Monday Mash-Up

Jan 21, 2013 No Comments by



Links to articles we’ve read recently, two from the Independent on Saturday 19th January and two from the New York Times on Sunday 13th January.  All are worth a look.  Illustration (left) is by Peter Arkle from the New York Times.


Africa Calling

Gideon Spanier, being a proper journalist working for a proper newspaper, was invited to a press beano in London recently at which Orange and Chinese mobile comms service provider Baidu announced a joint initiative to bring mobile telephony to parts of Africa where it might be lacking. His report for The Independent is here

There was a compelling article in The New Yorker by Ken Auletta (March 7th 2011) about Mo Ibrahim whose latest mission is to persuade cling-to-power African leaders to retire by giving them a huge financial incentive to do so.  Ibrahim made a ton of money by championing cheap mobile coverage and handsets in Africa. Here’s a sample to ponder: “By 2004, Celtel (Ibrahim’s telco) provided service to six million customers in thirteen countries. The next year, its revenues reached a billion dollars. The number of mobile phones in Africa has grown from fewer than four million in 1998 to more than four hundred million today.” Here’s a link to an abstract of the piece.  If you’re feeling flush, a subscription to The New Yorker wouldn’t be the worst investment you ever made and they will deliver in the UK.  You’ll need one if you want to read the entire piece.

Given the size and relative emptiness (at least in terms of human populations) of the African continent it doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that pay-as-you-go mobile telephony, whether tethered to ground-based masts or satellites, is the way to go providing the cost isn’t prohibitive.  There are any number of initiatives in Africa, such as the White Ribbon Alliance which co-ordinates midwifery there and in other remote parts of the world, that use mobiles to facilitate positive change but mobile is also depressingly efficient at rallying and coalescing the disaffected.  Expect more Mali-type insurrection and Algerian-style eruptions over the coming years and expect Orange-Baidu to make a nice profit from it.  And not that indirectly.


I Streamed a Stream

A month or so ago Metallica signed with Spotify.  Given that the band has been a staunch hold-out against digital since they sued the nascent Napster back in 2000 their new-found connivance with Spotify raised a few be-studded eyebrows and re-ignited the debate about all-you-can-eat music streaming services such as Spotify, Last FM, Napster and others.  Emily Mackay wrote this piece about the various pros and cons, also in The Independent on Saturday 19th Jan.  It features some bleating from newer artists trying to make their way in a musical landscape very different from that gambolled in by their predecessors 20 or 30 years ago.  The moaning is prompted by the fact that the amounts of money artists can expect to glean from their music being played by Spotify subscribers is pitifully small but that’s partly to do with the economy of scale that the streaming service currently operates under.  Today they have 20 million users and 5 million subscribers who (in the UK) pay either £4.95 or £9.99 a month to listen to as much music as they like over the Internet.  For the £9.99 option you don’t have to listen to advertisements.  Informed sources suggest that a million streams of a track will gross around $800, which doesn’t seem like much, especially when the artist/writer only gets around 25 per cent of that figure.  No retiring to The Bahamas on $200.  But ramp up the number of users and maybe re-negotiate the fee structure and it could all start to make sense for everyone concerned.  In the meantime musicians might wise up to the world not owing them a living.  Tech Fogey writes and maintains this site for less than nothing (inasmuch as it costs us to keep it going while only ‘earning’ tiny dribbles of money by virtue of Amazon Affiliate sales that were all made by friends and family).  We don’t go belly-aching about how tough the market is or how it’s not fair that we don’t get paid a ton of cash, or even a living wage, for our ‘art’.  If you’re so outraged that making music doesn’t pay the bills, do something else.  Here endeth the rant.


Social Exclusions

A couple of contrastingly mournful articles from The New York Times by Joyce Wadler and Alex Williams.  Each, in its own way, examines how social niceties have been given a not-that-positive makeover by (anti-) social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Wadler bemoans the appearance on Facebook of a friend’s son’s wedding snaps – nuptials to which she was not invited – and ponders the implications of the ubiquity of personal information and the ‘in-your-Facebook’ disappointment of being the uninvited.  Williams explores how dating has turned from a romantic rite of passage into a less-than-personal exchange of bland functionalities in The End of Courtship.  Both are worth a look.