Slow Tickets: Swift ‘Reputation’ for Empty Seats

The Wall Street Journal: “The biggest pop star’s current concert tour isn’t a sellout. And that’s a good thing, according to some in the concert industry. Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ tour, which kicked off last week in Glendale, Ariz., is a test case in squeezing out scalpers and capturing more profits from ticket sales. The strategy … is to use aggressive pricing to limit the ability of scalpers to purchase tickets and later sell them at higher prices. In addition, a program from Ticketmaster is aimed at giving passionate fans earlier access to tickets at discounted prices.”

“One downside to the plan: empty seats at some of the roughly 36 stadiums on Ms. Swift’s 53-date tour. However, even if those seats remain unsold, the ‘Reputation’ tour already has grossed more on its North American leg than Ms. Swift’s previous tour in 2015 … For decades, artists and their teams have claimed ‘sold out’ shows as a badge of honor showing the high demand for their music. The new approach is raising questions in the music industry about whether an end is nearing for the days of instant sellouts.”

“The best seats—some with added VIP perks—cost $800 to $1,500 at face value for a given show, with those immediately behind them at $250 each. Spots in the back of the house go for about $50.”

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Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Music Deluge: Is More Less?

The Wall Street Journal: “It has never been easier to listen to vast quantities of music, discover new artists and create, distribute and promote your own tunes. But there’s a downside: It is harder for artists to break through the cacophony of today’s global pop-music machine. And some fans, already struggling to keep up with television, social media and other entertainment, are feeling overwhelmed.”

“The amount of music released globally in 2017 is roughly seven times the amount released in 1960, according to data from Discogs.com, a user-generated database of physical recordings. Nearly 150,000 new albums saw at least one physical or digital sale in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen. While older Nielsen figures aren’t comparable due to data issues, they show the number of new albums rising from 36,000 in 2000 to about 77,000 in 2011.”

“Not long ago, record labels operated on a less-is-more strategy, seeking to avoid cannibalizing an artist’s album sales by putting out yet another one too soon. In the CD era, the costs of producing and distributing each album made it important to make higher-grossing albums to ensure profits. With streaming, those costs aren’t as high, and labels have a greater incentive to own, release and re-release more music … Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at MIDiA Research, says distributors are making money based on quantity, not quality.”

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Mastodon: The Anti-Facebook?

The Washington Post: “Mastodon, a Twitter-like social network has had a massive spike in sign-ups … As the #DeleteFacebook movement has gained steam, people are registering for Mastodon at four times the rate that they normally do, according to Eugen Rochko, the service’s creator. Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Mastodon gained about 5,800 new users … That’s more new registrations than what Mastodon typically sees over an entire week.”

“For a social network — Mastodon has 1.1 million users to Facebook’s 2.2 billion — that may not sound very impressive. But what makes Mastodon increasingly attractive, particularly in a post-#DeleteFacebook world, is its attitude toward data and control … Mastodon’s code is open-source, meaning anybody can inspect its design. It’s distributed, meaning that it doesn’t run in some data center controlled by corporate executives but instead is run by its own users who set up independent servers. And its development costs are paid for by online donations, rather than through the marketing of users’ personal information.”

“Rooted in the idea that it doesn’t benefit consumers to depend on centralized commercial platforms sucking up users’ personal information, these entrepreneurs believe they can restore a bit of the magic from the Internet’s earlier days — back when everything was open and interoperable, not siloed and commercialized.”

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The Roxie: It’s Dog Day at the Movies

The New York Times: “Charlie, an 18-month-old Yorkie-cairn terrier mix, was one of many first-timers at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco on Monday night. The theater was holding a sneak preview of Wes Anderson’s new film, ‘Isle of Dogs,’ with a particularly appropriate twist — the screening was B.Y.O.D., or Bring Your Own Dog … Outside the sold-out event, pups posed for photographs on a red carpet before heading into the 234-seat theater to find their spot.” Isabel Fondevila of the Roxie comments: “Dogs get the seats. And we have a lint roller ready for after.”

“The stop-motion film, opening nationwide on Friday, is set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, where all the dogs have been banished to a dump called Trash Island.”

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Crypto Pop: The Future of Music?

BBC: “The year is 2018. Music is changing fast, but can the humans keep up? Here’s a handful of possible outcomes. 1) Your favourite singer is not real: … One of Japan’s biggest pop stars Hatsune Miku is not a real person. But that small detail didn’t prevent the humanoid singer from releasing another new music video last week.” Roy Orbison “died in 1988 but now his 3D hologram world tour will come to life, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on 8 April in Cardiff.”

“2) The live parameters have shifted: Ben Robinson of Bluedot Festival comments: “Now people can experience being on the stage with the artists. Or the gig could move off the stage.” 3) “The recording studio is in your laptop: Noel Gallagher … never actually met the bass player on his new album Who Built The Moon?” He comments: “Here I am at two in the afternoon talking to a guy on an iPad and for him it’s four in the morning and I can hear the song coming through his speakers and he’s saying ‘What do you think of this? Maybe if I do that?’ And I’m like ‘this is so far out it’s unbelievable’.”

“4) There’s a direct line between you and your favourite act: Jack White’s Third Man Records reward their subscribers with deliveries of exclusive limited edition pressings. DJ Gramatik went a step further last week by becoming the first artist to ‘tokenise’ himself, meaning fans who buy the token using the cryptocurrency Ether can potentially share in his future revenue … 5) But new music technology will not be for everyone:Bass player Peter O’Hanlon says: ‘Our fresh approach will be that we just come and play the gig! Everybody else is flying across the stage and we just stand in front of you and play’.”

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How ‘Stranger Things’ Went Global

Wired: “It’s hard to overstate how important it is to Netflix’s long-term ambitions that shows like Stranger Things ‘travel’ … it has to spend wisely to ensure it’s producing content that plays as well in Canada as it does in Cameroon … Making movies or series that play well overseas depends to a certain extent on quality, of course … But for a show like Stranger Things—which is an Emmy-nominated and critically-praised show in the US—to succeed abroad, Netflix has to translate its genius to as many markets as possible. Literally.”

“That means the creation of a Key Names and Phrases tool, a sprawling spreadsheet in which teams of freelancers and vendors input translations in the name of consistency. Does the show include a fictional location? A catchphrase? A sci-fi item that has no real-world corollary? All those things go in the KNP, allowing Netflix to know how they read in Greek, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese, and so on … That focus on consistency goes beyond the words themselves to the voice actors saying them. Netflix says it looks for people who sound like the original cast but also, as Sheehan puts it, ’embody the spirit of the character and tone.'”

“Netflix’s global accommodations go beyond subtitles and dubs, of course. The company has advanced efforts in recent years to make its service more usable in emerging markets, countries where bandwidth may be limited or unreliable … The result? A show that went viral first in Canada, and gradually spread to find enthusiasts around the world. In one month, Netflix users in 190 countries watched Stranger Things, and viewers in 70 of those nations became devoted fans. A handful of people tuned in from Bhutan, and from Chad. In a first for the streaming service, someone watched Season 1 in Antarctica.”

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Slow & Low: How Netflix Raises Prices

Quartz: “When Netflix raised rates this month, it increased the price of its most popular plan in the US by $1 and its premium package by $2. The hike hit new signups first and is still rolling out to existing users—a strategy Netflix uses to give people time to adjust. The company, shrewdly, did not touch the basic plan—its cheapest offering at $7.99 a month—so that folks on tighter budgets could still afford the service … The key, for Netflix’s management, was learning to raise prices without spooking subscribers—by doing so in small and infrequent doses.”

“Netflix has been careful not to raise rates too quickly in markets where it’s still building out its library and launching originals geared toward local audiences. It needs to become a service its customers can’t live without, before they rethink its value … Some analysts expect and welcome another modest price lift in the US next year to cover the rising cost of Netflix’s content. An extra dollar here and there, if Netflix continues to add new ‘must-watch’ series and movies all the time, shouldn’t dent its base too badly.”

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Whip It Good: The Last Train to Weirdsville

    Dangerous Minds: “Last week Dave Taylor, who runs Weirdsville Records in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, on the northern edge of Detroit, pulled a funny kind of prank when he decided to switch up the visual look of his store for an hour or two … a full wall of Whipped Cream & Other Delights and Whipped Cream & Other Delights fronting every bin! (Yes, in case you were wondering, the unseen albums in the bins are not all Alpert’s masterpiece, they’re just regular albums.)”

    Taylor explains: “Every day we get records in. There will be at least two of these in every stack! Nine out of 10 households had this record! It’s a great record and who can’t love this cover?”

    “One of the most interesting aspects of the display is that Taylor went out of his way to make sure customers understood that the copies are not for sale. Taylor says that he has about 75 copies of the album, and sheepishly admitted that he is ‘stockpiling the Herb’.”

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Surge Pricing: The Customer is ‘The Boss’

The New York Times: “When Bruce Springsteen decided to do a run of shows at a Broadway theater with fewer than a thousand seats, he appeared to reject the laws of economics — or at least what would seem to be in his financial best interest. He limited ticket prices to between $75 and $850 and has been allocating them through a lottery that includes identity verification. His goal was to prevent scalping. Yet not everyone who sought tickets got them at those prices. The tickets that have leaked onto the open market on StubHub ranged in one recent search from $1,200 to $9,999.”

“Fans don’t want to think their favorite artist is gouging. And the entire concert experience may be better if raucous superfans are in the front rows, rather than whoever is able to pay four figures for a ticket. The goal is to create an experience that makes everyone leave with a warm glow, their fandom of that artist that much deeper. If artists did raise prices sharply, there’s a risk they would need to discount prices later to fill up the arena. Research shows that when people find out they overpaid for something, they buy less in the future.”

“That might be a lesson for the other industries where variable pricing could make a lot of sense … What the successful examples of variable pricing have in common is that they treat customers’ desire for fairness not as some irrational rejection of economic logic to be scoffed at, but something fundamental, hard-wired into their view of the world. It is a reality that has to be respected and understood, whether you’re setting the price for a highway toll, a kilowatt of power on a hot day, or a generator after a hurricane … one view of the Springsteen approach is that it is economically irrational. But another is that it is part of a long-term relationship between a performer and his fans.”

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