Tag Archives: internet

How not to be a Shmoo: watch Doug Morris, do the opposite

2 Dec

Seth Mnookin, the journalist who wrote a book a couple years ago about why the Red Sox are going to continue winning the world series, has written an article in Wired magazine profiling Doug Morris, the chair and CEO of Universal Music Group.

Doug Morris seems to be one of those very rich men who is refusing to adapt to the changing world (and the internet in particular), and is therefore seeing his business ruined. (For other examples, see the Hollywood Studio heads).

“There was a cartoon character years ago called the Shmoo,” he says in a raspy tenor. “It was in Li’l Abner. The Shmoo was a nice animal, a nice fella, but if you were hungry, you cut off a piece of him and put onions on it, and if you wanted to play football you just made him like a football. You could do anything to him. That’s what was happening to the music business. Everyone was treating the music business like it was a Shmoo.

The “Shmoo plea” sounded more convincing when Morgan Freeman said it in Lucky Number Slevin, Doug (can I call you Doug?), but here’s the thing: if you don’t want to be the schmoo, don’t act like one. If you don’t want to be the schmoo then you have to make some effort to evolve. Learn something. Develop your viewpoints. Don’t say that everyone who owns an .mp3-player is a thief. When asked about the near-demise of the record industry due to free digital downloads (remember Napster?) don’t say this:

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”
Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.

My God, Doug, how did you ever learn anything? I mean here’s a situation where you know there is something that you don’t know about, you know that you may have to learn about it, you know that there are experts on it, these “technologists,” and yet you refuse to try and learn? This is why there are experts at things Doug, so that you don’t have to know everything. Are you really not smart enough to tell apart someone who knows what they’re talking about from someone who doesn’t? I’m scared to ask how involved in politics you are…

“People never really understand what’s happening to the artists. All the sharing of the music, right? Is it correct that people share their music, fill up these devices with music they haven’t paid for? If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for Coca-Cola? There you go,” he says. “That’s what happened to the record business.”

Interesting question, Doug, here’s another one: if you had tap water coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for bottled water? See, as far as I know, people still buy bottled water. Here’s another question Doug: If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, but Universal Music made a better quality Coca-Cola, how much do you think people would be willing to pay for it?
Is it correct that people share their music and “fill up” their devices with music they haven’t paid for? Is it correct that the sky is blue, contains clouds, and sometimes rains? Music is free, Doug. Thanks to the internet, all music can be gotten for free. That’s a fact that DRM will never change. You’re asking the wrong questions, Doug, especially if you don’t want to be a schmoo. What you should be asking is how can you get consumers to pay for something that they could get for free?

“Our strategy is to have the people who create great music be paid properly,” he says. “We need to protect the music. I know that.”

I didn’t realize the music was in danger, Doug. I am glad to hear you talk about “great” music though, it’s the first time I’ve heard anything from you about quality. You see, Doug, this has to ultimately be about humanity. There’s no two ways about it. If musicians are artists, and the rest of us humans are appreciating their art, then the artists need to have their lifestyles supported. This, traditionally, was the role of a record label, but now that music is free you’re going to have to find other ways of doing this.
If you piss off the consumers, Doug, the people who are appreciating the art, the people who are paying for the art (which they don’t have to do, remember), the people who are paying you, Doug, aren’t they less likely to want to do that? Why should we pay a Schmoo?

Back in his dining room, Morris is incredulous. He’s once again talking about how his job should simply be finding and breaking new acts. The problem, he says, is that “there’s sympathy for the consumer, and the record industry is the Shmoo.”

There’s sympathy for the consumer… really Doug? I wonder if that’s because they’re right. It certainly seems like you’re right about the record industry.


On writing, striking, stealing, selling, buying, and copying. And profit?

11 Nov

The writer’s strike is making my daily blog reading more interesting since both John August (Go, Big Fish) and Ken Levine (Cheers, Frasier, MASH) have been writing about it almost daily.

The only (almost) compelling case I’ve heard against the writers is that when they are hired to write a script there is nothing in the contract about ownership. In other words, let’s say I am hired to write a movie about a boy and a girl. I do it, turn the script in and get paid for my script, but I don’t own the boy or the girl. If the movie is then made, and the studio then shows the movie online I am owed nothing because I don’t own the movie or anything in it. That’s the argument anyway.

This is one thing (the main thing, I think) that the writers are striking about. If the studios are making money by showing my boy and girl movie online, aren’t I owed residuals? The Writers Guild thinks so. While this is mildly interesting it strikes me as a conflict created entirely by lawyers.

Personally, as someone who is not a member of the writing guild, but may be someday, or in any case considers himself to be a writer, I think there’s a much bigger and more important question to be asking. How can I get people to pay for the media I create?

Traditionally this was easy because the only way to get media (a movie, or a tv show, or a song for example) was to pay for it – to buy it from the studio or record label or television broadcaster. This is no longer true. The internet changes the rules. Media is now free. So, given that anyone can experience the media* I create for free, how can I get them to pay for it?

I have this idea for an internet show. The episodes would be short YouTube videos. Anyone could watch them for free. If it catches on, if it gets a really large audience of regular viewers, there is potential money there since people do sometimes pay for what they like. There is no precedent for how to make this money however. How much of that regular audience is going to pay me for something they’re used to getting (and still can get) for free?
Will they pay me for merchandise (like T-shirts) that relate to the show? Will they pay me for a DVD of the episodes? If I make a DVD of the episodes and one person buys it that person could rip it and make it a free download online. Will anyone else pay me for the DVD?

How can I get people to pay me for media I’m making when they could be/are getting it for free? Should they?

* note that this really only applies to media that can be duplicated. The internet has not made a way to freely re-distribute an art installation with integrated live performances.

Writing in the Digital Age – how about learning in the digital age?

10 Oct

John August, screenwriter and director (Go, Big Fish, The Nines), has a very informative blog where he just posted the transcript to a speech he recently gave called “Writing in the Digital Age.” Some choice quotes are below, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

“as more aspects of our lives are conducted online, how we present ourselves in writing will only get more important.”

“The internet has billions of readers. What it needs are writers who write with authority.”

“No matter what career you end up choosing, or what career is chosen for you by fate, you will be a writer for the rest of your life. As the digital age accelerates, I’m convinced that writing is going to get more important each year. It’s not a noun anymore. It’s not the term papers and the memos and the screenplays. Writing is a verb. It’s an action. It’s a crucial way in which we process the world around us.”

Reading this brought to the forefront of my mind thoughts I’ve been having recently about the state of learning/information/knowledge in “the digital age.” The boy I tutor has an iPhone and a laptop, which means that he’s able to connect to the internet virtually anywhere and at anytime. That means he carries the entirety of wikipedia and infinite google search results in his pocket. If he carries all that information there, what does he need to carry in his head?

I don’t have some climactic revelation to all of this, but I do think it’s fundamentally changing something about the purpose of learning, or at least what is fundamentally important to learn. On another angle, if the space in our brains that we spent on memorizing facts can be used for something else, (since the iPhone/internet can be used as a repository for facts) what can we do with this newfound brainspace?