I worry about libraries and the future of music.  Our users simply don’t use music in the formats or the ways that we provide it.   We’re blind to what they want then complain when they try to make what we do have fit their paradigm. You’ve seen people come in, grab a pile of CDs, burn them right there in the library sometimes, then return them and check out more.  Libraries are a source of piracy for sure, but the way we provide music to our users in general has proven to be less than useful as the years go on.  Your CD circulation has dropped, right?  And you’ve probably cut funding to the CD collection too, right?  OK, now think about why you did that and what we need to do next.

Music sales have dropped about 50% in the last decade and while CD sales have tanked, album downloads have grown slowly but single song downloads have exploded to 13 times the number of album downloads (Tom Silverman, Tommy Boy Records).  The advent of iTunes, YouTube, and other music consumption services fundamentally changed the way people consume music.  It’s no longer about the album as a self-enclosed object with liner notes. It’s about the song itself, the music video, on demand when and where you want it.

And let’s face it.  Libraries have crap in the way of digital music.  We can’t just buy a song from iTunes and put it up on our website as a converted MP3 (though we should legally be able to, imho).  We have to buy collections from third party vendors.  There are three major collections in existence: Overdrive (classical, folk, tiny bit of rock), Alexander Street Music (folk, classical, world), and the new Freegal music service (popular music but only from Sony).

Overdrive & Alexander Street Music are very similar.  Overdrive users download a music file in a DRM-protected format that will self-encrypt and be unreadable after the designated circulation period (e.g. 3 weeks).  Update: Alexander Street Music offers -streaming- access to classical, jazz, and folk. And sadly, the selection is not what most of our users want.  Most people aren’t looking for classical and folk music.  Libraries with these services get very poor use of them (according to my anecdotal discussions with other eResources managers), and frankly, I personally don’t think they’re worth the money we pay for them.  Check your usage stats and do a cost per use calculation.  You’re likely to find you might be paying $5/song.  Ri-freaking-diculous.

Freegal is very different.  The songs are popular ones with a lot of well-known artists in different genres like rock, R&B, and country.  And in a lovely change of pace, the songs are provided as DRM-free MP3s!  But — and I stress the but — the library can only offer these in a very limited fashion because of cost.  The library pays for the number of downloads per year they want to fund.  Then divide that by 52, and there’s your weekly cap.  If you hit the cap, then no users can download anything else for the rest of the week.  As a result, Freegal suggests that you limit the number of songs any one user can download in one week.  For our library in San Jose, that number is 3.  Yep, you get only 3 songs per week, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to log on before we hit our weekly cap.  Update/Clarification: SJPL no longer has a weekly cap. So if you want to download an actual album, you have to calendar yourself to come back for at least 4 weeks to get one single album.  How many users are going to do that?  For us to pay for enough songs for our users to access a full album per week, we’d need to spend approximately $500,000 per year.  And that’s not happening, nor should it in my opinion.  That’s a ridiculous proposition for a collection budget.  Is this token offering of popular online music to our users enough to interest them and an attempt at a successful model, or does it merely show that libraries are clueless once again about what our users really want with digital formats?  Again, please check out the cost per use of the service and I can just about guarantee you it’s costing you more to offer songs via Freegal to your users than it would to simply buy them the songs they want directly from iTunes, Amazon, or whatever other service they use. But what other choices do we have?  To do nothing. And that stinks too.

It’s nice that the vendors are trying to provide music digitally to libraries.  They could have just said no, and done nothing.  An attempt is much appreciated.  I’m sure dealing with record companies is a nightmare, and I don’t envy them that job. My first concern is what the residents of San Jose want and will use, and I’m just not sure that this is it.

Stephen Abram asked some excellent questions in his post about libraries and music: Libraries, Music, and the Internet.

1. Are we album or song oriented?
2. Do we create or use search tools for albums, artists and songs?
3. Do we catalogue by genre?
4. Are we oriented to physical formats alone?
5. Can we ‘lend’ a streaming format?
6. Do we use the promotion tools on YouTube like music videos?

I would add two questions to that list:

  1. Is it better to offer -something- in the way of digital music, even if it’s poor, or should we hope for better library-friendly digital collections or, better yet, a legal ruling that exempts libraries from DRM restrictions on digital content?
  2. Would any library be willing to take the legally risky (but perfectly rational) chance to burn its physical collection into MP3s and then start providing the files online for free to users with a library card log-in?

If your library has not had a serious discussion about music content and its place in the library’s physical and digital collections, I highly suggest you do so.  The future has already moved on without us and we are struggling as a result.  Be intentional in your decision-making, because what you invest in today will affect your users’ opinions of you tomorrow.

I do also think that this is a general problem related to digital content.  Downloadable movies have the same problem as other commenters have pointed out.  For movies & music, people want to get what they want when and where they want it.  That means digital.  Multi-device-compatible formats.  Platform-neutral access.  And to do it successfully, this probably means a streaming model, a cost per access model, and an “everything under the sun” model for libraries.

I have a few ideas of how we could potentially solve this problem, but it would take a government mandate that would likely piss off publishers, record companies, and movie moguls.  Too bad for them.  I’m ironing out the details of that idea now with some really smart people.

I feel firmly that we in libraries are doing the music thing wrong.  We’re not providing the formats, collections, or songs to our users in the ways that they want to consume them.  I believe streaming is the future — and as Abram asks, where do libraries fit in that model?  Do we pay for a community-wide Rdio license?  I think that’s the answer, or at least the best one I can come up with so far.  If you have your own ideas, suggestions, or additional rants, please post them in the Comments section.  Let the arguing begin!

Review of Rdio

September 6, 2010 | Comments (2)

Music is the single best representation of anyone’s true inner self.  You might think you know someone, but browse through their music collection and you might just change your mind.  The way that we listen to music has changed drastically.  We’re moving away from physical formats to digital formats.  I buy all my music digital-only now, though my 2000+ CDs & records are still in the house.  Aside from rare or sentimental albums, I think my physical music objects will soon be going to Amoeba Records to earn a few bucks.  I have everything in digital format (backed up, of course) and listen online more than anywhere else anyway.

We’re also moving away from the ownership model of music to the subscription model.  Services like Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, and others serve as a way for people to access nearly any digital music album or song they want, any time.  And no need to pay per song — it’s a monthly subscription cost.  You can listen to anything you want, as often as you want, for as long as you want.  I truly believe this is the future of music — no more “I own this piece of plastic which has 12 songs on it.”  Instead, it will be “I subscribe to X Service and get unlimited access to all music.”

A subscription model is easier and better for the end user, and still profitable for the music producers.  I dare say not profitable for the artists, though I hope with a more open subscription service you will see more independent artists earning money directly from fans instead of through useless record company middle men.  The subscription model could also alleviate a lot of the music piracy that has sent record companies into a DRM tizzy and seriously damaged easy access to music files.  If I pay $5 or $10 a month and can get anything I want, why bother downloading illegally or legally?

The problem is, of course, bandwidth.  If all the music is online, you’re live streaming every time you want something.  The U.S. is woefully behind other countries in developing a high speed network.  My hope is that Google’s wired bandwidth project, as well as the development of 3G+ networks, we will see an improvement in service over the next decade.  In the meantime, these services can still work — if the services do something smart.

And Rdio has done just that.  Rdio is the online music streaming service I use.  I love it, though it has some teensy kinks that are still being worked out as it achieved mass adoption rates at their release well beyond what they were set up to handle.  It’s stabilized a lot, and is truly awesome.

There’s a website of course, and a desktop version to use, as well as apps for mobile use.  You subscribe for either $4.99 or $9.99 a month to get unlimited streaming music, as well as the option to sync songs to your mobile device and even download the MP3s (for 99 cents, much like iTunes).  The ability so sync your favorite songs to your device means you don’t have to download them next time — nice!  Saves bandwidth in the future, and makes the service more efficient and sustainable.

The neatest feature for me is that Rdio matches up your iTunes or other collection so you can easily build your “collection” in Rdio to match what you already have–making browsing what you like really easy.  I found that they have access to about 2/3 of the music I have in my iTunes collection, but I do listen to some fairly obscure stuff.  They do not have access to all music by all artists.  Some artists will have nothing available for them (like Dead Can Dance), but others will have everything in their catalog (like Air), while others have some weird smattering of songs or albums (e.g. Underworld).  They currently are partnered with Warner, Sony, Universal, EMI, ioda, The Orchard, INgrooves, and Iris.  More partners are added as time goes on, and I’m pretty confident that missing music companies will be added soon as Rdio’s popularity soars.

Of course there is a social component where you can friend folks and see what they’re listening to.  I discovered a good band today using that feature.  That being said, Rdio could benefit from some music recommendation offerings, much like Pandora or Last.fm offer.  When I don’t know what I want to listen to, Pandora is still my first choice.  But when I want a particular song or artist, then it’s off to Rdio.  I’m loving it in my car, listening to my favorite songs on my commute without worrying if I synced the right album onto my phone or bringing the right CD with me.  If your music tastes are wide-ranging and fickle and you’re on the go with multiple devices, then Rdio might be a good choice for you too.

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how best to follow my activities and writing and recommendations online.  The answer is that it’s up to you!  Choose one of the three options below for your best bet.

  • My Blog: My long posts are always here, on LibrarianInBlack.net.  I also have started selecting the  most interesting things I Tweet and posting them as a daily digest with perhaps 8 links.  Look in the sidebar for ways to subscribe via RSS or email.
  • Twitter: This is another great place to follow me.  I Tweet as @TheLiB throughout the day most days, and if I post a longer article to the blog I will add a link on Twitter.
  • Facebook: I’m on Facebook.  I don’t post directly to Facebook, but everything from Twitter (inc. links to my blog posts) feeds into Facebook.  If I get comments I do try to reply to them and engage here.  In truth, I don’t like Facebook very much. Facebook’s privacy policies and data ownership practices concern me, so I’m not giving them any unique content, no way no how. But I recognize some of my peeps are there, so I’ll try to be there too.

So if you follow my blog, Twitter feed, -or- Facebook profile, then you’re going to get everything.  It’s all a matter of how you prefer to consume information.  If you’re following me in more than one of these places, you might start to get annoyed with me and hate me.  And we wouldn’t want that!

I’m also pretty active on Flickr, Foursquare, Gowalla, Rdio, and Pandora.  And I’m on other services as well, though not so active on those.

Here’s where I’m going to be speaking, in cyberspace or face-to-face (or in “meatspace” as many cyberpunk and science fiction books call it).  Drop by and say hi, and if you’re attending one of these events drop me a line to tell me what you want me to talk about.

  • September 2010 – “Web Searching 2: Advanced Tools and Tips” – four-week online class for Infopeople
  • September 21, 2010 – “2.0 Services without 2.0 Million Dollars: The Best Free Web Services for Broke Libraries” for the Future of Libraries Conference (San Francisco)
  • September 29, 2010 – “Ebook ‘What Ifs’: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning” webinar panel with Matt Hamilton, Josh Hadro, and Bobbi Newman for the eBooks at Libraries: The Tipping Point – Library Journal Virtual Summit
  • October 12, 2010 – “Online Outreach and Marketing” webinar for the Florida Panhandle Library Access Network
  • October 13, 2010: “Mobile Services for Libraries” – Infopeople webinar
  • October 20, 2010 – “Technology for Small Libraries” webinar for the Florida Panhandle Library Access Network
  • October 24, 2010: “UX4Lib: Designing Digital Spaces for Positive User Experiences” with Aaron Schmidt – Internet Librarian Pre-Conference Workshop
  • October 25, 2010: “Digital Managers Sound Off!” with David King, Bobbi Newman, and Matt Hamilton at the Internet Librarian Conference
  • October 26, 2010: Moderating Track A, “Innovation, Risk, & Failure” at the Internet Librarian Conference
  • October 26, 2010: “Fail! Learn! Share!” with other panelists at the Internet Librarian Conference
  • October 26, 2010: “Augmented Reality & Libraries” with Jaap Van de Geer and Erik Boekesteijn at the Internet Librarian Conference
  • October 27, 2010: “Best Free Web Stuff for Broke Libraries” at the Internet Librarian Conference
  • December 9, 2010: “User Experience Design for Web Services” – Infopeople webinar

SJPL app screenshotThe San Jose Public Library‘s mobile app, designed by Boopsie, is now live and works on all platforms: Apple/iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm, Windows Mobile, etc.  You can see a live demo of what the app looks like at http://sjpl.boopsie.com.  Go to the same site on your mobile device to be redirected to the appropriate download for your device.  If you’re an Apple or Android user you can also look in the App Store or Marketplace for “SJPL” or “San Jose Library” to find the app.  All I gotta say is: it’s freaking awesome. I’ve been using it to search for and reserve books for weeks, and browse new titles when I’m in long lines.  It’s super easy and super fast.

The features of our app include:

  • a smart catalog search feature that predicts as you type, with summaries and what libraries have copies on the shelf
  • reserve and renew items / check your account
  • RSS feeds with cover images for our newest books, movies, music, and eBooks in different genres, subject areas, and languages
  • location listings with one-click maps to the 19 SJPL locations
  • mobile access to tens of thousands of the library’s online magazines and newspapers through EBSCO Mobile
  • one-click access to calling, texting, or emailing the library staff
  • upcoming events and classes at all of our libraries
  • quick access to the Library’s Facebook and Twitter profiles

The app’s been out for everything but Apple for weeks now, so we resisted publicizing it.  After much kerfuffle with the Apple app store folks (*fist shaking*), including rejection of our app the first time we submitted it, Boopsie finally helped us get it all up and running.  There is still a tweaky bit with the Facebook link in the Apple version (*double fist shaking*) but all in all, most things are happy-go-snappy now.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

The experience with Boopsie has been good, and working with them was way easier and more cost-effective than trying to build our own cross-platform app.  I would recommend cross-platform development to all libraries–don’t just do an iPhone app.  You’re leaving so many users of Blackberry, Android, and other devices in the dust and saying they don’t matter as much to you.  It’s kind of like the uncool fact that our library eAudioBooks don’t work on Macs. You don’t want to (and should never) alienate people based on their device choices, nor should you or the vendors you use show bias toward or against a particular platform.

If libraries are struggling with the “what do we do with mobile” question, I’d first recommend developing a simple, scaled-down mobile-friendly version of your website.  Second, and if you have the money, I’d recommend working with Boopsie to develop an app for the library.  Mobile web access and mobile app access reach similar, but sometimes different, audiences.  So it’s best to have both, but the website’s more important.  Why?  Because the app requires that not only the user find out there is an app, but make a conscious effort to download it, then an effort to remember it’s there and to use it when they need library stuff.  Not everyone would do that.  But most mobile users would look to see if they can renew books or find directions on the library’s website, and if you have a mobile-happy website, so much the better for you and your customers.

  • Libraries webbies–Check out a new freemium Search Engine Optimization tool from Ginzametrics. http://tcrn.ch/9w8Nvw
  • “I believe that Net Neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time.” – Al Franken – http://bit.ly/bi68pl
  • From @dweinberger I’m starting a new job as co-dir of Harvard Law’s Library Lab. A very cool place w/ astounding folks. http://bit.ly/bpsYLx Weinberger is the author of Everything is Miscellaneous, in which yours truly gets quoted!

Want to learn more about web search?  I’m teaching a 4-week online class through Infopeople.  There is a cost: $75 for CA folks/$150 for everyone else.  The class starts 9/14.  Find out more at http://infopeople.org/workshop/457

  • Brilliant! RT @sxseventy Today I have invented the sarcasterisk*. It’s for typed sarcasm. Example: Sure, that sounds like a fantastic* idea. My first sarcasterisk* sarcasm: “Oh yes, library eBooks have very flexible* use policies & are easy* to download.” Ta-da!
  • If we believe this we must press library eBook licensing NOW. Via @ALA_TechSource: How Libraries Ensure Ongoing Freedom http://bit.ly/cYrTuX
  • Niiiiiice! Bash that info overload! “Email Sucks. 5 Time Saving Tips” direct (via @kevinrose): http://bit.ly/a0p1aP
  • More free eBooks! From @mashable: 10 Essential Free E-Books for Web Designers – http://mash.to/2rlVw
  • Worth a read. The M Word – Free Ebook on Social Media Marketing (via @DigiLibraryBlog @ALALibrary @scstatelibrary): http://ow.ly/2qMHx
  • A good recommendation from @s_francoeur If you miss the EtherPad service that allowed massive real-time document collaboration, try Sync.in.
    From @PierreTran: 50 Open Source Replacements for Really Expensive Software | Datamation http://bit.ly/cJb8g3 #opensource http://bit.ly/b4tiuG
  • Libraries could totally use this on self checks & kiosks! Miracle Film Turns Any Surface into a Touchscreen (@mashable) http://mash.to/2r39d
  • from @loriayre: New RFID stndrd uses ISIL codes 4 lib locations. US would have 2 use OCLC. Can nonmembers get codes? http://icio.us/5xykgb
  • GetGlue builds social data about media. Way cool. Via @mashable Check in to TV Shows, Movies & More with GetGlue – http://mash.to/2qUMq
  • For my fellow minimalists: From @BoingBoing The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions http://bit.ly/ciUmUT
  • Recently Released/Updated Social Media Infographics W/Plenty of Facts & Stats (FB, etc), http://tinyurl.com/2ejcl8e (via @resourceshelf)
  • From @jdysart: Reminder: proposal deadline to speak @ Computers In Libraries 2011 is Sept 15 & will NOT be extended, http://tinyurl.com/396ns2re
  • How Steampunk can Save Librarianship: Libraries Redefined (Part 2), from @pcsweeney – http://bit.ly/9WIPAE