Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.


Radio Silence

Thousands of U.S. Internet music radio stations are observing a day of silence today to protest a pending music royalty increase they say could shut them down.

Most music radio on the Internet in the U.S. was already shut down by the current royalty structure, which requires the smallest and largest music radio stations on the Internet to pay several times their typical revenue for the right to play the music they play. The resulting royalty fund is supposed to compensate the songwriters and recording artists whose records are played, though in practice most of the money has been going to the major record labels.

But new royalty rates approved by the Copyright Royalty Board make radio stations pay for every listener for every minute they are tuned in, at rates higher than the royalties paid in some cases when fans purchase music CDs from retailers. Listeners do not pay to listen to Internet radio stations, and no one has suggested a way that even well-funded corporate music radio stations on the Internet can come up with that kind of money. According to one study, for the six largest webcasters, music royalties would be 58 percent of their revenue under the new scheme, leaving them with very little money to pay for their operations. Smaller webcasters would be able to operate only if they were heavily subsidized, as their music royalties would exceed their revenue by a wide margin.

The main thing that has saved U.S. Internet music radio so far is a royalty exemption for ordinary terrestrial radio stations that simply channeled their regular broadcasts over the Internet. That exemption also is being removed along with the rate increases scheduled to go into effect July 15.

Yahoo and MTV Networks are among the large corporate participants in today’s radio silence, emphasizing the point that even the largest advertising companies cannot pay that much for a radio listener.

The SaveNetRadio Coalition is hoping for legislative action to keep music on Internet radio stations, but with only two weeks before “the Day the Music Dies” and Congress eager to head out on an extended vacation, the prospect of a last-minute reprieve from Washington seems slight.

In spite of the financial squeeze from Washington, it seems that U.S. music fans will still be able to find Internet music radio after July 15, with a combination of foreign-based stations, stations that offer even more commercial messages than you hear on broadcast stations, and stations playing music you never heard of.

The SaveNetRadio Coalition:


Chaos at eBay

Online auction giant eBay is going through a bigger change than anyone had realized. This is something that Rick Aster had hinted at in this month’s column on shipping charges, but readers have told us that eBay’s current troubles go far beyond the high cost of shipping.

EBay has canceled the seller accounts of many, perhaps most, of its active sellers. In interviews published this week, eBay executives admitted that they have removed “tens of thousands” of sellers, and the actual number may be over 100,000. This move is supposedly a crackdown on counterfeit merchandise, but it looks to sellers more like an attempt to remove almost all small and amateur sellers from eBay.

EBay’s seller “restrictions” are triggered automatically by transactions on its site, and it does not send e-mail messages to notify sellers about the loss of their seller accounts, so sellers say they find out when they attempt to list a new item and receive an error message instead. EBay does suggest an “appeal” process by which a seller could theoretically be reinstated, but they require commercial documents that no amateur seller or liquidator, and not all regular retail stores, would be able to provide.

This leads some to speculate that eBay is attempting to create a marketplace that has only a few thousand well-known sellers, in which the ordinary person will buy, but be prohibited from selling anything. The risk in eBay’s current efforts is that people who have come to think of eBay as a place where they can buy and sell may stop buying if they are suddenly, without explanation, prohibited from selling on the site.

According to eBay, the current campaign is supposed to reassure buyers that eBay is a safe place to buy merchandise. They explain that they are trying to remove questionable sellers in categories such as clothing and fragrances. Unfortunately, the automated procedures appear to be clearing out most sellers, not just in these categories, but in all other categories that the sellers had sold in.

It is hard to pick out the changes when you visit the eBay web site. The biggest change you see is the preponderance of fixed-price listings in search results, with fewer auctions. You may also notice the higher proportion of listings that end with no buyers. But to old-time eBay shoppers and to eBay itself, the changes are obvious and drastic.

The eBay buyers who wrote to us say most of the things they go to eBay to buy were no longer listed and many sellers have disappeared, and they didn’t know why.

We verified that several well-known, reputable eBay sellers are no longer eBay members, but we were unable to find out the reasons. At a glance, it seems the number of items listed on eBay is higher than ever, and prices seem only modestly higher than before, but we were unable to compare our results to historical results to see if this is really true.

But there is an air of desperation in eBay’s actions as traffic on the site is falling for the first time in the company’s history. EBay’s corporate “web site” revenue rose 1 percent in the latest quarter compared to a year ago. Adjusting for the substantial fee increases introduced at the beginning of the quarter, eBay traffic must have fallen by at least 10 percent, surely quite a shock to a company used to growth rates of 25 percent a year.

At the same time, eBay got itself in a huge argument with Google. EBay has banned its sellers from using Google Checkout, and it forced Google to cancel a planned promotional event for Google Checkout — moves that some say might be violations of U.S. antitrust laws. Soon, though, eBay will have to address the new competition from Google Checkout, which plans to charge lower fees for transactions than either eBay or its PayPal subsidiary.

All this is happening in the middle of eBay’s difficult transition from online auctions to fixed-price merchandise listings, and is compounded by the changes in the online marketplace resulting from last month’s U.S. postal rate increase.

Perhaps the novelty of the online auction process has worn off, and eBay may have little choice but to try some risky experiments in order to find a way forward.


Susan Powter Show

Fitness guru Susan Powter has done something others have just talked about — she’s turned her web site into a television show.

The premise of the show is that she needs to look especially good a few weeks from now and she wants to give people advice as she goes along in her training.

This first episode is now available on her web site (with registration required) and provides some surprising thoughts about motivation.

Susan Powter Show:



Apple promised a new higher sound quality for music in iTunes Store, and that day has arrived. Customers will have to download the new iTunes 7.2, then change their preferences within the store, to access albums and videos in the new “iTunes Plus” format. The new file formats have twice the bit rate of iTunes’ standard formats and are delivered without digital rights management (DRM), making it easier to play them on any available music player.

The iTunes Plus format is off to a fast start thanks in part to the Paul McCartney/Wings back catalog. Virtually the entire catalog, with the notable exception of the Wings Over America live album, is now available for download. The store is taking advance orders for Paul McCartney's newest album, Memory Almost Full, which ships next week. sees its online store as the natural place for music fans to buy music downloads, and it plans to have its new MP3 store online later this year.

If you went to They Might Be Giants’ web site to find out about their new album The Else and hear the much-vaunted return to the two-fisted power pop beats that made the band famous many years ago, you would see the chance to buy the album right there and download it in CD-quality sound thanks to a lossless coded called FLAC. So what is FLAC? According to the band, it is an open-source project that provides a sort of compression for CD audio without changing any of the sound data.

The Hooters’ new album Time Stand Still is officially finished and ready for a June release. It is the band’s first studio album since Out of Body, fourteen years ago. Eric Bazilian, in his web diary, comments on three songs that fans might already have heard: “‘Until You Dare,’ from ‘The Optimist,’ which we’ve twisted into a shape that I think does both the song and the band justice. ‘I’m Alive,’ which we opened our three shows last June with and which serves now as a statement of both fact and purpose for us in moving forward. There is a song called ‘Time Stand Still’ which bears some resemblance to the song of the same title which we were performing on tour in the most recent years though, like all of them, has been held up to the light of truth and honesty in songwriting, and, as such, is barely recognizable in comparison to the previous little ditty about Lads and Ladies and a Be Bop Baby. We know it’s better and think that all will agree.” The Hooters are preparing for a summer tour of Germany.

Will double-layer DVD recording catch on now that blanks cost under $2? Perhaps not so quickly, as single-layer blank DVDs still cost less per gigabyte of storage and have far fewer compatibility issues.

The radical new user interface that had critics chuckling when they looked at the new version of Microsoft Office can perhaps now be explained. Microsoft has unveiled a coffee-table computer with a multitouch user interface (similar to that of Apple’s forthcoming iPhone) on which the relatively context-free approach of the new Microsoft Office applications would make a lot of sense. Unfortunately for those who would like to get started on some heads-down collaborative computing, the Milan may not be available for a year or two and may initially cost about $10,000. Eventually, though, the table-top computer could be the platform of choice for virtual board games and interactive maps.

The new Michael Moore movie, Sicko, covers the failed health care system of the United States by following the stories of patients struggling to get medical care for serious illnesses such as heart attacks and cancer that their insurance companies refused to cover. The movie attempts to make the case that health care is too important to entrust to profit-driven business corporations, but even those who disagree with that analysis are sure to be moved by the tremendous will and courage that the people in the movie show as they struggle to survive the bureaucratic disasters that surround their medical conditions. Moore commented that making the movie led him to take his own health more seriously, and that may also be a common reaction of people who see the movie and reflect that if they get sick, the system might not take care of them. Sicko will be in theaters in early July.

Paul McCartney:; Memory Almost Full:; They Might Be Giants:; FLAC:; The Hooters:; Eric Bazilian:; Michael Moore:


The Science of Getting Rich Online

Breakfast Books has made available the original 1910 pages of the book that inspired the current bestseller The Secret.

Images of the pages of The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles can be seen at the Breakfast web site.

“We wanted to get the original pages out there because all the current editions you can get have typos and changes that dilute the original meaning,” explained Rick Aster, who spearheaded the project.

The Science of Getting Rich is a seminal work that indirectly inspired much of the success literature of the 20th century. When television producer Rhonda Byrne got a copy of the book in December 2004 it led her to start work on the television documentary that turned into The Secret.

It was one of the last books written by author Wallace D. Wattles, who died in 1911. The book is one of the first works to fall into the public domain under the current U.S. copyright law. Congress had repeatedly extended the term of copyright in the 20th century, so for most of the century, very few works fell into the public domain, but now large numbers of works are seeing their copyrights expire and are becoming available to the public domain.

The Science of Getting Rich:


Daryl Hall & John Oates Video Contest

U-Watch Records is asking fans to make a video of a Daryl Hall and John Oates song. In July, Hall and Oates will select 25 finalists and fans will select a winner in two rounds of voting at


Circa: Is New Band of Yes Players

The new band Circa: is made up of musicians who played with Yes in the first half of the 1990s.

The band is spearheaded by singer Billy Sherwood and keyboardist Tony Kaye, who last played together on the Yes Talk tour. Drummer Alan White gives the music a distinctly Yes-like sound, and the band is rounded out by Jimmy Haun, who played the louder guitar tracks on Yes’s Union album.

While all four musicians appeared on that album and have worked together in various combinations over the past two decades, this is the first time they have all played together.

Two songs from Circa: are available for download at iTunes, and an album that was mostly completed in January is expected to be released this summer.


New McCartney Album Almost Out

You might have heard a new Paul McCartney song “Ever Present Past.” It’s part of a new album coming June 5.

The 13 songs on the album Memory Almost Full were recorded in 2003–2004, before Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, then extensively retracked in 2006.

The album will be released on Starbucks’ Hear Music label and is being billed as their first major release of an original album.

Like his previous album, McCartney says the new album is mainly about the songs:

“I know people are going to look as some of the songs and interpret them in different ways but this has always been the case. The thing is that I love writing songs, so I just write and write. I never really get to a point where I start thinking I’m going to write about specific subjects. Inevitably though, what I am thinking is going to find its way into what I’m doing.”



Apple has put so much attention into its imminent entry into the cellular telephone market that its promised computer product updates will have to wait until around September. This includes an operating system update, a new version of the iLife applications (which will be known as iLife ’08), and some new hardware, rumored to include a souped-up remote control.

U.S postal rates go up May 14.

Important new software versions: Thunderbird 2.0, Mozilla’s e-mail client, now more easily customized and with simplified integration with Gmail and .Mac; 2.2, which on Mac now has better integration with the Mac environment.

One Laptop Per Child now has children in several countries testing its XO computers. A large-scale rollout is expected to start later this year at a cost of under $200 per computer. The initiative’s ambitious goal is to revolutionize education in the poorer areas of the world by providing every child with a computer. The cost of the XO is kept down by its smaller screen area, minimalist hardware, and free open-source software.

The Hooters have completed basic tracks for their new album and expect to release it around June. A 23-date tour of Germany is set for July.

Life, a magazine devoted to color photography that was once one of the most popular magazines in the United States with 8 million readers and more recently reduced to a thin weekly newspaper supplement, ceased publication a week ago. It will live on in a photo archive web site to launch this fall.


Investors Buy Harman

Harman International will be acquired by an investment group at a price of $8 billion, under the terms of a deal announced today. Harman’s professional and consumer audio equipment brands include Crown amplifiers, AKG microphones, dbx signal processing, JBL, Lexicon, Digitech, Harman-Kardon, and about a dozen others. The deal is expected to be completed in 2008.

This is the latest deal — and the biggest so far — in a season that has seen an unprecedented pace of business dealings in the pro audio industry, with a new merger, strategic partnership, or acquisition being announced at least every week so far this year.


Apple Moves iPod, iTunes Store

Apple has sold 100 million iPods since the introduction of the music player in 2001. Though criticized early on for its high price and sometimes strangely short battery life, the iPod quickly came to define the digital music player, putting the emphasis on high-quality sound, style, and enough capacity to store a music collection.

Apple demonstrated an iPod-compatible mobile phone in January and is moving closer to being ready to release it, perhaps in June. The issues surrounding the iPhone trademark have been resolved, and Apple now has detailed product information on its web site. The device, however, is still waiting for the FCC approval that is needed for it to be sold in the United States.

The iTunes store, through which Apple sells about 3 percent of the content that appears on iPods, has also passed a landmark, recently selling its 2.5 billionth song. Apple has announced a series of upgrades to the iTunes Store, starting with the “Complete My Album” feature that lets customers buy the rest of an album that a purchased single came from.

In May, the iTunes Store will begin selling music with higher sound quality and without digital rights management (DRM). Apple’s DRM has been criticized, especially in Europe where the governments of France and Norway have suggested banning it, for making it difficult to play iTunes Store purchases on hardware from other manufacturers.

At the same time, Apple will be adding track credits and improved digital booklets for some songs and albums. These improvements will come close to eliminating the quality gap between music CDs and music purchased from the iTunes Store.

Similar quality improvements are taking place in the iTunes Store’s movie offerings, which in some cases now match the image quality of the same content sold on DVD. Apple recently began shipping the Apple TV, a small device that is supposed to make it easy to show iTunes movies and music on a television, and the image quality of movies is likely to be scrutinized more closely on a large-screen television than it is on the small screen of an iPod.

The iTunes Store continues to add new content. The latest additions include Major League Baseball (MLB) game highlights and today, several Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) feature films, including Rocky.



Asia sold out their recent Japan tour. The March 8 show in Tokyo was recorded for a DVD video release, probably coming out at the end of the year. By all accounts, the show and the 12-camera video shoot went perfectly. Said keyboard player Geoff Downes, “The show really rocked, and we were lucky to get this particular one captured on DVD.”

Will the expected increase in gasoline prices this summer lead to lower concert attendance, as it did last year? The concert biz is watching to see what might happen. The modest post-election increases in gasoline prices across the United States have so far not had a noticeable impact on concerts, but prices are expected to go much higher during the summer concert season.


Move drummer Bev Bevan is playing Move songs with a new band called Bev Bevan’s Move. In addition to Bevan, the band features original Electric Light Orchestra Part II members Phil Bates and Neil Lockwood.

Never say never: A Squeeze reunion tour is being planned for December. The reunited band will at least include the key songwriters Difford and Tilbrook.

A U.S. government commission is looking into the high cost of college textbooks. Its primary recommendation so far: college professors should look for ways to use fewer textbooks. No one seems to have an explanation for the high price of textbooks, which often cost more than $100.

Google is changing its database structures to give web searchers better privacy. The company has promised to wrap a “cloak of anonymity” around users’ web searches.

Paul McCartney has signed a deal with Starbucks for the distribution of his next album, which may be out as soon as June.

The United States Postal Service has approved a rate increase to go into effect in May. The rate increase is roughly in line with inflation.

Death: Brad Delp, lead singer of Boston, died at home on March 9. The band has canceled all scheduled performances.

Asia:; Bev Bevan’s Move:; Paul McCartney:; Boston:


M By Madonna at H&M

Madonna’s new fashion collection, sold under the M By Madonna label, is in stores today. The collection can be found at H&M stores and includes clothing, sunglasses, and other accessories.

A 90-second television commercial promoting the new fashion label features Madonna as a high-pressure executive shredding documents that don’t have “it.”


Computers Slump at Retail

The sluggish retail sales of computer products last year was blamed on customers waiting for Microsoft’s long-delayed Windows Vista release, but it turns out not many people wanted new computer systems with Windows Vista.

The rush of customers buying new computers never materialized, and now, sales are slumping as customers postpone purchases, not wanting to deal with the growing pains of a new, unproven operating system release.

Many went into stores prepared to buy a computer system with Windows XP, but found most such systems no longer available. It is possible to buy a system with Windows Vista and a separate copy of Windows XP to install, but that is a difficult and expensive process that few consumers would want to undertake. A more popular option is to look for a used system, even if it is a few years old.

Some who took the plunge and took home a new Windows Vista system are regretting it. While there are reports of people are using the new operating system with no problems, we could not find anyone who was having that experience. Rather, people are having trouble doing things that they have come to think of as essential functionality of a computer. Problems have especially been reported with photographs, with users reporting that their cameras and scanners do not work and that it is impossible to separate photographs from e-mail messages they receive or add them to messages they want to send.

Some have reported choppy video playback. The problems are resolved, they say, by replacing Windows Vista with the older Windows XP.

Meanwhile, businesses are not expected to start using Windows Vista in large numbers for at least two years as they wait for the inevitable security issues to be worked out. Security-conscious businesses and government agencies have actually banned Windows Vista from their operations, although these bans are expected to be lifted in a year or so.

This leaves computer stores and manufacturers with lots of units on the shelves as customers take a wait-and-see approach to computers for the time being.


Genesis to Tour the World

When Genesis announced a small tour of northern Europe, many fans of the progressive rock band wondered if there might be more in store. It turns out there is, as the band has announced a four-month world tour.

Genesis will tour Europe in June and July. A tour of North America will follow in September and October.

The lineup is the same five musicians who formed the Genesis live band during the band’s commercial period in the 1980s.



CompUSA Closes Most Stores

Last year seemed to be the year for record stores to close. This year, it may be consumer electronics stores’ turn.

Days after announcing the closing of four stores in California, CompUSA has announced that it is closing many more locations, 126 in all. It will keep 103 stores open. The list of stores remaining open can be seen at the CompUSA web site.

Also recently, Circuit City announced the closing of 62 of its stores in Canada and 8 in the United States.

One electronics chain that is doing just fine for now is Best Buy, which reported revenue up 15 percent from the year before.

With the growth of LCD video displays, it has been hard for stores to stay competitive selling televisions. CompUSA never quite managed to persuade consumers that it was a good place to buy a television, and that was a key factor leading to the store closings.



Notes With a Climate Theme

Singer Sheryl Crow is going on a 12-city bus tour of southeastern U.S. colleges to ask for solutions to the global warming crisis. The tour also features environmental activist Laurie David and film clips, including an excerpt of the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth. The “Stop Global Warming College Tour” runs April 9–22 and travels on a biodiesel bus from Texas to Washington, DC.

In July, Sheryl Crow will get another chance to address the climate issue. She is one of the confirmed performers at Live Earth, a concert series scheduled for July 7 in all seven continents. The list of performers also includes Kelly Clarkson, Melissa Etheridge, Bon Jovi, Duran Duran, and Snow Patrol.

Live Earth organizer Al Gore won an Oscar for his film An Inconvenient Truth, leading some to speculate that he might run for president again.

Both the Sheryl Crow bus tour and the Live Earth concerts have been the subject of vicious attacks from environmental activists, in what seems to have become a knee-jerk reaction to any activism that involves any form of transportation. Not impressed that Sheryl Crow’s tour is showing off a biodiesel bus, one environmental blogger responded by coining the word “hypocritron” for any powered vehicle used for environmental activism purposes, as if any use of energy in the global warming campaign, such as an event that requires transportation to get to, should be considered hypocritical. This kind of extreme antisocial view threatens to separate a significant faction of environmentalists from the mainstream environmentalists who want to be involved in the public conversation.

Australia and California are considering legislation to ban incandescent light bulbs. Backers of the bills are calling on consumers to switch to fluorescent lights, in spite of the nasty effects of the electromagnetic buzz that AC-powered fluorescent devices put out and other problems associated with current fluorescent lighting technology. The move might reflect a last-ditch lobbying effort by the fluorescent-light industry to sell their products before solid-state technology renders them obsolete.

Sheryl Crow:; Stop Global Warming:; Live Earth:; Al Gore:


February is Album Writing Month at

For a musician, making an album usually starts with writing the songs. And that can take ages. Or it can be done in just one month. Especially if the month is February.

FAWM poster

That’s the idea behind the February Album Writing Month web site. Songwriters who join the web site take on the challenge of writing an average of one song every two days for the month of February. If they succeed, they end up with 14 new songs — enough songs for an album.

The site got its start in 2004 with just four participants. As of today, 842 songwriters are signed up for this year’s challenge. Some are recording rough versions of their songs and uploading them to the web site, 1502 songs so far, and they make entertaining listening even if you’re not a songwriter. Compilation (or “fawmpilation”) CDs of some of the best work from years past are available for purchase, and this is the main way the group finances its operation.

February Album Writing Month:


Al Gore Announces “Live Earth” Concerts

At a press conference in Los Angeles yesterday, environmental activist Al Gore announced a series of concerts to be held on seven continents on July 7, 2007, to promote climate action.

Dubbed “Live Earth,” the concert series will run for 24 hours and is being planned by many of the same people who organized the Live 8 concert. Like the Live 8 concert, the Live Earth concerts will feature live music and short films.

The online presence for Live Earth is being provided by MSN. Announcements of cities, stadiums, music acts, and other details will follow in the coming weeks.

Live Earth:; Al Gore:


Settlement Over Apple Name

Apple Inc. (known as Apple Computer until last month) has acquired all rights to the Apple name in an agreement with the Beatles’ Apple Corps announced today.

Apple Corps will continue to use its name and apple logos under a license from Apple Inc. The conflicting names were the subject of a long-running legal dispute. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The new agreement apparently frees Apple Inc. to sell music on tangible media such as CDs, if it chose to. Apple Inc. had agreed not to sell records in tangible form under the terms of a previous agreement with Apple Corps.



It may be the biggest news in the history of the Grammy Awards: The Police will provide the opening performance at the Grammys February 11. The legendary rock trio have scarcely seen each other for the past two decades but are rumored to be returning to action this year. The band is said to be rehearsing in a studio in Vancouver.

The musical entertainment at this year’s Super Bowl features a concert by Prince.

It almost seems as if Google just meant to make Microsoft nervous. Simultaneous with Microsoft’s latest product launch (see below), Google announced that it was making its office suite available for sale to businesses. Google Docs & Spreadsheets is already free online to registered users. Although not as easy to use as Microsoft Office — it seems to be based on Google’s e-mail editing program — it has more advanced capabilities in e-mail and web integration, file import and export, and collaboration, and this could lead users to switch from Microsoft Office. But if Google is making Microsoft executives lose sleep, here’s why: while Microsoft Office is one of two key product areas Microsoft depends on for most of its revenue, Google lists its office suite as just one of hundreds of business areas.

Microsoft is known for splashy product launches, so when its much-hyped “biggest product launch ever” appeared in stores January 30, the relative silence was deafening. The handful of in-store events drew only token crowds of bargain-seekers, while most consumers seemed to be unaware that Microsoft’s new operating system Microsoft Windows Vista was available. Later that day, early adopters were already griping about the installation process, which forces most users to perform a clean install of an earlier version of Microsoft Windows before they can install the new OS successfully.

Apple Computer’s introduction of a cellular phone (which may ship around June) had the telecommunications industry buzzing last month. Apple’s new phone easily synchronizes to a computer. For example, with the Apple phone, users can receive e-mail messages on their computer, then read them on the telephone. The cellular phone industry has resisted this kind of link for years because it allows users to bypass airtime charges. The same day, Apple quietly changed its name from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc. Already, less than half of Apple’s revenue comes from sales of computer hardware and software, and the proportion of computer revenue could fall further if Apple reaches its goal of 1–2 percent share of the cell phone market.

Kiss may not be playing many rock concerts these days, but they are hoping to keep their legend alive with a new comic book deal. The new series featuring Kiss characters along with new characters designed by the band members launches with a $50 newspaper-sized edition in April.

More music sales statistics for 2006 are out, and they show that overall music CD sales declined only modestly even as music-store and major-label CD sales plummeted.

Huffington Post has discontinued its Contagious Festival contest. The final prizes will go to the People’s Choice and Jury Award winners for January. In its early months, the Contagious Festival dramatically boosted Huffington Post’s online profile with several wildly popular entries, especially an interactive cartoon that showed a hapless Dick Cheney trying to go hunting. In recent months, though, the contest has fallen on hard times as entries have become increasingly sensational to try to compete with each other. The hint of sleaze and lack of substance in many entries has driven readers away, and traffic on the contest web site has fallen by more than 90 percent. At the same time, Huffington Post’s news readership has continued to rise, so that it now rivals that of the larger daily newspapers.

Death: Art Buchwald, newspaper columnist.


The End of the Magnetic Tape Era

For half a century, everyone from recording studios to television viewers depended on magnetic tape to record audio and video. In the current decade, though, the use of tape has declined rapidly as the audio and video worlds have gone to disk-based systems. Now the largest U.S. manufacturer of magnetic tape, Quantegy, is getting out of the tape business.

Quantegy began shutting down its production lines last week and will stop taking orders for tape at the end of February. Quantegy plans to focus on manufacturing magnetic disks.

A new magnetic tape factory based in York, Pennsylvania, ATR Magnetics, is stepping into the gap to provide tape in audio mastering formats. This will ensure that recording studios can keep operating their tape recorders. ATR plans to use a factory-direct distribution model, as there are not enough audio mastering tape users to place the products in local retail stores.

In spite of Quantegy’s shutdown, video users don’t have to worry about the rapid disappearance of video tape. Video cassette formats will be around for years to come as well to supply all the VCRs and camcorders that are still out there. VHS and mini-DV cassettes are still available from brands such as Fuji, Panasonic, and JVC.


U.S. Record Sales Move to Digital Singles

RIAA statistics for U.S. record sales in the first half the 2006 show a rapid movement from CD albums to online single sales following the Sony CD spyware revelations at the end of 2005.

Sales of CD albums fell 14 percent compared to the previous year. Other physical audio formats, such as vinyl, DVD, and CD single, already a small part of music sales, declined rapidly and may shortly be reduced to a footnote.

Meanwhile, digital and mobile-phone sales nearly doubled. Revenue for music sales to mobile phones nearly equaled that of online sales because of the much higher per-song prices of music on mobile phones. Mobile-phone music is thought to be a novelty with little hope of repeat business as its high prices cause consumer fatigue, but the surge in online sales is good news for the record labels. Online sales give record labels a higher share of revenue. At the same time, they involve lower expenses and none of the financial risks that come with manufacturing and distributing CDs. With digital revenue now at 9 percent of the total sales, it may already be providing half of the operating profit at some labels.

In a separate announcement, Apple Computer says its iTunes Store has now sold 2 billion downloads. Some of those are television shows and feature films, but the bulk of iTunes Store sales are music singles, albums, and videos. Apple sold around a billion units of music downloads in 2006.

Various scandals involving the secret software planted on CDs by major record labels, capped by the Sony spyware debacle, spurred many consumers to stop buying music CDs. The decline in the price of digital music players, which in 2006 fell to match prices of CD players, also contributed to the transition. Some consumers switched to buying music online, but many who previously tended to buy albums switched to buying individual songs. Other consumers seem to have stopped buying music entirely.

In the music video category, it is worth noting that music video downloads, a new category last year, were already outselling music video in the VHS video tape format. DVD music video fell 20 percent but still had double the unit sales of music video downloads.

The RIAA statistics include only the major record labels and their sales in the United States. The same sales trends also seem to be affecting independent record labels, though perhaps not to the same degree.


Wall Street Journal Slims Down

Starting with today’s edition, the Wall Street Journal is trimming down its design to an easier-to-handle 12-inch page width. The iconic front page layout becomes, if such a thing is possible, slightly more distinctive with the elimination of the “odd news” story in the left column and the slightest squeezing of the “What’s New” box.

The Wall Street Journal says the change will reduce the editorial space of the paper by 10 percent, but promises to squeeze more useful information into the new smaller space.



Death: James Brown, known as the Godfather of Soul for his many musical innovations.

After leveling off for two years, unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, surged again in the last two months. The volume of spam in the United Kingdom was said to double in November with a further increase in December, and there were substantial increases in e-mail volume worldwide, apparently the result of new technology. Spammers have long worked by breaking into computers; their new strategy to avoid detection is to use a compromised computer for only a few seconds at a time, just long enough to send a few hundred e-mail messages. Legitimate e-mail now accounts for only about 1 out of every 200 e-mail messages.

Podcasting is so hip now even the Queen of England is doing it.

In his value-packed final show of the year, Stephen Colbert revealed who wrote the theme music for his show The Colbert Report. It was none other than Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, who was on the show promoting his band's new album and tour.

When Microsoft Windows Vista finally ships later this month, it will be astonishingly light on features, according to Microsoft’s product pages. Among the handful of new features they tout, none seem to be taken from Microsoft’s two much-hyped, ill-fated initiatives of the decade, and Longhorn. Industry observers say Microsoft seems exhausted at even this small development project and say Vista could be the last major revision of Microsoft Windows.

As for the competition, both Apple and Red Hat are rumored to have actually substantial new operating system versions coming out in the next two months.

Bob Seger taped his last two shows in Detroit for a likely concert video release. The shows were at the Cobo Arena, the site of the 1975 concert that turned into the Live Bullet album.


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