Thursday, 27 November 2014

How giving away music for free can be profitable: A Radiohead case study

This research article completely slipped past me, but then again, there's so much research out there that it is hard to keep on top of it all.

Some seven years on from Radiohead's pay-what-you-want model of distribution 7th album 'In Rainbows' for free online, academics are still investigating the practicalities of the so-called 'honesty-box' system for other artists.

In this recent article (which is free to download), authors assess that Radiohead earned greater revenues from giving away the album for free, exploring sales data on previous releases and making comparisons with other artists over a long period of time. Notably, the research also considers Nine Inch Nails and specifically 'The Slip', which is reassuring as for the longest time it appeared it was only me who considered Reznor's work in an academic context. I will take credit for getting the ball rolling, thank you very much.

Of interest, the research finds that Nine Inch Nails did not benefit in the same way as Radiohead when giving away The Slip in 2008, but it is important to note that this album is still available for free online, a full six years after it was released: Radiohead's 'In Rainbows' was only online for free for 3 months. The key difference here is that 'The Slip' was fully intended as a gift to fans; it was after all released but months after the album 'Ghosts I'-IV' (compare that to the six year gap between 'The Fragile' and 'With Teeth'). As noted in the paper, Radiohead received far more publicity as well - this is important.

To tie in with my recent posts, the core difference here is your existing audience. What works for one band does not necessarily work for another. Consider U2's recent move with Apple which I discussed recently; the authors of the paper in fact draw critical comparisons here in a recent article on the excellent resource The Conversation where they discuss the outcomes of the paper in the context of U2 and their deal with Apple, should you wish to ponder the bigger picture.

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

"No photos, please"

Some time ago, writing a review of Roger Waters' staging of 'The Wall', I discussed the then emerging trend for 'concert spoilers' wherein fans upload video footage to YouTube and the likes and effectively minimise the impact of the show for others. You can read it here.

It's still very much a big deal, where earlier this week at a Jack White gig in Glasgow, a well-dressed gentleman appeared on stage some 15 minutes before the performance and politely requested that fans did not take photos. The audience were fine with it. Mostly

What is worth mentioning, is that Jack White had a photographer take pictures of the action all night and the images are free to download from his website. And so, fans were able to enjoy the show without messing around with their phones trying to take a good photograph (and failing). I like this.

It's a gamble asking an audience not to take photos: a lot of people will take it as being perhaps too 'up-your-own-arse' as I would call it. Others would simply reflect on an artist making a sincere request that, even with pure intentions, fans do not ruin the impact of future performances for others. A lot of work can go into a live show, especially when there's novel aspects like visuals.

Who enjoys having key plot points in movies explained to them before they go to the cinema to see a new film?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Anatomy of a research article #2

In the second of this occasional series, I will be exploring a recent study I carried out with Professor Raymond MacDonald (The University of Edinburgh). The article, titled 'Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R', was published in the journal Musicae Scientiae earlier this year and can be found here.

In short, the drive behind the article was to see if personality in any contributed towards an individuals propensity to favour music piracy. The results showed that this was indeed the case, with analysis suggesting people who do favour music piracy are more likely to be open, less likely to be conscientious and less likely to be honest. With regards to the latter trait, further analysis revealed that individuals favouring piracy were less fair (or more unfair, if you like).

But how does one achieve all of this? Let's briefly consider the research process of designing a survey methods research study.

Firstly, an appropriate piece of apparatus was chosen to measure personality, the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004). This instrument was chosen over rivals due to the inclusion of the 'H' scale which explores  honesty (of interest, given the research topic). Then, to avoid the limitations of self-report methodology which plagues much research on digital piracy ("How many songs have you illegally downloaded over the last 12 months" etc.), a scale was constructed to measure attitudes towards music piracy without actually using the loaded word of 'piracy' at all - attitudes have been shown as predictors of music piracy engagement in other research.

The new instrument to measure attitudes towards music piracy (AMP-12) was pre-tested (successfully) on a small sample of participants to check it's reliability in statistical terms; such analysis effectively confirms that the questionnaire items actually ask what they aim to ask (and helped weed out the ones which did not).

This leaves us with the right tools for the job (in a manner of speaking). Next, we need some willing participants to get some data.

Using a variety of recruitment sources, all largely under the umbrella of 'opportunity sampling', a large enough sample to meet the needs of the research was sought out and completed an online version of the questionnaire (there are practical advantages to online surveys over pen-and-paper including a greater likelihood of more honest responses). Once the desired sample size was gained, the dataset was collated (further to excluding some individuals who did not finish the survey or process the materials carefully - this is routine practice).


Hypothesis-testing was carried out using a Hierarchical regression and analyses produced the results outlined in the article, including finding preference for digital music and being 24 or younger as predictors of pro-piracy attitudes. Data analysis involves asking sophisticated statistical software some big questions; in this instance, SPSS was used. Ultimately, the tests chosen informed us that the chances of our findings occuring by chance were so small that we can readily assume they had not, and reflected our observations on personality. In other words, the analysis strongly suggests, to levels of what is known as statistical significance (a shorthand for being at least 95% confident), that the results were genuine, and that personality does guide the attitudes towards music piracy amongst the sample.

The process above is not far away from that of most studies using survey methodology, with broad questions like 'How can I measure this?' guiding the process. Given we are not blessed with physical scales like time, weight, etc. (like physical sciences), Social Scientists must develop appropriate instruments for measuring whatever it is they are measuring on any given study. No one study 'proves' anything, but if, over time, the same results keep coming up using different methods and different samples, then it can be readily assumed that we're onto something. To re-iterate, no one study proves anything - what it does do, is confirm or reject various hypotheses.

In this study, the decision to choose the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004) was supported, given the novel findings on honesty which would not have been generated if a different instrument was chosen. In other words, the hypothesis that personality was a predictor of attitudes towards music piracy was upheld. The assumption behind this was that personality guides much music-related behaviour such as preference for various genres, so why not how people listen to music?

The findings (see the article for the conclusions drawn) not only further the psychological underpinnings of music piracy engagement, but have policy implications. This is, or ought to be, the desired outcomes of any empirical research: 1) To make contributions to the scientific literature on a given topic to date and 2) Generate findings to the benefit of various stakeholders in the real world.

As Shermer (2011) explains, there is a need to teach how science works, rather than simply reporting merely on what is known from science. I agree.

While it's all very well for me to go into some detail on this research article, the thinking behind it is hard to articulate given there's a lack of understanding on the experimental method, hypothesis-testing etc. in the general public. I have made some effort to explain the research process as straightforwardly as possible, and will continue to to so in future blog entries on my other research articles to date which employ a broad range of methodology.

Feedback on the success or failure of my efforts above to describe the research process would be welcome, ahead of future entries in this series.

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Brown, S.C. and MacDonald. R.A.R. (2014). Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R. Musicae Scientae, 18(1), 53-64.

Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Times Books.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nice review of one of my papers on research methods used in digital piracy research

Stumbled upon a link to my recent paper critiquing research methods into digital piracy here with the quite excellent summary:

"Brown reviews conventional approaches to studying online media piracy, arguing that most of these are limited to the economic issues raised by piracy, such as negative impact on sales for the media industries. Brown critiques the unreliable data these approaches adopt and suggests scholars need to think in terms of multiple piracies, not a monolithic piracy. Brown calls for alternative, qualitative forms of studying piracy, like interviews or focus groups, in order to get at the complex social forms that constitute and drive the online, unauthorized exchange of media"

Not sure who these guys are at the Carsey-Wolf Centre, but they have clearly read my article closely and I'm delighted to read such a well put-together summary.

The article in question discussed in a previous blog entry (when it was not yet published) is now published in the journal Convergence, which can be found here.

It's an important contribution to the literature if I can say so myself, in that encourages a more critical evaluation of research findings to date by scrutinising research methods used to study this often contentious research topic.

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