Teens Drop CDs in Favor of Digital Downloads

A new NPD group study shows that 48% of teens did not buy a CD in 2007, down further from the 38% that was reported in 2006. This is the same time iTunes is announced as being the #2 music retailer, only behind Wal-Mart (though sales projections show that Wal-Mart is set to be overtaken later this year). Meanwhile, some music service providers raised hackles at the Digital Music Forum by claiming that the only way to serve people’s digital music needs is to operate illegally.

With more and more light being cast on new generations of teens and their propensity toward media convenience and digital downloads, the RIAA has stepped up its legislative agenda, lobbying against net neutrality and has sponsored net filtering mandates as part of state funding for universities. Could libraries be facing similar legislation down the road, which would disallow libraries from letting users download digital content? If the RIAA continues to run amok, we could very well be seeing it introduced soon! Then maybe the next Teen Tech Week could include a contest for teens to name the legislation restricting their access to digital media at their library. My vote is for ODPA (the Online Download Protection Act).

Music Goes Mobile: Timbaland Produces First Ever Made-for-Cell Phone Album

As Billboard.com reports, Grammy-winning and chart-topping producer Timbaland has struck a deal with Verizon Wireless to produce the first ever straight-to-cell phone album.

The tracks, which will be leaked to V Cast subscribers once a month through 2008, will feature Timbaland collaborate with different artists while touring the country in a mobile recording studio. Each will include a full-length MP3 and ringtone.

Cell phones may represent the new frontier for major record labels, who have been struggling to find a viable medium to sell their wares to new generations. And whereas artists used to brag about having a number one album, now they brag about having the top ringtone. This is in part due to the more stringent locks placed on cell phones, which record companies hope can keep users from redistributing songs.

Perhaps most striking is Timbaland’s statement, “every place don’t get a CD [but] everybody has a mobile phone.” Mobile phones have long overtaken CD players among teens, and as the surging popularity of music and camera-equipped phones are demonstrating a convergence in media and mobile communication that offers exciting possibilities for how media is delivered to teens (which Japan is already seeing with novels).

Now imagine your library sent teens snippets of novels through Twitter to whet their appetite for more, or produced and shared multimedia content with services like Qik, PixPulse, Orb, or MBIT TV. Hopefully, like with lots of other digital content, mobile media won’t leave libraries in the dust. Until then, try sum cell xprments 2 c if u cn get ur word out.

Meeting the Needs of Device-Happy Teens

Depending on the report, last year saw anywhere from half to three-quarters of teens owning MP3 players. And given that MP3 players remain at the top of teen wish lists, you’re going to see even more teens asking the question:

“How do I download MP3s on these computers?”

Increasingly, the software and security on your library’s computers is going to decide whether you’re poised to meet the information needs of teens. That means allowing teens to use your high-speed connection to download files onto the hard drive, as well as allowing devices to connect through USB or firewire ports. It also means having software installed that can interface with these devices. So in honor of the upcoming Teen Tech Week, here’s a brief guide to making your library’s computers MP3 capable:

Winamp

Behind Windows Media Player, Winamp is the second-most used MP3 player in the world. This lightweight program plays a wide array of formats, gives users an easy way to listen to Shoutcast radio and video stations, and–most importantly–lets users upload files to most commercial MP3 players, iPod included. You can find more information about uploading files through Winamp by following this link. A free download is available for Windows computers only.

iTunes

For those of you using Macs, it’s not easy to avoid iTunes. This is Mac’s ubiquitous all-in-one multimedia player and iPod manager and it’s the first thing a Mac looks for when an iPod is inserted. Unfortunately, using iTunes on a public computer can have potentially disastrous consequences. If teens aren’t careful, the computer will try to “sync” with their iPod, deleting files and replacing them with whatever was previously imported into iTunes. You can disable this behavior in the “Sync” tab of your preferences. Teens can then go to the iPod preferences pane and select “manually manage music and videos” to add songs without wiping out their whole system (however, this option is not available for the iPod Shuffles).

Most other MP3 players will simply show up in Mac OS X as a removable drive within the operating system, allowing teens to drag and drop files as needed. Safer alternatives to iTunes exist (such as YamiPod) for transferring music to an iPod, but they have their own problems. You’ll need to assess the risks and rewards based on your own needs.

amaroK

If you’re running Linux on your library’s computers (yes there may be one or two of you), fear not. amaroK is a terrific open-source solution that combines the flexibility of Winamp with the great user-interface of iTunes. It plays as many file types as your operating system is set-up to handle and works with a number of media devices (check the wiki page for more information).

Freeing your computers shouldn’t just go for MP3s players, but for generations of plug-n-play devices to come. If you’re not already, it’s time to let teens download pictures, videos, books, and more. And it’s time to let teens thrive as content creators by giving them the tools to upload from their cameras or portable audio recorders. Broadband penetration may be high among teens, but it’s not the whole story. By downloading free software and loosening a few restrictions, your library computers can be a destination for years to come.

(It’s worth mentioning that there are a few resources for teens to download free, legal MP3s. MP3.com is still alive and kicking, and c|net offers a music portion on the site http://music.download.com. There’s always the netlabels at archive.org, as well as promotional MP3s featured on blog aggregators like elbo.ws and The Hype Machine. If you want to be really cool, you’ll link to DatPiff, where teens can download the latest hip-hop mixtapes as they hit the street.)

Saul Williams Releases New Album under the Online Release Model

Poet and hip-hopper Saul Williams has also gone the Internet route with The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggytardust!, released on October 29th. This Trent Reznor-produced album makes a few adjustments to the Radiohead formula, namely:

– liner notes available in PDF format

– simpler payment structure (either free or $5)
– higher-quality download (320 kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC files) for those paying
– embedded player to share the album with friends

Reading the site’s more info page made me think about not only how important these sorts of developments are to the economic framework of releasing music, but the social framework. Exploitation of artists isn’t just financial, but oftentimes with regard to creative control over their image (resulting, as it so often does, in labels forcing artists to adopt racial caricatures in the guise of marketability).

Teen Tech Week is coming up soon, and your teens might be interested in a workshop on how they can attain maximum creative control by self-releasing albums using these same methods. Torrentfreak offers a guide on how teens can distribute their album peer-to-peer through torrents. Archive.org will host artists interested in distributing their albums for download via a Creative Commons license. They can also use the XSPF Web Music Player to stream from a website, and provide code to allow others to do the same.

Things I Should Have Blogged about Part 2: Radiohead Self-Releases Album Online

The ever-enigmatic Radiohead had their own big release recently, distributing their latest album Rainbows to over a million and a half people since the album was released on 10/10.

While I can’t gauge teens’ interest in Radiohead, I can say that this release is pretty important to libraries for at least one reason: they released it themselves, they released it online, and they let fans set their own price.

Yes, no record label was involved in the process of creating this album and, unless you’re willing to shell out $80 for the discbox (CD, LP, bonus CD, and artwork), digital downloading is the only way to get it in the forseeable future.

Lots of bands and artists are moving this route, selling digital tracks through the Snocap service in order to retain control over the rights to their music. In my other blog post, Chris commented, “Maybe it is difficult to discuss music collections because the industry and the format are in flux, and we’re not sure what role the public library will play.” This is certainly one of those cases, as current interpretations of copyright law leave libraries incapable of distributing these works. Radiohead does not provide any license with the download (I downloaded it myself to check), which means they retain all the rights authorized under copyright law. This leaves libraries without authorization under section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code, which effectively wags its finger at our attempts to burn or otherwise distribute these files. We could each work out an individual license with the band, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. Nor could I imagine how this would play out in a future where thousands of artists are distributing their music solely through a decentralized digital network.

What can we as a library community do about this? Can we lobby Snocap to include rights for libraries in its agreement with musicians? Can we engage the open source community to develop a secure distribution system for MP3s (which would garner us leverage in providing digital downloads of purchased song files)?