered to turn up (out of 51) considered some of the ways in technology has been used to track our relationship with specific media forms (eg the 'passive people meter') whilst being completely unable to address the issue of what sense the audience makes of it's media use.  The slides for that session are here:

There are a number of case studies on SunSpace which attempt to explain and situate technology and its social position in everyday life (like social networks, the iPod, video gaming, the home computer, etc) as opposed to media forms (like soap opera, pornography, violent movies, etc).  It is perfectly feasible to approach these examples with a different essay plan, perhaps like this one:

  • 1000 words exploring the social shaping of technology/quantifying the success of technology
  • 1000 words outlining the way in which the case study selected takes a qualitative approach to technological forms in order to ascribe human agency to their success
  • 500 words intro/conclusion

Say for instance, students decided to look at the Michael Bull study of the iPod, then they may well want  to begin the essay by pointing to the success of the consumer product (branding, marketing, sales, etc), then go on to consider the way in which Bull's approach differs from simplistic quantitive exercise.  Or, students may look at Sonia Livingstone's article on teenagers, privacy and social networking and they'd be well positioned to talk about some of the general societal fears associated with this practise (as manifest in the popular press?) before calling for some empirical work (ie the case study).

Needless to say, the more familiar students are with arguments around audience research the more sophisticated their analysis should be.  By the end of this week, it is expected that students will have spent 100 hours of taught and independent study time preparing for this assessment.  That should be enough to pass the module

Thursday, 6 May 2010

MPs: Will you oppose the use of disconnection and web blocking powers?

I recently contact the MPs in my local constituency regarding their intentions to repeal the Digital Economy Act's rather punitive web blocking powers.  For me, the attitude the parties display towards the future of the UK's digital sector is the election issue.  Here's the letter I sent:

The Digital Economy Act was rammed through Parliament as the election was
called. Over 20,000 people contacted their MP to complain, adverts were paid
for by donations, and thousands of people watched the debate live from

I was appalled by this process. It seemed to me undemocratic and dangerous.
Now, new powers have been granted without really understanding the

I do not think that disconnection - for whatever length of time - should be
used as a punishment for allegations of civil copyright infringements. There
is no justification for interfering in someone's ability to communicate
because of a civil dispute. Such disputes require financial recompense, not
wide ranging arbitrary punishments. It is also wrong to put forward
punishments that will be inflicted on everyone in a household, not just the
allegedly guilty person.

The decision on these powers will be made through a "super affirmative"
process. If elected, you would have to decide whether to approve these
powers. Would you oppose the use of disconnection or other interference in
people's communications?

I am also against new website blocking powers that may be introduced after
the election. Powers already exist for copyright holders to do this through
court orders, but they have so far refused to use this course of action to
solve their problems. Why should new powers be introduced?

This will affect my choice of candidate. This is a matter of principle for
me. Either my candidates are willing to stand up for principles I believe
in, or they are not. Please let me know if you will stand up against this
Act if you are elected.

I would also be very reassured to hear that you would as my MP try to attend
Eric Joyce's parliamentary meeting on this topic, which he intends to
organise if elected.
I received responses from 2 of the 5 prospective candidates (Conservative and the Liberal Democrats).  As usual, David Miliband (Labour) has not acknowledged the concerns of his constituent.  YOu can find the responses below.  The first to reply was Karen Allen (Conservative):

Thank you for getting in touch about the Digital Economy Act. I certainly share your anger
about how the Government rushed through such an important piece of legislation
in the dying days of the last Parliament. There was absolutely no reason why
they couldn’t have introduced the Bill earlier into the House of Commons, where
MPs would then have been able to debate it at length. It just shows the
contempt in which they hold both Parliament and the industries affected by this

As you know my Party did support many of the measures in this Act. For instance a single age 
rating system for video games was needed to help parents understand what sort
of games are appropriate for their children, and Channel 4 needed an updated
remit. Most significantly, something needed to be done to try to reduce online
piracy which was estimated to have cost the UK 39,000 jobs in 2008 alone. 

We believe that the Act sets up a proportionate and measured response to this problem and that
it contains sufficient safeguards through an appeals process and Parliamentary
scrutiny for consumers to be protected. It is important to note that only the
most serious and consistent offenders will face the threat of disconnection and
this will only be done after they have received numerous letters and gone
through an appeals process. So although I understand the strength of feeling on
this proposal I do not want to rule out temporary disconnection. I will listen
to the debates in Parliament and closely follow the drawing up of the codes
that will govern this process to make sure that the interests of legitimate
users are upheld. 

In terms of website blocking I believe that in some circumstances such measures may well be
needed. It cannot be right that websites are set up purely to make money by
facilitating online piracy. Again though, these proposals will be consulted on
and debated in Parliament so I look forward to taking part in that process. 

Although I understand that we may not agree on this issue I am very happy to consider all
aspects of this important debate. As such I would be more than happy to attend
any meeting on this subject should I be elected on 6th May. 
I'm not sure quite where the statistics for the 39,000 UK jobs lost specifically to piracy are from.  I think they are taken from the 'Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries' published by the International Chamber of Commerce.  This report has been criticised for a number of methodological problems around number counting (see Torrentfreak link).  I've even blogged about this report here. I'll quote one critique here just for effect:
It gets even more ridiculous when we take a closer look at the claims. In the UK consumers spent €6.3bn on audiovisual products in 2008. If the projected trends continued, the ‘lost’ revenue because of piracy would exceed the actual revenue, meaning that the music and movie industries would end up having to pay people for pirating their products.
You can find the somewhat vague response from my Liberal Democrat candidate here:

Thank you for contacting me about the Digital Economy Bill.

The Digital Economy Bill has now passed into law.  We have been highly
critical about the so called "wash-up" process which has enabled this Bill
to pass with limited Parliamentary scrutiny before the General Election.
The "wash-up" of the Digital Economy Bill was essentially a carve up between
the Labour and Conservative parties that ignored Liberal Democrat arguments
to consult more widely before introducing a measure to introduce
web-blocking for copyright infringement.  Liberal Democrats voted against
the Bill at 3rd Reading in the House of Commons and against the Labour and
Conservatives web-blocking amendment in both the Lords and the Commons.

Liberal Democrats remain to be convinced about the necessity for technical
measures, which could include disconnection from the internet.  Liberal
Democrats were successful in getting the Government to agree to a period of
at least a year in which no technical measures can be considered and then to
undertake a process of rigorous analysis and consultation into the need for
any such measures. We also believe that the music, film and other content
industries must work more urgently to develop easy and affordable ways for
people to legally access their products. 

The recent Liberal Democrat conference in March voted to establish a party
working group to look into further detail about the issues raised by the

Thanks again for taking the time to contact me.

Like I said, vague, but at least they responded...