I haven't been posting here lately, but I am doing some Mac blogging over at Cult of Mac. See you there.




Bandwagon is live

Launching on time--just a little bit before midnight by my Pacific time clock--Bandwagon is live. This iTunes backup solution is the best I've used yet. It runs in the background, backing up your library to S3 servers while you go about your business. You can set which library items it backs up and which it excludes.

I've been using it for a month or more, through the beta period, and it's certainly been the easiest backup solution I've used. I don't have to fuss with DVDs, or Automator scripts, or making a redundant library on an external. It just works. Had I written this piece today, I could have summed it up in a word: bandwagon. Don't take my word for it, give the 30 day trial a shot (it's only a buck!).

Congrats to Terence and the rest of the Xackup crew on a successful product launch.

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Note: you probably need Firefox or Safari to see this. And you definitely need an iSight.


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Apple, Apple, Beatles, and Pirates

Apple records and the company formerly known as Apple Computer reached some sort of deal, finally. And as just about everyone has noted, perhaps this will finally open up The Beatles catalog to online sales, starting with availability on the iTunes Store.

We know this is coming, largely because of the Macworld keynote. As Rob Griffiths pointed out:
Steve’s slides were loaded with Beatles references. Album covers, Beatles songs playing, etc. They were everywhere. Too plentiful to miss. And yet, no announcement was made about the Beatles collection being available on the iTunes store—was there some sort of last-minute legal hold-up?

Well if there was some last-minute legal wrangling, hopefully it's over now. (In fact, I wouldn't be totally surprised to see The Beatles for sale as early as tomorrow, included with this Tuesday's new batch of iTunes Store releases.) [UPDATE: I was wrong!]

And just how popular will that batch of songs be? Coincidentally, I received a release from NPD today via Lee Graham with year-end analysis of the most popular artists in various formats.

Biggest selling CD of the year? Rascal Flatts. Rascal Who? I must be sleeping; never heard of them. But Ho-hum, that's CDs, right? Anyone still buying those is out of touch anyway.

So lets move along to digital downloads. Here's what NPD had to say about digital downloads:
In 2006, the most popular artists judged by the number of digital downloads
via paid digital music services, like iTunes, were as follows:

1. The Fray
2. Nickelback
3. George Carlin
4. Justin Timberlake
5. Rascal Flatts
6. Linkin Park
7. Johnny Cash
8. Creedence Clearwater Revival
9. Pink
10. The White Stripes

Fascinating. And all the moreso because The Fray failed to make the list of top ten CDs, as did Carlin, JT, Linkin Park, CCR, Pink, and The White Stripes. I'd attribute the disparity to youth, were it not for Carlin and CCR. But here's the really good part:
The most popular artists, judged by the number of song tracks downloaded
via peer-to-peer (P2P) services by U.S. consumers in 2006 were as follows:

1. Eminem
2. Ludacris
3. Nickelback
4. 2Pac
5. The Beatles
6. Justin Timberlake
7. 50 Cent
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. Beyonce
10. Rascal Flatts

What's interesting about that is it demonstrates that one doesn't need a new release to enjoy high demand. The classics will do quite nicely, thank you, as evidenced by the presence of both The Beatles and 2Pac on the top-downloaded list--and of course the ever-present Beatles bin at any and every music store in the world.

Yet The Beatles don't appear on the top ten list of CDs sold. And they aren't even in the top 1000 of online sales (naturally, since they have not licensed their music for sale online). It's going to be very interesting to see if, once they make a belated entrance into the market, The Beatles can transition from number five on the free downloads list to a high spot on the paid downloads list.

My guess is that, when released, Beatles albums are all going to enjoy their biggest sales since their initial release on CD format. Yet it seems very improbable that they could do as well in terms of sales on the year as they do with illegal downloads.

But who knows, maybe I'm wrong. If things work out with iTunes, maybe The Beatles could just be the next Rascal Flatts.

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My latest iMix

After signing up for a Triathlon, I'm running with my Nike + iPod a lot more, and am both looking for new running playlists and creating my own. Also: it's a chance to try out publishing iMixes, again.

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It's a Good Time to be in the Bags Business.

Macworld Exhibitors by product type
Kevin Fox's take on this year's Macworld Expo is pretty funny. But what really catches my eye isn't the iPod accessories -- it's the bags. Every year there are more bags, more iPod cases, more phone cases, more treo cases, more digicam cases. iPhone cases aren't far behind.



Ars/Infinite Loop has a great story today on Why there won't be a Mac tablet any time soon. Also today, OWC announced a Mac tablet.


Expo Countdown!

As far as I am aware, there is not a single Macworld Expo countdown widget in existence.

Not even one.

Thankfully, I have rectified this, using Dashcode to create one that you can download and install and use to be filled with joy and trepedation.

I think you will love it.


Return to Sender

Best Buy returns table
I noticed something interesting at the Bowling Green, Kentucky Best Buy just after Christmas. The returns table was loaded with mp3 players of nearly every imaginable stripe, but not a single iPod.

I wonder how many of these were gifts that were returned because they simply weren't iPods, and Johnny only wants an iPod because that's what all his friends have. As Michael Gartenberg said to me:
“Kleenex is a generic brand for all tissues. You go to Walgreens and any box of tissues is ‘Kleenex.’ ‘Tivo’ is a generic term for DVR, any DVR is a ‘Tivo,’” Gartenberg said. “‘iPod’ is not generic for an MP3 player. Woe unto the consumer who bought something else as a gift thinking they were buying an iPod. It has not become a generic product; it’s a very specific product, from a very specific company, with white headphones, and heaven forbid the consumer erred and got that wrong.”


Wil Shipley Interview

Infinite Loop has a great interview with Wil Shipley up today. Wil's a sharp, friendly guy, I remember speaking to him when I reviewed Delicious Monster, and again at a Macworld Expo. Great interview today, and it is loaded with gems like this that help explain why his software works so well:
I'm intentionally waiting to buy a Core 2 Duo machine until I ship Delicious Library 2, because Delicious Library 2 runs so fast on the Core 2 Duos it would be unfair for me to use one day-to-day—I'd never optimize my code, and people stuck on old PowerBooks would hate me. I know a company where they recently bought every engineer a 30-inch display, and my thought was, 'Oh, man, it's gonna be hard to use their apps on a portable... .' There are so many problems you don't solve unless they are bothering you personally.


iTunes Collapse: ORLY?

Engadget has an interesting headline today: "iTunes sales "collapsing," blanket licensing to succeed?"

It's (loosely) based on an analyst's report from Forrester. I haven't gotten a copy of the Forrester report yet, but this is the kind of thing that makes me not take blogs seriously. I don't think the Engadget reporter understood the Forrester research report he cites. (Or, rather. Fails to cite.) Or maybe he just read a summary of it. Either that or intentionally made it a lot more breathless.

  1. Apple's music sales, according to Forrester's sample, fell 65 percent in the first six months from the previous year. Not through December, through June.

  2. If the Engadget reporter had bothered to read past the headlines, he might have noticed that "Forrester, which based its findings on analysis of 2,791 U.S. iTunes debit and credit purchases, said it is too soon to tell whether the decline is seasonal or if demand for digital music is falling." That's a huge caveat. It's not accurate to write, as Engadget does, that "since January, the monthly revenue going into Apple's iTMS has fallen by '65-percent,' with the average transaction size falling '17-percent.'" You have to have that seasonal caveat in there or you're doing a disservice to your readers.

  3. That digital music won't save the record industry, or that there are only a few iTMS tracks per ipod, are hardly news. (I wrote the same story for Wired magazine in the Spring.) Even as Apple sells more and more digital music, the music industry makes less on it because they earn significantly less in annual revenue from digital than physical sales both because the cost per unit is lower and because people tend to max out at four downloads per album, several (more comprehensive) studies show. So, instead of a $16 sale, you get a $4 one. The Forrester report found the median sale was $2.97, which is still in that ballpark, but even lower, and probably about right as the "four track" figure takes p2p downloads into account. Even when free, the average music consumer today doesn't download an entire album. This is true of "concept" albums even.

  4. Apple's iTMS can, to a certain small extent, be sussed out. When you look at the company's quarterly financials, iTMS and iPod accessories are listed as "other music." In q4 2005 (quarter ending around October 15) that revenue was $265 million. In Q4 2006 it was $452 million. Now, while that might represent a fortune in revenue from the kickbacks it gets for every accessory sold with a "Made for iPod" logo, it seems unlikely there is a "collapse" going on or you would see it reflected more in the quarterly numbers. In Q3 2006 (which included the lasrt two months of the Forrester study) "other music" revenue was $457 million. In Q3 2005 it was $241. Q2 2006 (which includes three months of the study) was $485 million, and in Q2 2005 it was $216.

So, in any case, while there may be a year-to-year decline, or stagnation, in sales, I think the word "collapse" is probably an extreme characterization. Since Apple doesn't break out sales as much as analysts would like, there's a lot of tea leaf reading over it.

But you can say some things with certainty. It had sold zero songs at its launch in April 2003. In January 2005, it had sold 250,000,000 songs. In July '05 it was up to 500,000,000. And it took until January 06 to sell 1,000,000,000. By September, when Jobs rolled out iTunes 7, Apple had sold more than 1.5 billion songs. While that's a longer time frame to add those half-billion songs, it certainly does not seem to suggest an overall 65 percent decline. I'd be very surprised if those numbers hold up. Finally, furthermore in Apple's last quarterly conference call, it noted that it was doing better than breaking even on the iTMS sales, which likewise does not suggest a collapse.

Oh. And as for blanket licensing: if that's the case, then why is eMusic the number two online music retailer in terms of downloads, even without any major label artists? Consumers don't want DRM, and they want to own their music. While iTunes isn't perfect, it's certainly less odious than the Windows Media options.

Update And another Oh. The Engadget post states "Notably, it's not just Apple suffering the cashflow drought, as Nielsen Soundscan reports that the "industry as a whole" is steadily declining. Additionally, research has shown that the "median household" spent just "three dollars" about six times per year, showing that digital downloads aren't exactly "replacing the CD," but rather complimenting hardcopy sales at best." I'm not sure if they are indicating that the music industry as a whole is suffering (duh) which wouldn't really follow, or that the digital market is declining (which is what I think the post is trying to say). But in any case, The RIAA numbers for the first half of 2006 show not a decline, but an 86.6% increase in revenue from a year ago. $417.2 million for the first half of 2006, vs. $223.6 million for the first half of 2005. That does not include subscription or mobile services, both of which were also up, by 48.3% and 96.8% respectively. Subscription sales for the first half of '06 totaled $96.1 million for 1.9 million subscribers, and mobile was at $356.4 million on 144.3 million units (exceeding digital sales numbers for the first half of 2005).

Meanwhile, total physical sales were down 15 percent, to $4,066.0 million from $4,786.2 million. The overall market saw a 6.1 % decline, to $4,935.7 million from $5,255.7 million in 2005.

Update #2: Forrester is publicly disavowing the Register story (on which that Engadget post was based) while Apple broke it's typical silence on these matters to note that iTunes sales aren't tanking.


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